Velvet green hills slope gently, contrasting with grey stone cliffs and the rolling Irish Sea. Steeped in ancient wild lore and modern-day strife, beautiful and untamed, Northern Ireland is often seen as a land divided. The tiny subsection of the island of Ireland is, in fact, a part of the UK, with street signs posted in miles, the British Pound and, we can only assume, English Breakfast for tea instead of Irish Breakfast.
Study abroad students in Northern Ireland have the unique opportunity to view the healing of the Irish people, as well as the splendor and wealth of the region’s landscapes and culture.
Once a total no-go area, Belfast was recently awarded as the safest city in the UK. The proud birthplace of the Titanic, despite its unfortunate end, Belfast is focused on looking on the bright side.
Recently, the city has made tremendous efforts to attract the right kind of attention. The city exudes an air of determined hopefulness, with new bars, restaurants, clubs and shops opening all the time. However, it’s the murals painted during the Troubles that are truly spectacular. These chilling postcards of the era, honoring the dead and declaring allegiances, paint a clear and fascinating picture of the city’s history.
Queen's University Belfast is the major institution with about 25,000 students and courses giving in over 300 subject areas. The University of Ulster has a campus for Art and Design in the city center, and also has a campus outside Belfast, perfect for students who want to be in a more relaxed, suburban environment
Derry, also known as “Londonderry” is the second largest city in Northern Ireland. The town is the only remaining completely intact walled city in Ireland. The city is extremely pretty, with elegant architecture everywhere. It’s also a student town, with lots of clothes shops and boutiques, pubs, bars and clubs to cater to the youthful demographic. Emphasis on the pubs- which are a main draw for travelers. Derry's traditional Irish and folk music scene are well established as well. Derry is also home to a branch of the University of Ulster, the lovely Magee College campus.
Planning Your Trip
Cost of Living
As a member of the United Kingdom, the currency used in Belfast is the British pound. Belfast is less expensive than other UK cities, such as Dublin or London, but isn’t exactly cheap. Queen's University Belfast estimates students’ living expenses are about $4,000 to $6,000 USD per semester. Numbero is a great resource for determining the cost of living in particular cities and countries. The average monthly rent for an apartment in the Belfast city center is about $900 USD, while outside the city center rent can dip down to $650 USD. The cost of a monthly public transportation pass is about $85 USD, an inexpensive restaurant meal $16 USD, and a beer $6 USD.
How to Choose a Program
Northern Ireland offers everything a student needs! Here's some helpful hint for choosing a program:
- Academic Life: Universities in Northern Ireland tend to be more Irish than British. School holidays in Northern Ireland are considerably different from those of Great Britain, and are more similar to those in the Republic of Ireland. Academic programs are offered in nearly every subject, however students interested in Peace and Conflict studies will find the history of controversy in Northern Ireland particularly fascinating.
- Language: Although there is a growing resurgence to teach Irish (the traditional language of Ireland) there are very few native speakers. University classes are all conducted in English. The thick Northern accent may be difficult, even for native English speakers, but International students will ease into it after quickly, we promise!
- Housing: Students studying abroad in Northern Ireland have their pick of on-campus housing, such as dormitories or student villages, or independent living.It is hard to say which living situation is better - be sure to find a program whose housing arrangements make you feel the most comfortable. If you’re interested in nesting into your own apartment, contact your program for more information on renting in Northern Ireland.
US citizens studying abroad in the UK less than six months do not need a visa. Those planning to stay longer than six months do require a study visa. Check out the official UK visa website to ensure you are up to date on all required documentation.
Study Abroad Support Systems
Each university or college has its own methods of organizing and assisting international students. Prominent higher education establishments found in Belfast include Queen’s University Belfast, the smaller University of Ulster and Belfast Metropolitan College among others. Queen’s University Belfast has an extensive international student support system with a department of advisors ready to help incoming students transition to a new country, succeed in school and answer questions about most anything. Their website has some great advice if you're new to Belfast.
It is also prudent for anyone traveling internationally to find out where the nearest US embassy is located. Lucky for students living in Belfast there is one located right in the city.
Things to Know
Talking about politics or religion in public places is considered inappropriate and should be avoided. Tipping bartenders and taxi drivers is unnecessary, while tipping at a nice, sit down restaurant need not be more than 10%. The weather is mild but never hot, even in the summer, so plan on layering. Everyday items such as medicines, makeup, spices, and even dishware are more expensive and some students bring a stockpile from home to avoid the higher prices. Read more great tips from this student on things to know before traveling to North Ireland.
Sources say Belfast is small enough to explore comfortably on foot, which is a big plus for university students. There is an established bus system called the metro that radiates from the city centre. Routes run between 6am and 11pm every day. Pre-loaded cards can be purchased to make traveling all the easier. Be advised though, buses aren’t entirely reliable and are known to be late at times. After 11pm taxis are the only option.
Social Life and Student Culture
The number one, can’t miss, utterly spectacular site in Northern Ireland is the Giant’s Causeway. The site is made up 40,000 interlocking basalt columns, often forming an incredible honeycomb pattern (the result of an ancient volcanic eruption). Legend holds that the Causeway is the result of a rivalry between two ancient Giants. It’s one of the few places in the world where you can see this insane natural phenomenon, and certainly one of the more magnificent examples.
If you’re spending any time in Ireland, you’ll be visiting a pub or five. Drinking plays a role in Irish culture, there’s no way around it. However, you’ll find socializing over a pint is emphasized rather than inebriation. Bushmills whiskey is from Northern Ireland, so make sure to make a toast with this local fave.
Local Areas of Interest
Belfast is filled with bars and restaurants, some with history dating back to the 1700’s. McHugh’s Bar & Restaurant frequently has live music and is situated in one of the oldest buildings in the city, dating back to 1711. The Kitchen Bar, one of the city’s most historic bars, has personality and allure dating back to 1859. Nothing comes more highly recommended than the Belfast Pub Crawl, taking night goers around historic bars such as McHugh’s Bar, White’s Tavern, Kelly’s Cellars and Maddens.
Beyond food and booze, Belfast takes great pride that it was the building site of the Titanic. There are several homages to the fateful ship such as the immense Titanic Belfast exhibits, the Titanic Quarter of the city and Titanic walking tours. Also worth a visit is Cave Hill with its commanding views of Belfast, cliff caves and the Belfast Castle Estate with its own beautiful grounds, architecture and history.
Scholarships: Northern Ireland
Because the chances of finding a leprechaun's pot of gold are slim, here are some resources to help pay for your study abroad!
Study Abroad Programs in Northern Ireland
Other Study Abroad Programs in the United Kingdom
Not enough options in Northern Ireland? Check out these other Study Abroad programs in the United Kingdom!