For the children and grandchildren of immigrants, it is normal to wonder what your life would be like if you were in the country of your roots. What would you be eating and wearing every day? What would your house be like? If you are young, you might wonder about what school would be like. Students in Ireland, like students in many other places, are starting to anticipate going back to school. And many of those who finished secondary school (aka high school) are looking forward to starting college. But unlike their North American counterparts, Irish students don’t yet know where they will be going or what they will be studying.
Students in Ireland are just receiving the results of their Leaving Certificate exams. These gruelling tests have a similar role to the American SATs, but they are profoundly different. While the Scholastic Aptitude Test is just that, a test of aptitude, the Leaving Certificate exams test a student’s knowledge of facts and theories in a range of subjects. Often criticized for overly rewording rote memory and presenting only a single snapshot of a student’s ability, the Leaving Cert has massive power to determine a student’s fate. Leaving Cert scores decide what universities and institutes will accept a student for which courses of study. If you don’t have the score required, you don’t get in.
College Life in Ireland
Once a student begins college in Ireland, the differences between Ireland and North America become clear. Irish students don’t normally live in dorms. They often lodge with a family if they can’t commute from their parents’ home, or they will share a flat or house with other students. The island is small enough that returning home for weekends is easy and standard. The trains are crammed with students on Friday afternoons and Sunday evenings. Irish college students enjoy catching up not only with their family but also their hometown friends over the weekend.
Because the legal drinking age is 18, almost all college students can socialize in pubs and nightclubs legally. The stealthy kegger party known to underage American students is unheard of in Ireland. There is nothing to hide. Irish parents tend to be pretty easy going about drinking. And as long as students don’t go overboard and put themselves or others in any danger, a few pints on the weekend is not considered a problem.
College sports aren’t really a big thing in Ireland. Home county, not school, is the basis of one’s sporting allegiances. The Gaelic Athletic Association organizes the bulk of team sports in Ireland for all ages with their football and hurling programs, which start at the local level and move up to the county level with age. From pre-schoolers to adults, the GAA is where Irish people play sports and cheer on their favorite teams. Other sports such as rugby are also organized on the county level.
But regardless of the differences, certain things are universal. Students worry about many of the same things, and enjoy many of the same things, on both sides of the pond. Study, dating, fashion, music and technology are front and center for students all around the world.