Monday, August 1, 2011

Advice for Spending a Semester Studying Abroad in Ireland

A good friend of mine is going to be studying in Dublin in the spring and I wanted to put together a list of things for her to know from my experience. As I was typing it up I realized that it was information that many people could potentially use. So here is my advice on studying abroad in Dublin, Ireland.

Ha-Penny Bridge

These are entirely my opinion and are things that as a college-aged female I found helpful. If you have any further questions PLEASE ASK! I would love to answer questions!

1. Open an Irish bank account
-It takes about a week to set it up but it will save you the hassle of international interest charges, fluctuating exchange rates and the hassle that some Irish retailers don't know how to or cant accept American credit cards. Irish cards operate on a pin and chip system very different from ours. Most convenience stores, like Spar don't even accept American credit cards and you'll find your self needing to buy things like bus passes there often. At the end of the semester close it about a week before you leave and exchange all your euro at the GPO (General Post Office) on O'Connell St, they have the best exchange rates and don't charge a commission. There's an AIB (Anglo Irish Bank) right on UCD's campus.

2. Know if you need a converter and/or an adapter for your computer.
-Most computer cords have a converter already in them, those weird boxes, and only require an adapter. I didn't realize this and bought one unnecessarily. Some hair straighteners will work with European plus, just check the box.

3. Pack light.
-I'm serious. I did not and I regretted it because bag fees are darn expensive and I had to check THREE of them. There are many discount retailers in Ireland and abroad so you will for sure be buying things there. Umbrellas are unnecessary because its so windy but bring a good rain jacket and rain boots are also a great thing to bring, as they are hard to find in stores. I found layers to be the best option. At first it will be cold. I had a north face and a shell it zipped into, it was a good thing to have. Also bring a scarf, hat and gloves. February is a rough month. Bring a travel alarm clock and a watch. There are no clocks anywhere. Oh and learn to love the 24 hour system! It's not so hard, subtract 12. Also get used to converting Celsius in your head. And be prepared for Irish girls! They did tended to dress up considerably more than we did. If you don't want to be noticed as being American don't wear jeans out at night.

4. Know, Realistically How Much You Eat.
-Having never cooked or shopped for just myself I went way overboard on food and supplies in the first month or so and spent too much money. Produce and fresh things are expensive in Ireland because everything is imported. Also take note of milk's percent of fat. Whole milk in Ireland is nearly 10% fat. Also there is a really great farmers market right near Christ Church on Cows Lane in the spring! Also right off of Cow's Lane is the Queen of Tarts, a bakery/lunchery that is so, so delicious I would recommend it to everyone!

5. Bring reusable shopping bags and a backpack.
-It is a government mandate that all plastic bags cost 22 cents, consequentially everyone uses reusable ones which are more durable and eco friendly.  I brought a few with me and always used my backpack for the heavier items such as milk. My backpack was what I did all of my traveling with. It's easy to carry and you can generally fit enough in them. Also Ryan Air only allows them as carry ons if you are going to be traveling with them you would be well advised to have one with you. In addition be careful traveling with Ryan Air as they have many hidden fees and particularities. Many of my friends expressed the wish that they had spent the extra money to fly with Aer Lingus and save themselves the hassle of flying with Ryan Air.

6. Buy alcohol at tesco and drink before you go out.
-Drinks in bars can run you from 3 euro (very cheap beer like a Foster's) to 8 euro for a mixed drink (Jameson and ginger ale) and that can add up very very quickly especially if you are going out several times a week. Also you can buy "half pints" of beer if you dont want an entire one. Places to go: Dicys and Copper Faced Jacks were really popular but they were definitely more of a club scene. Theres a place called O'Neils on Suffolk Street that was more of a bar and we thought it really great, also Messrs and Maguires right over the O'Connell Bridge was good too.

7. Pharmaceuticals and Personal Care Items.
-Bring cold medicine, Advil and things like that with you.Irish pharmacies are not like ours. They have very few options and they use different terminology. Also I brought shampoo and stuff like that with me because I'm particular.

