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.