Freshers Week, the first week of classes at UCC, is a week full of frustration, long hours, colorful booths and a whole lot of yelling, chanting students with pints in their hands.
This past week I’ve had to start my college experience from scratch as a fresher just like I had to do when I first arrived at Carolina two years ago. It’s been really strange getting to know the library again, finding good study spots again, and joining clubs and societies all over again.
Thankfully, most aspects of being a UCC fresher are not all that different from being a UNC fresher, so although it felt strange going to Societies Day instead of Fall Fest, the two are nearly one in the same. I’ve known what to expect for the most part.
It’s the things that are so widely different that really throw me off guard and make me truly feel like I’m starting over my college experience as an out-of-stater or something. The first thing that’s vastly different is that there are two bars/clubs on the UCC campus, and not just on the edge of campus near the city, but right in the heart of it — The New Bar in the Student Centre and Old College Bar right beside the quad. And people go — in between classes, before class, just to grab a pint or to party. It’s a much different atmosphere than I’m used to.
Also, after every single club or society meeting the members go out to a pub or a club. It’s just so much part of the culture here that it really changes the college dynamic. And when I say they go out after every meeting, I mean every meeting. All of the society meetings I’ve gone to during the past week have all introduced their officers, and each group has an officer whose sole job is to plan going out after meetings. It’s just so different because here the legal drinking age is 18, so once you’re in college, you’re legal and college organizations can plan into that.
Drinking is just such a big part of the culture here, especially for college-aged students, and I’m not saying that it’s not that big or even bigger at U.S. colleges, but here, it’s just more accepted, more relaxed. There’s no need to sneak around or coax older students to buy the alcohol and more importantly, there’s no need to get completely wasted when you drink here because you can get alcohol whenever you want if you’re over 18. I feel like in the U.S., once people have alcohol who are under 21, feel like they have to go all out because it’s a treat that they have alcohol and they usually have to get rid of it as soon as they get it to “hide the evidence.”
To that effect, I’m not trying to say that Irish college students don’t occasionally go all out and get completely plastered. They do, especially during Freshers Week. The first week of classes is designated to getting drunk at the college bars and encouraging freshers, or first-years, to do the same, hence welcoming them to college. During classes, I could hear many chants and people yelling drunkenly as they marched through the quad to Old College Bar around 4 p.m. on a Tuesday, my professor trying to teach over their shouting but failing miserably.
There is a reason behind why all of the going out and getting drunk during Freshers Week works so well though. Registering for classes is vastly different than it is in the U.S. What I’m used to is signing up for classes about two months before classes even start, online, and having about two weeks for an add/drop period, to which you can add or drop your classes online.
Things are run much differently here. The first week of classes, Freshers Week, is a test week. Students go to different classes to test them out and see if they like them. Because the people in the classes will change all during that week and no one has committed to taking the course, no real teaching is really done that won’t be gone over again for the inevitable newcomers during the following week when real class begins. This leads to mostly just freshers going to class during the first week while the upperclassmen go out and party because they know which classes they want and they don’t need to test them out.
After we’ve decided which course we want for sure, then we have to fill out a paper registration form and go to each department in person to register for those courses and then, for me, hand in the form to the international office for final approval. Then, we have to wait about two weeks before we have access to those classes on Blackboard, where all of our class materials and readings are kept.
To me, it seems like a very complicated and outdated process, but I have to say, I really did appreciate the one week grace period because I went to a lot of different classes and found the ones I really wanted. And, I know I couldn’t have done that back home because we start learning the first day.
So, far classes have been an experience and feeling like a fresher again has made my time here feel more and more like a fairytale. Hopefully when the week of exams and final papers comes around, I will have a happy ending.