A St. Clair College student's blog post about his first month at IT Sligo in Ireland. Also includes an interview video.


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The First Month of Studying Abroad at IT Sligo
Photo by Colin Topliffe

Written by Colin Topliffe

I’ve been wanting to sit down and write about my experience so far studying in Ireland for a while. School has kept me doing research and writing papers and my passion for photography has been keeping me fairly busy running around trying to get the perfect shots.

I decided to write this blog for two main reasons, the first being to write down my thoughts and experiences so I can reflect on them later and second for others who want to study abroad but want to understand more what the experience is like. I’m going to break this up into sections to make it easier for you to read and so to keep my thoughts in order.

Why Ireland??

So the big question I got asked a lot before the move here, why Ireland? Now I won’t go into detail in this post about it but I decided to come to Ireland for my education for a few reasons. The first would be Ireland itself. Ireland has a world class education system and a degree at any institution in Ireland would transfer back to Canada. Ireland is also a beautiful country, with mountains, green rolling fields and stunning cliffs. As a photographer, coming here for 9 months to study and live here meant I could make time to find those amazing hidden gems and capture them in my photography. Ireland is also so rich in culture, when i was doing research into coming to Ireland, it seemed that i could always find something to do on any weekend. It could be going to a food festival, going to Derry for Halloween or even just going to the pub for live music.

The second reason I choose to come to Ireland has to do with Canada. I really do love Canada but in Ontario, the transfer agreements between colleges and universities are terrible. I’m going to give you an example. If I stayed in Windsor, ON to get my Bachelors of Business at the University of Windsor it would have been two years instead of the nine months in Ireland. When i looked at the cost, it was actually going to be cheaper for me to come to Ireland than to go to the University of Windsor. Yes that is including cost of living.

Lastly, I choose to come to Ireland to experience something new. Windsor is a good city but up until I moved, I had live in Windsor for my entire life. I knew that if I was going to grow as a person, i needed to change things up. So i figured, what would be better then to move across the Atlantic Ocean. At the very least, i wanted to learn more about who I was and what I was looking for in life.

The First Week

The first week was very interesting and I ended up spending most of it just trying to figure things out. One of the first things I noticed when I got here was just how friendly and social everyone is. Now I come from Canada, a county literally known for having nice people, but here it was different. When I first got here, we missed the bus going from the airport to Sligo by 5 minutes, which meant we had to wait 2.5 hours for the next one. We ended up finding a place to sit down for a bit and I did what any reasonable beer enthusiast would do, go find a bar. Lucky for me there was one right beside us, so I sat down and ordered a Guinness. I was joined by a fellow named Deacon who began to talk to me and welcome me to the country. We exchanged contact information and he told me about this career in the film industry. Deacon was such as nice guy and really made the fact I missed the bus not as bad. This wasn’t a one off event either, it’s happened several times. In fact we meet a lovely lady named Frankie well we waited for the bus to Sligo from the airport and she actually drove us to our house when we got into Sligo.

It took a bit to get used to how everything works in Ireland. They have different laws, social norms and ways of doing things. The culture shock was there but it wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be. Most of the Canadians that came here started talking to each other and sharing tips on what they and learnt about the city and culture. So I really got the grasp of what is normal and what is not rather fast. I tried to spend as much time in the city as I could for the first week to really get a grasp of the area, so if I needed something, I had a good idea where to get it.

The weather…. Back in Canada, we would have all four seasons over a year. In Ireland, they get all four seasons in a day. It’s the hardest thing to get used to. It rains a lot here but not like it does back home in Canada. In Sligo, it’s more like a mist or spitting. Now is does pour somethings but it’s really not that bad. Most people here don’t have or use rain coats, they just wear whatever.. You would think they would wear more water resistant clothes but they don’t seem to care that much. There is however a lack of sun here. Most days it’s very cloudy but when the sun does come out, it’s absolutely gorgeous .

Overall the first week went really well and I met a ton of amazing people which made everything so much easier.

Mental Health

For anyone that knows me, you probably knew this was going to come up at some point. My biggest fear coming to Ireland was my mental health for sure. It worried me that my support system was an ocean away from me. The first few days were really weird. Getting to know my roommates and just wrapping my head around the fact that I could just run over to my friends house, or that I would have to figure out people would be free back home if I wanted to call someone with the time difference. I thought that I would struggle with my mental health for the first few weeks but honestly it wasn’t that bad. I met so many great people and I always was running around or working on something so it never really became an issue.

Even though my friends were so far away, they were still there for me. I had a bunch of people checking up on me and asking how everything was. I felt like I told the same stories a million times but it was nice to have them care and it helped me express my thoughts and feelings. Having a support system is definitely important to studying abroad because they are a lot of new things being thrown at you and it can get emotionally overwhelming.

IT Sligo and Sligo (The Town)

IT Sligo so far has proved to be an amazing school to study at. When Sarah, a Canadian friend who took the same course last year at IT Sligo, told me about how great the school was I only partly believed her. When we got to the school, all the teachers were super supportive and glad to have us in their lectures. They made sure to note who we were and our names. Some of our teachers even pulled all the Canadian’s aside and told us that if we needed any extra help with understand Irish slang and culture they would help us. It was really great to see just how welcoming the staff at IT Sligo are with international students. In fact the whole town has been like this.

Sligo is a really unique town. It’s a good size and has a busy core with lots of places to visit and explore. The one thing that Sligo isn’t lacking in is pubs. I would argue that there just as many pubs in Sligo as there are Tim Horton’s in Windsor. I sure any Canadian reading this would be pretty amazed by that. I know I sure was. There also is a good section of cafes and restaurants. They even have a Little Italy in the town core. Sligo has a lot of little towns around it which are amazing to visit. So far Strand Hill is my favourite mainly because of it’s size and how beautiful the views are from there!

So far I’ve been on some wild adventures around the area. The IT Sligo international office took a 150 of the international students up Knocknarea Mountain. It was an amazing trip and the views were absolutely stunning. I also have been hiking round trying to find great places for photography. Having my Mavic Air (Drone) has been a blast. The first week weeks were very windy so i didn’t get much flight time int but lately I’ve been flying it a lot. You can check out the rest of this website to see the photos I took with it. I also went on a 50km hike around a lake in the area called Lough Gill with another Canadian named Keith. That was a ton of fun and the views were beautiful. Although I don’t think my legs have even been in so much pain.

That’s it though. Thanks for reading! I plan on writing more blogs in the future so say tuned for those. If you want to stay up to date on my photography, follow me on instagram @colintopliffe

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