Jim Baker wrote about his semester abroad studying chemical engineering at the University College Dublin.
Studying abroad is an experience that I will never forget. While studying chemical engineering at University College Dublin (UCD), I gained so much valuable knowledge not only from inside the classroom, but more so by traveling throughout many different countries in Europe.
I took four classes during my semester at UCD. My two core engineering classes included transport phenomena and chemical thermodynamics. In transport phenomena, I learned about fluid dynamics as well as mass and heat transfer. The professor taught this class as a flipped classroom, so it was very nice because this opened up my schedule much more during the week. My chemical thermodynamics module was actually a junior level course. While being a sophomore as well as being in a different country, I was a bit nervous because I thought that the course would be very difficult. It turned out to be my favorite class because our professor always used funny real-life examples to explain confusing thermodynamic topics. I was also enrolled in a course called Dublin: Its Museums, where I learned about and visited various museums throughout Dublin. In this course, I learned interesting stories about Ireland’s history. Lastly, I took an engineering design course in which my team designed, constructed, and presented a fully functional salt spreader made completely from recycled plastic bottles. The aim of this module was to learn the importance of being conscious of our environment and learning how to make something useful out of something essentially worthless.
Although I was enrolled in some tough classes, these courses did not include many in-semester assignments, and I didn’t have any exams except for two finals. This allowed for a scary amount of free time to travel throughout Europe. From Amsterdam to Mykonos to Rome, my friends and I loved to explore. For almost three months, I spent every weekend in a different country, which led to so many amazing memories and lifelong lessons. One of our favorite trips was to volcanic island of Lanzarote, which is in the Canary Islands. We knew that the Canary Islands were very far south of Ireland, but we didn’t realize until we got there that we were 60 miles off the coast of the Sahara Desert. Trips that seemed so far away came up very quickly, and then they were over in the blink of an eye. On the plane back to Dublin after our last trip to the Springfest Festival in Munich, we looked back through the pictures throughout the semester and couldn’t help but to be amazed by how fast the semester had gone by. College goes by fast, but studying abroad goes by twice as fast.
Reflecting back on my experiences, I can see the many different lessons that I learned. Education in Europe is quite different than the United States. Courses focus more on self-controlled learning due to the fact that there few assignments or any tests. Because of this, my exams for my engineering courses were worth almost my entire grade. Although this seems daunting, the grade scales are drastically more lenient, and I made time throughout the semester to make sure that I stayed on top of the material. Learning your course material is important but studying abroad means so much more than going to class. Responsibility and maturity are two traits that you must develop while you’re abroad. While going to college gives you a sense of independence, being 3,000 miles from home for 6 months amplifies this feeling to a new level. I became more receptive to different cultures and has helped me to realize how differently people live. Another important aspect of studying abroad is learning when to ask for help. Complete strangers always welcomed us and loved going out of their way to help when we were completely lost.
Although I love being back in the States, a part of me will always wish that I was able to stay in Ireland. The warm personalities and friendly smiles of the Irish people always made me feel at home and to that, cheers.
Jim Baker ‘21