About 10 days ago, almost overnight, the abundance of trees suddenly turned wonderful shades of yellow, orange and red. We had this Autumn wonderland until this week, when we woke up one morning last week to the trees losing their leaves altogether. From the kitchen, the greenery of the huge green beech tree has disappeared, and the bare outline allows us to see a building at the end of the garden, hidden to us until now. I have been here seven weeks now, and realised the other day that there has been no wind whatsoever in that time. People assured me that there has been wind, but it’s like a light breeze compared to home. Torrential rain fell, but in neat perpendicular lines, so that umbrellas make perfect sense. However, I know the cold easterly weather comes from Russia, so I’d better not speak too soon.

 
I realised last week that I had spent the last month-and-a-half without getting into a car, and my body feels the benefit. I probably walk 45 mins a day without counting it as a walk, from home to transport to college and back. I used to moan about having to take lectures in the Health Sciences Building in UCD, but this week I realised just how big the campus is here. From the main building, I have a 25 minute walk to two of my lectures, or to the Psychology or University Library. One of my classes was in the Latin-American Institute, two train stops away, until, thank goodness, the class expanded to such a degree that they have to find a bigger space, so are moving nearer to the centre. This week (and indeed last week) were hard, trying to work out a completely different system for getting in to classes. The problem is that they are introducing an online system this year, so it will eventually be something like UCD’s version of purgatory, but meantime, the older and the newer system run side-by-side. I managed to get online registered for two classes, but the rest were done via visiting the head of the relevant department, asking for a written permission from the prof, and asking each individual lecturer if they can accept me. After that, there are no “controls”, except that at the end of the semester, the lecturer gives you a written note to say what you have done, which is taken to an office for calculation. I had to look for an explanation, as it seemed too relaxed, but each of your credits is broken up into: attending lecture (2), doing presentation (2), handing up essay (2) and sitting exam (2), or something like that; which means that you can choose to do or not do each segment. It’s a system that relies on the student to do the work. You can also negotiate to get more credits for producing a bigger assignment, if it’s a subject you feel passionately about or have a special interest in. At the end of the semester, you can utilise the 6-week long break to finish your assignments – they are not due until the beginning of the summer semester. The brand-new students here feel so much older than the newbies in UCD, and “attending lecture” doesn’t mean whispering, sleeping or Facebooking, it means actually participating. Doing presentations often garners less credit points than writing an essay, but I think German students are very used to doing presentations, whereas Irish students (including myself) aren’t confident about either the exposure or Powerpoint. There are lots of deadlines given us – you must register by such-and-such a date, but then there’s always a way to change everything if it doesn’t suit. It appears very precarious and inefficient to students like us, used to not getting in to classes because of bureaucracy, but it’s actually far more efficient, because the University allows for the human element, and finds ways to make people happy in their choices. Of course, I haven’t completely finished my registration, so I may well be less dewy-eyed by next week. Watch this space.

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