Archive for the ‘Study Away Reflections’ Category

Honors students complete Tutorial Alternative

Monday, December 21st, 2015

Each year, Honors students partake in a variety of off-campus learning opportunities, ranging from internships, to traveling abroad, and research.  The Honors College gives these students an opportunity to fulfill certain graduation requirements through an Honors Tutorial Alternative course. This year, 18 students completed the course, sharing their experience through submission of photographs and reflective essays, as well as classroom presentations. Below is a list of all student participants from the Fall 2015 semester:



Natalie Altvater (Chemical Engineering) – Co-op  at  Woodland Pulp LLC . mill. Baileyville, ME.

Alyssa Cramb (Animal & Veterinary Science) – New England Equine Medical and Surgical Center in Dover, NH. Montana Equine Medical and Surgical Center in Three Forks, Montana.

Brady Davis (Business Management) – L.L. Bean. Freeport, ME.

Tayelor Gosselin (Wildlife Ecology) – Brookhaven National Laboratory. Long Island in Upton, NY.

Rebecca Grant (Wildlife Ecology, Animal & Veterinary Science) – Avian Haven Wildlife Rehabilitation Center. Freedom, ME.

Alexa Grissinger (Animal & Vet Science, Equine Studies) –Great South Vets. Auckland, New Zealand.

Arden McSwain (Civil Engineering, Construction Engineering Technology, Mathematics) – Flat Iron Constructors. San Francisco, California.

Matt Sullivan (Zoology) – New England Wildlife Center. South Weymouth, MA.

Monique Theriault (Microbiology) – Mount Desert Island Biological Laboratory. Mount Desert Island, ME.

John Woodill Jr. (Mechanical Engineering, Robotics) – TRUMPF Phototonics. Cranbury, NJ.


Study Abroad:

Emily Anderson (Ecology and Environmental Science) – Center for Ecological Learning and Living. Iceland.

Claire Fouchereaux  (History, French) – l’Université de Montréal. Montréal, Canada.

Emily Duran-Frontera (Food Science & Human Nutrition) – Universidad Interamericana de Puerto Rico (Interamerican University of Puerto Rico). Aguadilla, Puerto Rico.

Katrina Lapham (Communication Sciences and Disorders) – University of Bangor. Bangor, Wales.

Julia Mackin-McLaughlin (Marine Science, Studio Art) –  School of Marine Science. Xiamen, China.

Megan Morey (Communication Sciences & Disorders) – University of Stirling. Stirling, Scotland.



Sarah Ford (Nursing) – UMaine Nursing International, International Student Learning. San Jose, Costa Rica.

Hallie Marshall (Wildlife Ecology) – Umaine course EES 475 – Tropical Ecology. Travel to Tahuayo Lodge and Amazon Research Center. Amazon River, Peru.

International Study and Service – Chris Hamlin ’11 (Lancaster, England)

Monday, April 5th, 2010

Third-year Mechanical Engineering major, Chris Hamlin studied abroad in Lancaster, England during the fall 2009 semester. Along with the usual lessons in cultural differences, crash course in navigating a different University environment and jam-packed travels throughout the region, Chris discovered the merits of British cuisine. Surprised? Read more below:

Four Months of British Food

British Public House, more commonly known by the derivative, "pub."

British Public House, more commonly known by the derivative, “pub.”

I arrived in England in late August, having consumed nothing during my 14 hours in the air but a bottle of Chardonnay. Needless to say, I was hungry, and my head hurt. For those of you who don’t know me, I should explain: I have some severe (read: life-threatening) food allergies, and I found out the hard way that airline meals don’t come with any kind of information about their ingredients.  The steward was eager to help, but I had to explain to him that “opening one and looking” wasn’t really an adequate means of finding out what, exactly, is in the blister-packed food substances they feed you on airplanes.  40,000 feet up and 2,000 miles from land is the wrong place to gamble with your health.  So after making I made it clear that I couldn’t safely eat the chicken, fish or vegetarian entrées, the good people of Air France provided me the aforementioned bottle of wine, which made being hungry a lot more tolerable.

