Student of Drama and Theatre Studies and English
University of California Berkeley – 2008/09
Work hard, Play hard – that’s the way I would sum up my year abroad. Lucky for me I loved the work I did, so it really was a win-win situation!
I started thinking about studying abroad when I got an email from UCC’s International Education Office with information about the exchange programme between UCC and the University of California (UC). Once I got accepted for the exchange through UCC I then had to decide which of the UC colleges I wanted to attend. Berkeley was my first choice for a number of reasons: its reputation, its location (in the San Francisco Bay area), and the choice of courses that were offered there. As a student of Drama and Theatre Studies and English, there aren’t many places that could offer such an ideal environment for a year away.
There was a lot of work involved in organising everything – visa documentation, classes, accommodation – but it would have been worth doing it all a hundred times over to get there! The whole experience had so much to offer – not only what I learnt in classes, but also what I learnt about people from all over the world, where I can go in my professional life and the value of travel.
The ‘Berkeley experience’ is one that anyone could enjoy! The college has about 35,000 students, including a significant number of international students. However, there is still a very personal feeling in the place. There is a huge sense of school spirit everywhere you go. The Golden Bears are the Berkeley football team, and boy do they make their presence felt! Fall is game season. On a game day the street is swamped in tides of blue and yellow and chants of GO BEARS! resound from the huge stadium all the way around town. Berkeley is a university where you find a lot of ‘over-achievers’ – the kind of people who are taking pre-med and advanced Russian classes, a member of the kick-boxing club, the swim team, president of the eastern visual arts society and volunteering as a student mentor. At the same time, Berkeley also has the reputation of being a town full of liberal hippies, and it’s easy to see where that comes from! I guess it’s just the kind of place that has something for everybody. The campus is full of old trees and streams, impressive buildings, lots of squirrels and is always alive with activity, whether it’s an outdoor performance from a cappella group or dance troupe, or a raging protest!
I lived at International House, which was an incredible experience – living with 600 students from all over the world. Some of the most interesting people I met and the best friends I made were people I lived with. I also did a lot of travelling with other international students. The accommodation was located right at the corner of campus and had a view overlooking the bay and right across to San Francisco and the Golden Gate Bridge. San Francisco itself has a lot to offer. There’s always something going on, great places to sight-see, shop, go on a day-time or night-time adventure or just watch the sun set over the Pacific.
The theatre department was bigger than at UCC so I found the facilities very impressive. There was also a wider choice of classes. I chose classes that I wouldn’t have been able to take at home. For me, that meant Directing, Acting, Stage Management, Performance History, Dance, Linguistics and Creative Writing. The school year is divided into two semesters, Fall and Spring. Each semester is independent in terms of class choices and assessment. In general, there is a lot more emphasis placed on continuous assessment than exams, which means that you engage with the work all term, rather than cramming everything in at the end! My classes were also very practical – I learnt from doing, rather than from reading, and I developed great working relationships with many of my teachers, who were always ready to give extra time or help when asked.
As the year went on, and I became more and more attached to the people and the place, I decided I wanted to prolong my experience and I made arrangements to stay for the summer. I organised internships with two theatre companies in the bay area. My learning experience at Berkeley was invaluable to me in securing those opportunities, as well as being useful while I was actually working. I also spent a month doing some travelling on the west coast. I went as far as San Diego at one end and up to Seattle at the other. I also travelled to the Yucatan peninsula in Mexico during ‘Spring Break’. That was an unforgettable experience – seeing a country so rich in beauty and history – and that was a holiday from my year in California!
Now that I’m back at UCC, in final year, it’s sometimes hard to feel that it was all real. I had a whole other world out there, full to the brim with excitement, new friends and opportunities. Saying good-bye to California was bitter-sweet for me. I was sad to leave it all behind, but so delighted it had happened. Studying abroad is an unforgettable experience, and I feel so lucky to have had such an educational and adventurous year!
I returned to college in 2006 as a mature student. I had been in the workforce for the previous three years so I knew that a return to full-time education would be a challenge. After two years of study at UCC I decided to embark on a new challenge and study in the United States of America for a year. It was not an easy decision to make, as it meant leaving family, friends and a partner for up to nine months, but it was an excellent decision and one which I do not regret in the least.
