What I wish I knew before studying abroad

After studying in France, Isabel thinks about the important point she wish she’d known before going abroad

Written by Isabel Schulte-Austum


6th year makes you think about many things – the Leaving Cert, mocks (or pre’s depending on where in the country you are from), revision, stress and last but not least the CAO. After having been lucky enough to go to school in France for two months during TY, I knew I wanted to study abroad. So instead of worrying about filling out the CAO I spent time writing personal statements, getting predicted grades and references from my teachers. I wasn’t sure where I wanted to go, all I knew was that I wanted to go somewhere in the EU that wasn’t Ireland. I ended up applying to universities in the Netherlands, the UK, France and Germany. Unlike the CAO, by applying to different countries it’s possible to get offers from multiple universities which made my decision even harder. This did, however, take huge amounts of pressure off me because I had offers before even sitting my leaving cert from top universities who needed  far lower grades than similar courses in Ireland would. After much thought I accepted an offer study in France in June.

Here are some things that I wish I had known before deciding to go abroad for my degree.

1. You'll become more Irish

The cliché that we become more Irish as soon as we leave the country is true. I was never one of those people who was particularly proud to be Irish, who wore their county jersey everywhere and I had shamefully never been to an All-Ireland match. Yet, as soon as I left, I felt a strange pride bubbling up in me and I spent hours explaining to everyone I met that no I was not English, no Ireland is not in the UK and yes Irish is a language that I speak which is distinct and once again not English.

2. Be ready for culture shock

Culture shock was a phenomenon that I was not expecting. I had been to France on holidays and I had leaving cert level notions of the language, so I assumed everything would be grand. “It’ll be grand” was one of the expressions that really confused my flat-mates. It took them months to figure out that I was saying everything would be fine.

I also realised that I am Irish in a far subtler way. My use of sarcasm, irony and dry humour left many unsure whether I was a horrible person or absolutely hilarious. At one point after making a cutting remark with a straight face it was pointed out to me that I was using sarcasm incorrectly. Apparently, you’re supposed to raise your voice. Imagine telling an Irish person how to be sarcastic! Surely raising your voice defeats the purpose?

People also tend to eat dinner far later. How one can eat dinner at 9pm was once a mystery but now I find myself taking part in these strange meal times. I also have to comment on the culture of alcohol and going out. The stereotype that Irish people are great drinkers has certainly taken hold. I’ve often been out with friends for one drink in a bar and then gone home instead of people feeling the need to get absolutely smashed. nstead of going out people invite people over for a dinner and a drink. I have to say I love going over to a friend’s place, cooking a meal and sitting in a group to eat together. Even on the rare occasion we do go out there’s no fake tan, fake nails, fake lashes or short skirts to be seen.

3. Be prepared to be homesick

Homesickness was something I had tried not to think about, but it was inevitable. I missed proper tea with Irish milk, cadburys chocolate, the friendliness of Irish people and being able to have the bants with someone. Constantly speaking in a different language is exhausting and I was glad of skype and WhatsApp to be able to keep in contact with friends and family and actually speak in English. Funnily enough, after a few months I found myself dreaming in French, thinking in French and not being able to find words in English but instead wanting to continue speaking French.

4. Spellcheck is your friend

Use your laptop to take notes if you can. Spellcheck will be your savior. Most word processors will correct your spelling and grammar for you. I made huge amounts of progress because of this. If I had been taking notes by hand I would have continued to make the same mistakes. It can also be useful if you are stuck and didn’t understand a lecture to ask a friend for their lecture notes and some might even correct the grammar mistakes in your essays for you before you submit them.

5. Speak the language as much as you can

There is no point spending time with other English speakers. You quite simply won’t integrate as quickly. Try and make the city your home. Join clubs and societies in your university but also try and do things in your local community. This is your home now so do your best to become a part of it. After only a few months the city and my apartment became a second home and my flatmates my new family.

To anyone reading this, I urge you to think about studying abroad. It may be terrifying at first, but you are young. This is the time in your life for adventure. As silly as it sounds you will grow so much and learn things about yourself and the world around you. Keep in contact with those at home and be prepared for people to give you sideways looks when they see you put milk in your tea, watch the Late Late Toy Show or listen to the Rubberbandits. Nonetheless, embrace the culture where you are. It’s such an amazing opportunity and enjoy every moment.

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