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. 

Tuesday, 9 October 2012

Week Eight: Trip of Miracles Part 2 - Barcelona

Our time in Barcelona was fairly smooth, and I bought some of my first gifts there, and was even able to watch the Real Madrid – Barcelona game in a travel bar. Though I’m partial to Lionel Messi, I really wanted Real Madrid to win, but I value my life too much to have cheered for Real Madrid aloud during the game. Ultimately, the game was a clash of the titans, with Messi (FCB) and Cristiano Ronaldo (Real Madrid) each scoring two goals for the game to end in a tie. We were also able to have the best gelato of any of our lives. We went back to the same little stand three times because nothing we had ever had could compare. They had delicious strawberry, nutella, and other flavors, but their chocolate was what got me hooked. I am a self-proclaimed chocolate ice cream addict, but all of my friends and family know it's true. The way to win me over, chocolate ice cream. I can almost always be counted on to order a simple chocolate ice cream, either plain or with chocolate sprinkles, over a fancier dessert. I'm usually up for trying new things, but sometimes, I just know that chocolate ice cream is the only thing that will do. Luckily, we made it to the stand before it closed both times we went at night (we weren't sure what time it closed so we had to just hope we would make it in time). We may have (definitely) run down the streets of Barcelona to make sure we got there in time, but it was well worth it. That is some chocolate gelato I am going to remember for a very long time.  Our last “trip of miracles” encounter happened on our way to the Barcelona airport. We were flying out of an airport outside the city because it cost dramatically less, and so we nicknamed the airport “Cheap Barcelona.” To get to Cheap Barcelona, however, we had to take a bus from the city, and since our flight was so early, this was a 4:00 am bus. We got there and encountered a mob scene. There were tons of people waiting for the same bus we were hoping to take. And we didn’t even have tickets yet. So we sent Claire and Casey up to get tickets, and we prepared to fight our way onto the bus. Molly and I brought out our inner Jersey-girl and secured us all seats as soon as the doors to the bus opened. Normally I am opposed to that type of Black Friday-esque insanity, but this was the trip of miracles, and we had to get on that bus. Once settled in at the airport, we let ourselves experience the delirium we had been trying to hold together before we knew we were going to get on our flight, and we made it home without a hitch, successfully completing our first trip outside Ireland, and (hopefully) our only trip that can be deemed “a trip of miracles.” 

