Ireland | The Southwestern Wild Atlantic Way


We finally rented a car and were able to explore parts of rural Ireland. This trip we focused on the southwestern coast and we found some incredible spots. Plus, they’re all free since we avoided the major tourist sites in favor of lesser visited but equally beautiful spots! We saw a lot of beautiful nature, but also encountered old churches, ancient ruins, and a castle.

Cliffs of Kilkee

These cliffs rival the Cliffs of Moher, but they’re free, don’t have any ugly barriers, and virtually no one is there to impede the view so in my opinion they’re definitely superior. There’s a nice scenic drive along the Kilkee coast with incredible views that will make you want to pull over every other minute to just revel in the beauty. This is probably the most beautiful place I’ve been in Ireland and the town of Kilkee is a great place to stop for lunch besides.

Dingle Peninsula

There are two major scenic peninsulas in southwestern Ireland, the smaller Dingle Peninsula and the vast Ring of Kerry. We only had time to drive the Dingle since that drive alone (with plenty of stops) took a full day. First, we went through Conor Pass, the highest drivable mountain pass in Ireland. You can see the foundations of some ancient town down below.

It was freezing and windy out, but even so the beaches just looked so inviting. The color of the water everywhere was just unreal and the cliffs were stunning.

We stopped by at a cool exhibit called the Famine Houses that overlooked the ocean. It’s an abandoned rural homestead full of information on the famine that I highly recommend going to see. They also have lots of sheep in the area and they give you free food to treat them with.


We encountered lots of old churches, especially around Lough Gur, many of which were between 400-600 years old. Many conveniently had placards with information on site. These had fascinating graveyards with really old graves and the remaining detail on the crumbling structures was really interesting.

This church had something in the graveyard called a marriage stone which looks like a plain gravestone with a small hole in the middle. If you and your sweetheart touch index fingers through the hole, you’re married for a year, according to tradition.

We didn’t have time to go farther, but if you hike two miles from this Lough Gur church you’ll find the ruins of a whole prehistoric village. Even without time for this, driving around you’ll come across prehistoric beehive houses and slab tombs.

Legend has it that if you squeeze through this tiny church window you’ll make it to heaven- a reference to the “eye of the needle” scripture- so we did it just in case.

In addition to churches, you’ll encounter random beautiful shrines like this one we saw right before hitting the westernmost point in all of Ireland.

Rock of Dunamase

The Rock of Dunamase is a ruined castle with truly fascinating history that’s too lengthy to go into depth here so read about it here instead. Briefly, it has been a defensive fortress since the 9th century, although this structure was built around 1200. The pictures don’t capture the grandeur of this ruined fort set atop a huge hill with commanding views of the countryside so just go see for yourself and climb around the 800 year old castle!

Alexis Harmon studied abroad in Dublin, Ireland during Spring 2019:

Ireland | Academic Differences


Entering a totally different academic system sounds overwhelming, but there are actually a lot of similarities. I felt like the expectations set at orientation were a bit different than the reality I experienced, so now that my term is almost over I’ll tell you what I’ve learned. 


I had six classes, most of which had two hours of lecture every week and one hour of tutorial every other week. Here’s what my schedule looked like. 

My lectures had between 20-60 students and my tutorials were usually 6-15 students so you don’t feel lost in the crowd. Here’s a typical 40 student class. 

Depending on your major, your class might be larger. The orientation hall below held like 200 students and is used for classes sometimes. 

So there’s variation, just like your UC campus. 

Exams vs. Continuous Assessment 

Irish universities overuse huge exams. Three of my six classes had a three hour exam at the end of the term worth 70 to 100% of my grade. Up until a few years ago all grades were based 100% on one final exam. Everyone, teachers and students alike, hate this so they’re slowly moving toward more papers and other forms of continuous assessment thankfully. For a typical 5 ECT course, they are only allowed to give you two essays (generally 10-15 pages each), one exam and one essay, or just an exam. I found the workload relatively light. 


Lecturers here seem a lot more generous with extensions. I never asked for one, but many students got them simply for having other papers due around the same time. If you’re feeling overwhelmed, just ask. 


One nice thing about Trinity was all the cozy study space. Little tip: the 6th floor of the arts building is all glass with a lovely view. Definitely my favorite place to study. 