The first time I heard of the possibility of studying abroad was in an email sent to all college students. At the time I found that being in college for a second time, and in a different age-group and situation to many of my classmates, was quite demanding. I thought that the exchange programme would present a chance to re-energise and to return to UCC for my final year focused and determined. I also thought of it as a chance to experience other cultures and ways of life, which could be combined with an excellent opportunity to study in a world renowned university. The fact that the programme was in California was also very appealing to me.
The people in the International Education Office at UCC were exceptional in the help that they provided to me and to the other applicants, and I am indebted to them for that. The application procedure is quite daunting at first, but it is very manageable on closer examination. I would advise anyone considering studying abroad to contact a member of staff in the institution to which they are applying, as the people on that side of the pond are equally as helpful and generous with their time. The faculty members in the Civil and Environmental Department at UCC were also very positive and actively encouraged me to apply. At the outset I was very reluctant to do so, but as the saying goes “a dumb priest never got a parish”, and I filled out the application form. I believe it has been the most positive choice I have made to date, coupled with my initial decision to return to college.
As a student in an American university I was amazed and delighted at the flexibility of the courses which one can study. The system emphasises continuous assessment – much more so than the system at UCC. The year was divided into three quarters, each quarter being independent of the others and with examinations at the end of each quarter. In between each quarter there was recess. This allowed me to return to Ireland over the Christmas period and to travel through the state during the spring break. I made many friends while there, and I can’t speak highly enough of the lecturers at UCal Davis. I had a proper American Thanksgiving, Labour Day, Superbowl Sunday, Independence Day and many other great days besides. I got the chance to ski, go white water rafting, whale watching and hiking. I saw some of the most spectacular scenery on earth with good friends and provided a base for people from home who wanted to visit the ‘Golden State’.
The experience was fantastic. Of course there were times when I was lonely and missed home, but the positives far outweigh the negatives. I consider myself very lucky to have received the chance to study at the University of California. It has provided me with possibilities of further study abroad and with job opportunities on either side of the Atlantic. I would whole-heartedly urge any student, mature or not, to apply for study abroad.
Margaret Steele graduated from UCC with a BA in Philosophy and English in 2001 and an MA in Philosophy in 2003. While studying at UCC she spent a semester at Boston College under the UCC-Boston College exchange programme. She is now pursuing a PhD at Marquette University in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.
Even though I had been vaguely considering doing my PhD in the US for some time, I really wasn’t sure what, if anything, I wanted to do about it. I had lived in Cork city all my life. I had even lived at home with my parents, barely half a mile from the UCC campus, all through university! The whole idea of upping sticks and going to a new continent, even for a semester, seemed daunting at the very least. So, although I had been aware, to some extent, of the availability of many different exchange programs, I had been somewhat reluctant.
The first thing that challenged that reluctance was when I found out that applications were being accepted from UCC students interested in spending a semester at Boston College. I was very excited at the thought of living on the east coast of the USA, a place I had visited and loved before during summer holidays. It also so happened that BC was home to some very heavy-hitters in my academic area of interest, Continental philosophy.
The second thing that helped me overcome my fears and start to think I could do this was the support I got from different people at home in UCC. First of all, the competence of the International Education Office staff made me feel I was in good hands. They were able to talk through with me, not only the academic and administrative requirements, but also the psychological issues, and how other students in the past had coped with them. Secondly, I received a lot of support from the UCC philosophy department too. As well as recommending that I should be accepted to the programme, they were also very encouraging, especially my supervisor who was convinced that it was a great opportunity for me and really helped me to plan how to make the most of it.
Even with this support system in place at UCC, not to mention my network of family and friends, I was still quite nervous. In fact, in Dublin airport, I was so scared I briefly considered not going! It was by no means my first time away from home alone, but this was very different to just heading off travelling. This time, I was going to have to learn to function in normal, everyday ways in a whole new country. Also, I was going to have to cope with a school system which, while compatible with ours, was still very different. But somehow I made it on to the plane and got to Boston, where I met up with the other UCC student who was going to be joining me at BC for the semester.
We checked into a motel in the BC neighbourhood, where we stayed while we did our apartment-hunting, and where we had to ride out our first snow storm, one of the biggest in recent years, and quite an introduction to the North American winter!
With the help of the amazingly friendly and embarrassingly helpful staff of BC my room-mate and I found a great apartment, right on Cleveland Circle, which was, for me at least, a dream place to live. It was near school, but also convenient for access to downtown, so it was easy to take a trip to see the historic centre of Boston, do some shopping, or even go see my now-beloved Red Sox play at Fenway Park. Our neighbourhood itself was attractive and interesting, with plenty of non-grid, higgledy-piggledy streets to wander around and explore, a phenomenon that is not common in the New World.