Week Eight: Trip of Miracles Part 1 - Madrid

Hello, first new country of the semester! Our trip to Spain this weekend has officially been deemed the trip of miracles. First of all, we were meeting my friend from home, Anne, who is studying abroad in Manchester right now, at the Dublin Airport. So we took the bus from Cork to Dublin, thinking that the 8:00 am bus would be plenty of time to get to the airport and take our time with things. We were wrong. With our plane boarding at 1:10 pm, we arrived to the Dublin Airport at exactly 12:50. Naturally we sprinted through to get our tickets scanned and get onto the flight. Except Claire’s ticket wouldn’t scan (we’ll blame that one on the internet at the library, right Claire?) so she had to run back, have them print a new ticket, and then go through the process of having it scanned again. Then going through security the person in front of me was called over for having suspicious items in their bag, but first the security officer motioned for me to come over until he realized that it was someone else’s bag. After having a near-heart attack, I joined everyone in running through the airport. We made it to the gate just in time, and I don’t think I’ve ever been so happy to see Anne. The first thing she tells me is that she almost wasn’t allowed to get on her flight, but was able to get them to let her on. We spent an incredible two days in Madrid, culminating in a trip to a bull fight on Friday night. I wasn’t too big on the idea of going to a bull fight, and it is safe to say that I don’t ever need to go to another, but I am glad I got to experience Spanish culture in that way. I learned that the bulls are raised by families who then donate them to the fight, and that it is considered one of the highest honors to have your bull participate in a bull fight. I also learned that while people in Spain do eat bull meat, they never eat the meat of the bulls from the bull fight. Which seems like such a waste to me, but I was pleased to learn that the fights used to take place every night, but now are only on weekends. Still not great, but at least it’s an improvement. The highlight of the experience, though, was sitting with Erin and talking to the Spanish woman who sat next to us, Theresa. She was about seventy years old, and told us that she spoke zero English but wanted to talk to us. Together Erin and I managed to speak enough Spanish to hold a decent conversation with her. She told us about all of the places in America she’s been (she put both Erin and me to shame, I must say), and all of the places she still plans on visiting. And every other sentence she said was that Erin and I were nice, beautiful girls and that she loved us, which was incredibly affirming. She also said that she doesn’t like the bull fights, but that she goes with her best friend, who loves them. Her friend was sitting on Theresa’s other side, and barely said two words two us, she was so invested in the bull fight. After the fight, we were able to meet up with our friends from Loyola who are studying in Alcalá, which is just outside Madrid. We went to a tapas bar (if you have never heard of/had tapas, stop whatever you are doing right now and find somewhere that serves tapas – once again, my experience with food has been forever changed) that serves you unlimited tapas as long as you order one drink. Done and done. Our Loyola friends were going back to Alcalá for the night, and even though we were originally planning on staying in Madrid, we decided to take a spontaneous trip out to Alcalá with them. Because why should we stay a half an hour away from our friends we haven’t seen in months while knowing full well they are so close by? So we hopped on the train, and went to Alcalá. I got to see Tori’s apartment and meet her host mom (thanks for having me over, Tor!) before we met up with everyone else. Somehow we managed to get ourselves onto the last bus out of Alcalá and into Madrid. We then slept at our hostel for a grand total of one hour before we had to check out and get to the bus to Barcelona (which is an 8 hour bus ride through the Spanish countryside, by the way). As we’re checking out of our hostel, the man behind the desk tells us that he is not going to let us leave because we haven’t paid in full yet, even though we did when we first arrived. To her credit, Molly held her ground and said that we had paid, despite the fact that we were all bone-tired, having just had a whirlwind adventure to Alcalá and then less than an hour of sleep. We showed our receipt and made it to the bus. But Casey and Claire didn’t have their tickets printed out, so they went in search of a ticket booth, and the rest of us got on the bus. At this point we figured out that you only needed your passport to get on the bus, not your printed ticket, but we had no way of telling them this. So we just hoped for the best, and with less than one minute left, they came running onto the bus and we made it just in time. 

Monday, 1 October 2012

Week Seven: Ring of Kerry

This weekend we took a trip to the Ring of Kerry (Thank you Loyola!) and we were able to spend a couple of days with everyone in our program and get to explore some of Ireland at the same time. Though the actual driving around the Ring of Kerry was slightly terrifying – we were in a coach bus and the road is incredibly narrow, and on the side of a cliff – it was stunning. On Friday night we heard from a GAA (Gaelic Athletic Association) player, who told us all about the GAA sports (Gaelic Football and Hurling) and gave us demonstrations. Some of us were even called up to try it out ourselves, which went less than smoothly. After that we went to a trivia night that had been set up specially for everyone on our trip, and it was great craic. (Here, “craic” means fun.) There was a lot of whispering, even more yelling, and the occasional fist smacking the table. My team came in third, and I will never again forget that it is REM that sings “Losing My Religion.” On Saturday we stopped to have lunch at one of the best viewpoints in the Ring of Kerry, and we unpacked our picnic overlooking the most beautiful mountains and valleys. While we were eating, I felt as though having our picnic there was not enough of a commemoration of how magnificent the sight before us was. After lunch, however, we took about eight thousand pictures, so I guess that made up for it. Our next stop was to climb a mountain, literally. We even met the man who owns the mountain (can you say, things that only happen in Ireland?) and he talked to us so fast I barely understood a word he was saying. But he did say that he and his wife are trying to pave a path up the mountain so that people who are in wheelchairs or are unable to walk the hike for any reason are still able to enjoy the beautiful scenery, which I thought was really cool, especially since he said their motivation for doing that was their own daughter, whose disability prevents her from climbing her family’s mountain. At the top of the mountain we took some pictures with some cows and the beautiful scenery around. My favorite moment of this hike was looking around at one point, and seeing a cloud directly next to me, toward the edge of the mountain. Take this all in, I thought, because who can say they’ve actually walked through the clouds? That night we learned some Irish step-dancing moves, including the Siege of Ennis, which brought me right back to my own step-dancing days. Though I will barely admit it, the moves came back to me very quickly, and I was brought back to my childhood pastime (given up mainly because it conflicted with soccer too often). Though we struggled a bit at the beginning, by the end we were spinning each other around the room and doing the moves easily. I’d say we could be mistaken for Riverdance by the end…maybe. 