There are great coffee shops in the Arts Building and Aras an Phiarsaigh. There’s also a beautiful old dining hall for meals. 

Formality and Difficulty 

I was warned that Irish universities are a lot more formal and difficult than what I was used to. I actually didn’t find this to be true. Professors need to be addressed respectfully, no different than back at your campus. I had six professors, and all of them were really laidback and friendly. 

I also didn’t think it was more difficult. The reading load was comparable to UCLA, I had fewer assignments, less hours of lecture per class, and got the same sorts of grades on assignments I generally get back home. So don’t let the warnings of increased formality and difficulty stress you out. I was really worried at first, but just behave like you did back home and you’ll be fine. 


The grading system is wacky. Apparently an 80% is publishable by a professor and 70% is still something to call your mom about. Given that, I think the upper end of the conversion scale is a bit too stringent and the lower end too generous, but here are how grades convert. 

Students more commonly use terms like First Class Honours/H1 and Second Class Honours/H2 to refer to grades. Here’s that scale. 


Library hours are much shorter than back home so plan accordingly. The Longroom is the famous Trinity library (shown below) but you can’t actually study there. There are several other options that are open to you. Less beautiful, but they claim to have every book ever published so that’s pretty cool. 


The first thing you do when you get to Trinity is fill out your Hilary module timetable. That’s just Irish for figuring out your spring class schedule. Here are a bunch of terms that also might confuse you. 

  • Fall semester = Michaelmas term 
  • Spring semester = Hilary term 
  • Course = major choice/degree path 
  • Class = module 
  • Schedule = timetable 
  • Discussion section = tutorial 
  • Professor = lecturer 
  • ECT = unit/credit 
  • Note: The title of “professor” is reserved for the most prestigious lecturers. Most of my lecturers would be referred to as just “Dr. Smith”, not “Professor Smith”. Check your lecturers’ titles online or on their syllabus to make sure you’re using the correct title. Keep in mind, referring to someone who uses the title of “professor” as simply “doctor” can be considered disrespectful so if you’re in doubt use “professor”. 

Alexis Harmon studied abroad in Dublin, Ireland during Spring 2019:

Ireland | Kilkenny: Ireland’s Best Preserved Medieval Town


Studying all week and traveling every weekend can be exhausting, but in such a beautiful place it’s nearly impossible to resist the urge to constantly be exploring. This weekend we took a bus to Kilkenny, a small medieval town only an hour and a half from Dublin. 

The town has a long stretch called the Medieval Mile that begins at Kilkenny Castle and ends at St. Canice’s Cathedral. Between these two beautiful landmarks is an abundance of medieval stone buildings, many of which are filled with yummy restaurants and artisan shops now. In addition to its medieval buildings, Kilkenny is known for its artisans. For a taste of this, go to the National Design & Craft Gallery. For medieval history, go literally anywhere in Kilkenny. Wherever you wander, you’ll encounter charming stone buildings, pockets of beautiful nature, and maybe a medieval ruin or two. 

Church ruins we stumbled upon, disappointingly closed off 

Kilkenny Castle 

Built in the early 1200s, the castle has been continuously expanded over the centuries. Given to the Butler family in the 1300s, they inhabited the castle for over 600 years before going broke and giving it to the city in 1967. They sold most of the furnishings and ever since the city has tried to reclaim as many of the antiques as possible, recreating what life would have looked like for the Butlers in their heyday. 

Top: One of many sitting rooms. Middle: Formal dining room. Bottom: Nursery

In addition to the recreations, there was some modern art displayed, like the below play on a Hellenic vase. 

Information on the history of the castle or the Butler family was honestly disappointingly sparse, but at a mere €4 per student ticket the beautiful rooms were worth it. My favorite part was the art gallery at the end. In addition to housing a great collection, the hall itself is gorgeous. A 19th-century architect who redid the ceiling mixed art styles from every era of Ireland’s history. The result is stunning. 

Top: Picture Hall. Bottom: Ceiling art.

Finally, we explored the beautiful grounds. There’s a vast expanse of grass and a variety of gardens. 

This tree was the coolest thing we found. It appeared to have grown into three distinct, but connected trees. 

