Thursday, April 20, 2017

Olivia at Ulster University, Ireland!

Hello, hello!

I’m Olivia, and I’m a sophomore studying at Ulster University in Northern Ireland! It’s kind of hard to believe, but I’ve already been here for about 3 months and I have about two months left here.


The weather here is very different than NC weather. We are all aware of the erratic temperature changes that NC experiences this time of year. Ireland, on the other hand, maintains a much more stable temperature range, and it has two types of weather: rain and sun. I thought that I would have to get used to all the rain here, but it is not as bad as I thought. Just a few days of rain, and then a few days of sun. There was one unexpected struggle, however, and that was the limited amount of daylight. In January, the sun rises around 8 a.m. and sets at 4:30 p.m. I won’t lie, I was kind of horrified the first few days at just how little light we had. It felt so dark here! Now that the days are getting longer, and daylight saving has passed, the sun sets around 7:30. I am amazed at how much light there is now. I no longer feel like I need to be in bed right after dinner.

Mussenden Temple. One of the most breathtaking places I've ever been to!

Ulster University has a wonderful international student program that focuses on Irish studies. I’m learning Gaelic, a language I never even dreamed of studying! The program also places a lot of emphasis on travelling, so we have Mondays and Fridays off, which allows us to take longer weekend trips (or to sleep in two extra days if that’s more your style!). 

Loch Ness. Nessie didn't make an appearance that day!

I used the extra time to plan many day trips around the area and beyond! I went to Scotland one weekend and visited the Highlands! I finally saw the famed Loch Ness, which is one of the most beautiful and impressive lakes I have ever seen. The Irish Studies program also puts a lot of emphasis on Irish history, which is a long and complicated struggle with identity and independence. 

I found Big Fish in Belfast!

You may have noticed that I said I was in Northern Ireland. I wasn’t being specific with my geographical location; I am in the U.K., not the Republic of Ireland. There is a small part on the north side of the island that never gained independence from England, so like Scotland, Northern Ireland isn’t its own country. As you can imagine, not everyone is happy with this. In the 1970s, British soldiers opened fire on unarmed civilians during a peaceful protest. There were fourteen deaths in total – we now refer to this event as Bloody Sunday. This event occurred in Londonderry, the city I’m studying in. People certainly haven’t forgotten about this event, but before you wonder about safety, this town is perfectly safe. The people here are wonderful and very friendly. We have our southern hospitality, and they have their Irish hospitality. It’s the same concept! All the international students have commented on how welcome they felt here.

Mural depicting those killed on Bloody Sunday

Are you familiar with the saying “what a small world?” Do you believe that statement is untrue? Let me share a story with you: the very first night I arrive here, I met one of my flat mates, an American student also studying at Ulster. To get the conversation going, I ask her where she is from. Her name is
Emma and she’s from Massachusetts. I tell her I go to UNCG, but I’m originally from Asheville. She laughs and tells me that she goes to school near Asheville. Turns out, she attends Warren Wilson College, which is a small university right outside of Asheville. Surprising, right? I met a girl who goes to school in my hometown. She also happens to know some people I went to high school with, but the best part is yet to come. She mentioned the coincidence to her family, and her aunt picked up on my name. My mother and Emma’s aunt went to high school together. There are so many connections, and we had to go across the Atlantic Ocean to meet each other. So, there you have it: it is a small world, indeed. You never know who you’ll meet when you go abroad!

My Dragon, Fraser, hanging out in Scotland!

Now for a few words for the wary student: you want to study abroad, but at the same time, you don’t. You’re like me and you worry about every little detail. You talk yourself out of it. I do not claim to have the best advice for this, and I certainly do not claim to be the world’s savviest traveler, but let me say one thing: what’s an adventure without a few missteps? It won’t be perfect. Nothing ever is. Just take it step by step, then day by day. Celebrate every success, be it big or small. Often, we find ourselves to be more capable than we think. You’ll probably be surprised at how much you can accomplish. This is your chance to dream a little, live a little, and learn a lot. Finally, take photos of EVERYTHING, so we all can see your adventures!

We refer to this building as the Hogwarts building. Hopefully, you see the resemblance!

Until next time!

Olivia Reath
Ulster University, Ireland
Spring 2017