When I moved to Ireland from the US there were definitely some cultural differences that took me by surprise. After almost two years I still don’t fully understand them all. Some are huge: free healthcare, driving on the left side of the road, and the spelling of the word ‘gaol’. More nuanced differences only become apparent after fully settling in.
I keep a list of Irish phrases I hear on my phone. My favourites are ‘naggin’, ‘gaff’ and ‘a ride’. I grew up in a warm, sunny climate so fake tan was a foreign concept to me. I still find it strange that Irish students leave Dublin for home every weekend. Some even hold a job in their hometown. That just doesn’t happen in America. My brother goes to university a two hours’ drive from my parents in the States and we both travel home the same number of times per year.
I’m not the only one feeling the culture shock. I asked some of UCD’s international students what they find strange, or just different about Irish students compared with students from their countries. Here were their responses:
Rachel, an American, is a little intimidated by the way students dress. “I would dress like a bum to classes in the States,” she said. “But here in Ireland almost no one dresses like that on campus, so I opt for jeans instead of sweats.”
From a Russian perspective, however, Irish students don’t look as smart in class. “Irish students [dress] more casual, observed Veronika. “Sweatpants or short skirts against more official clothes for Russian students like blouses.”
Meanwhile, students coming from warmer climates think Irish women have an insane ability to withstand the cold, among other differences. Maddalena from Italy explains, “Girls…[are] always wearing short stuff and often no coats. That’s really weird. Makeup is also completely different. Here they use a lot of that, it almost looks like they’re wearing a mask”.
The Irish are known for their good craic, a term unique to this country. But that’s not all that’s different about their partying. Kate, an American, says, “Irish students don’t play drinking games like Americans do. Beer pong is a staple at any college party in the States, but I rarely see it being played here.”
With or without the games, many new to Ireland are taken aback by the intensity with which Irish students party. Parties are much wilder than in the Netherlands, says Karst recalling the bottle smashing and other activities. They are “destructive and brash I should say… something like last year’s Christmas day was so extreme to me.”
But compared with Russia, Irish students don’t push others to take things beyond their limits. “In my experience, the Irish are more conscious [of others], and not pushy for those who are not big drinkers,” says Veronika, “Russians don’t allow that and it’s hard to ask [Russian students] to turn down the noise.”
Cultural differences are often best highlighted by food. Yuhan from China says, “Food definitely is a big difference. For example, for lunch, we may prefer fried rice or noodles, these kinds of foods, but here I found lunch is quite simple.”
Veronika from Russia points out the Irish love of deli rolls adding, “Sandwiches run the world.”
The extent to which students participate in class differs greatly around the world. S.J. says that Irish students are “very unafraid of asking questions and potentially getting them wrong during lectures” compared to in Malaysia where she claims students “we’re taught to be afraid of getting things wrong, which lead to us never asking questions because we were too afraid of being shunned by the lecturer.” Yuhan says that Chinese students are also “not as expressive as Irish students.”
However, compared to the French, Irish students are much less likely to participate: “I don’t know what it is if people are really shy or they’re just so scared to say something stupid and that other people are going to judge them, but I’ve sat in complete silence after a lecturer asks a question too many times to count…and it’s so awkward.” Rachel from America agrees saying, “Irish students don’t participate very much in classes but seem to always get the job done and do well in classes which is interesting.”
International students also notice differences in learning styles. According to Maddalena “here students are given the information much more easily by the professors and they don’t have a chance to figure out stuff on their own… In Italy, students need to do more work outside of lectures to understand or find information based on the lecture.”
Jeanne, who has studied in Austria and France says, “Students in other countries are way more collaborative…and we help each other out… maybe it’s just my class, but [in Ireland] no one really shares information or they’re not very generous with their help I’d say.”
For many who did not grow up with the Leaving Cert looming at the end of their secondary school career, it can seem like quite an absurd concept. Lauren from Canada articulates that saying, “The idea of basing your entire future off of one exam whereas, we had at least 8 exams every year in high school…was so foreign to me,” She says that in Canada, “We never had that overwhelming stress in secondary school…sure, it was stressful but not nearly as much as one exam making or breaking your future.”
Despite the differences, most international students say they adapted pretty quickly to life in Ireland. I’m sure Irish students have a lot to say about how strange international students are too. But given that we all manage to live and work together here at UCD, it seems that our similarities far outweigh our differences.
Maeve Dodd – Campus Writer