8. Where to Buy Important Things Like Groceries and Clothes.
-Buy groceries at Tesco or Aldi. Buy clothes at Penny's. Marks and Spencer is another grocery store and they have great produce but are very expensive. They also have really good lunches for a decent price. 5 euro for lunch is the cheapest you'll find. Penny's was my favorite store in Ireland. They have an awesome shoe department (flats start at 3 euro) and an even better scarf department!

9. Being On "Irish Time"
-There is no such thing as "on time." Try not to get frustrated, that's how the whole city is. Except for Bus Eireann (the Irish equivalent of Greyhound) nothing is on time.

10. Irish Food
-Chips are fries. Crisps are potato chips. Learn to love tea. If you are a coffee drinker, I'm sorry. Their chocolate is amazing, notably Galaxy and try the other candy as its interestingly different. Food in restaurants is generally heavy. Go to Italy if you want good pizza. Irish Stew is ALWAYS a great bet. Also if you are a vegetarian-- I'm sorry, the Irish like their meat. For when you're on the go they have NutriGrain and Nature Valley bars almost identical to American ones. If you want peanut butter, make sure it is "American Style." There is no boxed mac and cheese. Don't buy the Ragu sauce, it's yucky. They don't have "alfredo" sauce, but they do have "white lasagna sauce." DON'T GET IT, it is gross. They also rarely have ricotta cheese at all, or if they do its expensive and comes in tiny portions. Their tuna is almost entirely dark meat. An "Irish Breakfast" is sausage, blood and white pudding (not my favorite) hash brown-like potatoes, eggs and toast. They do not put ice in anything so I hope you don't mind your water room temp. Also if you drink a lot of water bring a nalgene. Bottled water over there is extraordinarily expensive.

11. Public Transport
-Dublin bus is the way to go. But be careful it stops running at 11:30. All the buses will line up on O'Connell St and at 11:30 sharp they leave and don't pick up additional travelers. There is a late night bus but don't take it. After 11:30 cabs are the safest bet. Also don't sit on the top of the bus at night especially if you are alone. Buy the weekly STUDENT bus pass. They are so so worth it. Careful with the monthly because they are expensive and easily lost. You technically need a student traveler card (like an ID card you get at Dublin Bus on O'Connell) but most spars don't ask you for it. Sometimes the transit police will come on the buses and check passes and ID cards but if that happens just say you just got to Dublin and didn't know it was required. Or just spend the 12 euro. The Bus Eireann online system is confusing but once you figure it out, its great. The main terminal is right off the Liffey and it's called Busaras. Also always have your student ID with you because you get discounts and Bus Eireann requires it to get the student rate even if you bought the ticket online.

12. Beggars
-They are everywhere. They are much more noticeable in Dublin than in Boston. It's obviously a personal choice but I wouldn't give them money. Someone did a study and found that on average beggars in Dublin make over 100 euro a day!

13. Making phone calls.
-To dial TO the US FROM Ireland: 001 + the number. To dial TO IRELAND from the US you dial 011 + 353 + your phone number (making sure to drop the 0 that comes first).

14. The Irish Language, Government and Pronunciation
-"Irish" is the national language of Ireland. Every other country calls it Gaelic but there it's just "Irish." You'll see these on the buses and signs around the city, An Lar = City Center, As Serbhis = Out of Service. Also one of the most used slang words is "craic" pronounced crack. It means fun but can also be used as "Whats the craic?" or what's up. [bh= v sound ex. Cobh (cove) Siobhan (Shavon)]
-Also their government words are also in Irish. The Dail Eireann (pronounced Doy-ILL) is their parliament and their Taoiseach (tea-shock) is like a Prime Minister. They do have a president who has a more ceremonial position. Their main political parties are Fine Gael, Fianna Fail and the Labour Party. Fine Gael is pronounced finna gwael and loosely translated means the Tribe of Ireland. Fianna Fail is pronounced fina foil and means the Warriors of Destiny.
-Also their police force is the Garda Síochána (Gard-a shia-conna) literally translating into The Guardians of the Peace. A singular police man would be refered to as a Gardai (gardee, ai pronounced e.) An interesting fact is that the Garda are an unarmed police force!

