Student Reflections

Not Quite Culture Shock: A Few Things to Get Used to in Ireland

Sydney Mokel
February 8, 2018
View across roofs of Ireland city.

Homesickness has not yet hit, but that’s not is not to say there are differences I am reflecting on. One month has been enough time to get to know Cork a bit and start to identify sources of minor frustration.

I Miss Junk Food

Yeah, this one caught me by surprise as well. I thought it was just me, but a few fellow students from the US have confided that they feel the s(h)ame. Crisps, all manner of loaded fries, and other unhealthy treats are available in abundance in Ireland, make no mistake. Look no further than the homegrown potato chip brand Tayto, which has its own theme park out in Meath! However, in every grocery store I have visited (count ‘em, five), the range of savory snacks is smaller or they are too expensive to justify indulging.

Silver Lining:

This “problem” goes to show the country’s priorities are probably in order in this regard. Fresh food is refreshingly cheap, and of great quality.  Even in a chain grocery like Tesco, it is not unusual to find a feather in a carton of eggs and a sticker on the packaging indicating exactly where in County Cork the eggs originated. I am not desperate enough yet to validate an American stereotype by going to McDonalds, so healthy snacks, it is!

Student Schedules

The term “commuter school” does not feel appropriate, but like most Irish universities, the majority of UCC students go home on weekends. This has the dual consequence of leaving behind mostly study abroad students on weekends and condensing social events during the school week. Tuesday and Thursday especially are the choice times for events and outings for those around our age. Take my Thursday: I have seven hours of class beginning at 9 am, and going out afterward is sometimes more convenient than trekking back to my apartment. The nature of bus schedules and limitations of budgets also means that walking is often the most expedient way home. Understandably, this can make for some long days.

Silver Lining: Balance is possible to come by! The structure of classes here, which typically have fewer weekly assignments, slightly less lecture time, and a more relaxed pace makes enjoying social life and school less of challenge.

Size Matters…a Little

Cork is the second-largest city in the Republic of Ireland (though Belfast is the second largest on the island), but Ireland is a much smaller place relative to the United States. Corkonians’ outsized pride and certain nicknames for the city like “the real capital” and “the People’s Republic of Cork” bely the relatively small size of Cork. This is charming and convenient in many ways, less so when big acts skip right over the city, or you want to fly directly out of the local airport. My excitement at seeing the Boston Calling line-up was immediately overshadowed by envy. I know a few people that are taking a bus ride which is three hours each way to see Kendrick Lamar in Dublin. Elton John is coming to Dublin. Davido is coming to Dublin. Cork? Not the destination of choice for European world tours, unfortunately.

Silver Lining:

Local acts are nothing to be sneezed at. There is plenty to explore, so people who have run out of things to do within a month are not looking hard enough. Moreover, you pay for the convenience of living in a larger, more “international” city. I’m looking at you, Dublin.

Microaggressions in the Big City

For anyone unfamiliar with the concept, “microaggression” is a term coined in the 1970s to describe the prejudicial offhand comments and brief interactions that members of marginalized groups experience in their daily life. See this article from Psychology Today for a broad overview of this phenomenon and its consequences. In my short month here, I have encountered a few too many insensitive questions or unpleasant situations involving people who have met few or no black women before. People shoving their fingers in my hair against my express wishes being my least favorite. Cat-calling, the bane of city-dwelling women everywhere, has also occurred. I must admit it has been to a lesser than extent than I experienced in Boston. Hearing genuinely friendly compliments has been equally likely in my experience. While these issues happen in the United States as well, it feels more alienating when in another country, navigating the stress of adjusting to life abroad.

Silver Lining: While I will not say there is an upside to suffering microaggressions, I have found some means to ease my irritation. Student societies on campus have been one means to find other student with shared identities and experiences. Allowing myself to reflect and debrief through practices like these blog posts also offers an outlet. When it seems safe and worthwhile, educating the perpetrators sometimes flips a sour moment into a positive outcome.

Time Differences

Cork operates on Greenwich Mean Time. This means a five-hour time difference between here and Boston, and eight with those poor souls on the West Coast. It can be an awkward amount of time to navigate, more than the minor adjustment of three hours, or the straightforward swap of eleven to twelve hours. Not only does this impact staying in contact with the daily lives of friends and family, but the ability to reach advisors, faculty, and other staff back at Northeastern. Not establishing a balance threatens your ability to keep up important relationships, and that worry can prevent you from present in the experience of studying abroad.

Silver Lining:  It is a bit easier to manage this in the age of social media. Whether a virtual meeting with a co-op advisor or your parents deciding to join Snapchat (!), you just have to find what works for you. Old-fashioned email has its decided benefits. Who cares if your professor is receiving the email at 3 am if that is when you are awake! A letter or a postcard also has a personal touch which should not be entirely discounted.