So I arrived in England, understandably ravenous. Thinking back, I think this began my love affair with the much-maligned cuisine of the British Isles.  A lot of people have said a lot of bad things about British food (Possibly almost as many bad things as have been said about airline food or the food at school cafeterias).  Bland and greasy, heavy and uninspired are all words you may find regularly applied to the food of the UK. The first is blatantly untrue, and the last debatable: British food certainly lacks the imagination and flair of the French, but that is only the first in a long list of contentions between those two embittered rivals.   And to put it bluntly, the French chefs may be inspired, but their grand visions do not always produce food that real people have any interest in preparing or eating. That English food is greasy and heavy; I will not attempt to argue.  This is true, but I don’t think that it is necessarily a bad thing.  The world is full of well-loved foods and styles of cooking that could never be described as light, by any stretch of the culinary imagination. Take for example Chinese food, or the local cuisine of the American south.

Chris and a flatmate cooking a meal in the shared kitchen space.

Chris and a flatmate cooking a meal in the shared kitchen space.

Food is, as you probably have gathered, a big part of my life.  I guess you could say that it is in fact a big, even vitally essential part of everyone’s life, but when I say it mean it in more than the strictly physical sense: buying, trying, cooking and eating food is a source of great enjoyment, comfort and satisfaction for me.  Things are rendered slightly more difficult, especially when eating out, by my allergies, as you would probably imagine, but I would like to think that motivates me to cook things for myself that most people would just buy ready made.  I’ve chosen to make food the subject of this response because of the position of importance it holds with me, and because it is such a vital part of the experience of travel.

When I arrived in England, I discovered, as most travelers likely do, the wonderful nature of the British Public House (don’t call them that, you’ll get funny looks.  The shortened, and more familiar term is ‘pub’).  As I traveled around the country before settling down for the semester at Lancaster university, I ate and drank at a dizzying number of pubs all up and down the country.  Chips (“French fries” to the American) are served everywhere, but rather than being dredged in ketchup, they are instead dashed liberally with malt vinegar and sprinkled with salt, a combination I would strongly advise you try.  The sweetness and thick texture of ketchup absent, the fried potato itself takes a star role, and as such, is generally of a higher quality than the limp specimens found in an American burger joint. A British chip has a crisp exterior and an interior that is fluffy and light, rather than saturated with grease. I should also mention they arrive unsalted, so you can spare yourself the tongue-numbing effects of their American counterparts.  The malt vinegar completes the trinity, and when dashed on fresh chips, soaks in and evaporates on reaching the still-steaming center, suffusing the whole interior with its tangy, savory flavor.  Add a fillet of breaded cod to the assemblage, and you have Fish and Chips, the British takeout standard that even the hamburger has yet to displace.

Chris enjoying a meal of haggis, tatties (potatoes) and neaps (turnips) at a pub in Scotland.

Chris enjoying a meal of haggis, tatties (potatoes) and neaps (turnips) at a pub in Scotland.

Another item which featured highly in my experience of the British Isles was sausage. When it comes to sausage, the Poles, Germans, and Italians seem to get all the love and glamour. I have yet to see a British sausage in an American supermarket, but in my opinion they are unique and worthy of a place alongside the bratwurst and kielbasa that populate the shelves of your local meat department.  British sausages are unique in that they contain finely ground meat, mixed with ground wheat or breadcrumbs, giving them a texture which is fluffy but resilient, rather than the heavier all-meat sausages, which depending on variety and preparation can range from crumbly to outright rubbery. Additionally, the added starch seems to allow the exterior to be browned fully without drying out the middle, an added bonus.  Finally I should mention the seasonings, which are again different from any sausage I’ve eaten before: absent are the overwhelming fennel and anise flavors of the typical Italian style sausages, also the heavy salt and garlic flavors of German and Scandinavian varieties. Instead, they are seasoned lightly with pepper and sage, allowing more of the flavor of the meat to come through. I enjoyed these golden-brown beauties in traditional preparations like Bangers and Mash (sausages resting atop mashed potatoes, smothered in onion gravy), Toad in the Hole (sausages and onions baked in a pan of a fluffy, eggy batter known as Yorkshire Pudding) and my favorite convenience food of all time, the sausage roll (a solitary sausage wrapped in flaky pastry dough and baked) which kept me going through many long nights out with my flatmates.

