Cal McLoughlin, a 20-year-old media practice student at the University of Sussex, and the president of the Irish society, originated from Galway, Ireland, and decided to study in the UK due to the limited course choices in Ireland and the practicality of media courses in Irish universities. The inexpensive cost of studying in the UK, as well as her familiarity with the area as her extended family lives there, also played a major role in her decision.
McLoughlin noted that studying abroad has allowed her to gain independence and immerse herself in a new culture. Although Irish and English people are both known for their friendliness, McLoughlin admitted that the English may appear formal when first meeting them. To make friends, she joined social clubs like the walking club and the university TV station and started the Irish society with two other girls, which ended up gathering many members, including both Irish and non-Irish students.
Being a part of the Irish society has allowed McLoughlin to connect with her heritage, reminisce about colloquialisms, speak Irish, and indulge in traditional Irish activities such as watching Gaelic football and visiting Irish bars. She noted that while Irish people and their culture may share those nostalgic elements, they engage in drinking differently from English society. Irish culture and its unique elements remain strong in her mind, despite attending a university with a high percentage of international students.
When asked about the most common questions British students ask her, McLoughlin noted that they are often unaware of Irish politics and treat the divide between the Republic and Northern Ireland in a careless manner. Additionally, the stereotype of Irish people’s drinking habits, as well as the use of atrocious Irish accents and potato jokes, come up frequently.
While McLoughlin visits home less often now, she has become prouder of her cultural heritage and position as president of the Irish society since leaving Ireland. Although she may feel nostalgic when consuming certain Irish foods and recalling specific memories, she does not miss any goods or TV shows since Irish culture does not emphasize those elements.
Have you ever prepared a meal for your fellow students? Last year, on the weekend following St Patrick’s Day, I hosted a massive Irish breakfast for roughly 20 guests. We cooked authentic potato farls, potato cakes, soda bread, and Irish sausages. We had an abundance of Swedish attendees for some reason, and they expressed a lot of fascination towards the meal. Additionally, we held a St Patrick’s Day event where we served Irish stew and drinks like Irish car bombs, and offered deals on Guinness.
Do you have anything in your room that gives you a nostalgic feeling of your home country? I had a huge Irish tricolour flag hanging on one of the walls, but someone took it during the last St Patrick’s Day gathering. However, my mother has sent me some mementoes, such as a St Brigid’s woven cross, pictures, and postcards.
Compared to Ireland, my standard of living in the UK is better, primarily due to the provision of medical care – healthcare and prescriptions are free for students here, unlike in Ireland. During my three-year stay in the UK, I have been hospitalized more times than my entire life in Ireland. I can now take proper care of myself because of the excellent counselling and student support services provided by my university.
Transportation is more efficient in the UK. In Ireland, we are expected to have cars, unlike in the UK, where a lot of people rely on buses. Moreover, food is cheaper in the UK because big supermarkets offer items at a reduced price.
Regarding nightlife, Brighton is the ideal town catering to students because of its numerous clubs, bars, and fun places to hang out. The most significant difference between Ireland and the UK is transportation; buses in the UK run 24/7, enabling people to go out at any time. In Ireland, the buses stop running after 11 pm. In Brighton, people can go out and dress casually, while in Ireland, people dress up, go out less regularly, but spend more money, so it’s a big deal.
Prior to studying in the UK, I thought it would be better in every way and that I would meet new people and learn about different ways of life. However, during my first year, I was overwhelmed by homesickness, and making friends and living in a strange place proved challenging. Nevertheless, after staying in the UK for several years, my initial expectations were exceeded, and I can’t imagine where I’d be if I had stayed in Ireland.
What advice would I give to Irish people preparing to study in the UK? Ensure you have Skype, a good webcam, and use a phone network that offers cheap international calls to stay connected with friends and family.