I enrolled in classes with professors whose work I had already read and been impressed by, which was very exciting. The study abroad experience would have been worth it for this alone – the chance to discuss my academic interests with leading lights in my chosen field.
I must admit that, joining in half way through the semester, being with different people in every class and not living on campus, it was quite hard to make friends. I started to get to know people a little towards the end of the semester, and I think if I had been there for a full year, I might have made some good friends. That said, I had a great roommate, and I never lacked for things to do.
While in Boston, I began the process of applying for PhD programmes in different parts of the United States. I was subsequently accepted to Marquette University in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, where I am now happily ensconced in my third semester. I think that my UCC study abroad experience helped me immeasurably. From the practicalities of apartment-hunting, setting up utilities accounts and so on, to the more ephemeral things like learning to pick up on US body language and speech conventions, it was such a help that everything was not completely new and overwhelming.
Although I already had a particular interest in experiencing the country I was going to, because I was already toying with the idea of heading there for the long haul, I would advise anyone to try a UCC study abroad program, even if you only want to go for the semester or year and leave it at that. I know the idea gives rise to a strange mix of excitement and fear in a lot of people, but I honestly think that if I could handle it anyone could. I was terrified leaving Ireland, but – and I know it’s clichéd, but it’s honestly true – when I finally left Boston, I cried all the way to the airport, and I will be back there just as soon and as often as I can afford to go. The service and help I experienced from the international study offices and philosophy departments on both sides of the Atlantic was above and beyond the call of duty, and the experience has enriched me, both academically and personally.
John O’Sullivan, a BSc Government and Public Policy student, spent the third year of the degree programme at the University of California, Berkeley.
When I arrived here I picked up a copy of some or other university publication welcoming new students to the campus. A few pages in, tucked away after the customary messages from the Chancellor and so forth, was a short opinion piece from an alumna. She began; "Welcome to UC Berkeley. By virtue of the fact that you're here, you were probably one of top students coming out of your high school". This was off putting to say the least considering that in my Leaving Cert year, my academic pursuits ranked at about the same priority as the success of the Welsh bog-snorkelling team. I read on; "Well guess what?" she beckoned, "Get used to it, so was everybody else". This kind of attitude sums up the academic approach at Berkeley. This is where the scientists who built the first nuclear bomb were educated, but it also where the Free Speech Movement that eventually engulfed the United States in a rage against the Vietnam war began. The university even has a place on the periodic table; element 97 - berkelium - was discovered here, and currently there are seven Nobel prize winners on the faculty. The best thing about Berkeley though, is what it does with all this achievement. The men and women who come here to learn and teach collectively look to those who have gone before them, not to glorify themselves by common membership of an elite club, but with humility with respect to their good fortune to be here.
UC Berkeley offers undergraduate students a huge range of choice of courses. Unlike the Irish system where students choose from a range of degree programs for the CAO, here the choice is made after a few semesters of experimenting with different interests. Even when a student declares a major, there still exists total freedom to choose outside of the required coursework. This academic freedom is taken to the extreme with the DeCal system. DeCal (standing for Democratic Education at Cal) means that dedicated graduate students can design their own courses on topics of their choosing. Most importantly, the university recognizes these courses for credit. This year the classes included; Essential Medicines in Africa. The Politics of "South Park", The Physics of Skateboarding, and Feminist Analyses of "Sex & The City". The ultimate effect of all this freedom is that Berkeley students tend to graduate as well-educated individuals rather than well-trained employees.
Berkeleyans tend to play as hard as they work, and as it the sacred tradition in all college towns, Thursday nights are for fun. If there is one thing I have discovered here, it is that there is no way to say "Frat-Party" in an Irish accent without sounding ridiculous. Since the U.S. prohibits under-21’s from alcohol consumption, and most undergraduates are also underage, most parties tend to happen in more private settings, and consequently the number and quality of public houses is lower that the average Corkonian is accustomed to. All socializing does not revolve around the nightlife though, and Berkeley attracts a small army of famous speakers that come to give free public lectures. The past few weeks alone have seen Monty Python’s John Cleese, "Dead Man Walking" author and death-row activist Sister Helen Prejean and the journalist who broke the Abu Ghraib scandal Seymour Hersh.