My stay in Lancaster taught me to enjoy black tea, and by the time I left my friends had me drinking 4-5 cups a day, with milk, no less.

My stay in Lancaster taught me to enjoy black tea, and by the time I left my friends had me drinking 4-5 cups a day, with milk, no less.

Of course, there are so many more things to mention.  My stay in Lancaster taught me to enjoy black tea, and by the time I left my friends had me drinking 4-5 cups a day, with milk, no less.  I gained a newfound appreciation for beer, in all the myriad varieties I never dreamed existed. I learned to cook with leek and Stilton.  I ate a beef and kidney pie that came from the store, unbaked, in a steel can nearly nine inches in diameter (just take off the lid with a can opener and throw the whole thing in the oven!). I discovered a strange British attitude towards sandwiches: while an American generally puts whatever he wants in one, every British sandwich has a name and a recipe which is strictly adhered to.  I fell in love with HP, the spicy, fruity brown sauce which goes perfectly with chips or any kind of red meat, from bacon to steak. I tried (and enjoyed) haggis, which turns out to be a lot less scary than they make it sound on T.V.

Most importantly, I think, I learned about a different attitude towards food in general: that simple food, made from simple ingredients, can stand up next to the most elaborate imported specialties.  British cuisine is humble and unpretentious; its key ingredients are local and inexpensive. The ingredients flavor the dishes, not spices.  The preparations are simple.  You seldom find fresh rosemary, extra-virgin olive oil, Kalamata olives, caviar, oysters or Miso paste in a Briton’s kitchen.  I think that is an important lesson for all of us trying to eat well and save money: It doesn’t have to be haute cuisine to be healthy delicious and satisfying. Simple is good.

Chris submitted this essay and these pictures to fulfill the requirements for a Tutorial Alternative, an opportunity for students to waive the third-year tutorial requirement if they study away from UMaine and fulfill certain requirements. More information is available here.

Study Away Reflections: Melody LaPlante ’10 (Sevilla, Spain)

Thursday, December 3rd, 2009

During the Spring 2009 semester, Business Administration major Melody LaPlante studied abroad in Sevilla, Spain. Here she recounts her semester of cultural experiences, horseback riding in the Spanish countryside and provides advice for other travelers.

Melody at the Colosseum

Traveling to Spain was something that I thought I had planned for; I had been in high school for a weeklong trip. I had read travel books on the country; I had studied the running of the bulls in Pamplona and learned the geography of the country. What I hadn’t planned for, and probably could not have planned for, was living in a country where everyone spoke a language I had only studied in school and my family was thousands of miles away. Coping with these two realities taught me so many things about myself that I do not feel I could have learned at the University of Maine.  My favorite memories of Spain were running through Sevilla, the city where I lived, and galloping on horseback through the countryside of Santiago de Compostela, a town outside the city. The section of the city where I lived was called Triana, the street that I lived on was called San Jacinto. Across from my apartment was a beautiful old church with a beautiful old tree in front. Next to my apartment was a mom and pop bakery that made delicious café con leche and even better fresh bread.  I learned that even with grammatically correct Spanish locals may not understand your accent and that a little confidence goes a long way.  Living in Spain was beautiful, fun, relaxing and overwhelming all at once.  I learned many things in Sevilla that I don’t think I could have learned at the University of Maine.

At the University of Maine I’ve had one experience of riding the bus in the three years’ time that I have been at school. I was one of five on the bus and it took an hour and a half to get to downtown Bangor, normally a 30 minute drive.  The bus system in Spain was my lifeline. Without it I would have never gotten to school every day and I would have never been able to take riding lessons.  The buses at first were very confusing for me and my roommates. We had a bus map of the city and a series of bus lines that ran during the day and at night. At first I rode the buses with my roommate Alexis. We would sit forty minutes on a bus just to see where it went. Towards the end I became very bus savvy. I also became comfortable with any form of travel. I had never missed a flight before until I traveled to London; I survived, paid some money, stayed with friends and took a flight to Sevilla the next day. It is amazing what independent travel can do for a person’s confidence. I remember not being able to sleep the night before I left for Spain. I was tossing and turning just thinking about flying by myself… what if I couldn’t find my group at the airport? Little did I know that two months later I would be speaking a mix of Spanish and terrible Italian to get around the Rome airport and train station just to find my tiny hotel room on the fifth floor of an unmarked building. I think that I learned important tools for traveling by myself, I learned the importance of looking like a local and that smiling at people on the street is friendly, but rarely a good idea. International travel has an interesting recipe for success; one part survival, one part audacity, one part abandon and three parts open mindedness.