Medieval Mile Museum 

Kilkenny has a lot of churches and one in the middle of the Medieval Mile was converted to a museum after it fell into disrepair in the 60s. The building interior is somewhat modernized, but a lot of the 13th century structures are still there and its origins as a church are charmingly apparent. 

Top: A converted nave. Bottom: Exposed 16th century roof structure.

Under the building and in the cemetery, they found an immense amount of really old graves so a lot of the museum focuses on that and what can be learned about Kilkenny from them. 

Top: Part of the cemetery outside. Bottom: Some old grave stones.

Although it’s out of order, I recommend stopping here first to get all the information on the Medieval Mile, as well as a handy map. 

Kyteler’s Inn 

If you’re ready for a break try Kyteler’s Inn. Established in 1320, it was originally owned by Ireland’s first convicted witch and is said to be haunted. They also have great music at night. 

Black Abbey 

Very close by is the Black Abbey. Although the exterior is pretty, it’s really known for its beautiful stained glass. 

It was some of the most vibrant and intricately painted stained glass I’ve seen in Europe. The interior was filled with rainbow light, so much so that I couldn’t even take a proper photo of the interior. 

Streaked with rainbow light 

St. Canice’s Cathedral 

Finally, we made our way to the final stop on the route, St. Canice’s Cathedral. Unfortunately, it closes early and we showed up too late both days we were there so make sure you get there early! 

It’s the largest cathedral in Kilkenny and its medieval round tower is one of only a few that you can climb in Ireland. The view is supposed to be incredible. Building finished in 1285 and this was the site of Alice Kyteler’s witch trial. 

If you’re looking to travel, but want to stay closer to Dublin, Kilkenny should definitely be near the top of your list. 

Alexis Harmon studied abroad in Dublin, Ireland during Spring 2019:

Ireland | Galway Trip


Although €10 Ryanair tickets to another country are a real temptation every weekend, don’t forget to explore Ireland itself. Every Dubliner sings the praises of Galway above every other Irish city and after a weekend visit it was clear why. 

Galway is only the sixth-largest Irish city by population with 80,000 residents- small enough to feel intimate and local, but big enough to be packed with fun things to do. Situated where the River Corrib meets the sea on Ireland’s west coast, the town is famous more than anything for its music culture. Not only do a multitude of pubs have nightly live music, but it’s apparently not an uncommon occurrence for random customers to whip out their instruments and start playing. We didn’t experience that, but it still was a lovely time. 

The Streets 

The Latin Quarter is the heart of Galway. It’s the only part of the city that feels touristy, but even so it’s impossible to not be charmed by the brightly colored buildings lining the winding streets. 

Latin Quarter 

The street is almost all pubs and restaurants which are lively all day and night. On Saturday and Sunday until 3 there’s also a little market. There’s delicious street food, local artists, and a mix of random artisans. Make a point to grab a donut from Boychiks or a baked good from the bakery stall directly across the lane. 

Honestly, although there are more structured activities like visiting the Galway City Museum, if you only have the weekend and don’t have a car to explore the surrounding nature (which is amazing!), I think the best thing to do is to just wander around. Take in how cute it all is and just eat, drink, and generally be merry. 

The Sea 

Galway is along the fastest flowing river in Europe, River Corrib. The water is truly gushing and the water level is so high I must admit it’s a bit unsettling. 

River Corrib 

Walking out to where the river meets the sea, you pass a row of brightly colored houses in the distance. 

Be sure to carve out some time to meander down the Salthill Promenade, a pretty walk along the coastline. There is a lighthouse out in the distance, but the gates are locked so don’t bother with the long walk. Instead, stick to the main drag with the sea stretching endlessly to one side and a vast expanse of grass on the other. 

Salthill Promenade 

The beaches are certainly different from LA’s. In addition to it being very chilly and windy, the water is gray and choppy and almost marshy for a while. The long spread of shallow water creates interesting patterns in the sand, like this perfect circle we found. 

Does this count as a fairy circle? 

It’s a more rugged, dark sort of beauty than you might be used to, but gosh, it sure is lovely. 

The Culture 

Galway may have its fair share of great pubs and trendy brunch spots, but really it’s known as the city of music as I mentioned earlier. On the weekends, dozens of places have live music and they’re all amazingly talented. 

