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Abroad students return

Nicole Toczauer | Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Juniors who studied abroad in the fall left behind afternoon siestas, weekend trips and sunny weather to return to a snowy semester at Notre Dame. For many of these students, a large aspect of the study abroad experience was learning outside the classroom.

Junior Carl Brinker said when he arrived in Dublin, Ireland, the cultural divide was not as great as he expected.

“There were definitely things to get used to — the accent, cars on the other side of the road, learning the bus system — but ultimately I had more in common with my Irish peers than I thought I would,” Brinker said. “We listened to a lot of the same music, watched the same TV shows and spoke mostly the same language.”

He said his living situation at the University College Dublin (UCD) deviated from the Notre Dame norm. Students lived in six-person coed apartments with international and Irish students.

“I lived with a Canadian and four other Irish [students]. It was a lot of fun to experience a living situation that would never happen at ND,” he said. “There were co-ed dorms and the apocalypse didn’t happen, fancy that.”

Along with rooming, Brinker said classes challenged him in a different way than those he had taken at Notre Dame. He said classes at UCD consisted of large lectures with no tutorials.

“While the material covered was similar to what would be taught at ND, grading was quite a bit harsher,” Brinker said. “What was perhaps the most challenging was the fact that final exams counted for nearly all of the course grade.”

Junior Rachel Pilla, who studied abroad in Rome, said her living situation and classes also differed from her previous semesters at Notre Dame.

“You’d think [living with eight other girls] might get really crowded, but there was plenty of space and since we all got along really well we never had any living issues,” she said.

Pilla said traveling on the weekends to other cities and countries was the best part about studying abroad. She said her favorite weekend trip was to Dublin, where she met up with Brinker.

“We had a great tour of the Guinness Factory, went to Saint Patrick’s Cathedral, ate some hearty Irish dishes and, of course, went to all the best Irish pubs,” she said.

Junior Patty Walsh said living in Fremantle, Australia, gave her a chance to step outside of her comfort zone.

“I learned a lot about myself while abroad, and I feel like I matured a lot,” she said. “Anyone thinking about studying abroad absolutely should do so, but probably needs to start saving up.”

Brinker said he became more confident and independent while studying abroad. He said planning ahead helped him make the most of his time there.

“Don’t be afraid to take risks and wing it on occasion. Those are often the best, and occasionally terrifying, moments of studying abroad.”

Pilla said as much as she enjoyed studying abroad, she is excited to be studying in America again.

“As much as I loved Rome, there really is no place like Notre Dame,” she said.