A bullfight in Spain

I had an interesting experience when my sister came to visit me in Sevilla. I had been to visit her in high school when she studied abroad in England. She loved the look of the city, the old world architecture. She hated the dirty looks we got from local women out at bars and the blatant passes that the men would make at us, things that I had stopped caring about a while before she arrived. She told me that in England she had loved having no language barrier, her friends in England even liked Americans.  As we walked the streets to buy a pint after dinner she turned to me and said “you are so much stronger than I am, I wouldn’t last two weeks here.” To hear her say that amazed me. I had never thought of the city that I lived in as uncomfortable or hard to live in. More importantly I would have never thought that I was stronger than my sister, or I could handle more than she could.  I think that college is about learning the curriculum and learning who you are. I learned more about myself in Spain than I had in three years in Maine.

Spanish culture is rich and homogeneous.  They love their food and their way of live. I found that most people have lived in Spain for generations and have no intention of leaving. I theorized that the reason why few people speak a language other than Spanish is for this reason. If you don’t plan on living in a different country, why would you learn a different language? Spanish people do not look much different from typical Americans in the northeast. The style of dress is similar, the consumerism is similar, and the sentiment is different. I found no work-a-holics, no students my age as obsessed with their future careers as me and my roommates were. While we were stressing about finding the perfect summer internship they were partying every night with friends and hoping to make enough money to support a modest lifestyle, college optional.  I found many people who had all the patience in the world for laundry drying on a line and little patience for outsiders.

Horseback riding through the countryside of Santiago de Compostela

College is an important time for a young adult to discover who they are. I believe that studying abroad goes one step farther. Studying abroad lets one discover not only who they are but also what they are made of.  There was a man who would walk up and down my street in Spain and talk to himself. Once on a bridge he reached out and touched my sister’s neck during the week that she was visiting. After that incident he noticed me when I walked up towards the Triana Bridge. A few times he stopped what he was doing and followed me. I found myself afraid to leave and walk towards the bridge (something I had to do daily). I would walk 40 minutes out of my way just to find an alternate route to avoid the bridge. I was afraid of the homeless man that wandered my street, but I didn’t let it stop me living my daily life. It did force me to make decisions and plan where I was going before I left the house. It also made me more conscious of being alone. I found emergency numbers for the police and saved them into my cell phone. If I was going out alone at night or early morning I would spend the money on a cab instead of walking alone.  From the day I noticed him following me I always made sure I went somewhere with a friend, especially at night. In a way I think this was a good thing because the actions I took because of the man I was afraid of kept me safer overall.  In Spain I learned that being safe did not mean being sheltered and that finding out who you are is something that has to be tested.

Study Away Reflections: Rachel Hathaway ’11 (Grameen Bank, Bangladesh)

Tuesday, October 20th, 2009

During summer 2009, Financial Economics  and Business Administration major Rachel Hathaway ′11 interned at the Grameen Bank in Bangladesh. The Grameen’s mission “is to extend opportunities, not handouts, to the struggling yet hardworking masses.” Rae’s interest in the Grameen bank stemmed from Professor Muhammad Yunus’s book, Banker to the Poor, “Grameen’s story opened my eyes to the fact that there are innumerous capable, hardworking people around the world who simply lack the opportunity to raise themselves out of the cruel cycle of poverty. Sadly, the basic human rights that you and I take as given are simply not available to a staggering percentage of humanity.” Rae found inspiration (and leads toward potential thesis topics!) during her time interning with the Grameen Bank in Bangladesh and India, “I stand in awe of Grameen.  What a great honor it was to work with this Nobel Peace Prize winning organization.  It gives me hope for the future, because the methods incorporated work.  They are not perfect, of course, but they are very effective.  Grameen represents empowerment, education, compassion and positive change.  Working with them was a truly life-altering undertaking.” An excerpt from her travel journal appears below:

Excerpt from my Travel Journal.  Day One in Dhaka, Bangladesh.

