Nathan Overlock is an official CAPA blogger for spring 2017, sharing his story in weekly posts on CAPA World. A professional writing and information design major at Cedarville University, he is studying abroad in Dublin this semester.
In this week's post, Nathan explains how Irish school systems work, and the best ways to plan for the differences you'll encounter.
This week, I’m wrapping up the “study” part of study abroad, and taking my last exam at Griffith College. And yes, it’s cumulative. If you ask an Irish lecturer that, instead of the collective groan you’d expect from a classroom in the U.S., you’ll probably see a look on confusion on your teacher's face, and hear a snicker or two from the students around you. That’s because I use “cumulative” loosely; apart from a practical assignment in the middle of the system, the exam is all there is: three hours, a couple of prompts, and a blank book to prove everything you’ve learned from 60+ hours of lectures, readings, and tutorials. So, without a decade of practice taking these types of exams in Irish schools, how do you even prepare? Hopefully I’ll know the answer by the 2:15 on Wednesday when I start filling in the first questions.
In a lot of ways, studying in Ireland feels like repeating freshman year at a radically different college. Just like in the U.S., the key is learning how things work, what your professors expect from you, and what you need to know by the end of the semester. If you just compare exams, it really does sound impossible to do well. However, the whole learning and teaching process is different from start to finish. Just look at a typical Irish course schedule:
Lectures: 1-2 days/week for 1.5-3 hours
Tutorial: 2-3 hours, once a week
Assignments: 1 week break from lectures and tutorials, mid semester
Exams: 1 month, after lectures and tutorials end
While there are plenty of long holiday weekends in Ireland, those weeks off aren’t free time: they’re to focus on your assignment paper or finals without the distraction of having to go to classes. Of course, that didn’t stop me from doing my writing from Galway, Belfast and London.
You might have long lectures at home, but the amount of time spent sitting in class can easily add up to twice what you’d spend in a U.S. class. Also, even though they always fall between 9 and 5:30pm lecture and tutorial times can vary throughout the semester and often change rooms, rarely starting or ending at the correct time even once schedules settle. But even though I was used to going to class at the same time every other day in 50-minute blocks for each of my courses at home, I ended up enjoying the variety, along with my professors’ endless spouts of knowledge in fantastic Irish accents.
Tutorials, if you’re not familiar, are the interactive part of coursework. This is where we group up with other students to do in-class assignments while the professor is available to answer questions and offer feedback. Separating this aspect of learning from regular coursework can be a bit tedious, but this is the time each week from the beginning of the semester that teachers dedicate to preparing you for their exams, by giving you a taste for the type of information they’re emphasizing, the way they phrase questions, and the depth and quality of answers they expect. It’s also the best time to get to know your professors and classmates.
Everything about college classes in Ireland was new to me, and there are some quirks like putting every word that’s going to come out of the professor's mouth on a PowerPoint and passing it out beforehand that I’m still not sure I understand. But as useful as learning the topics my classes actually covered, like International Marketing, Web Design, and Irish History, learning to adapt to new teaching methods and gaining an international perspective on topics I could’ve easily covered at home ended up being my most valuable part learning at Griffith College.
Nathan's journey continues every Friday so stay tuned.