Wednesday, 26 September 2012

Week Six: Edible Flowers and Cheesy Scones with Father Linnane

This week, Father Linnane came to visit us in Cork, along with our Loyola program director Mrs. Harris, and Dr. Tim Snyder. We got to spend a lot of time with Father Linanne, as he said a private mass for our group and then took us out to dinner at the Hayfield Manor Hotel, which used to be the homestead of the Beamish family, who originally brewed the famous stout. The other day of Father Linnane’s visit, however, was spent at the Ballymaloe Cookery School, famous throughout Ireland as the best Cookery School in the country. We had no idea what to expect going in, but we were excited to at least get some good food out of the trip. First we took a tour of the grounds, including some beautiful gardens. As part of our garden tour, we learned about a bunch of edible flowers, and actually got to eat some. Father Linnane and I casually split a flower in the garden of a cooking school in the middle of a farm in the Irish countryside - not something that happens every day. Next we made our way inside for our demonstration slash lesson. Darina, the head chef there, was our instructor here, and I swear she moved so quickly through all of the recipes that I wasn’t even sure what we would be making. Not to mention the fact that Father Linnane had casually sat down next to me for the demonstration, which was particularly intimidating when Darina started making comments about there being nothing sexier than the scent of fresh baked bread, or someone who could make that fresh baked bread. When we moved into our individual kitchens we were told which recipes we would be preparing. Mine were the tomato fondue, the raspberry tart from scratch, and a salad. This was the moment that it actually dawned on me that we would be eating the food that we made in these kitchens. The pressure was on, but our group was up for the challenge. Molly and I were making the same dishes, so we kept checking with each other throughout the process on how to complete each step. If we were going to do something wrong, we would do it wrong together. Nothing went wrong though. In fact, everything turned out perfectly. I was especially proud of my raspberry tart. (Thanks, mom, for teaching me how to use a piping bag as soon as I was old enough to bug you about helping you bake things! Our kitchen’s instructor came over to show me how to decorate the tart, and I was already halfway done.) Everything looked great laid out on the giant tables in the dining room, and it tasted equally delicious. I’m pretty sure that we all left Ballymaloe at least ten pounds heavier than we arrived, and we may have set the world record for most cheesy scones eaten in one sitting. And the most dangerous part is that we know the recipe, and how to make them. I see many days of having cheesy scones for dinner in our future. Also, to anyone who says that there is not good food in Ireland, spend one day at Ballymaloe and not only will that belief change, but you will never look at food, or the preparation of food, the same way again. And lastly, to all of my family and friends back home, I will definitely be wanting to try out my new cooking skills when I get back to the States, so next time we get together, I’d be happy to try out my new recipes on you!

Friday, 21 September 2012

Week Five: Survived First Exam

This week, I survived my first Irish final exam! The modules (classes) here are structured so differently from home. Our Folklore Early Start had two written papers and then an in-class exam, and that is considered a lot of work for one module. As different as the school system is, I really have learned a lot in my Early Start, and it’s been great getting a jump on getting acclimated to living in the city, and meeting new friends. Plus, now I’m an expert on traditional Irish housing, Irish fairies, and wedding traditions. Not too bad for only one month into living here. 

