Month: August 2015

Erasmus Diary Prologue Part 2: The Journey Before The Journey

Hi everyone!

As promised I am telling you the story of how studying abroad became my dream and how I made it into a plausible reality. It will be done in a timeline format because why not!

2009-2010: My older brother spends his third year abroad in Cincinnati, Ohio. As my brother travelled for college, my interest in studying abroad became a vague pipe dream.

Early 2012: When I was in 5th year in secondary school, I was in my careers class. Our teacher gave us college prospectives. Since University College Cork was one of my colleges of interest, I decide to read that one first. I was thinking about doing arts for a few months beforehand but wasn’t fully sure at the time. I looked at the arts pages and I was interested in what was said. The career guidance counsellor later explained that UCC were allegedly starting an Arts International course in 2013. The year I’d start college (provided I wouldn’t screw up the Leaving Cert).
My sister confirms she would attend her third year of commerce in Glasgow, Scotland.

Late 2012: As Leaving Cert year started, I visited universities including University College Cork. I find out that Arts International is confirmed as an upcoming course. There is not much information but it caught my interest nonetheless. In November I put Arts International in UCC as my first choice in the Central Applications Office (CAO).

June 2013: I completed my Leaving Certificate exams.

August 2013: I got 435 points in my Leaving Cert results (and was pretty stoked by that). The following Monday, I received my offer for Arts International. I found out later that day that the course was worth 430 points, meaning I got in by 5 points on merit alone. I was shocked and relieved!

September 2013: I attend my Arts International orientation day (which had many speakers, including my future boyfriend!) I receive information that I would have meetings with my course director in second year. I also become officially registered.

September 2014: As I started my second year of Arts International, my entire course year received a notification that we must do a module about different aspects of the international community. We were only told 2 days before registration. Most of it was boring and irrelevant but learning about the migration issue to Europe and the Mexican/US border control was fascinating. (And the Mexican/US border topic made me want to watch Breaking Bad a lot). This incident taught me to not rely on academic authority for giving information and just seek it yourself.

November 2014: After much concern from the other BA International students, there is a meeting held by the course director about the different universities on offer for the language students, the non-language students for North America, and the non-language students for Europe (which is what I am). I had interest in going to either the UK or the Netherlands given that a language wasn’t required and they weren’t too far away. In the submission form, I put down University of Sussex as my first choice.
I initially panicked since it made no mention that I could do my subjects English and Sociology at the same time. I stated to my director if I couldn’t do one of my subjects, I wouldn’t do the year. He stated that doing both subjects was not only easily possible, but mandatory to do both subjects while in the year away.

March 2015: By the end of February I was getting pretty concerned I had no word from the course director about what college I ended up getting into. I put my question into action by emailing him once a week until I got my answer.  On March 5th, I received a reply stating that University of Sussex has a place on offer for me. I was so excited that day because I had a better idea of where I was going. I was with my friends at the student centre and I sort of made a screeching noise!
Roughly a week later, my course has a final meeting regarding advice on the year abroad. The advice included academic, practical and emotional advice which will more than likely come in handy for many students.

April 2015: In the weeks leading up to my summer exams, I received information on application forms for University of Sussex. I was to send in the information within a week or so by the end of April. There were two problems. Firstly, I couldn’t fill in all of the form immediately and would take several days to be sent to Sussex from Cork. Secondly, I also had all my exams the week of the deadline so it was tricky to divide my time between both tasks. As a result I ended up to pick my subjects at 4am after looking up subjects for several hours. (Not a smart move on my part. I’m still unsure how subjects work there.) But I sent it on time in the end with the help of the UCC International Office.

June 2015: June was a difficult month for me. The reason for this is simple: my anxiety over the unknown and negativity default caused me to panic and doubt the whole year. It all started with discussing housing on campus with others. The truth is English college accommodation is roughly twice as much as Irish student housing. And with the Pound/Euro rate doesn’t favour the Euro, it didn’t get much better. I noticed that the cheaper the housing, the more people in the flat. I flat out refused to live with too many people again (7 other girls in first year, we got into an argument, I left days later). Since cost and the inability to live with big crowds went against me, I doubted everything to the point I was 70% sure of not doing the year. For several days I had a catch 22: Go and risk screwing things up whilst having no friends, no way out, wasting money, time and effort, as well as missing home. OR Stay in Cork and give up a dream I had for 3 years, wondering what if and regretting not going for a very long time to come. I explained to my disability officer the situation and she convinced me that issues can be solved by asking questions to college staff, researching relevant parts of the website, and finding avenues to sort out a compromise between a good cost and a decent house. That was exactly what I did and it made my life easier. If it weren’t for my disability officer, I wouldn’t be doing it. If she is reading, I wish to thank you.

July 2015: I applied for my housing. I settled on an en-suite bedroom which has no more than 6 people per flat (which I can deal with), and in reasonably quiet location. I also filled out a disability form for what I would like in my housing.
My mother started organising what could be taken to England for my year away.

August 2015: I received news of my housing. It was  in a place called Northfield. I never wrote down into application form. Again I panicked and thought negative things. My siblings reassured me that they didn’t get choices they initially applied for but liked their accommodation in the end. Also the housing doesn’t look so bad either. I joined the house Facebook group and found one of my housemates. (Hi Jonas!) I allegedly have two other housemates but they are nothing but room numbers right now. I also applied to the Sussex Buddy Scheme, i.e. people from the college pair up with either Freshers or Exchange students and help them settle into college. The buddy scheme has several events on offer; honestly they are pretty cool and I want to go to most of them. Currently, I am packing up my things for England and arranging my goodbyes to friends and family.

Next week I will be doing the final part of the prologue. See you then!

