I went to Dolan’s on a Thursday night for a Moxie concert. A bunch of students from my course were there which was really fun. Emily is in my ethnomusicology class and choir. She plays the harp, wears cool hats, and once shot an arrow through her hand.
On Saturday, I went with the international office on a trip to Cork and Blarney Castle. Normally, I am not a fan of going with large groups of people anywhere, but I had a great time! Blarney Castle was beautiful. I ended up not even going into the castle because the grounds were so lovely. One of the gardens is the famous “Poison Garden” which includes plants like mandrake, opium, and marijuana. Thanks to college, I was able to identify the pot smell right away.
Later that night, another friend and her boyfriend came over to our house to teach me how to play Magic. They are two of the most generous and kind people I’ve met, and I had an absolutely fantastic time with them. After they introduced the game to me, we sat around the kitchen table and talked about cultural differences among different regions in Ireland, politics, and education systems until early in the morning.
Thankfully, studying abroad hasn’t been easy. If it were easy, I wouldn’t be challenged and forced to grow in new ways. That being said, these past three weeks have had moments of intense growth spurts. One of the biggest challenges has been the culture.
While Ireland is an English speaking country (though, that’s debatable in my opinion), it is incredibly different from the U.S which has led to some communication mishaps. It’s been helpful for me to analyze the sources of these differences and, thus, draw some conclusions about Irish culture. I haven’t been in Ireland long, so I am perfectly willing to believe that my deductions are not general of the whole country or maybe not even accurate. These are only my personal observations.
Irish people seem to fall on two extremes. They are either uncompromisingly forthright or passive aggressive. I walked into a professors office one day and he said, “I am not interested in you at all, and I don’t care about you.” He meant that, as I was not a full member of his program, he didn’t care whether I progressed to his satisfaction or not. I’ve encountered this refreshing frankness a couple of times, but the other mode of conversation is extremely polite. Instead of saying, “You need to move your car”, Irish people will say, “Would you maybe think about parking your car over there a bit?” I would have interpreted that as a suggestion to be duly ignored, but in Ireland, that serves as a command.
“We open early at half eight” (8:30). By far one of the greatest aspects of Irish culture is the rhythm of daily life. Coffee morning (usually tea, coffee, and biscuits) around 11am, dinner anywhere from 2-6pm, and then sessions, parties, etc. at 9:30pm. I have thoroughly enjoyed not having anything before 10am.
An aspect of Irish time that I have not yet embraced is being consistently 15 minutes late for things. The first meeting I had with someone at UL started 40 minutes after the agreed time. I told an Irish person about the American saying “Early is on-time, on-time is late, and late is dead”, and they thought it one of the most ridiculous things they’d ever heard.
I thought the U.S. had a very informal culture until I came to Ireland. I got in trouble for calling a professor “sir”. All adults, even university professors, go by their first names. About half my professors don’t say anything if students are on their phones during lectures.
Swearing is the vernacular in Ireland. Professors, shop keepers, old men on the bus, everyone swears here. And not lightweight stuff either.
Drinking is not just a stereotype. Most of Irish cultural and social life is oriented around the pubs. The student body president showed up to orientation and told us “This will be short because I’m really hungover from last night.” While that probably happens in the U.S., people are unlikely to admit it in front of all the incoming students and members of the faculty and staff.
I’ve learned to be careful about assumptions. I thought Ireland hadn’t figured out comfortable showers because the first three weeks, my house didn’t have hot water. It turned out our plumbing was just broken.
Honestly, for the first three days, I felt completely and utterly idiotic. What kind of person leaves their family, their friends, their fantastic school program, their voice teacher, their car, and most importantly, their father to move to a foreign country? I don’t even know how to count the money here or cross the street. Have a just ruined my life?
Add to that terror exhausting jet lag, not knowing how to find food, endless orientation talks, and an overwhelmingly large campus, and you get a very concerned Bridget.
However, on Friday that all changed. I took the bus into the city centre by myself. Because I didn’t know where I was going, I didn’t know when to get off, so I decided to wing it.
Somewhere on the line, a Polish woman with her bleary, blue-eyed son got on after a crowd of schoolgirls in long skirts and half ties. The boy looked like he was bearing a great sorrow though I suppose he was only tired. I looked at the alley way of the bus and the tangle of skirts and stroller wheels and decided that it would be much better to not hack through the mass of limbs and fabric since I didn’t know where I was going anyway.
So I watched the city and watched the feet and when the aisle was gradually clear, I watched for a large number of people to disembark. Unfortunately, that took a while, and when I finally stepped off the bus, I didn’t know where I was. I started walking. I must have looked more competent than I felt because an older man asked me for directions. I couldn’t help him, of course, but I thanked my genetic stars that I could fit in.
Amazingly, a word jumped off a black street sign and slapped me with familiarity. Upper Mallow. The first church on my list to visit was on Lower Mallow street. I picked a direction, and pretty soon I was standing outside a blue door at Number 7 Lower Mallow. I took a picture to commemorate my brilliance and help me find it again and then tried to find the garda (police) station. I did, and later, I even found the bus to go home. It’s very empowering to be able to escape.
Saturday, the University organized a trip to the Milk Market: a weekly gathering of local farmers and buskers. I ate this fantastic sausage and rasher butty for breakfast.