Sunday, 16 September 2012

Week Four: County Girls Forever

Closest I'll be to
home until December!
This weekend we took a fieldtrip with our Folklore class to one of the Aran Islands, Inis Oirr (pronounced Inisheer). These are three islands off the coast of Galway that remain very sparsely populated and, in my opinion, capture Ireland’s beauty perfectly. The island that we were on is the smallest of the three: it has a population of about two hundred people. Multiple people that we met on the island told us “We have three churches, three pubs, one store, one soccer field, no police, and no hospital.” Clearly they have their priorities straight. After we took a look in the “museum,” which was actually a one room house that has been filled with objects from the island’s history, a group of us rented bikes for the day and biked around the island. We made it almost entirely around the island in only one afternoon, and the views were breathtaking. We also stood at the furthest point of the island, which is the closest we will be to America this semester! We took a ton of pictures of the landscape, the lighthouse, the ocean, the farmhouses, the cows, the castle, and everything else we could find. There was one house, though, that really stood out in my mind. It was a thatched-roof house just a minute’s walk from the ferry. The house itself was nothing too out of the ordinary for Ireland: a quaint thatched-roof house with whitewashed stone walls. But in front of this house was a yard containing a child’s sized soccer goal, with soccer balls scattered around the yard. The yard was enclosed in a stone wall, also expected in an Irish country home, but there were little flowers peeking out from the spaces in between. I’m not sure if it was the calmness of the island, the sight of a house so far away from home that had a yard resembling my own New Jersey backyard so much, or a combination of the two, but I could not stop looking at this house.  Whenever I think about Ireland, that house is what I think of: something so different from my own home, but so similar in many ways. I was also able to somehow get a hand-knit Irish sweater that originally cost €80 for €35. The man at the store, who looked old enough to be my grandpa’s grandpa, refused to take any more money from me. I thanked the man about fifty times, but I am not sure he knows how appreciative I am of his totally unnecessary kind gesture. That night Erin, Claire, and I went on a walk along the water, and had one of those conversations that only be described as an extended realization that there are people in this world who know exactly what you mean, even when you can’t find the right words to say. Everyone in our class ended up at one of the three pubs together later that night, and Claire, Erin, and I stayed late into the night, listening to the live music, and making friends with the people who inhabited this tiny island. “Hi, I’m Kerry!” I would say. “Oh, wonderful! You know  that’s a county here, right?” they would respond. Before I could say anything, Claire would jump in, “I’m Claire!” and this would really get them going – Claire is another county in Ireland. At this point, we would really throw them off, because Erin would introduce herself, and seeing as Erin is basically the Irish word for Ireland, we earned ourselves the nickname “the county girls.” One of the locals even jumped between Claire and me and said “And I’m Limerick!” If that joke is lost on you, take a look at a map of Ireland. The guys playing music dedicated their last song to “our American friends – the county girls,” and I can honestly say that my experience on the Inis Oirr is one that I will never forget. 

Sunday, 9 September 2012

Week Three: Butter and Bells

Today we adventured around Cork, exploring two sights in the city: one a must-see for any visitor, and one recommended to us by the Loyola students who studied in Cork last semester. We went to ring the Shandon Bells and to the Cork Butter Museum. Compelling as the Cork Butter Museum may seem, this is the one that was recommended to us by our friends from home as something that we couldn’t live in Cork for four months without seeing, and at the very least we would get a good laugh. With an entrance fee of €2, that was reduced to €1 when the man working at the reception desk saw that there were seven of us, and a décor dating back longer than any ever should, the Butter Museum was quite an experience. We watched a twenty minute video on the production, selling, and consumption of Kerry Gold Butter. We saw genuine bog-butter, butter that has been preserved for hundreds of years in a peat bog. All in all it took us about a half an hour to thoroughly examine every inch of the museum, but it was well worth the price of admission. To the girls who studied in Cork last semester, thank you for the recommendation. The Cork Butter Museum was a once in a lifetime experience, and we loved it, ridiculous as it was. On a serious note, the butter in Ireland is the best butter I have ever had, and I think I will be forever comparing America’s sub-par butter to the delicious Kerry Gold that we’ve experienced here in Cork. After the Butter Museum, we walked over to the Shandon Bells. These are the bells at the top of a clock-tower at the Church of St. Anne, which is just across the river and up the hill from our apartment. After getting our tickets, we were handed big earmuff-like objects to block out the noise of the bells. Because, to get to the top of the tower, you actually have to climb through the space where the bells are and if you aren’t wearing this protective gear, you could lose your hearing if the bells were rung while you were in the room with them. After this initial warning, there was no more mention of this. No signs that said to put them on at any point. No warnings about the bells. So we climb the stairs to the first level, where the bells are actually played. Next to the pulleys is a song-book with many popular tunes, including Amazing Grace and the Wedding March. We tried our hand at a few of these, and then made our way up to the top, literally climbing through the bells to get to the tower above them. At the top, however, was the most beautiful view of the city. You could see the country in the distance, and all of the city buildings closer to us. This was also my first (of many I’m sure) experience in Cork that tested my ability to handle my fear of heights (which is pretty intense) but it was well worth it and I would definitely recommend the Shandon Bells and the Cork Butter Museum to anyone visiting or living in Cork. Suffice it to say, this would never happen in America, but that’s what I love about it. This day, the trip to the Butter Museum, the climbing through a bell tower to see the most beautiful view of Cork, was a purely Irish, purely Cork experience, one that we never would have been able to have at home. 

