Thursday, 8 November 2012

Week Fourteen: Election Day Abroad

This week was the first presidential election that I was able to vote in, and I had to send in my ballot from another country. I wish that I had been able to actually vote in my hometown, but for now, an absentee ballot will have to suffice. I’m also a little bitter because my brother was also able to vote in my first election. But regardless, it was exciting to be a part of a presidential election. And, on another note, my dad was running for my hometown’s board of education (unopposed, but who’s counting really?) so he was on the same ballot as the presidential candidates. Pretty proud that I got to vote in the presidential election on the same ballot that I got to vote for my dad. Watching the election coverage in Ireland was incredibly interesting. I loved hearing what everyone in Ireland had to say about our election. The thing I found most interesting, though, was the intense interest people in Ireland took to our election. There was a television ad that said, “It’s America’s decision, but it affects us all.” I never really thought about the impact that our presidential election, that my own vote, could have on people all over the world. This made me think about the attention that we pay, as Americans, to other countries’ elections. How many of us know when the next election is happening in foreign countries? How many of us know who the current president is in those countries? This election really made me think about America, and its place in the world, in a new light. This entire semester has also made me want to be more aware of current events happening all over the world, because so much of the world that I had never seen before has become so much more real to me now that I have had the chance to visit these foreign countries. For this presidential election, the Irish newscasters were undoubtedly almost entirely pro-Obama. And I think that holds true to the general population of Ireland as well. I read an article that said that Obama had 95% of the Irish’s support, while Romney had 5%. I thought that one of the most interesting aspects of watching the election abroad (particularly in Ireland) was hearing the newscasters accepting and promoting Biden’s Irish heritage, while rejecting Ryan’s. I would love to look into this more and see why they are so accepting of one and so not accepting of the other as linking themselves to the Irish culture. Ultimately, I stayed up as late as I could watching the coverage, but ended up falling asleep, and woke up to the news that President Obama had been reelected. In and of itself, not watching the news all the way through the election was a new experience, and these past few weeks it has been so interesting to me to see the way a foreign country views my home and our election process and this particular election. 

Sunday, 4 November 2012

Week Thirteen: Wreck This Journal

Today, I got myself a journal at my new favorite store, Vibes and Scribes. It’s one of the places I’ve become a regular this semester, and I couldn’t be happier about being recognized when I go in there. It’s this great little bookshop that has enough bestsellers that you know what’s recently been released, but enough older books to remind you that people have been writing things since long before you were born, and people will continue to write things long after you’re gone. I love the feeling in there, and I could peruse the shelves for hours. This time, hidden behind a stack of books about modern art, I found a journal made by a woman named Keri Smith called “Wreck This Journal.” Intrigued, I picked up the journal and examined it. It is, in fact, a journal with the sole purpose (aside from being written in, of course) of being destroyed. Each page comes with its own instructions. One page, for example, says, “Step in dirt and then step on this page.” Another says, “Let your inner critic take over and fill this page. Then throw the journal across the room.” One of my favorites says, “Find a way to wear the journal.” The page I am most intrigued by says, “Give your favorite page away.” I am fascinated by the idea behind this journal, so naturally I bought it and ran home as fast as I could to play with my new toy. I’ve only written in one page so far, but I love the idea of recognizing that what you write is not above being ripped up or thrown across the room, but that regardless of how ugly it may look after its done being destroyed, it is still beautiful. I know this is the kind of thing that would make some people I know absolutely cringe – I actually used to be one of those people before I read a poem entitled “Marginalia.” I am looking forward, though, to the production and then destruction, but continual appreciation of my writing as I journey forward into my latest writing endeavor, to “Wreck This Journal.” 

