I am not entirely sure how many other secondary teachers are out there this semester, but noticing the differences structurally here in Ireland has been one of the most interesting distinctions to make. The boys enter at around seventh grade for six years of secondary school essentially broken down into two parts. The first is the "junior section" from seventh to ninth grade years. The second is the "senior section" which encompasses the remaining tenth to twelfth grades. When the boys enter the second stage of schooling they are given the opportunity to take specialized classes, choosing between advanced sciences, business, economics, languages, etc. in addition to the core classes they are required to take. These classes are meant to help them prepare for and discern the path they would like to take in college, as majors in the Irish college system are fairly restrictive and chosen before students enter school. It is not uncommon for Irish students here in Cork to graduate without taking many classes outside of their chosen major, but majors can only be chosen based on the score students receive on their "Leaving Certification" -- a test similar to an SAT. Certain majors are restricted to students with particular scores on the exam, which makes college acceptance less stressful, but major acceptance more of the focus. It was really interesting talking to the boys about the college system in the US and hearing their astonishment at how competitive it can be to get in to particular schools (let alone the costs, since all education here is state subsidized, and tuition is about 2,000 Euro a year for university).
"Pres" as it's colloquially known, also has a culture very fixated on its rugby scene. There are lots of teams and an incredible amount of school pride rests on their shoulders. Students are definitely encouraged to go out for extracurriculars like debate, rowing, basketball, drama, soccer, and Gaelic football, but rugby reigns supreme. One of the first questions I got from the students was if American high school football was like "Friday Night Lights," a perception I found humorous, but understood their attraction to once I realized the importance of school spirit and pride that surrounds their athletics.