There's two different ways to look at class here ... either you think the Irish kids are really self motivated or they are complete slackers. Class is optional bordering on pointless. The professors are fully aware, and make it fully aware to you that they are fully aware, that no one goes to class. That being the case, the class is almost entirely independent study; meaning that the teacher tells you that you have to read, and that the content of the lecture is essentially pointless.
Reading is also an adventure at best; a disaster at worst. The teachers of two of my classes, furthering the pointlessness of having a class or structure for that matter at all, assigned ... 40 textbooks .. at least. They told us to "find a few that we like and read them" and to "pick and choose."
SO it sounds like I'm criticizing this method, and sure yea in the first few classes I was like "what the hell?" But, after going to class a few more times (don't worry mom) I realized that this is exactly the kind of school that college should be. It's professors telling you that your assignment, for the semester, is to learn ... just to learn about basically anything that has to do with the subject. There's no teaching for a test, or memorizing facts from a textbook.
I guess it helps my understanding and appreciation that I only have to get a C minus in the classes but still. The idea that college is a time to choose something that you like and just study it, on your own, with guidance if wanted, is pretty cool. (Also for reference kids here only study one thing their whole time at university)
Also one the cool aspects of coming over here to study is the history that is embedded in European culture. For example, I'm taking two Medieval History classes (500-950, 1250-1500; cool right?) Anyway, in the States, these classes would be fairly boring, memorization of facts etc... that no one really cares about. Here, on the other hand, this history of like 1000-1500 years ago is very personal to them. It is weird frankly. They still are pissed at the British, not like Gordon Brown, they're pissed at King William. They still think of modern day Germans as barbarian invaders (seriously, my one teacher was ripping on Germans; thats another thing, they are very very openly racist, by that i mean they heavily embrace stereotypes, and are willing to use them freely) Basically, listening to them teach Medieval History is hearing them tell and argue about and decide what their own history is. Really pretty a cool experience.
Additionally, things are happening in the present day. The continued consolidation and unification of the European Union is mentioned in every class (yes, even Medieval History; its all connected). I never realized how much like .. well a country the EU is becoming. The Lisbon Treaty just got rejected by one country (You got it ... Ireland) so now it has to be completely renegotiated. Basically the treaty would have unified the police, the economies, and a bunch of other stuff of all EU states under the EU. It essentially made them one country. SO anyway, everyone apparently who is smart in Ireland is pissed that they rejected it, because apparently everyone wants unification. Basically where I'm going with this is that this kind of fairly important stuff is happening now and teachers are very open to talking about it in class and forming their classes around it. (it helps that i'm taking economics of the European Union, I guess)
Anyway, overall I'm excited about the semester. The relative unimportance of the classes will help out my travel plans, as will only having class MTW. That said, I'm looking forward to doing some nice learning without worrying about grades at all, especially in this system that seems to encourage actual substantive learning and not just test taking.
Expect an update here with some pics of the University. I've resisted looking like the visiting student I am by not taking pictures around the campus just yet; I'll relent soon.
(Also I would have like to have been posting about the birds superbowl birth; but instead I'll just say I'm looking forward to spring training. Go phils.)
Here are the long promised pictures (Only of the old quad, for now)