Wednesday, 29 August 2012

Week Two: Tea and Scones, Scones and Tea

We just started our Early Start Program, which consists of all international students who move in a month early and for that first month take only one class, to help us get used to the Irish system of schooling (which is so different from Loyola – UCC is filled with huge lecture halls and classes of 200 people), the Irish system of grading (70% or above is an A, and a 30% is considered passing in most classes), and living in Ireland in general. My class is Irish Folklore and Ethnology, and basically we learn about the Irish customs that have to do with eating and marriage and houses and anything else that has a specific custom attached to it. (For example, if someone in Ireland invites you in for tea, you are obligated to say yes and accept any and all food and drink they give you following this acceptance.) On our first day of class, Molly and Claire and I sat down with the rest of the kids in our class and waited for our professor. She walked in about five minutes late, introduced herself, and started introducing the course immediately. Now since we’re only taking one class right now, we have it from Monday through Thursday, from 9:00 am until12:30 pm. Except at about 10:20 our professor stopped class abruptly and said, “I’m ready for my coffee now. Enjoy your tea and scones. Come back at 11:00, is that alright?” We had literally no idea what to do, but after she walked out of the room, we all packed up our bags and followed. We went into one of the dining rooms on campus, and ordered tea and scones. At 11:00, our professor came back into the room and continued to teach, picking up exactly where she left off. We thought we were the only ones who had this mysterious tea break in the middle of class, but everyone had done the same. If any class is two hours or longer, there is a break in the middle, and the longer the class, the longer the break. It’s definitely been an adjustment getting used to taking a class with many more people than I am used to, on a new campus, in an unfamiliar city, in a subject I have never studied, but I must say having a tea and scones break in the middle of every class is something I can definitely get used to. 

Sunday, 26 August 2012

Week One: "Damn American kids. Happens every year."

Coming out of the airport into the light Irish mist, I could barely keep myself standing as I made my way across the parking lot to the waiting bus. We stumbled on and fell into the first seats we saw, most of us sleeping the whole ride through the country and into Cork, the rest of us listening to music and making half-hearted attempts at conversation. When we finally got from the Shannon Airport to Cork, we managed to grab our bags from under the bus and start making our way toward our apartment building, Leeside Apartments. As we moved down the street, all of us in a pack, unsure of where to go or what to do when we got to the building, I walked past a man who muttered (not entirely under his breath) “Damn American kids. This happens every year. Every. Year.” I was too tired to even fully comprehend what he had said, and too excited to see my new apartment to care. After cramming ourselves and our suitcases into the tiny Leeside elevator, my roommate Casey and I found ourselves in Apartment 20. With our respective bedrooms pointed out to us and our suitcases in our rooms, we stood in the living room wondering what we should do next. First we explored and realized that we did not have any other roommates – it would just be the two of us living in our apartment this semester. Next we checked out the views from our living room. We have a wonderful view of the river and some of the most beautiful churches. We sat down at the kitchen table next to each other, pulled out our computers, and emailed our parents with much more enthusiasm and energy than we were feeling. Honestly, after this my memory gets a little hazy because of all of the jet-lag and the long drive through the countryside to get to Cork. Though I’m not sure where the time went, Casey and I soon found ourselves washing up and going to Luigi Malone’s, a restaurant only a few quays away. A quay (pronounced key) is comparable to a city block, but each Quay has a name. For example, we live on Bachelor’s Quay. A lot of buildings don’t have numbers; they are identified by quay. We ate a delicious dinner with our whole program and our director, Mary Breen, who is already becoming one of my favorite people in Cork. That was only slightly affected by the fact that later this week she took us on what she said would be a walk through the Gap of Dunloe (seen in the picture above) but what actually turned out to be a hike that was over seven miles, the first half of which was entirely uphill, the second half of which was downhill, and it couldn’t have been more perfectly timed if we had tried. Exactly as we reached the top of the hill and started to make our way down the hill, it started to rain. Welcome to Ireland. All in all, this has been a great first week, and I can’t wait to see where the rest of this semester takes me.