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Learning While Living in Belfast

So I’ve been here in Belfast for about a month now and so far it’s been one of the greatest experiences of my life. I have found certain aspects of it challenging, simply because there are a few major differences between here and the U.S. First and foremost, for two English-speaking countries, you wouldn’t think that language would be one of these said differences, but that has not been my experience here at all. I have had entire conversations with my classmates, or flatmates, or just people I’ve met around town, without knowing what exactly what was said. In the beginning, it was the most disconcerting part of being here because I would have no idea what was going on around me; when people would speak to me, I would simply smile and nod like I knew what they had just said to me without really having a clue. It’s getting easier, though. My older brother, who also studied in Europe, gave me a good piece of advice, “Listen to what people are saying, not their accent.”

The second difference involves socialization. In the U.S., nightlife revolves around the weekend and, on occasion, a Wednesday or Thursday night. Here, it seems like it’s the complete opposite with the majority of the student population going out during the week and heading home to work on the weekends. I’m beginning to enjoy socializing during the week and having my weekends free to travel or relax, but in terms of my study schedule, it’s been an adjustment. I’m used to working really hard during the week to get everything done so I’m free on the weekends, but here I find myself doing most of my schoolwork on Sunday nights. Also, socializing here is usually centered around the pubs and clubs and in the U.S. I think it’s understood as a much broader term (house party, movie nights, going to sporting events, “family” dinners, etc.)

Classes, or modules, also run a little differently. For the most part lectures run directly in line with the textbook and the instructors don’t ask for any student input. However, in tutorials students are expected to prepare beforehand and actively participate much more than in U.S. discussion section. The timetables also run differently; some days I have the same lecture twice a day with a two-hour break for lunch, which is definitely something I never encountered at home.

So far, it’s been a balancing act between what I know and what I’m getting to know. I’m only beginning to get the hang of all the differences but luckily, I have a few more months and a lot of great people to learn all the ropes. And as I constantly hear, it’s all part of the experience.

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