Upon arrival in Dhaka, hotel transportation ushered me out of the airport.  The gentleman with the placard kindly offered to have me wait in the air-conditioned hall while he located the van from outdoors in the sweltering heat.  I asked, “Wouldn’t it be easier for you if I came outside, too?”  At first he adamantly refused.  “I don’t mind if it is easier for you”, I assured him.  He then sheepishly admitted this would be much easier.  (Much to the chagrin of the other Grameen intern with us, we headed out into the heat to wait with the porter).  He clearly preferred to have this man wait on us while we sat by making his job harder.  Too bad.

The heat is intense.  It weighs on you like a heavy blanket.  There is a tug-tug-tug on my sleeve, like Jacob used to do when he wanted my attention.   Huh?   I look behind me, but there is no one.  Then I look down into the big, round eyes of a shoeless boy.  He is clutching an American dollar and silently pleading with me to add to his collection.  The gentleman, not unkindly, scolds the boy, “No, no, no.  You must go now.”  “It’s fine.  Wait.”  Here is a dollar.  He doesn’t look happy, or thankful, just resigned to his lot in life.  The boy with the sad eyes accepts the money and starts to walk on.  I want to hug him and tell him it’s ok.  But it’s not.  I tousle his hair and smile, he looks at me curiously and offers a small, shy smile in return before he walks away to continue his work.  He can’t be more than 5 years old.

A group of three fairly well dressed men with too-big smiles take my luggage and load it into the van.  OK.  I give a tip, one dollar.  “No, no, no tip one more dollar.  The porter with the placard shoos him away as I say, “No, that is all.”  Then we are off, away from the airport and into a land of confusion and utter chaos.  Dhaka.  It is surreal.  Babies – three, four, five years old, walking about aimlessly without a mother in sight.  Tired eyes, no shoes on their feet, walking, walking…  Emaciated infants slung pell-mell over their mother’s hip, or in a makeshift baby-bjorn style scarves.  Everyone looks tired, forsaken, just alive.  Even the cows and goats are stick thin with ribs jutting out, as they graze haplessly at the side of the road.

There is beauty to the landscape, it’s quite green and lush.  But this is overshadowed by the sluggish brown of the polluted, lethargic river.  Below the road that winds along the water, for miles and miles, stretches the slum housing.  Mile after mile of corrugated metal roofing.  A strong wind would scatter the hut structures to the four winds, it would seem.  The word shelter seems less than adequate.  It’s not fair. Among the endless rows mills a sea of slow moving people.  An animated little girl in a tattered dress and no shoes jumps rope next to a falling down hut.  It’s the closest thing I’ve seen to a happy scene since stepping off the airplane.

Rickshaws are everywhere.  Each is brightly painted, each tells a story.  I want to learn more.  I can’t wait to ask the drivers to tell me the story painted on their bike-taxi walls.  The scenes depicted are endless varied, beautifully colored, artfully (and often playfully) rendered.  Transportation as art – very cool.

Our van nearly runs over pedestrians, bicyclists, rickshaw drivers – indiscriminately.    Man, NYC taxi drivers have nothing on this traffic scene.  Ca-ra-zy.

Finally, we arrive.   The drive has been probably half an hour, but I already feel that I have seen enough suffering and extreme poverty to haunt me for the rest of my life.  I step out, and immediately helping hands take my suitcases.  I have to convince the staff to let me help them.  They are, true to Bengali form, kind and sweet.

“Lady, lady.  Please, lady. Appa, Appa (sister, sister),” A high pitched, pleading little voice.  I look down to see an angels’ face caked in dust and street grim.   I am glad that she is so stunning, with huge brown eyes.  This will help her as she is forced to beg in the streets.  I smile at her and she beams back.  It’s the smile that Jacob used to give me when I returned from a long day at work.  He’d smile and say, “Mummmm-meeee!” and run and jump into my arms.  The sincerity in that little girl’s smile was breaking my heart.  I gave her a quarter.  My fellow intern rolled his eyes.  I didn’t care.  Then another little girl is pleading with me, but I am out of change.  Later, I tell her.  You must wait, I am sorry.   I don’t know if she understands my words.  I hope that she will be around when I am done unpacking.  I want to give her a fruit snack.  I hope she’ll like it.  I’ve packed an entire suitcase full of vitamin infused fruit and yogurt snacks; bubble wands and bouncy balls filled with glitter (Jacob and I think they look like they are filled with golden magic powder).