15. Cellular Plans
-Get the same wireless plan as your friends. Since I have been there and experienced the different wireless carriers, I prefer Meteor. Also you can "top up" your phone (add money to it) at most ATMS! It's very convenient. Cell phones are referred to as mobiles.

-Dublin is the most accessible part of Ireland and buses are leaving and coming constantly. You have no excuse to stay in Dublin. Ireland is the size of South Carolina. Go West, South, and North. The country side is the true Ireland, Dublin is a city just like Boston or New York. Also I would recommend buying a Heritage Card. It's 8 euro and gets you into a TON of historic places free. You totally get your money's worth.

Update 6/23/14: Since I was in Ireland several years ago I'm sure a lot of things have changed. So I can't speak specifically to what it is like now, only what I experienced then but I'm happy to answer your questions!


  1. Irish Girls, can you elaborate please? I'm a tom-boy by American standards and was hoping that my sneakers, jeans, and layered tops look would be a little more at home in Ireland. I only own one pair of heals and they're for weddings. Advice?

  2. Although I haven't been since 2011 and don't know the current fashion trends, I would venture to guess that you will be more than fine! That sounds like what I wore 99% of the time, but I would still pack the heels incase you decide to go to a club with a dress code. Better safe than sorry was my motto when packing, but you could still also opt to buy some in Ireland.

  3. Can I ask what converter/adaptor you brought with you, and if you had any problems with them? :)

  4. Yes! I actually did not even use a converter while I was there. My computer is a Mac and the boxes on the plugs function as a converter so you only need the adapter bit for the end. I also bought a cellphone while I was there so I didn't need one for that. The only experience I have with adaptors is that they don't work that well. My friends blew a coffee maker, a George Forman grill, and a computer charger trying to use adaptors.

  5. An Ireland is a great country to spend your semester abroad. And I think all of here would certainly agree! :D

  6. hey how are the part time job opportunities in dublin? part time work is easily available for international students?

  7. As an international student, we were not allowed to work. I think it depends entirely on your visa and citizenship.

  8. Hi Kerin! What university did you study at/what major? Also, what semester? Are there notable differences between the fall and spring?

  9. Hi Ryan! Thanks for your comment! I studied at Dublin City University in the Spring. I think the only notable difference is the weather, but it is still beautiful. I have a friend that studied there in the fall and loved it just as much as I loved the spring.

  10. Hey Kerin, awesome post! It was very helpful. I'm studying at UCC in Cork in the fall and was wondering if you've visited that area. Any advice or differences you've noticed?

  11. Hello! UCC is a great school! I have several friends who have studied there and loved it. Unfortunately I only visited there once so I don't have any area specific advice but all the general information will still apply. Best of luck!

  12. Hey your advice is so useful! Do you have any rough estimation of the living expenses and accomdation? Im going to be in Dublin. P.S, is Ireland safe at night?

  13. Loved the advice, thank you! Ireland is my first choice right now and I plan to study abroad in the fall! Was it hard to fit in or make friends there? I'm sure there weren't that many differences in people, but any that were surprising to you, or made it difficult to make friends?

  14. Wong - As I lived in University housing I am not sure what the living expenses elsewhere would be.

    Natalie - The Irish are very friendly people! As Americans we didn't have any trouble making friends with the Irish students. There are some cultural differences but nothing that would keep you from socializing with them!

  15. I will be studying abroad at DCU through the BU Internship program next spring and found this so useful! thank you! is there anything you regret you did not do while there?

    1. You are going to have so much fun! I've actually started making a list of the things I didn't do while I was there, but will do next time I go:

      Powerscourts Garden & Waterfall
      Loch Tay/Guinness Lake
      Kylemore Abbey
      Rock of Cashel
      Dromberg Stone Circle

      Please let me know if you have any other questions!!

  16. My daughter and I just spent March traveling Ireland, and we are in love! The historic gaols were crazy interesting to us. If you get to Killarney and like ruins, go see the abbey.

    As to the comment about the Irish girls, we had a vastly different opinion. We saw few women with very much make-up, if any. The vast majority of women we saw were very natural, yet chic. Most wore flats (the stores have some VERY cute flats), and, especially in Dublin, most wore black - not at all flashy. We assumed they were being practical due to the weather and old sidewalks.

