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An Cumhacht an Oideachais: The Power of Education

"There is a flickering spark in us all which, if struck at just the right age...can light the rest of our lives, elevating our ideals, deepening our tolerance, and sharpening our appetite for knowledge about the rest of the world. Educational and cultural exchanges...provide a perfect opportunity for this precious spark to grow, making us more sensitive and wiser international citizens through our careers." - Ronald Reagan, former US President

  When it comes to studying abroad, the travel and adventure aspects are always talked about and emphasized. But, when you’re not an explorer, you’re a student and school is an everyday part of life. Sometimes the educational adventure is just as eye-opening. A full time semester at home in The States is a minimum of 12 credits, which just means at least 12 hours of classes per week. However, Ireland uses ECTS and 5 ECTS typically equals 3 credits. So, I am taking four classes at 5 ECTS each: Studies in Modern Irish Literature, Contemporary Literature, Developmental Psychology, and Northern Ireland: The Politics of a Divided Society.

On my first day of school, I walked into a lecture hall and was hit with a wave of amazement and intimidation. Coming from a small college with little classrooms, the huge lecture theatre was a drastic change of pace. Individual work and at home readings and participation is highly emphasized. However, even though the educational system at NUI Galway stresses the ability to figure work out on your own, the professors and staff are very friendly and have no problem talking to students after class or through emails.

  The biggest adjustment I’ve faced is assessment and testing. Instead of tests, quizzes, speeches, and essays throughout the semester, my classes have one single exam at the end of the year. If you’re anything like me, the thought of this is absolutely terrifying. But, smaller seminar classes with individual attention are offered for some courses and the week before exams is reserved solely for studying and preparation.

NUIG has a big, beautiful campus with sculptures, grassy or woodsy areas, and several old, stone structures that resemble castles. Most of the buildings and lecture rooms have Irish names such as the O’h Eocha theatre and some of the signs on campus have Irish translations, creating a constant reminder of the Irish culture embraced by the school. The classes give an inside view of the Irish educational system as well as Irish issues and cultural characteristics. I am learning about the social and governmental issues in Northern Ireland for my politics class and reading famous Irish literature and plays in my English courses. It is a new perspective on history and the world. I’ve gained a lot of knowledge and can now compare Ireland to the United States as well as appreciate and understand the cultural, educational, and historical differences. And, I have to admit, it is pretty freakin’ awesome to have teachers with thick Irish and English accents!

  Sometimes, I think students can get ethnocentric and think only of their own country’s view of careers and education. However, studying abroad broke down that barrier. Regan was right: studying abroad gives you the mindset of an international student and citizen and you learn that education is different but equally of value around the world. Education can bring nations, cultures, and perhaps most importantly, people, together.

Rachel Balon is the Fall 2014 CEA MOJO in Galway, Ireland. She is currently a senior at Keystone College.

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