Below you’ll find an alphabetical guide to studying abroad at the University of Limerick (UL). It consists of advice I wish I had before studying abroad, and I hope that you find it useful before or during your time in Ireland.
Beginning with the basics. If your school program allows it, you can choose between a variety of housing options near the University of Limerick. If you decide to live on campus, you’ll be able to live with a group of 4-8 students. Accommodations are apartments with rooms for 1-2 people, a kitchen, and a common area. Conveniently, UL supplies your bedding and most other staples apart from towels, so you can check in when you arrive and go to sleep. If you choose to separately rent an apartment near the UL campus instead, you may have to arrive earlier than planned to get your housing squared away with a landlord. Also consider whether utilities or furniture are included, or you have to pay for them.
When planning for studying abroad, I thought I would be frugal and use most of my spending on amazing travel experiences. This did not happen. Studying abroad costs more than anticipated, and many activities you may be interested in have fees attached. As the old adage goes, when studying abroad bring twice the money and half the stuff. Without this wisdom, I used budgeting methods to have great experiences without completely draining my bank account. When it came to managing my meager funds, I found that many options existed. I chose to use Pear Budget, a downloadable monthly budget organiser on my computer. I was able to allot money to different customized categories each month and account for different types of expenses. Once I amassed enough receipts, I would sit down, add in numbers, and resolve to spend less money next month. When looking for your own budgeting plan, consider different methods of tracking your expenses. Apps like Mint let you add money spent manually or automatically track your credit card purchases, while pen and paper may work well for you too. If you’re planning a side trip with a set budget, I recommend TrabeePocket for tracking frequent daily expenses on the go.
Coming from a smaller, private university, I was shocked by the large campus. At UL, your classes (or Modules) will each have 2-6 hours of class time split between big lectures, smaller tutorials, and activity-oriented labs. Make sure you understand the UL percentage grading system, which may be different from your home university’s. A large portion of your grade will come from the final, but labs and tutorials may have projects and participation credit as well.Don’t be afraid to explore the course catalog for interesting classes! Planning a good schedule is tricky until class times become available the week before classes start, so having backup classes can prevent weeping down the road.
If you are coming from a country with a drinking age higher than Ireland’s 18 years old, this may be your first time legally buying alcohol. Cider and beer are popular, and Stables (the pub on campus) has International nights each Friday with great dancing. Have fun exploring this part of Ireland as long as it doesn’t get in the way of your studies (or budget).
Apart from its usefulness in relieving the stresses of studies and a new location, exercise is helpful in meeting new people. At UL, you have many options available including clubs, classes, and the fitness center. This may be the only time you’ll be able to take horseback riding lessons or do archery in college, so take advantage of this by exploring your options online and at the Clubs & Societies fair.
When looking for sustenance, a variety of nearby options exist. On campus, you can find various places for a sit down meal or a sandwich to go. A variety of cafes around campus that offer sandwiches and life-sustaining caffeine, and meals can be found at the main dining hall or at Red Raisins, the communal food area with a variety of food shops. For convenience, you can look into an on-campus meal plan that gives you a set amount of money through an app. Be warned: many places on campus close at around 4 pm, so plan on having dinner elsewhere. Ask around for the best places to eat, or learn to cook with groceries.
One way to save money is through buying groceries instead of eating out. Lidl and Aldi are the best options for inexpensive food, but Spar, Super Value, and Tesco are good options as well. You can even have your groceries delivered to your apartment for a small fee. Bulk grains, fruits, and other inexpensive foods can fill you up during the week so you can save money for your superb weekend brunch in France. Most on-campus apartments don’t have microwaves, so plan on splitting the cost of buying one with your roommates or learn to cook with an oven and stove top.
Homesickness & Culture Shock:
Before arriving in Ireland, I oscillated between fear and excitement over the big change to come. In the end, coming to Ireland felt much like going off to my home college for the first time. In between the rush of orientation, I sometimes felt lonely, lost, and afraid to reach out. Depending on how you adjust to new circumstances, you may feel the same. This is entirely normal! By putting yourself out there you can form a new community and adapt to your life in Ireland. Getting involved, reaching out, and sharing how you feel with those close to you can help you adjust and enjoy your time abroad. Likewise, culture shock is real as well. Ireland may differ from your home in many ways; I spent multiple weeks complaining to whoever would listen about the lack of Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups. Realize that there will be differences in food, language, culture, and more, and that your feelings about these matters may fluctuate over time. Appreciate Ireland when you can, and binge watch TV shows from home when you need a break.
Getting involved on campus is a great way of maximizing your time spent studying abroad. A fair at the beginning of each semester showcases the large number of active Clubs and Societies. These include the International Society that puts on weekend trips to various parts of Ireland, the Outdoor Pursuits Club (offering hiking, climbing, and more), and more. For other ways of getting involved, look into volunteering opportunities on campus using the easily accessible website, or go to events such as movie nights offered by the University. Sign up for email lists to be informed of activities, and look on flyers on campus or you might miss gems like an all-night Jump-a-thon.
