100 days and 20 years

Today was a day of singular coincidence. My final day of classes at UL, my 100th day in Ireland, and my 20th birthday.

Living cross-culturally in Ireland has been harder than I ever expected it to be. Irish culture is about as opposite to my personality as it gets, but I am pleased at how I have adapted and assimilated. Learning to be people focused instead of time or task driven is very counterintuitive to me, but also extremely rewarding. For example, while I would show respect and interest in people by being on time and performing my work well, Irish people show it by talking to people and spending time with them – even if that means they are late or don’t finish their work. Since I used to plan my day in 5 minute increments, this has been tricky for me, but I am pleased with the progress I’ve made.

Something I haven’t assimilated as well is conversation cues. Irish people give a lot of verbal listening cues during a conversation. “Right, yes, yes, I see” constantly. In America, these cues would signal that the listener was trying to break into the conversation, but in Ireland, it’s how you show someone you’re listening. One of my Irish friends said it was because Irish people don’t like to make eye contact, but such talkative listening still is uncomfortable for me.

One aspect of Irish culture that was  hard for me in the beginning but is now quite natural is calling adults, especially professors, by their first name. This is completely taboo in the Southern United States, but any other term of address is seen as obnoxiously formal here. I’ve adapted so well to this manner of address that I’ve caught myself sending emails to American professors addressed to their first name, so this habit may be hard to shake.

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Visiting this lovely lady was a breath of fresh, cold air

Overall, I’m proud of how I have adapted culturally. I’m by no means fluid or flawless in my interaction in Irish culture, but I know I will continue to improve the longer I’m here and the more I travel.

I have gained so much more confidence in talking to strangers. (A necessity when you’re in a foreign country without friends.) Normally, I’d fake it until I made it or failed at it before I’d talk to a stranger, but I no longer have qualms about asking for help or clarification. The worst that could happen is annoying somebody or making them laugh at you, and you can always mitigate that by being polite (according to their customs) or laughing with them. Pants/trouser mistakes are always funny anyway.

I’ve also never stayed at a stranger’s house except for church retreats and such. I don’t like spending the night in a strange place be it hotel, hostel, or home, and I don’t like imposing, but I stayed with then-strangers in Donegal and had a wonderful time. I also invited myself. Together, that is an insecure introverts nightmare, but that’s exactly what I did.

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Thank you to the Loughridges and Crossins for a wonderful time with your families in Donegal

I’ve also mostly relinquished my love/need to plan and enjoy being what happens. I’ve nearly mastered the exact amount of planning to make sure I get back for class, but don’t usually go beyond that. Part of that is has to do with my confidence in my ability to think on my feet. The other part is due to the Irish motto, “It’ll be grand”.

And it usually is.

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island life

On Saturday, I took a completely solo adventure to the Aran Islands. I went to Galway by train, took a bus to Ros a’ Mhíl, a ferry to Inis Oírr, and another ferry to Inis Mór where I stayed the night. IMG_3760

It just happened that I’m on another Brontë kick and started reading “Wuthering Heights” on the train that morning. As I climbed hill after solitary hill, her words “a misanthropist’s heaven” struck me as particularly apt. I went five hours without seeing above three people. IMG_3764 IMG_3778

Inis Oírr was stunning. I had perfect weather for the trip – clouds, but some sun and no rain, so I was able to enjoy the island in all it’s splendor. The ferry was greeted on its arrival by Mara, the resident dolphin along with many offers of horse and buggy tours and bike rentals. I passed over these for walking and set off for the graveyard on the hill which a man had told me contained a sunken church. I wandered around the cemetery until more people arrived then set off over the hills. After a while, I made it back to the village for lunch at the pub, and then sat on the rocks until it was time for my ferry. I had forgotten how much I loved the ocean. IMG_3781 IMG_3827

Inis Mór was much more tourist oriented than Inis Oírr. I quickly left Kilronan, the village, to look at some of the sites of the island. For the craic of it, I followed spray painted signs that pointed to a “wormhole” in a cliff at the edge of the island. In the process, I completely lost the path I was on. Thankfully, islands are very easy to navigate. Just keep the water on your left and you’ll eventually make it back around. It was a very long eventually, but it ended with great seafood chowder and Bailey’s coffee at a pub and a hot shower in the hostel. IMG_3786 IMG_3788 IMG_3834

The next morning, I was up early to escape the snoring of my roommates and spend some time writing in my journal. I breakfasted on the hostel patio with a friendly collie and met a lad from Dublin who was also staying at the hostel. We talked on the ferry and bus ride back to Galway about art, meditation, and Irish. He is an artist moving to Inis Oírr to spend time focusing on his art before starting art school in Galway. When we parted ways at the bus station, he said he was sure he’d see me again some summer when I’d “come breezing into [his] life with that beautiful smile”. “I’ll be the crazy guy with the even crazier beard”, he joked. IMG_3800 IMG_3896

One of my favorite parts of the trip was using Irish. The Aran Islands are a Gaeltacht region which means that Irish is used in everyday life. It was interesting to see the response I got from people when I greeted them in Irish or switched from English to Irish in the middle of a conversation. While everyone I met was very friendly, they were even more enthusiastic when I tried to carry on conversations in Irish. This was especially obvious when I was in less touristy areas of the islands. As for me, I had no idea how terrifying it would be to voluntarily start a conversation in a second language, but even one day of use had me unconsciously saying “go raibh maith agat” instead of “thank you” to the Americans in my hostel room. IMG_3805

moxie, marijuana, and magic

This past fortnight has been pretty class.

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.

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Emily and I
Emily and I

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.

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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.