My Erasmus Experience: Jack O Dea

America. Where there’s Dunkin Donuts on nearly every corner, the word craic means cocaine and awesome is said so often it’ll drive you crazy. I had no real idea what to expect when coming to Boston to study for a year.

I arrived in the “Irish capital” of America on Saturday the 1st of September. It was the beginning of fall, with leaves beginning to drop and the humid summer coming to an end. It was all relatively new to me: I had only drove through Boston once before, I didn’t know where I was staying and I wasn’t completely sure what classes I was taking. It was going to be an adventure.

This year I have been studying at Boston University, an urban campus situated in the heart of the city along the Charles River. The university prides itself on being a very liberal and diverse college; it was the first university in the United States to open all divisions to women in 1872 and even Martin Luther King studied here for his PhD in 1951. It has 15,000 undergraduate students and about the same number of postgraduates. The campus is two miles long, located on the main street in Boston, Commonwealth Avenue. Is it different to DCU? I think so.

My first day in Boston is a bit of blur – except for one thing I can remember very well. On entering my campus apartment, I walked into my relatively small bedroom and saw there were two beds located parallel to each other. “Oh, this is peculiar”, I thought to myself, “an extra bed won’t be so bad”. Then I opened the closet door; there was someone else’s clothes already hanging. A bit startled, I went into the bedroom with the same setup next door, where two guys were chilling out. I told them my query and they said, “yeah, two people to each room”. It was a shock at first, but as time went on I got relatively used to the concept of sharing such close quarters. It actually isn’t as bad as you think.

Americans are an interesting bunch. Well to begin, sarcasm does not exist here. In Ireland, it is joyful, almost complimentary, for someone to endearingly slag you. It is an expression of love and divine empathy. “Ah get up outta that Jack, would ya stop”. These are all expressions of acceptance and rejoice. One day, after knowing a girl for about a month or two, I tried this endearing tool; her look was speechless. She thought I was personally insulting her eternal being; that I was a malevolent person who should be sentenced to death. Deleting sarcasm from my repertoire was a hard task to follow.

As many people know, the legal drinking age in the United States is 21 years old. This presented itself as to be quite an issue for someone like myself, who, unfortunately, does not turn 21 years old until July 2013. Coming from Ireland, where drinking is a past time of camaraderie and friendship, it was a slight shock. Although I don’t even drink excessive amounts, I still found it impossible to get into clubs unless as I was not of the age. It’s not much of a loss though; clubs are relatively expensive to get into, and surprisingly, with one of the biggest youth markets in the world, the nightclub scene here is pretty atrocious. After 2am on the dot, the streets are empty with only tumbleweeds drifting down the bare concrete.

I guess, in a positive sort of way, not being able to go clubbing works out for the better because the college work here is, to say the least, intense. The American college education system is completely different. It’s not like Ireland where for the first two months of college you can loiter around, not really give it 100 per cent: in America, all classes are based on continuous assessment. That means each week you possibly have pop quizzes, mid-terms and papers due. For some of the classes I’m taking this semester, if I miss more than two classes I get an automatic fail. Is it different to DCU? I think so.

However, with the highest proportion of students in the world, Boston is a town full of youth and vibrancy. With an excellent transport system and many different types of scenes to suit each person, it is a location I would choose again to study abroad. Whether for sports fanatics at Fenway Stadium, jazz lovers at Somerville or people watching at Newbury Street, there is something for everyone here.

Taking yourself out of your own country, your own culture is one of the most educational experiences I’ve had in my life. Walking down Commonwealth Avenue is like being in a mini United Nations. There are people from every country around the world, who speak different languages to you, have different ideals and beliefs. Yes the experience has brought along challenges and setbacks, but isn’t that all part of the growing up experience?

Once you get past the incessant questioning (“in Ireland, do you guys, have, like, Santa”?), America is a pretty awesome place.

Just don’t wear a New York Yankees hat.

Jack O’Dea

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