  17. love the way you look at Ireland. I am very interested in going to Ireland for a high school exchange program. Do you think that high school in Ireland is different from what you experienced? Also did you ever go swim in the ocean? What was the water like? At what season is the water is warmest do you think? Anyways, thanks for the advice!

  18. I have heard a bit about Ireland being a sexist culture. Did you experience any of this and would you say Ireland is a safe place to be for an American girl?

  19. Hi all, thanks so much for taking the time to comment! Since I was in Ireland several years ago I'm sure a lot of things have changed since then so I can't speak specifically to what it is like now, only what I experienced then but I'm happy to answer your questions!

    We did visit the ocean once in February and the water was pretty cold. I'm not sure when the best time to swim is though.

    I can't say I experienced any discrimination while I was over there. Unfortunately I can't speak to the safety piece as it probably varies greatly.

    Thanks again for reading!

  20. This is by far one of the best advice pages about studying in Ireland I have found. So, thank you for that. I am planning to study abroad in Ireland this academic year and am planning to write something similar to this to inform people.

  21. What are the best (cheapest) drugstore-like places in Dublin that sell things such as makeup, shampoo, etc.?

    1. It really depends on where in Ireland you are. There wern't very many CVS-like places but there are grocery chains where you can buy things like Aldi.

  22. Great advice so helpful! If you don't mind me asking about how much money did you take with you? What was your average spending per a day there?

  23. As a vegetarian I have to disagree about the lack of veggie options in Ireland. During both my trips there I found more than enough to eat including grocery stores, pubs and restaurants. Easy to put together veggie stuff myself but also ample options at restaurants if one just takes a moment to read the ingredients. I also found that many eateries had labeled vegetarian and vegan options and it seemed easier to find vegetarian food out & about then at home in my city. Great write-up! Thought I'd chime in in case anybody comes here seeking advice on veggie food in Ireland. However I might add quick that it's tough for lactose intolerant people. If you need to buy pills/medicine to calm your lactose intolerance just know that lactose intolerance is almost unheard of in Ireland. You may find a formula (in drops) for babies but nothing for adults so bring that with you just like the cold medicine mentioned in the article above.

  24. Thank you so very much for this fabulous blog, very helpful. We are going as a family for a few weeks and I am so looking forward to it as we like to travel like we "live there"

  25. Thanks for sharing wonderful information.. i m thinking to go Ireland for further studies..

    Keep writing...

  26. Hey, after studying abroad there are three general things I'd like to mention, hope you don't mind! Something I think is important for study abroad or any kind of traveling, especially through Europe, is a portable charger. I didn't have one and only found out they existed right before I left. My roommate had one and said it was the best study abroad gift she received. There were many times my phone was dying and I had to search for outlets, having a portable charger would have helped a lot, I recommend a 10000mAh (under $20 on Amazon). I now have a portable charger and use it whenever I fly within the states. ALSO, with outlets, if you are planning to travel and stay in hostels throughout Europe, a power strip is useful. Hostels seem to always be low on outlets. Sometimes you get lucky and have outlets on each bed, but more likely than not you are fighting for an outlet. Though, if you have a strip with you, all you do is plug it in and you allow three or four more people to be able to access an outlet. Last thing, if you are traveling throughout Europe, or Ireland in general, and you will not have internet access, get Pocket Earth. It is an app which cost me about $2-3. That is the only app I have ever purchased and it is extremely useful. You download the map of the city before you arrive and you can access it offline. It is very similar to google maps (JUST REMEMBER TO DOWNLOAD THE APP WHEN CONNECTED TO THE INTERNET). I ALWAYS place a flag on my hostel before I arrive. I would go out and just walk throughout the cities, not having to remember how I got there to retrace my steps home. Once I decided to turn around, I would pull out my phone and follow the flag home. I would always bring the paper city map from the hostel, because it had all the touristy stuff labeled on it. I loved this app and would recommend it to ALL. I traveled alone a lot and felt completely confident in venturing out because I knew no matter what I could get back to the hostel. That's some added side note to Kerin's wonderful post. :)

  27. What bank would you recommend while studying in Ireland? I will be in Cork...are the banks the same country-wide?