The second week of college, and everything feels a bit less frantic. There are still gaps in my knowledge and in the functioning of systems here, but we’re making a truce. For a university with 40,000 people attending every day, there’s access to less than 100 computers, all squished into a tiny space. The assumption is that you bring your own laptop, or you have internet on your phone. Laptop access is good and efficient, and there appears to be no black spots (like UCD Psychology dept.) where the internet fades. I went to print out a document yesterday, and it was during a busy period. There is one small room, with 6 printout stations. You have to take note of which printout station you have ordered your doc from, and wait until it appears. Unfortunately, if someone has decided to print out a book before you (or 10 people are printing books), you can wait hours. The assumption must be that you have your own printer at home. Do I sound like a Luddite? I’m thinking of the disappearance of the phone box in Ireland, because they became unnecessary. Probably the college-provided computer will also be history soon.

I had waited for the moment when I would be attending classes completely in German, and now it’s here. Luckily I had spoken, before I came here, to a few people who came to this University from UCD Psychology, who assured me that you can only understand about 25% of the first lecture. Otherwise, I might have burst into tears. It takes all my concentration to focus for the full length of the lecture (they are 2 hours long here), and even then, I haven’t grasped everything. However, the first lecture in every subject was a list of housekeeping and introductions, and from now on, we should be able to read the bones of the lecture via Blackboard online. Since Psychology is related to Anthropology and Ethnography, I am able to take lectures in these subjects too, something I’ve wanted to do for ages. The lecture this week was the lecturer talking, then throwing out subjects to the class for opinion, q&a, controversy, argument. The seminars are even better. Usually tutorials in UCD are a doddle – lots of people are barely present, they don’t answer questions, “forget” to do the written work, or just don’t turn up. Here, they are equally balanced for marks with lecture attendance, and they are a more intense version of open discussion, people disagreeing, the lecturer challenging either individual speakers or the whole class to think on their feet, go further, come up with new ideas. It is so exhilarating, but terribly frustrating, because I can’t follow it all. I know my German will improve, so I will be able to follow the argument in future, and actually it’s stimulating just to be in the environment of people really following an argument, willing to put out their own thinking, but also willing to see others point of view. The only tutorial I had in UCD that came close to this experience was in Politics, where a well-bonded class argued the Presidential Election under the guidance of Aoibhinn de Burca. At the end of the lecture or tutorial, everyone raps their knuckles on the table – the equivalent of applause – which is rather sweet and mannerly, to say thank-you.

I have taken more credits than I need, so that I can afford to drop the odd exam (you can decide to do that at the last moment). I have six sessions in German, and two in English. One of those is an examination of how Berlin appears to outsiders, and a look at how tourism (including international students) and image have affected Berlin. The second class I found purely by chance – called Contemporary Britain, Language and Identity, its run by a canny older Scotswoman, and is full of cynical younger people from the all over Britain. This week, we looked at the language politicians use to boost the flagging British ego – absolutely hilarious, even if I have to take it for no credit, it’s a blast being there. In terms of how the other students see me, I find it interesting that they are so interested in me. I guess lots of people are now used to seeing foreign student in their classes, and being older doesn’t seem to faze them. In every class so far, people have helped me, translated for me, shown me how things worked. The tutors are nice, but quite mixed – one or two of them are old-school, insisting on being called by their full title, and asking about how to address us (ie as Frau Sinnott or Lulu). In the middle comes a couple of lecturers who are really friendly and we are on first name terms, and at the other end of the spectrum there’s the lecturer who insists everyone uses the “du” familiar term, regularly uses swear-words, and told us about her past research with prostitutes and strippers. In order to get access to her population, she became a stripper for a few nights. You could hear a pin drop in the classroom, and I thought of all those UCD lecturers talking to us about statistical analysis and the like. This is ethnography of course, a bit of a leap to a new area. But I have to say it feels like real university.

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