Dia dhaoibh! Hello everyone!
A couple of days ago I passed the halfway point of my placement. Several things have changed in my life thourghout this time. Not only at personal level, but I have also undergone an incredible academic growth. When you pack your stuff and move to a whole different country, it is convenient to do it leaving the burden of your ”prejudices” behind. Being open-minded is your best resource to successfully adapt and enjoy the new environment. You will encounter ups and downs along the way, but will also manage to learn and recover from both type of situations.
About the DOWNS of my exchange
The downs started even before arrival, when Academic Registry of Trinity College Dublin (TCD) contacted me to say that my application had been rejected. I had already been working on my thesis (remotely) for a few weeks when I received this email and thus, I panicked. However, with the help of the exchange coordinator at Karolinska Institutet (KI), we quickly solved the misunderstanding. Moreover, during my first weeks in Ireland, I injured my knee in a hike. The pain became so bad that I had trouble walking. I felt incredibly frustrated because it interfered with my daily life and social activities. Again, the KI exchange coordinator put me in touch with Falck Global Assistance, who readily evaluated my case and recommended me to do physiotherapy. Luckily, there is a lovely physiotherapist at TCD campus, who took perfect care of me. Since then, I have gone hiking every single weekend.
About the UPS of my exchange
Overall, I am a very shy and quite introvert person, but my stay in Ireland has completely changed me. Irish people are super friendly and sociable in nature, and they welcomed me with open arms. No matter where you are, from the endless greenlands of Donegal to the busy streets of Temple Bar, you will always come across a kind and talkative red-haired Irish to strike up a conversation with. It takes a bit of time and effort to move from casual chatts to creating closer bonds. Once you have entered their circle though, Irish people are attentive, passionate, committed and generous. Besides, Dublin is a really international city. Therefore, you will have no problem if you prefer to mingle with people from other cultures or miss communicating in your native language.
In addition, the time in Ireland has been a period of academic growth. With the exceptional guidance of my supervisor, who has been a great mentor in the lab as well as in my personal life, I have acquired so much knowledge and achieved goals that are hard to believe. My main concern of doing the master’s thesis abroad was that it would reduce the chances of finding a job back in Sweden. Nothing further from reality, multicultural and international experience is a big bonus. It shows that a person is able to thrive in different environments and has adaptability skills. Similarly, my interest in our research field has exponentially increased since I started working. It is so fascinating that I would like to continue investigating on the same topic. Even though the research group I am currently at seemed small and not as powerful as other groups at TCD at first, I made the right choice. I could not be more grateful for the great training I have received and the awesome people that I have met.
A few TIPS for prospective exchange students
To finish with the post, I just wanted to highlight some tips that I believe they could be of help for future exchange students at KI. These are things that either I am glad I did correctly or I would have liked to know before arriving in Ireland. If you are considering to go on exchange, my biggest advice is TAKE THE SHOOT! It will not disappoint you and plus, it will enrich your personality in all aspects you imagined.
- Extremely important to choose a good supervisor. Not as much prestigious lab or a fancy research, but a good supervisor. As you will probably get to spend most of your working hours with your supervisor, you need them to be available and easy to reach. The problem with renown labs is that you end up working alone or with a PhD student that may or may not have a proper guiding experience. When deciding for a project, have online interviews with your various candidates and follow your instinct. Having nice collegues is a benefit.
- Make sure to be active. This will help you to meet new people and to befriend the ones with similar interests. Whether you like sports, hiking, music, history, fashion, etc., find your way to practice your hobbies (it is quite easy with the societies and clubs in college, and other student organisations). Facebook groups are also the perfect tool for interacting with people (for example, I can strongly recommend the group ”Make Friends in Dublin”).
- Do not trust Irish weather. Coming from Stockholm, I thought the weather in Ireland would be much milder. Therefore, I did not bring the most appropriate clothing. Because Ireland is in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, it is crazy windy all the time, which gives a feeling of coldness. Likewise, it is very humid and in combination, it is freezing all the time. Be prepared to layer up both outdoors and indoors, because most houses are poorly isolated.
- Do not trust Irish public transport. This is also a bit of a cultural shock, since in Sweden public transport is considered punctual and quite efficient. It is the opposite in Ireland. Any means of transport (Luas/tran, Dart/train, bus) is constantly late, which makes planning trips and being on time a challenge. If you can avoid having to use it you will be not only saving a lot of time (sometimes walking is faster than taking the bus), but also a lot of money.
- Show your appreciation for the Irish culture. Irish people value when you express interest on their culture, society, history, etc. They feel quite different from British people and do not like been confused with them. Try to learn about how they became a sovereign country and which were the main conflicts between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland. Also, you will have to make an effort to understand their English (see my previous post Irish urban dictionary) in the beginning, because they employ unique expressions. Once you overcome these first cultural differences, you will successfully turn into one Irish more.