I will finish by giving one concrete reason why it is in your vital interests to apply. If you look at early maps of the U.S, when the east coast was widely explored, but California was barely heard of, you may notice that the scale is wildly distorted. Florida appears three times the size of California in some maps. I think this is because it is human nature to overestimate the things we know and downplay, or ignore entirely the things we don't. It often occurs to me that the most difficult part of life is not achieving your goals, but working out what those goals should be. A huge part of making your mind up is seeing what is available to you. Nothing stands between you and your dreams like your own short horizons. Anything you can do to push them out and expand the reaches of your mind should be grabbed with both hands.
Ivan Crowley, a BSc Government and Public Policy student, was awarded the George Mitchell Peace Scholarship and spent the 2003/2004 academic year at the University of Maine.
Adventure isn't hanging on a rope off the side of a mountain. Adventure is an attitude that we must apply to the day to day obstacles of life - facing new challenges and seizing new opportunities…” (John Amatt)
Beginning the college adventure brings its own challenges - living away from home for the first time and having to take on new responsibilities. Approaching the change with hope and enthusiasm can make it a truly fulfilling and exciting experience. I took a further plunge into the unknown for my third year of college, and spent a year studying politics in the US at the University of Maine.
As I prepared to leave home I really had no idea what to expect – I wondered how well I would integrate in the US and how difficult classes would be. Once I got to Maine and started meeting new friends, any fear or trepidation I had been feeling dissipated immediately. I got involved in a number of student organizations and went in search of the true American experience! A trip to see an American football game, shopping at the Mall and a visit to the local pizza joint soon followed.
The university system in the US is organised quite differently to Ireland, with greater flexibility in choosing what subjects to study. I enjoyed being part of another educational system, with a distinct approach to academics and a different style of college life. The University of Maine is known for the tremendous range of campus activities offered and I certainly enjoyed attending various talks, game nights, and theatre performances. Getting the “university experience” in a different culture was both fun and enriching.
Overall, my year abroad was a fantastic opportunity to experience American culture first hand, to study and debate with American students and find out how whether I could adapt to living abroad. I met many Americans who were very eager to find out about Ireland and was invited to share my perspective on Irish culture with American schoolchildren from the local area. St. Patrick’s Day in the US was almost a surreal experience – I was surprised that so many got into the spirit of things, dressing in green and sending greeting cards. Irish culture has certainly spread well beyond our borders!
When I returned home I brought many fond memories of my time in the US. I’ve made some great friends and thoroughly enjoyed observing US politics. I even acquired a liking for American football! An opportunity to study abroad is well worth embracing – go for it!
Brian Appelbe spent the third year of his Civil and Environmental degree at the University of California, Berkeley
I spent the third year of my Civil and Environmental degree in Berkeley. It was a fantastic opportunity and brought enormous academic, social and cultural benefits. I believe my personal development was also accelerated by the experience causing me to return to UCC more confident, assured and with a far greater understanding of the wider world.
Berkeley is exceptional in many ways. The quality of education available was world class. Lecturers were experts in their field and were also very approachable and friendly.
This, combined with a more hands-on method of teaching (assignments, continuous assessment, etc.), ensured there was no excuse for not learning.
The size of the university and the resources available had two direct effects on my education. There was an extremely wide range of classes from which to choose covering all sorts of topics in all levels of detail. For example, I was able to take classes as specific as soil hydrology and as general as “A Survey of World History”. Secondly, the resources available in the University ensure that no lecturer teaches more than a couple of classes at any one time. This allowed them to give plenty of attention to the students they were teaching.
Of course, you still need the motivation to work and study but once, you have the willingness to do so, the system almost guarantees you will succeed.
I also have great memories of living in Berkeley. It is a unique place in which everyone is friendly and welcoming. Berkeley is very much a student town, completely dominated by the presence of the University. This gives the place a sense of community and you cannot help but feel that you are a part of it. Berkeley is very close to San Francisco so it is impossible not to feel you are living in big-city America, a fast-moving place full of energy. The range of activities and events on offer was vast and top-level sports and arts events were always close at hand.
I was lucky in that I was able to stay in a dormitory that catered mainly for foreign students. I think that the common experience of being new to America helped to build friendships here and there was a great sense of togetherness in the dormitory. Everyone was keen to make friends and there was a genuine interest in other people’s experiences, stories and thoughts. Conversation topics were always stimulating and enlightening.