Up to the room.  It’s tiny and sparsely furnished with threadbare accents.  I’m glad.  It would be too much to have luxurious surroundings when the world below has been thrown into total chaos.  Although, I would like to have some running water tomorrow.  That would be a nice change of pace.  J

After unpacking, I walked a few blocks around the hotel to get my bearings.  The lady at the front desk gave me directions – going as far as drawing a little map.  She was very kind and patient.  She wanted to hold my passport until I pay my hotel bill.  Thanks, but no thanks.  That passport is staying with me, thank you very much.  I had to explain this several times, but finally she relinquished the document.  Don’t misunderstand, she had very good intentions, and I very much appreciate that.

Outside, the heat beats down.  102 degrees and around 95% humidity.  Whew.  As I walk along, everyone stares.  I am clearly foreign.  Children smile and wave and shout hey lady.  They are so excited to see something out of the ordinary.  These kids are so adorable!  And they are everywhere.

Blind, deformed beggars stumble through the streets.  A woman with a hunchback latches on to me and begs loudly for money.  “Please lady, money for operation”.  I say I am sorry, but I don’t have any money for her.  I want to help desperately, but I would literally be out of funding within a one block walk if I gave a handout to every poor person I encountered.  I want to help them all and feel completely helpless because I can’t.   I give the woman two snack packs and walk away.  She is angry.  No, she wants money…operation, lady, need money.  Then she tucks the snacks inside her outfit as if afraid I will take them back.  No, I can’t give you money, I am sorry.  I cross the street.  She follows, clutching my arm.  People in the street reprimand her.  They are angry with this poor, physically deformed woman for harassing me.  This just makes me feel worse.  “It’s ok”.  She is clinging to me still. I walk faster, and she continues to grip me.  I stop, look into her eyes and take her hand, “No, I am sorry.  I cannot give you money.  No.”  Firmly, but gently.  Now she is behind me, wailing. “Deaf, [the] lady deaf.  Operation, money, operation.”  She is too small and weak to hurt me, but her words are painful.  A big part of me wants to get away from this relentless woman, but a bigger part of me is more determined than ever to find a way to help the destitute find a better way.  I cannot image being in her position.  Stunted growth, deformities, starvation and a plea for help that is not being answered.  I understand that the best way to help is by helping people to help themselves, not by delivering handouts, but it was still very difficult for me to see this woman’s suffering and be unable to help her.  Even if I had given in to her demands, I wouldn’t be able to offer her enough money to help.  Or perhaps the growth on her back was not real, or was grossly exaggerated.  As she started walking faster to keep up, she was less hunched over and seemed stronger.  I don’t know – I will never know.  But in any case, this doesn’t diminish the fact that she needs help that she is not getting.  And it’s not ok.  I just need to figure out the most effective way to extend a helping hand.  There is strain and toil all around and I hope to figure out a way to make a significant contribution against the social inequities that surround me here in Dhaka.



Study Away Reflections: Yin Chiu ’10 (Galway, Ireland)

Wednesday, October 7th, 2009

During the Spring 2009 semester, Yin Chiu ’10 studied at the National University of Ireland in Galway. Here’s her reflection on that experience:

Before my experience abroad in Ireland, I pictured a beautiful landscape of green fields stretching for miles, checkered with dry stone walls and spotted with sheep and thatched-roof cottages. I suspected the Irish to be very sociable people with charming personalities who love their tea, beer and potatoes. I imagined myself in a small town wearing lamb wool sweaters and spending my evenings in the local pub enjoying a pint of Guinness and traditional Irish music.