That afternoon, I finally got to meet my UL “Buddy”, Grace. Grace is an Irish student that volunteered to help the international students get situated. She answered my questions and, more importantly, asked me questions over a coffee at Stables.
Sunday, I made it to church. It was trickier than I thought because the normal bus doesn’t run on Sunday, but I figured it out. An Carriag Baptist Church is a very small mission church in Limerick. The pastor, his wife, and their three kids soon made me feel warm and welcome with a cup of tea and good conversation. After the service, Kelly (the pastor’s wife) and I talked while I played Draughts (checkers) with the middle son. I ended up staying with them for several hours, and then they gave me a lift home. Riding in the front seat on the right side and not being in control made the roundabouts feel like rollercoasters. They were expats from America, too, and took the time to drive me around my area of Limerick, show me the closest stores and shopping centres, as well as explain their American coefficients so I knew where to go.
And now, on Monday, I’ve finished the first day of classes and feel completely OK. Academia is a culture I understand, and I’m fluent in the language of syllabi and class notes.
Five months of my life in suitcase. It excites my gypsy soul and terrifies my inner Girl Scout because it took my car, my mom’s car to haul my harp, and my friends adopting my fridge and microwave to move back from the dorms. As much as I love minimalism, I am terrible at it. There is too much to prepare for.
However, a suitcase and a carry on seem like quite enough now that I’m all packed.
There are a myriad of lists available (I liked The Budget Traveler), but they are often from richer or more tropical people than me. So for anyone studying abroad to Ireland, The British Isles, or North West Europe. Here’s what I’m taking. I’ll let you know when I get back how well it worked out for me
1. A Purse
My purse is actually a leather camera bag and has a very handy latch. It holds the while-on-airplane-essentials:
phone and charger
School ID and drivers license
Starbucks gift card
2. Carry On – School Backpack
Though no one believes you, you are actually going to study on your study abroad trip. I didn’t buy a new backpack for this and am bringing my sturdy one from Cabela’s that my parents got me in high school. I’m hoping this will work for Ryanair and other budget airlines as a carry on in addition to fulfilling my academic needs.
In my carry on, I’m including:
laptop, case, and charger
change of clothes
medicines for one month
folder of papers
copy of flight info
acceptance letter from university
packet from study abroad provider
proof of finances
proof of insurance
confirmation of enrollment
I have copies of all these documents stored on my computer and in Dropbox as well.
3. The main event
I’m borrowing a large suitcase from my parents, and I’m shocked at how much it holds. Lucky for me. So far, I have:
13 days. 16 hours. 02 minutes. 17 seconds. The countdown is agonizingly slow.
The question “How is it going?” can derail my brain for several hours. So much is going.
I’ve researched rain coats, weekend trips, Irish language opportunities, and harp lessons. I’ve scoured countless study abroad blogs for the failsafe tip to ensure an immaculate semester (there isn’t one). I’ve freaked out, regretted my decision, and not been able to stop smiling. I’ve missed all my friends and the developments in the Honors College. There are some costs to leaving the country for five months that they don’t tell you about.
I have my class schedule now, though there are a few things that need to change. I’m still not sure which dorm I’m living in, but I know I’ll be on campus.
Right now, I am most grateful to my study abroad provider, World Endeavors. My advisor has been invaluable in navigating the different education system. Different credit hours, different schedules, and two weeks of finals would have been much more confusing without her!
For those of you approaching your own study abroad departure, here are the tasks I have completed.
All paperwork for Wichita State (my home university) has been filled out and returned to the study abroad office.
All my pre-departure paperwork has been filled out and returned to World Endeavors (my program provider).
My flight documents, acceptance letter, financial statement, and insurance cards are in a folder.
My bank and credit card company have been informed of my travel plans.
I’ve ordered some euros from my bank.
My parents and my advisors have my flight itinerary.
I’ve purchased a converter for my electricity needing devises.
My cold weather clothes are generally gathered.
I’ve read approximately 297.63 books on Ireland.
Besides several hundred last minute things that I’ve forgotten, all that’s left is to spend time with friends and family, pack, and get on the plane!
Preparing to study abroad can occasionally seem like an insurmountable task. There are forests of paperwork, a myriad of blogs to read, valleys of bureaucratic pitfalls, inundations of emails, and mostly waiting. Like, a lot of waiting. A LOT of waiting. You’ll fill out a form and wait for a signature. You’ll send out an email and wait for a response. You’ll make a phone call and wait for a return. You’ll submit applications and wait for acceptance. You get the picture.
After the initial torrent of activity to complete the application, the work slows to a small but never ending trickle. As you’ve by now tried to distract yourself and fund your trip by getting a job or five, replying to these emails, obtaining these signatures, and, especially, making phone calls will become more cumbersome.
My first tip is not to worry but stay alert. Your study abroad representatives get paid to make sure everything goes O.K. with this process. That doesn’t mean nothing will go wrong, but you have people looking out for you.
The second tip is this: patience, small one. Create Pinterest boards of blog posts, packing ideas, places you want to see. Read history and tourist books. Watch movies about your new home. Create unreasonable expectations about life there – people will always surprise you. Buy some sweaters. Overplan. Work like a dog and convert hours of toil to bus tickets and postcards.
But, most of all, have patience. The time will come. Try to not to drive your parents crazy while you wait.