I think my fondest memories of Berkeley are of the people I met there. Some of my greatest friendships were forged there. It was the ideal place to get to know so many different people.
Alan Noonan spent the first year of his MPhil degree in History at the University of Montana
Some things about Montana by Alan Noonan
"Then there’s Montana. That’s a wonderful state"
-James J. Hill
Along with many others things in my time in the University of Montana I learned who James J. Hill was. Hill, a railroad tycoon and ever the business man, was trying to promote Montana to potential settlers. It made sense After all who knows anything about Montana? Ireland’s only connection seemed to be the Butte mines where thousands of Irish worked. And it was either the mines or some vague memory of the scenery from Brokeback Mountain that people seem to think of when the word Montana was mentioned. Montana in reality is very different.
I went on my exchange straight after my BA and as part of my first year of my M.Phil. I wanted to travel to study, see new sights and meet new people, so I packed my bags and left after eventually filling out annoying amounts of papers and documents. As I headed off I felt a great deal of apprehension mixed in with a dollop of expectation and a dash of scepticism. As most will know by now, travel into and from America is a lot less fun and a lot more tortuous (no pun intended) since 9/11, and it was then I was grateful to have all my papers in order (after some frantic searching) for the serious and dour Homeland Security officials. I’m pretty sure the new security plans are based around an idea of boring/annoying potential terrorists so much they’ll just quit, and instead go home and grumble about Western Imperialism while eating a Big Mac.
After my connecting flight from Atlanta to Salt Lake City was delayed because of an impressive hour and a half long thunderstorm (while on the runway waiting to take-off) I decided to crash in a hotel where I finally realized I was in America after spotting former Vice-President Al Gore leaving the hotel as I was eating breakfast. Arriving in Missoula, the home to the University of Montana, I was badly stuck. Having missed the arranged meeting from the airport to the university by a day I was lost. Not only that but I couldn’t figure out what area code I was in or how to contact the college. Time for a taxi eh? Wrong. This is Missoula. And in Montana, they don’t have cabs. Ok, let me amend that, they have one. But it’s a rare enough sight to locals that they will mention it if it’s heading down the street. The bus service exists (strange for the U.S. outside of the large cities) and from later experience it’s good if you need to get around town, but this was little help at the airport where I neither had change nor knew where to get it from (or what it looked like… which ended up being a minibus in a distinctive aqua colour… oh and the service was named the Mountain Lion).
So there I was, stuck, outside the small airport, no idea where to go or what to do. I decided to ask a youngish man where to get the bus to the university. About a minute later I was being given a tour of the town on the way to the campus. All this eventually leads to my greatest compliment to the people of Montana, their hospitality. A lot of people will complain that Americans have a facade of friendliness about them. However, while it takes a while to be greeted by every store worker with a “Hello, sir, how are you today?” it only takes a bit of getting used to. By the way, expect strange looks if you respond with a question like “How’r tings boy?” Anyway, after getting my lift back to the university I headed to the foreign student services office where I was met with smiles after I told them how I got there from the airport. I was told this was just Missoula. From being there for two terms I can say from experience that they were absolutely right. It is just the way Missoula is.
While it’s difficult to get there, Missoula, Montana, is worth it. The scenery is absolutely stunning with every possible outdoor activity covered, but you can read all this in a promotion leaflet. What is college like? More intensive because of the continual assessment element but the professors were (at least in the History Department) extremely approachable and consistently helpful. One professor, Dave Emmons, was fond for playing handball (yes, the Irish version) before any sort of academic discussion could take place. Academically it seems easier to get better grades over there. As for the students… Well, with any sort of accent you are immediately granted a sort of celebrity status in America. Montana with its history and Irish connection has this more than others, especially with there being so few actual Irish born travelling there now and, of course, the Irish are innately popular over there too. All this adds up to opportunity galore for any student willing to brave the long travel time. Just don’t get too used to the cheap beer and attention.
The best thing about Montana? As clichéd as it is, it has to be the great people. If you do end up travelling there, make sure to make the most of your time and meet as many people as possible and go to as many of the events as you can. You will never see anything like the TestyFest in Ireland, that’s for sure. An exchange with the University of Montana is a great idea if you are interested in experiencing one of the less seen faces of America. If you ever do end up going, you have to try a moose drool and some chaw. Yeah, Montana is possibly the only place that last sentence would make sense.
Gemma Dwane, a BA (Arts Music) student at UCC spent a semester at Wesleyan University in Connecticut under the Music Department’s exchange programme with Wesleyan’s Department of Music.