Almost everything I envisioned was correct. Upon my arrival, I was delighted by the serene rural setting that consists of lush green grass, stone walls, sheep, ruins, and small cottages on the way to my study abroad destination, Galway. The taste of rural Ireland was short-lived as the bus ride was just over an hour. Galway is a college town popular with students, writers and artists. In fact, the National University of Ireland, Galway is the most popular study abroad destination for American students. With that said, immersing myself into the Irish culture was not as easy as I thought it would be. Every night, the waterfront or downtown area is populated with tourists and American students. In my efforts to avoid that scene, I spent most of my evenings in the more local pubs outside the city center. The atmosphere in the pub was what I expected, a quiet pint of Guinness with the company of a few friends exchanging ideas and stories with the friendly locals, and admiring the local musicians pouring their heart out through their instruments.

I didn’t experience a culture shock until a month after I arrived. By then, I had become friends with a few Irish students, joined several clubs and societies on campus, and stayed with a couple Irish families. I was surprised by how our generation of Irish students is strongly influenced by the American culture. They idolize the same celebrities, listen to the same music, and watch the same television shows. In my first family stay weekend, I spent most of my time with the kids of the family watching their favorite shows The Simpsons, Big Brother and The Hills. Living with Irish college students, I noticed that they seemed to enjoy the same shows, in particular the American reality TV shows. I was a bit disturbed by this since none of those shows are either a positive influence or an accurate representation of the American culture. It disturbs me that they believe the characters in these shows portray the American people and I would find myself educating them about the true realities of American culture. Nevertheless, our generation of Irish students idolizes these reality TV icons. I was hoping to experience a unique Irish pop culture, but to my disappointment, it was strongly influenced by the American pop culture.

The biggest difference I found between the Irish and American culture is how they value and spend their leisure time. The Irish are known world wide to be social people because they treasure their leisure time. They live for the craic, which means fun or good times. The popular venue for craic is the pub to no surprise. Traditionally, the pub is an intimate setting where family and friends catch up on each other’s lives and enjoy the present, which is why pubs are found in every town in Ireland. The craic is much more formal in the family house setting where family members and guests gather and converse with little disturbance over a cup of tea.

As far as Irish students go, they seem to dedicate most of their time with clubs and organizations and friends instead of studying and preparing for class. In fact, a hefty third of the students stop attending class after the first couple of week of classes. In the evenings, the students gather in the bars and clubs of the lively downtown area until the late night hours. I was in awe by much these students socialize and party throughout the week, and I say this with utmost respect. It takes skill to balance a full course load that includes study time and extracurricular obligations with frequent social outings. To these students, college is the time of their life to party and be wild. They unleash themselves from a minimum of two years of grueling preparation for the Leaving Cert, a standardized exam that determines what schools they can attend and more importantly which fields of study they can pursue. The Leaving Cert is the most important exam an Irish student has to take. After they have taken the exam and been accepted into a college, a heavy weight is lifted from their shoulders and these students justify placing the craic as their first priority over academics with these early accomplishments.

As American college students, we have to decide what to do with our future, more or less. The Irish students have already chosen and prepared for their specialized study before they entered college in high school. Unlike them, we have to decide what we want to study on top of focusing on our courses. I believe that is one reason why our college lifestyle is different. Another reason why is our mentality on what it takes to become successful. I’ve been told too often by parents and advisors that I need to stand out to be successful. Throughout high school, I was involved in many clubs and sports, worked hard to receive A’s in all my classes, studied for SAT’s, took all AP courses, and applied to summer programs all so I can attend a good university. Once in college, I started applying for summer internships to build a strong resume. It is ingrained in my head to be efficient with my time by doing things that would better me as a student or job candidate. This is why my social life is not nearly as active as the Irish students’. I’ll spend time to chat with my close friends and go out on a few dinner dates with them, but adding three bar nights a week on top of that seems nearly impossible for me.

After looking back at my study abroad experience, I’m glad I chose Ireland as my study abroad destination. The difference between the Irish and American culture I mentioned above is the reason why Ireland is the perfect study abroad destination for me. I gained a new social outlook. No matter the situation, always have the craic with family and friends. Ever since my return to the U.S., I have been spending quality time with my friends and family, more so than I have ever done before. I take the time to celebrate my successes and worry less about my future. My study abroad experience will help me gain a more fulfilling college experience and adopt a healthier stress-free lifestyle.

Yin submitted this essay and these pictures to fulfill the requirements for a Tutorial Alternative, an opportunity for students to waive the third-year tutorial requirement if they study away from UMaine and fulfill certain requirements. More information is available here.