Week Twelve: Birthdays, Visits, and Facing my Fears

This week was super-eventful because it was Claire’s twenty first birthday, it was Halloween, our friends from Spain visited, and I once again faced my fear of heights and kissed the Blarney Stone! Good news – now I can talk my way out of anything, since I’ve gotten the “gift of the gab” that comes with kissing the stone. Tuesday was Claire’s birthday, and as the night before Halloween, of course it warranted another night of Halloween costumes. Casey, Claire, Molly, and I dressed up as Disney princesses. I was Rapunzel, from one of my all time favorite Disney movies, Tangled. Rather than shelling out money better spent on international travel on a blonde wig, I simply let Molly braid my hair into the craziest braid she could, while weaving flowers in as she went. (Thanks, Mol! It turned out great!) On Halloween, we dressed up as holidays, in costumes made up mostly of things found in each other’s closets and around our apartments. I was New Year’s Eve, Casey was Valentine’s Day, and Molly was Christmas. Our friends from Spain were getting into Cork at about 1:00 am, so we had a quiet night and then went to get them from the bus station, and ended up talking late into the night. On Friday we went to Blarney, and kissed the stone. For those of you who know just how terrified I am of heights, or exactly how kissing the Blarney Stone works, you’ll understand why I was freaking out. Basically you lay down on the wall of the castle, and lean back over an open space and kiss the stone attached to the wall. And as a result you can talk your way out of any situation. Naturally. Except the man who is supposed to hold you while you do this clearly saw the fear in my eyes and decided to have some fun with me. He asked me if I was ticklish and when I told him now was not the time to find out, he made a move like he was going to tickle me and I’m pretty sure tears formed in my eyes. Luckily, when he saw this he eased up and helped me lower myself down so I could kiss the stone as quickly as I could and get myself back onto solid ground as soon as possible. But I am so glad I kissed the stone, and am now able to claim bragging rights to the gift of the gab. And more than anything, my experience with the Blarney Stone reminded me that as much as I am afraid of something, especially heights, I am even more stubborn, so if someone challenges me to something, you better believe I’m going to make it happen. 

Sunday, 28 October 2012

Week Eleven: Peace Be With You

Before I came to Ireland, I was so excited to go to mass while I was here. I thought to myself What better place to strengthen your connection with God than the most peaceful place in the world? What better place to soak up mass every Sunday than a country that has so many citizens so sure in their beliefs? I thought that mass in Ireland was going to be life-changing. And I was right. Sort of. Going to mass here has changed me, and my outlook on my faith, but not in the ways you might expect. My faith has also been strengthened while abroad, but again not in the ways you might expect. I will never forget my first mass in Ireland. We had just come back from a day-trip and Claire and I raced right from the train station and snagged seats just as the mass was starting. But mass was over in about twenty-five minutes, the priest rushed through everything as if he didn’t even want to be there, there were no hymns, and they skipped right past the sharing of the peace. Most of my other experiences at mass in Ireland have paralleled this one, unfortunately, and it has caused the past four months to have been the least church-going of my life. How am I supposed to get myself seriously into a mass when the person leading the service is acting like he has somewhere better to be, if only he can just get through this one thing first? And going an entire mass without any hymns only feels appropriate if it’s Loyola’s Hopkins Court Mass, with its candles and quiet devotion. And don’t even get me started on the sharing of the peace. Usually a time to connect with family and friends and even strangers surrounding you, the sharing of the peace is one of my favorite moments of a mass. It’s a time for reuniting, for consoling those who you know are going through a tough time, and for reminding people that you are there for them with a gentle squeeze of their hand or a hug. Mass feels incomplete without it, and I’ve felt incomplete leaving almost every mass I’ve attended in Ireland. How has my faith been strengthened, you might be wondering? Well, for one thing going to mass here has made me infinitely more thankful for my churches both at home and at Loyola, that offer such life-giving services. It has made me that much more aware of how lucky I am to have parents who have always encouraged me to explore my own faith beliefs, and have supported all of the decisions I have made. It has made me that much more excited to be back in America, going to services in New Jersey and Baltimore that leave me feeling refreshed and ready to take on the week. And, it has forced me to be creative. Instead of looking for my affirmation of faith in mass every Sunday, I have been seeking it more and more in daily life, something that I had always strived to do, but had never fully understood until this semester. More and more this semester I have begun to see manifestations of my faith in my daily life, and because of this my faith and my outlook are evolving. 

Saturday, 20 October 2012

Week Ten: We Are All Still the Same

This weekend, we went to go see The Perks of Being a Wallflower. Now, this is one of my all time favorite books, and my copy is well worn, so I had high expectations for the movie. I must say, they were all met. It stayed very true to the book, which Molly and I put a high value on, and overall it was a wonderful film. It got me thinking again about my time in Pompeii and my thoughts on everyone being the same. To me, this movie is a reminder that no matter how put together someone may seem from afar, we all have crazy stuff going on in our lives that very few to no people know about. It reminded me that things can get better no matter how bad they are, and that there is always a cause for hope. And it reminded me that I shouldn’t only be thinking about these things when I walk through an ancient city or see the movie adaptation of one of my favorite books. We should be constantly discerning, constantly evaluating our surroundings and what we’ve always wanted to change about them but never have. And we should start making those changes. I love The Perks of Being a Wallflower for many reasons, but today I love it because it reminded me just how lucky I am to be having this experience abroad with so many people I care so much about, with so many people back home to miss. Today, I love The Perks of Being a Wallflower because it reminded me that we are still all the same. 

