By Bridget Geraghty
When it comes to studying abroad in “exotic” places such as South Africa or Japan, there is an explicit understanding that there will be a lot for students to adjust to in their new homes. On the other hand, when students are travelling from the United States to other first-world English-speaking countries, there is an unconscious assumption that life will be almost exactly the same as home except with a charming accent. Despite attending numerous orientations both in the States and abroad, as I am sure was the case for most other students in my program, it seems we were quite unprepared for some of the differences here in Galway, Ireland.
One difference we were actually warned about in our orientation had to do with heating. In Ireland, the climate is often damp, and according to Met Éireann (the Irish National Meteorological Service), the yearly annual temperature average is 9°C or 48.2°F. As can be expected, in winter the temperatures are lower, but during our stay so far temperatures have remained mostly in the high 30s to low 40s. As a born and bred Minnesotan, these temperatures in January sounded like heaven to me. However, we were warned that many American students find that the damp leaches into everything and thus makes Ireland feel colder.
Unlike Americans though, the Irish are not inclined to just turn the heat up when they are feeling cold; instead, they put on another pair of socks or a second jumper (sweater). Due to high fuel costs, the Irish are fuel-conscious as well as strongly aware of electricity usage. As such, we were told to remain aware of our electricity and heat usage. This resulted in my roommate and I being hyper-aware, almost to an absurd degree, the first few days in our apartment before we started to get a system down of when to turn the heat on and when to turn it off.
Going hand in hand with heating consciousness here in Ireland is the lack of hot water on demand. Upon hearing about this at orientation, there was a general outcry from the American students wondering as to what sort of place they had consigned the next five months of their lives to. The Irish use an “immersion system” to heat their water, which, when turned on, heats a certain amount of water before turning itself off again. This means that when one wants to take a hot shower, one must turn the system on and then wait half an hour before turning on the water.
However, simply understanding a lack of immediate hot water in theory is quite different than being faced with the situation in reality. By our second morning here in Galway, located on the west coast of Ireland, many of the students were frustrated after trying to take a shower at one point or another. Issues ran the gamut from not being able to find the immersion control box—which was the situation in our apartment—to not knowing how to work the system, to trying to take too many hot showers in a row. Breigh Carey ‘16, a student from the University of Alabama, believes an attitude adjustment is necessary for those who have issues with the hot water.
“Americans are so spoiled with their access to hot water all the time,” Carey said.
The difficulties of adapting to a new lifestyle are all part of the study abroad experience. No matter what we are faced with, we all chose to leave home and study in a different country to learn how other people live their lives. If we were to stay in a perfectly kept hotel with all the amenities, we would always feel and be perceived as outsiders. What better way to integrate into a community than by living the way the Irish do?