You’ve probably put a lot of thought into whether or not you should study abroad in Ireland. You've scoured the web, debated Ireland versus England or any other attractive option, and this is undoubtedly not the first “Things to Know Before Going to Ireland” article you’ve read. In said previous articles, you were probably hit over the head with information akin to one or more of the following statements:
- “Make sure you change dollars to Euros!”
- “Bring an umbrella!”
- “Don’t forget to renew your passport!”
- “Be sure to pack for all seasons!”
- “Get an account with Skype!”
- “Get all of your medical and financial needs in order before you leave!”
And now you're mad at me for wasting your time by listing the same things listed in all those countless articles.
In light of the global pandemic, you might wonder whether it's really worth it to study abroad in Ireland at all. First of all, yes, you can still study abroad in Ireland right now. There's a lot that's specific to studying in Ireland while all this is going on, but it is totally possible. And the amazing things that make Ireland such a great study abroad destination are still true (more below!); you just have to jump through a few extra hoops to make it happen.
This is not your typical "Things to Know Before Going to Ireland" article. Why? Because I don't want to talk about the basic facts about Ireland. You're a smart cookie, you already know those. Instead, I'm bringing insider information to the table. So sit tight and hear me out on these 10 things you need to know before studying abroad in Ireland.
1. Learn about Ireland's History Before You Go
First thing first, know where you're going! It doesn’t take a history major to know that one of Ireland’s most enthralling features is the country’s deep-rooted history and traditions. If you come to Ireland without a mind open wide to new ideas, information, and knowledge then, to be blunt, you’re wasting a great opportunity.
You will never come to “know” the country and its people without first gaining an appreciation for and love of its history.
It would truly be a shame to travel to Ireland and fail to become aware of the Irish customs, background, and past. You will never come to “know” the country and its people without first gaining an appreciation for and love of its history. It’s like the old saying goes, “We can never understand our present without learning about our past.” (Well, I know it goes something like that.) Still not convinced? Taking this initiative will also make you a better student.
2. Ireland Is a Land of Magic and Mystery
I can’t imagine an individual without an imagination going to Ireland. Granted, yes, there are countless, very real, stellar sites to see on the Emerald Isle. From the Giant’s Causeway to the Cliffs of Moher, from the Blarney Stone to the Famine Ship in Dublin, Ireland never ceases to amaze any and all adventurers with its breathtaking landscapes, intriguing history, and unrivaled charm.
But what kind of Irish explorers would any of us be if we failed to embrace all of the mystical tales and enchanted treasures that Ireland has to offer? Therefore, my fellow travelers, I encourage you to brush up on your favorite (or potentially new favorite) Irish tales of ghost and fairies, leprechauns and giants, selkies and banshees. Background knowledge of these beings and their corresponding folktales will certainly help you on tours, in conversations, and while reading Irish literature. Research away, my friends!
3. You'll Want to Pack a Camera (or Two) to Capture the Landscapes and Memories
Here’s one of my “short and sweet” points: bring a camera…with extra batteries…and an extra memory card. Take as many pictures as you can! What's the use of being in a land of magic and mystery if you don't remember how it looks once you step back onto your home soil?
Share your pictures with others so that they can take a step into your abroad adventures. You will regret every picture you don’t take; my motto with photos has always been, just snap away! You can always delete bad photos, but you can’t rewind time to take a picture you chose to ignore. Moral of the story: capture your memories. Say cheese!
4. The Irish Love Music, Dancing, and Gigs!
At least once during your study abroad in Ireland, find a venue with traditional Irish music and go to that venue for the night. Sit down. Listen to the music, and I mean really listen to the music.
Irish music has this incredible power -- it can transport anyone to any place or time, make you feel any emotion, and give anyone willing to listen a sneak peek at the life of another. Let the music provide you with a greater understanding of what Irish culture is all about; let the music transform you and take you on voyages of the mind and soul!