My boyfriend and I went to the Róisín Dubh which means “black rose” in Gaelic. We paid a mere €5 cover fee to see Galway Street Club, a 15-piece band who have a super unique style. They have some original music and do some covers, but it all has a traditional Irish twist. 

11 of the members of Galway Street Club 

It was probably the most fun show I’ve ever been to. If they’re playing, drop everything and go see them. If they’re not, I’m sure every show in Galway is incredible. Just know that a trip to Galway is not complete without seeing a live show. To tempt you a bit further, here’s a video of Galway Street Club performing on a random street in Galway. 

The End 

After a busy weekend, knowing we had a mere 2.5 hour bus ride was home was great. Somehow I spot a rainbow whenever I’m on a long bus ride in Ireland. Every single time. There’s no better way to end a trip. 

Alexis Harmon studied abroad in Dublin, Ireland during Spring 2019:

Ireland | UCEAP Tour: Edinburgh and the Highlands


UCEAP plans occasional trips for students so we can stay connected and explore the regions we’re in. One such trip was a weekend trip to Edinburgh, where the UK/Ireland UCEAP headquarters is, and the Highlands. 

On Friday and Sunday we were given freedom to explore the city, but Saturday was packed with a fantastic bus tour that took us all over the southwestern Highlands. UCEAP covered the cost of the bus tour, a hostel on Friday and Saturday night which included breakfast (rooms where shared only by UCEAP students), and our flights. Friday was a quiet evening for most students as we had an early morning ahead. 

Saturday Tour 

We ate together at 8 AM and left at 9 in a large, comfortable coach. There were 28 students in total, plus 3 lovely UCEAP staff members. 

We generally traveled no more than 1.5 hours at a time, and our tour guide was an endless fount of information whenever we were in motion. As much as I loved this, my favorite part was probably exploring the sites we stopped at. 


Our first stop was Dunkeld, a small town about an hour and a half outside of Edinburgh. The town itself looked like most small UK towns, but was distinguished by its situation upon River Tay and its crumbling cathedral. Construction of the imposing cathedral began in 1260, but over time it has been rendered eerie and even more striking by its disrepair. Large portions of the roof have fallen in, but the bell tower is intact and the bell-ringer played music almost the whole time we were there. I opted to hike the grounds around the church instead of exploring the church itself, and I immersed myself in the woods with beautiful glimpses of the river and this little peek of the bell tower behind me. 

Dunkeld Cathedral

Dunkeld Hermitage 

Only 10 minutes away was The Hermitage, an expanse of woods containing Ossian’s Hut, an old hermitage over a waterfall. The riverside hike was beautiful and the hut looked interesting as we approached. 

Top: River Tay. Bottom: Ossian’s Hut

But my goodness! Once you got inside the hut and viewed the waterfall, it was stunning. This site may have been the highlight of the tour and the picture below will show you why. It’s three times as big as it looks in the picture and the roar is immense. 


Another notable stop was Pitlochry, a town on a dam where we ate lunch. Many students went to the cute cafes along the main boulevard, but as we had only 1.5 hours here I just grabbed snacks from Co-op and headed to the loch to wander its banks. This tranquil spot is where I enjoyed my picnic. 

Loch Tummel

Queen’s View 

Only 20 minutes away was an incredible vista of a gorgeous loch and a glen, an iconic Scottish highlands view. 

Queen’s View

Driving Home

We had an afternoon appointment at Glenturret Distillery, the oldest continuously working distillery in Scotland, where we learned how whiskey was made. Finally, we headed home and were treated to a lovely rainbow. 


On Sunday we had breakfast together then checked out the hostel, setting out to explore the city. The Old Town is quite compact, but rich with beauty. It inspired Hogwarts and the buildings clearly show why. First of all, their university literally looks like a castle. 

University of Edinburgh 

Secondly, they have an actual giant castle on top of a huge hill that the old town sprawls out from. 

1,100 year old Edinburgh Castle 

Victoria Street directly inspired Diagon Alley. The picture’s colors look dull, but the shops are vibrant in person. 