Tuesday, 16 October 2012

Week Nine: We Are All the Same

Probably the coolest thing we did, though, was take a trip to Pompeii and   Mount Vesuvius. We took a bus almost all the way up the volcano, and hiked the rest of the way. We learned that there are thousands of people still living on this active volcano that is supposed to have a major eruption in the next few years. And we learned that it is a known fact that the evacuation procedures are not up to capacity aka not everyone will be able to get out once it inevitably erupts. And yet people still live there. We drove past people tending their gardens and playing with their children outside. At the top of the volcano we took a ton of pictures, of course, because how can you not document a time when you climbed an active volcano? Then we went on to Pompeii. It was an eerie, interesting, thought-provoking, and calming feeling walking along the streets of Pompeii. It was eerie to think that so many people were going about their daily business when all of a sudden their entire city was covered in ash and they were immortalized for eternity, in whatever position they last thought to put themselves in. It was interesting to learn the history of the city, and about the way of life at that time. Growing up with a history professor as a father and going on historically based vacations almost every summer, you learn to appreciate history in all its forms, especially when you can live it. And walking through Pompeii is as close as I’ve ever come to living history. It was thought-provoking because it made me wonder how these people would feel about us walking through their streets, treating their homes like a museum, analyzing everything and snapping pictures in every direction. It made me wonder if I would be happy with myself if I was preserved in this moment exactly, for all of eternity and tourists from all over the world to see. No, we cannot see the personalities or thoughts of the remains of the people we saw, but we did see them in their very last moment. What were they thinking about? Did they have any hope in those last minutes? And maybe most surprisingly, it was calming to walk the streets of Pompeii. I realized in Rome, more so than in any place I’ve been before, that people are all the same. Different times, different places, different upbringings may make us seem different on the outside, but there is something innately the same about all of us. When I was in Spain I saw a mother pushing her child on the swings. I know very little Spanish and was not even close enough to hear their conversation, but I imagine that it was similar to a conversation my mom may have had with me when I was small. The image of that mother and child could have been taken in any number of places around the world, the way the mom was protective of her daughter was a look I recognized instantly, the way the child looked up at her mother, as if begging for a few more minutes on the swings, was not foreign. Though I had this realization in Spain, it was driven home for me in Rome, and especially in Pompeii. Here were these people, who lived in a time and place so different from  my own, and yet so much was the same. There was baking bread found in one of the ovens. There were people found going about their daily business, ready to go shopping or clean their houses or feed their children. One of the bodies was of a young man, his hands covering his nose and mouth, giving him precious few more seconds of life. Another of the bodies that we saw was that of a pregnant woman, clutching her stomach in her last moments as if to protect her child, even if she could not protect herself. Walking through the streets of Pompeii, I felt so connected to those people, and to humanity. If we can recognize that we are no different from that mother, hoping to save her child, or that man, doing anything he can for one more breath, maybe things can start to change.

Week Nine: Eating, Praying, Loving Rome

This weekend, we took another group trip (Thank you again, Loyola!) to Rome. Italy is another new country for me, and I was excited to see what this new culture had to offer. I loved spending time in Italy, and seeing how I fared in the first country I’ve been in where I didn’t speak the language, at least a little bit. On the first night we went out to dinner with our program director, and Meg and I split the most delicious meal. I ordered pizza and she ordered pasta and we each had half of both, and it was possibly the best decision I have ever made. Until the next night, that is, when Casey and I split about ten things off of that menu. Actually, I think it was six, but you catch my drift. Despite my only having mentioned the food so far (and yes, the gelato was delicious as well) I loved my time in Rome for other reasons, too. First of all, I got to experience so many new historical sites. The first new site I went to was the Trevi Fountain, which, despite being incredibly crowded, was beautiful and so much fun. We took turn taking pictures and making wishes, and laughing as we quoted movie scenes that take place at the fountain. We went on a tour of the city at night which was phenomenal, and we got to see a lot of Rome that way. In the morning we took a guided tour of the Vatican, and that is an experience I will never forget. I have never been so struck by the sheer wealth it would have taken to build something so ornate. Regardless of anyone’s religious beliefs, I think you would be hard pressed to find someone who didn’t feel that there is something greater out there while standing on the grounds inside the Vatican. We also got a tour of the Colosseum, which was so cool. They had tons of artifacts, not to mention we were able to walk around where the fans would sit during the actual shows and entertainment. Plus, there was the bonus that our whole trip was hassle-free. With Loyola taking care of everything, all we had to do was show up. We didn’t have to think about how to get anywhere, or what time we had to leave, or how much anything would cost. And, having just come back from Spain where we were completely on our own, I can tell you that there is nothing like a weekend away that has been planned and already paid for.