5. You’ll Have a lot of “Craic” -- The Safe Kind, Don't Worry!
Craic in Ireland (pronounced like “crack”) simply means “fun”. You’ll hear the word a lot over on the Emerald Isle, and I figured it would be best for all of you, my wonderful readers, to hear it from me first so that you didn’t make a shocked and appalled face like I did the first time I heard my friends use the word! You’re welcome.
6. Guinness is Best Served Room Temperature and Consumed in Moderation
I feel like this is one of those points that just has to be made quickly. Despite what you've already learned about beer, Guinness is best served at room temperature. It's also a drink to be savored and consumed responsibly
Simply put, if you choose to enjoy a pint or two at the pub, make sure you are in control not the pints. Don't be that obnoxious backpacker stumbling around town and vomiting in the bushes -- you're a student here. You know better.
7. The Irish and Americans Share a Strong Bond of Friendship
Something your study abroad advisor likely didn't tell you is that Europeans don't actually hate Americans. In fact, people will likely be curious to hear about where you're from.
So don't hide your nationality -- embrace it (not obnoxiously, of course). After all, they don't call it an "exchange" for nothing. You'll likely teach your Irish friends as much as they'll teach you.
8. You Shouldn't Force a Fast Pace for Life in Ireland
In Ireland, life is much more “chill” (for lack of a better word). As my Aunt Lynn would put it, the Irish prefer to dwell in Kairos (Greek for “of the opportune moment”) Time rather than Chronos (Greek for “chronological”) Time. In other words, the Irish like to truly live in the moment.
So remember, no opportunity should be passed up because a “clock” tells you that you can’t do it. This isn't America, and you shouldn't try to make your time in Ireland like the U.S.
As William Ernest Henley put it in his poem, “Invictus”, the Irish people embrace the saying, “I am the master of my fate: I am the captain of my soul.”
9. You'll Need to Be Flexible
Just as you shouldn't force a fast pace life in Ireland, sometimes you have to "go with the flow," as they say and be flexible. At this point, I’m sure that everyone has heard about Ireland’s ever-changing weather that deviates from the norm of any and all regular weather patterns just about as much as a bride-to-be switches from one dress choice to another.
Same goes for your plans. Your plans while in Ireland, whether you are studying or traveling, will inevitably change as quickly as the weather.
Your plans while in Ireland, whether you are studying or traveling, will inevitably change as quickly as the weather.
As a natural born planner, I have always relished making plans and watching all of them fall directly into place; in Ireland, even my best plans didn’t always work out as I'd hoped. Oddly enough, even when life forced me to stray from my plans, it always handed me a picture, an experience, or a memory that was beyond incredible.
In the end, Ireland helped me take my “planning” down a notch, relax more, and learn to, as my favorite band REO Speedwagon would say, “Roll with the Changes”.
10. The Irish are Die-Hard Sports Fans
Okay, maybe this isn't such insider-knowledge. The Irish are pretty well known for fancying their sports -- and home to one of our must see sports around the world. So bring a strong set of lungs to cheer for your favorite teams! No matter what type of match (rugby, hurling, football), no matter the weather (rain or shine…usually rain), no matter the time, no matter the place, the Irish are passionate about their athletic endeavors!
So, get involved! Learn the rules of the sports you’re not familiar with as soon as you can! Pick a team! Don the team colors! Paint your face! Cheer until your voice sounds like Gollum’s from The Lord of the Rings! Most important, have some good craic!
Make This Experience Your Own
Of course, the most important thing to remember while studying abroad in Ireland (or wherever you end up!) is to make this experience your own. Say yes to everything. Try new things. Don't skip class (too much...) and be open to all of the beauty your host has to offer you. You've got an incredible opportunity in your hands, so make the most of it. Do this and Ireland can and will be everything you want it to be and more.
Still want to learn more about Ireland? Here are the best ways to experience Irish culture while studying abroad.
This post was originally published in May 2014, and updated in February 2017 and again in September 2020.