Given the shared language and many cultural norms, Americans and Irish don’t experience culture shock when visiting each other’s countries the same way they might in non-English-speaking locales. I had much less trouble adjusting to living abroad than my friends in France did, but some aspects of Irish life still surprised me.
Appearance: As a pale, freckly Irish-American, I fully expected to blend in among the fair-skinned folks of the Emerald Isle. Not so. While my vaguely familiar features and attempts to dress like a local helped, my skin didn’t stand a chance amid my fake-tan-loving Irish friends. I’ll never forget the night my roommate, Lauren, emerged from her room with one leg milky white and the other shimmering bronze, tearfully exclaiming, “I ran out of tan! Now what?”
Drinking: Pub life is a significant part of Irish culture, but it’s not all about the Guinness and Jameson. Approximately one-fifth of Irish adults don’t drink at all, a statistic I might not have believed had I not witnessed it among my friends and peers. Nights out on the town did mean dealing with obnoxious drunks — but more often than not they were American students taking advantage of the younger drinking age.
Education: Irish higher education differs greatly from its U.S. counterpart in that the government covers tuition for EU residents, students are expected to contribute only €2500 a year and financial aid is essentially nonexistent. Students are also pretty much locked into a major after their first year; if they decide to change they start over and pay the full tuition. Finally, there’s much less one-on-one interaction between students and lecturers — mine were surprised if I just stopped by to talk after class.
Lifestyle: With their frequent tea-and-digestive breaks and long lunch hours, the Irish sometimes view time in a more elastic manner than Americans might. Still, they are by no means strangers to hard work and stress. Irish students might like to give the impression of being calm and carefree, but my friends spent plenty of time working and studying. The difference was their ability to balance time between work and play. “But I’ve got homework!” was rarely an acceptable excuse for going home early.
Religion: Traditionally an overwhelmingly Catholic country, Ireland has seen a steady decline in Mass attendance since the 1980s; while it remains around 50 percent, younger generations are often simply culturally Catholic. Trinity’s high percentage of Catholic students does rival Notre Dame’s, but the one time I went to Mass on campus there were fewer than 20 people there. My Irish roommate explained that those of our generation who regularly attend are seen as odd or old-fashioned, so she could hardly believe my descriptions of dorm Mass at ND.
Meg Morrison ‘13 spent her junior year at Trinity College Dublin through Notre Dame’s Office of International Studies Dublin program. She is the magazine’s summer and fall intern. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org