Erasmus Diary Introduction:


Mature Students (From UCC Express)

Although the majority of students start UCC at roughly nineteen years old and graduate three or four years later at the age of 22 or 23, a considerable amount of students opt to complete their undergraduate degree at an older age for professional and personal reasons. A person is qualified as a mature student if they are least 23 year old on January 1st of the year they enter the course of their choice. However there are a limited number of places available and reserved for mature students for courses.

There are also several services in place at UCC to ensure that college life is a happy and productive experience for both prospective and current mature students. Established in 2004, the Mature Student Office has been supporting mature students throughout their time in UCC with workshops, advice and examination preparation. There is also the mature student common room located at the Windle Building was opened in 2012 for students to meet and socialise. The Mature Student Society organises events and socials as a chance for mature students to integrate into college life in the best way possible. According to the society constitution, they are “formed with the purpose of making both the social and academic aspects of the experience of returning to education for the Mature Students at UCC easier and more pleasurable.”

James McCleane-Fay is a 25 year old first year Applied Psychology student. His reason for attending UCC was because he “really wanted to do this course. I had worked in 9-5 office jobs for about 6 years and decided I wanted to return and do something more meaningful. I knew I wanted a career to be proud of, work hard in and enjoy. The job to me was just money and the promise of the weekend off.”

His favourite part about being a mature student is “already having some working knowledge of different concepts in the subjects we’ve chosen to study. Generally we study things we’re passionate about and this helps motivate us too, so that’s a plus. We tend to study what we’d like to, without pressures from peers or parents typically.”

James states the academic difficulties of being a mature student including “balancing a demanding work/home/study life, the assumption of knowledge that we should have from Leaving Cert and having to unlearn a particular way of thinking that you’ve held for a very long time.” He also believes that some people struggle to adapt socially in college life.

He believes there are some made-up stereotypes such as “the guy who never shuts up about Woodstock in the middle of a lecture.” Although he claims that there are no real stereotypes, James states several differences between school leavers and mature students. “We’re less concerned about fitting in than many of the school leavers.” James encourages mature students to integrate with the school leavers more. “Getting past your own bias towards them being younger is the best way for them to get past any trepidation they might have about being friends with someone older.”

Crystal Leiker is a 33 year old first year Masters student of Planning and Sustainable Development. She became a mature student for a combination of reasons. “I was working in a legal office in the middle of 2009 in America. My job was to call mortgage holders who were about to be foreclosed upon and inform them of the date they were to leave their home, and how much they must pay to remain in it… The work was soul destroying. I never felt the need to return to education as I had always managed to get decent employment without it. The “Great Recession” changed all that.  But I remember coming home every day from that firm; depressed, sad from the stories I heard, scouring

the job listings and seeing none. I knew then that I wanted to do something better with my life, and to help others. It just so happened that I had this opportunity in front of me to come here. I didn’t think twice once it presented itself.”

She applied to her course throug the MSAP (Mature Students Admissions Pathway) to qualify for the marks needed. “I was admitted as an international student owing to my citizenship status. Despite this, I affiliate with the mature students far more than the international students.”

Crystal states best thing about being a mature student for her is “having a second chance to finish the education that I laughed off in my late teens and I am surrounded by people from all walks of life, with all manner of circumstances. I love the integration with everyone, being able to relate to my peers both older and younger than I am. Best of all, I love learning, and UCC has the facilities in place to let me do that.”

Crystal states personal issues as a mature student. “It is never easy to come back into education when you are older. In addition to loss of income and juggling my normal responsibilities with the new ones that come from University, I have the added pressure of studying in another country. I have a family. They recognise the sacrifice I made to come back, and while they may not always agree with me about doing it, I have their respect for doing so.”

As well as the personal sacrifices Crystal faces other challenges. “I have never been able to sit an exam comfortably and suffer from a great deal of exam anxiety. It’s a struggle to convince myself that I didn’t fail. Sometimes we just need someone we can talk to, who actually understands what it’s like to be older and in 3rd level education. It’s why the mature students here at UCC are a tightly-knit but welcoming community.”

Crystal believes prejudice towards mature students is prominent. “Over the last 4 years, I have heard some interesting stereotypes about how the old people are hogging the resources of the lecturers and tying up the lecture because we are asking questions. Maybe it’s just easier for those with a bit of life experience to ask questions. She even explains that mature students struggle more in university. “Retention rates of mature students are 15% lower than their younger peers. The first year summer exam fail rate is 25% for mature students. Much of this can be attributed to very little resources allocated for us, life pressures and discrimination. Ageism is a very real thing in UCC, though it is rarely overt.

She also believes there is a lack of communication between mature students and school leavers. “There is exclusion that happens in many courses because the perception is we don’t want to engage with our younger peers. That can’t be further from the truth – we love integrating. What some younger students don’t really consider is, we have children, significant others, ageing parents, bills and mortgages that is going on simultaneously. If we can come out for a class night out, we will- but if we can’t, we can’t. We as mature students have a load of life experiences that can add to the richness of this campus and we do.”

Erasmus Diary Prologue Part 1: Introduction

My name is Louise Clancy. I am 22 years old and I study English and Sociology at University College Cork, Ireland (well…sort of ).

With the inspiration of bloggers and vloggers, and the suggestion by my disability officer I have decided to make a series based on my expereinces on my blog and YouTube channel. It will be honest without causing offence and it will show both the positives and negatives of Erasmus.

I have 3 reasons for doing it:

  1. I wanted an easy way to fill in with what I am up to with my friends and family.
  2. I wanted to inform people who want to do a year abroad in university, especially to those with a disability.
  3. To inspire people with autism (my condition) that you can do anything as long as you are brave enough to try.

Stay tuned later this week to read about how I worked on getting my dream of living abroad into an achievable reality.