Joining these and other opportunities can only add to your study abroad experience. Join activities based on your interests, and be an active participant in all you do while in Ireland. Odds are high that this is your only semester abroad, so make it count.
Keeping in touch:
When you’re not busy with trips, classes, and activities, you may want to communicate with people you left back at home. Make sure you do so as soon as you wrangle your schedules with the time zone change. Talking to family and friends from home can help, as long as you spend time immersed in life here as well. Find a balance that works for you mental well-being, and keeps you family from stressing too much.
Learning takes place inside the classroom and out of it! You’re in a new country, and with that comes a new culture. Learn about popular slang words, the local foods, and the culture. However, take time to study for classes too, as they can teach you a lot about Ireland as well. Don’t just have fun, but have fun as well.
Going abroad is terrifying and amazing. I’ve grown so much during this experience, and I hope everyone else who chooses to study abroad does as well. There may be days where you cry for hours, but there are people to support you even if you don’t realise it: friends and family at home, fellow students, school counselling services, and University staff. It’s difficult to get out of your shell and go do things at first, but it’s the quickest path to feeling better. You may have bad days, but with some work there will be more than enough good days to make up for this. Find what gets you through bad times – whether its Netflix, ice cream, or some self care – and use that when needed.
Eat healthy, and avoid getting sick! What’s worse than being sick away from home in a college apartment? Being sick in a foreign country and missing out on fun activities you don’t have back home. Medicines such as painkillers can differ from those you have at home, so bringing a basic first aid kit may be helpful. Also, Ireland’s rainy weather results in a lot of cloudy days. Get enough vitamin D through sunlight, supplements, or other means.
Coming from a warmer climate, I was concerned about the low weather and rain common in Ireland. I found that ankle length boots are valuable investments, but rain boots (Wellingtons) or knee high boots are largely unnecessary. The weather rarely dips below freezing and 2-4 layers of clothing should suffice in keeping you comfortable throughout the semester. I found a raincoat and fleece-lined leggings underneath my pants to be helpful against cutting wind and rainstorms, but no extreme cold weather clothing is necessary aside from gloves, a hat, and a scarf. If you forget something, head to a Penney’s to find it at an inexpensive price.
Before boarding my flight, I frantically searched up how to get cell service in Ireland while studying abroad. Apart from a good international phone plan with your provider, the best solution is an Irish sim card. After muddling my way through the Dublin airport, I found a service provider and bought a prepaid month-long plan with texting, calling, and enough data. You can get a sim card mailed to you beforehand, or do so after you arrive in Ireland. I renewed my plan every month (and with my provider, Vodafone, got a free Spotify Premium membership!)
If you have questions before or during your study abroad experience, get them answered by the International office or a nearby student. Myself and many others would be happy to help.
Rain is extremely common in Ireland. Usually it comes lightly for minutes at a time, and an umbrella or a light waterproof jacket with moderately rain resistant shoes should suffice.
UL is a generally safe place, but you can prepare by putting the phone numbers for campus security and emergency services in your phone. Make safe decisions (especially while drinking), and stay aware of the laws of the country and how they might differ from your own country’s laws. When travelling, protect you passport and other valuables.
While studying abroad in Europe, odds are you’re going to explore Ireland and surrounding countries at some point during your time here. For many, these will be your first big trips without your family. Asking friends to be travel buddies can help you be more safe while travelling and planning ahead can help you save money. Figure out how you’re going to get to your destination and find lodging as well. Book flights out of Limerick or Dublin using Ryanair or other cheap airlines, and use public transportation like buses, trains, and the metro while you’re there. Hostels and AirBNB are both good options for sleeping, so pick one and get onto planning out how you’re going to spend your travel time!
While studying abroad, you will meet numerous people who are different from yourself. Understanding that you are in a new culture can help you adapt to new circumstances and meet them head-on.
Visa & Vaccinations:
Prepare for studying abroad by getting any needed vaccinations and paperwork. If you need a temporary Visa to study in Ireland, make sure to have health insurance, money in your bank account, and an acceptance letter from UL. Be prepared for a hefty fee, but also look into the opportunities your Visa offers. I was able to use mine to get into many European museums (including the Louvre and Versailles) for free.
UL’s campus is rather large, and takes over 30 minutes to get from one side to the other. That being said, the main mode of transport for students is walking and you may find that you walk more than you did at your home university. An alternative to tired legs is buying a used bike at the beginning of the semester. Consider whether that is an investment you want to make for speed and convenience, and prepare accordingly.
Take advantage of your new environment to explore the campus, local, and wider area! Whether it’s an organised expedition to a pizza shop or getting lost on your way to class, any experience can help you feel comfortable at UL.
In the same vein, say yes to trying new experiences. As long as you don’t feel too deeply uncomfortable, take these as opportunities to try new things and stretch your comfort zone. This is the best way to help yourself grow, and meet people you may otherwise never know.
In the same line of thought, try something out of the box! While studying abroad, I took lessons in caving and beekeeping, which I wouldn’t have done at my home university. Although I may or may not continue this back at my home university (Okay, definitely not the beekeeping), these experiences gave me a new way of viewing the world around me – and personally, I think that’s what studying abroad is all about.