Vibrant Victoria Street 

And of course there is Tom Riddle’s grave. Turns out J.K. Rowling stole the name. 

Tom Riddle’s Grave, ft. casual product placement

Chancellor’s Visit 

A few weekends prior I had actually been flown out to Edinburgh with two other students to meet UCLA Chancellor Block. We had lunch and talked for several hours about how we thought the program could improve, especially regarding accessibility of study abroad programs. He was warm and receptive, making us feel like we were truly heard. 

Chancellor Block with other UCEAP students and me


UCEAP gave me the opportunity to explore one of my new favorite European cities, see the Highlands (a part of the country that is often inaccessible to young travelers on a budget), and even offer my opinion to leadership on the program itself. I am extremely grateful to have been privileged with two separate UCEAP trips to Edinburgh. All I can say is that if UCEAP is having a group trip, definitely go! 

Alexis Harmon studied abroad in Dublin, Ireland during Spring 2019:

Ireland | Trinity College Tour


Hi, everyone! It’s been a few weeks now and I’m starting to feel like I actually know my way around campus. Since it was built literally 500 years ago and wasn’t intended to have so many students, the layout can be a bit confusing at times! However, the beauty of the campus more than makes up for it. In this post, I’ll show you some of the most famous spots on campus, as well as give you some tips on what places you should be aware of as a student. 

The Historical Campus 

First of all, there’s the famous entrance. The entire campus is enclosed, and the main entrance that all tourists pass through is this beautiful building with its graceful columns and imposing wooden door. There are numerous other entrances around the perimeter that allow for easier access to classes, but none compare to this one. 

Main Entrance 

Immediately, the iconic Campanile comes into view. Built in 1853, the 100-foot granite bell tower stands in the center of the historical campus and dominates the square. Beautiful as it is, be careful walking under it because campus lore says that if the bell rings while you walk under you’ll fail your exams. 

The Campanile 

After entering, on your left is the student union, several offices including the accommodation office, the old chapel, the Regent House, and the old dining hall. To your right are more offices and a building just for final exams. 

Top: Regent House and old dining hall, built in the early 1700’s. Bottom: Dining hall again and office space

A few things to note:

  • The student union sells discount transport tickets (known as the student Leap card), snacks and grocery basics (milk, bread, etc), basic school supplies, and even discounted tickets to events like music festivals.
  • Although you might expect the chapel to be stunning, I’m told it’s actually quite basic. It’s not really a tourist attraction and is supposed to simply be a place of worship so be respectful.
  • Most of the old campus buildings aren’t utilized for classes. Instead it’s mostly office space.
  • The dining hall is a great place to grab cheap, convenient lunch in a beautiful setting. Most meals range from €5-9 which is inexpensive for Dublin and a lot of the food is pretty good. We’ll talk more about food options near campus in another post.

After lunch, I walked east on campus toward where most of the classes are. Something about the afternoon light in Dublin makes the stones glow gold so I had to take one last photo of the main square.

Top: Old campus gilded in the afternoon light (On the walk between campuses, you can see the old merging with the new, like this old building of offices by the new theater and modern sculpture). Bottom: Old and new mixed

The New Campus 

The new campus isn’t nearly as pretty, but it’s where most of the action on campus takes place. All of my classes are in new buildings, which is typical. Here’s one of the prettiest modern buildings, a research center where lecture series are often held. 

Trinity Long Room Hub 

Most of my classes are in the Arts Building, a sprawling six story building where most of the humanities students hang out. There are dozens of classrooms and offices, comfy couches to hang out on, and a great coffee shop called Perch. My favorite place to work between classes is the top floor of the arts building. There are huge windows that face a busy street where you can watch all the people go by as you hurriedly try to finish your readings before your next class. 

Between the arts and the STEM side of campus is a huge stretch of grass comprised of the rugby pitch and College Park. Students crowd the grass in good weather (which is about 55 degrees in their opinion). The long path between the two sides of campus is lined with trees. One of the most beautiful parts of studying abroad in spring is watching the campus come into bloom. 

The path, lined with daffodils 

So there you have it. Trinity’s campus is just as beautiful as you’ve been told. Now you just need to explore it yourself and find all its hidden gems! 