To go to Wesleyan is an opportunity no music student should pass on. Its facilities are fantastic and the amount of choice there is mind blowing. If you are into Jazz you have the opportunity to work with Anthony Braxton. Classical, the people are endless. Experimental, Cage taught there and Alvin Lucier is a lecturer there. For Ethnomusicology it speaks for itself, Wesleyan basically created the discipline. If you want to experience new music the opportunities are boundless. The experimental music is different to UCC’s and the world music choices range from African to Indian to Korean and onwards.
The World Music Hall in Wesleyan is such an amazing place to play. The performers play in an open floor plan while the audience is tiered above them on what are really carpeted steps. Depending on what you are listening to you can sit upright like a normal concert hall (Wesleyan has an amazing concert hall as well as the World Music Hall), sit cross-legged while listening to David Nelson play Indian Mrdangam or lie down while trancing out at one of the Javanese Gamelan ensembles many all night long concerts! For you night owls the practice rooms are open 24/7 so you can practice at 2am after partying hard or after studying in one of the comfy armchairs in Olin Library that look out on Foss hill and the football and baseball pitches. The Music section is HUGE! You can find anything there and there is even a separate Arts Library with even more books! It is also an amazing opportunity to experience a different approach to teaching and learning. The American approach to anything is very different to ours, but is interesting. The saying "Work hard, party hard" is the perfect description. It seems like a daunting prospect but it is infectious and you will be sucked in. Your mind will be opened and you will gain much from it.
Some practical advice: Have plenty of extra money, as everything is cheaper in the US, you will spend a lot. Also the points you have on your student meal card will run out, as food on campus isn't cheap. Don't stress out about getting everything ready as Marita Foster in the International Education Office at UCC will guide you perfectly and just make sure you do everything she says and what Wesleyan asks for on time. Once there, get the head of the music department to email you, and the adviser above you in Wesleyan, the exact break down of your credits and what you will have to do there. You will probably have a very good idea of the classes you will be hoping to take in Wesleyan before you go but just take it that no one in Wesleyan knows what you should do so they need a step by step guide. Also things don't run exactly and perfectly. You have to do a lot of running around and question asking, but just relax and go with the flow as everything falls into place and as you are a visiting international student there is some leeway. Just don't get lazy. Get to know Sandy, the secretary, as she can help you with practically anything and even if she doesn't know the answer she will guide you to someone who does. Get all your medical things done before you go with a doctor who has all your details or will get them, because if you don't, you will have to be tested over there and this can take weeks hence prevent you from registering as a student and then for your classes. The first week can be daunting as you will have an Orientation week which starts the minute you get off the plane so no time to be jetlagged. This is a brilliant week. Throw yourself into it and you'll make loads of friends, get over jetlag incredibly fast and get to know the college before all the other students return for the start of the semester.
Main thing is to get out there and have fun! You will have an amazing, wonderful, fantastic time that will change your life in some way or another for the good.
Lizanne Hourihan is currently studying at Boston College. She is registered for a Master’s programme in Education at UCC
My name is Lizanne Hourihan. I graduated from UCC with a BA in Geography and History in 2003, and got my Higher Diploma in Education in 2004. I taught for two years in Christ King Girls' Secondary School. Like every twenty-something, I really wanted to travel and experience living in different parts of the world. I also wanted to go back to college to do my Masters in Education. So when I read about a year-long exchange to Boston College, it seemed the perfect way to marry the two ideas!
I'm now in my second semester here and I love it. The classes are smaller and longer than what we're used to at home. They're predominantly discussion-based which can be daunting at first, but really makes the learning process easier in the long run. Coming to Boston College has allowed me to focus on the Sociology of Education, in particular issues of equality of access in education, which is what I would like to write my thesis on. Hopefully my American experience of this will help me greatly when I return to UCC to finish the other half of my Masters.
And of course, there are the weekends! Unfortunately, the work load is pretty high here so I find that I end up spending a good bit of my otherwise free time studying. But when I do have free time...well, so far I've been skiing twice (and have two more outings at least until the snow melts!), and I've visited New York and Las Vegas. Within Boston itself there's so much to do:
Celtics games, shows, ice-skating, shopping (possibly a bit too much time spent on that!), concerts, and of course going out. The night life is excellent here, and really cheap as well. Much like the clothes...my credit card bill doesn't bear thinking about!