Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Welcome to NUI Galway

This is the second installment in the Ireland Series about studying abroad in Galway, Ireland. Read Part I here.

AS MUCH AS I WOULD HAVE LIKED to jump on the first bus to Cork, Limerick, or the Cliffs of Moher and go exploring—there was that school thing. We Arcadia students assembled first thing early in the ivy-clad courtyard of the NUI Galway Quadrangle to sign up for fall classes. NUI Galway has an estimated 12,000 undergrad (4,000 grad), and hosts around 500-600 visiting students each year.

 Class registration wasn’t how it is these days—the kind where you log onto your computer, and in a few swift clicks, you’re registered. The undergrad system at NUI Galway differed from the American one I was used to as well. As early as freshman year, Irish undergrads tend to specialize in a certain area—Medicine, Arts and Social Sciences, Commerce, Engineering, Science—because those classes will determine what programme they’re accepted into for their Bachelor’s (3-4 years until completion, Medicine takes longest). There are no elective or general requirements. Unfortunately with today’s job market and the rising financial costs of attending college, knowing what you want to major in from the get-go is vital. I’d chosen the Arts and Social Sciences route on my application.

Now all of us waited in a long line that wound twice around the courtyard, waiting to register (we definitely had enough time to think about what classes we’d like to take). Sadly, I hadn’t gotten up early enough, and so my coveted Jane Austen Seminar was already filled. I ended up with a primarily Humanities-focused schedule: a Playwright Literature class, an Irish Women in History one, a Tom Murphy seminar, and to round it out: a Criminology class (what the heck, try something new, right?). The majority of those classes would transfer over to my American university. We would be graded based on a combination of Continuous Assessment, research papers, and final exams.

Ruin on the way to school.

There were also a lot of afterschool clubs to join like rowing, cycling, and rugby--which a lot of my East Coast friends were very excited about. I ended up signing up for the dance club, since the autumn/winter rains made me think twice about rowing down the freezing River Corrib. I don’t know how those swans did it.

I already mentioned the awesome housing-style living in place of dorm rooms. Student residences were primarily these red brick two-three story slender houses all nestled together in “courts.” Our neighborhood, the Gort na Coiribe, was one of the larger ones that housed some 657 students, but there were smaller residences like Donegan Court (54 students). A third housing option was what a fellow study abroad friend of mine did—she found her own apartment-style housing in town instead of relying on a program like Arcadia to set it up, which is probably cheapest. I think her roommates were young, local workers. They definitely knew Galway inside and out, hooked her up with a bike, and showed her around. If I’d been older, that’s the way I would have liked to experience Galway--if only to avoid the Circle of Death.

 The Circle of Death is this innocent-looking roundabout that the poor car-less pedestrian must endure to reach the places of food: Tesco, shopping mall, ect. When I was looking through my Galway pictures, I noticed all these pictures of a roundabout and thought, "Why the hell did I take so many photos of that?" And then I remembered--the countless minutes spent praying for a lull in the traffic so I could run to the first median in the center. More minutes trickling by as I waited again to bolt to the safety of the shopping center parking lot, the growl of my stomach growing louder. There might have been one "crosswalk," but it mostly served as decorative paint on the cold, impassive cement face watching you throw your pitiful body through traffic to reach the gleaming sign for Tesco. It was even more fun coming back from the store, because then your arms were laden down with grocery bags. Thankfully, they were the sturdy, reusable kind--you have to pay a fee to use plastic bags per Ireland's PlastTax--which is good for the environment and good for pedestrians whose feeble plastic bags might otherwise break while traversing the Circle of Death, condemning innocent oranges and vegetables to an instant demise. Yeah. Just some road design notes.

My Arcadia roommate and I shared a small room with three other Irish flatmates. I noticed our flatmates often went home over the weekend to do laundry or visit family—many of them didn’t live too far away!—so my roommate and I would have a whole house to ourselves. Then we’d invite our friends over, and we could have in-house collective dinners or go out. There was also a coin laundry on premise.

 It really mattered if your house was designated as a party place or not. Just around the corner, one house in Gort na Coiribe routinely tried to cram as many people as possible into the small living/kitchen area for weekday parties. The cost? One large shattered front window and a whole bunch of decimated furniture. I don’t recall how long it took to repair that giant window, but man, the wait must have been cold.

A local mall

Farmer's market

Main square; construction for new townhouses

On the topic of weekday parties: when my favorite Irish roommate came bursting into our room, asking if we wanted to go out clubbing, I was kind of confused—wasn’t it Tuesday night? In my American university experience, Tuesday was the deadest, dead night of the week. I know. My birthday fell on a Tuesday one time back home and we tried to go out—the bars and clubs were empty. In Galway, Tuesday was possibly one of the best nights to grab a drink. Downtown Galway was throbbing and awake with lots of hole-in-the-wall bars and alleyway venues—I think that night we might have gone to Club Karma. Needless to say, my Irish flatmates’ habit of heading home on the weekend wasn’t unique; many did, and thus weekdays became the best nights to go out when the most people were around.

That would prove to work out extremely well, for there were a lot of tour groups offering trips into the surrounding hinterlands like the Burren and the Cliffs of Moher on the weekends. When Arcadia offered a good deal to take a ferry ride across the bay to the Aran Islands, a huge group of us eagerly signed up.

Read Part III of the Ireland Travel Series here.

Disclaimer: the above is presented as fiction, not fact.

“Study Abroad at NUI Galway.” National University of Ireland Galway. 2013.

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