Alexis Harmon studied abroad in Dublin, Ireland during Spring 2019:

Ireland | A Chilly Welcome: Two Orientations and a Lot of Sightseeing


Flying into Dublin’s airport I was immediately struck by how green it was. In one direction was the sea, gray and solemn, frothing with whitecaps as the freezing Irish wind gusted over it, and in the other the famous verdant hills of the Emerald Isle stretched endlessly. It made me more eager than ever to explore Ireland’s beautiful countryside, but for the next week I would be busy with orientations. 

UCEAP Orientation 

Orientation with UCEAP lasts 3 days, although the bulk of the content is on the middle day. We stayed at the Holiday Inn Express in the city center which was very comfortable and had a great buffet breakfast every morning. 

Day 1 

After a 2 PM check-in, we gathered in the lobby at 3 PM to meet with Hilary Noyce, director of UCEAP in the UK and Ireland, who was kind and welcoming. 

We immediately walked to a conference room in another hotel close by to begin with the essential information we needed for our time abroad. The meeting lasted about an hour and a half, covering information on health insurance, emergency protocols, and other essentials. 

The day ended with a fun dinner in an Irish pub. We were able to just relax and enjoy some traditional Irish food in the center of Dublin, although we had been warned that tomorrow would be a much busier day. 

Day 2 

Our second day began with breakfast and a return to the other conference room down the road. Today’s meeting focused more on academic and cultural differences (which I’ll explain another time), and everything we needed to know for day-to-day survival. 

After several hours of continuous information, we were given three hours to break for lunch and relax. At 3 PM we regrouped and set off on a hop-off hop-on tour bus that showed us many of Dublin’s main attractions. It gave me a great idea of what I wanted to go back and see more in depth, including the images featured below. 

Top three: St. Patricks Cathedral. (Apparently Sir Benjamin Lee didn’t just creatte Ireland’s unofficial national beer, but also invested heavily into Dublin’s devlopment, including restoring St. Patrick’s Cathedral). Middle two: Dublin Castle. Bottom two: St. Stephen’s Green

Our evening consisted of a tour of the Guinness Storehouse and a delicious meal at Pizza Milano. Afterward, most students ventured out to explore, while those still adjusting to the time difference happily went back to sleep. 

Day 3 

Our final day consisted only of check-out and our final buffet breakfast. We were given ten euro to assist with cab fare to our accommodations and reminded about the check-up meeting we would attend less than a month later. 

Trinity Orientation 

Trinity’s orientation followed a very similar format to UCEAP’s– three days with the bulk of content on the middle day. 

Day 1 

The first day there were no academic events. Instead, the evening was geared toward relationship building and included both a coffee afternoon and a game night. 

Day 2 

This was the day that was packed with information and meetings. I’ve included the itinerary below so you can see the exact agenda. 

It was a long day, but they inform you about everything from IT support to class registration to the perks of the school gym. As you can see, the orientation halls were often so packed that students lined the stairs. 

My favorite part of the orientation was the tour of the school grounds. The campus is an interesting mix of old and new since the school was founded in 1592, but has had to expand dramatically to cater to a rising student population. Below is one of Trinity’s newest buildings alongside the classic Campanile. I’ll give you a more thorough campus tour on another post. 

Day 3 

The third day was supposed to focus on any lingering questions and give us an opportunity to enroll in our classes. It was a busy, difficult day because the process of enrolling is frankly archaic at Trinity. It involves running around between departments getting staff consent for every class you want to take which. Again, I’ll write more on enrollment and academic differences later to hopefully make this process easier for you. 

In Conclusion: Dos and Don’ts 


  • Arrive a day or two early to Dublin to give yourself time to adjust. Several students that arrived the day of were just exhausted during orientation. 
  • Make an effort to make friends. Orientation is a lot and having friends makes the whole process more fun. A good way to do this is to attend the game nights, coffee mornings, etc. and not just the academic meetings. 


  • Stay out too late during orientation. There is plenty of time to have fun and explore the city later. Do enjoy yourself, but remember your responsibilities. Some people get a little too excited. 
  • Delay on getting classes. Get a head start even before the official enrollment day. Figure out what you want beforehand and go to office hours. 

Alexis Harmon studied abroad in Dublin, Ireland during Spring 2019: