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Heading to the Homeland!

I’m a couple days away from making my big trek to Ireland, and I cannot wait! I have always wanted to go to Ireland, knowing it is a beautiful country and that a majority of my family heritage is from Ireland. My grandparents have given me a family tree to research while I am in Ireland. Who knows, I might find my relatives! My last name, Kelly, is the most common last name in Cork, Ireland, where I’ll be staying this semester. I think I have my work cut out for me!

I am excited for Ireland, but I don’t know what to expect when I get there, so I am keeping an open mind to the whole situation. I know it is going to be different, but I think by keeping an open mind, and rolling with the punches, I will be able to adjust better and have a great experience. I am hoping for the best, so we shall see! Though I am really excited, I am very nervous. It has been a long time since I traveled to Europe. Last time I traveled this extensively, I did it with friends. This time I will be completely alone. I think it will be a time for me to grow as an individual and learn a lot about myself.

This past week I have been indulging in all the foods I love and know I will miss. This has given me some comfort before my departure. The last meal I will have with my family is, of course, going to be BBQ! I know I will miss KC BBQ, but I am completely looking forward to falling in love with the food traditions of Ireland. I consider myself a foodie, and love to experience different food cultures!

I have also been spending a lot of time with my family and my dogs before I leave. I have two little pups that will be spending the next eight months with my parents as I travel about through Europe. Thanks to the wonderful existence of Skype, I plan to keep in contact with my family and the pups. I have a feeling the dogs won’t understand how skype works, but it’s more for me than them anyways!

While I am currently full of many emotions (mostly excitement!), I am so glad I decided to study abroad this semester. What ever the outcome will be, this chance to live in Ireland is the chance of a life time!

–Erin

Luck of the Irish

Traveling to Dublin, Ireland was probably the fourth longest days of my life (funny how the longest days of my life are on this trip). We started out at six in the morning and went to the train station, where we caught a couple trains. But we took a lot of trains and switched and then took a two hour ferry ride. By the time we got to our hotel we had been traveling for fourteen hours.

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As you can imagine we turned in early for the night. The next morning was our lazy morning and we woke up and had breakfast before taking a bus tour of the city. Right before our bus tour though, a bird pooped on Jessica, my mom and I. So I guess the luck of the Irish wasn’t on our side. However, because my parents’ knees went out we didn’t get off the bus to see anything and there wasn’t anything spectacular that caught our eye. So after the bus tour Jessica and I walked around the town for a bit before going back to the hotel for a nap. Later on we met up with my parents for dinner and went to Hard Rock Cafe and then crashed for the night.

Our next morning was another early one and another fourteen our tour to the Cliffs of Moher. This tour was better though because one our tour guide was hilarious and shared great stories, two we got to stop every now and then and get off the bus to take pictures and three it felt like we got to actually see what we came to see. We spent an hour and a half to two hours at the Cliffs of Moher. The view was absolutely breathtaking and you better believe that I took a million pictures.

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After the tour and the long bus ride back we turned in for the night to head home for London the next day. If I were to go back and visit any of the countries I traveled to I would definitely come back to Scotland and Ireland to explore more. The people were so warm and friendly and surprisingly the weather was beautiful in Ireland.

After this post I’ll be posting one more about my first week back in the states. It’s crazy to think I started this blog five months ago and now my time for writing in it has come to an end.

Moher, Missed Flight, Midterms…Madness

I didn’t anticipate how difficult it would be to keep up with blogging. I have a hard enough time posting pictures for friends and family to see on Facebook, so I honestly am not sure why I didn’t foresee this struggle. Almost four weeks ago, I went to Rome. It was everything and more for my nerdy, history-loving heart. Since it was close to a month ago, I’ll forgo telling stories about it, except that I cried when I saw the Pantheon, somehow was in a Pride rally, and ate my fill of a buffet breakfast for two mornings in a row. The Italians do not hold breakfast in the same regard as Americans (or Irish or British) do. Bacon, how I miss thee.

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Back to Ireland: It was magical. From the kindness of the people to the beauty of the landscape, I am in love. The people are marvelous. Dublin and Galway were the two main cities I visited. Dublin was a hub and full of life. I enjoyed being able to speak English again. The accents were fabulous and the kindness of everyone was tangible. After a touring day in Dublin and a visit to the Guinness Storehouse, we went to Galway. Galway is latitudinally across the country on the west coast. We took a detour to see the Cliffs of Moher before venturing to the city though. They are absolutely gorgeous. Florence isn’t the greenest place on this earth, so to bear witness to such a marvelous site of nature was restorative to my soul. Once we explored and took pictures there, we went to Galway and ate lunch and walked around the city. Galway is traditional. People walked by speaking Irish as well as English. Although the language of Ireland is Irish, most people speak English due to the influence of England. It was amazing to walk by groups of people and hear the traditional language spoken. The group of girls I was with also ventured into jewelry stores after lunch to purchase Claddagh rings, as they were first created in Galway. Even though I’m not Irish, I bought one! That evening we returned to Dublin and had more pub experiences, complete with Guinness! Now here is where the fun truly begins: missed flight.

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I left for the London airport from Dublin early in the morning at 3 am on Monday. (Sunday was a free day for me and I explored around the city and went shopping) My flight left about 30 minutes late though, so I rushed through security and all but sprinted to my gate. Of course, the gate closed right as I arrived around 8 am. Therefore, I trudged back from whence I came and rearranged my flight for the great price of 100 pounds! 100 pounds, unfortunately is roughly $140, and my flight wasn’t leaving for another 11 hours. I was miserable, stuck in a dingy airport (Stansted is not like Heathrow), and needed to study for midterms. Only one free hour of wifi was available though, so I had to budget my time wisely. I was tired, hungry, poor, and in sore need of a shower. To the best of my ability, I studied for two midterms the next day, budgeted when I could eat, and tried to drink lots of water. Time passed so slowly. Eventually I was able to get the plane and made it, but of course, this was also 30 minutes late. My Pisa arrival was pushed back even further, and I still had to take a bus to get back to Florence from the Pisa airport. When all was said and done, I made it to my apartment at 1:30 am, promptly took a shower, ate leftover pasta, and fell asleep for a few meager hours before I needed to take two midterms the next morning.

It was a mistake to travel right before midterms. Of course, I realize that now, but I didn’t know I would be back so late. My original intentions were to get back to Florence early in the afternoon, take a nap, and study into the evening. Life doesn’t quite work out just the way we want, and I spent my day in the airport studying poorly. Although I wouldn’t change my Ireland experience, I regret leaving a day later than most people. At least my midterms are over, I improved with each one, and my professor knew my story. She actually asked me what was wrong with my eyes during the first exam. Apparently I looked terrible and she wasn’t afraid to comment on it.

Life lesson: Don’t travel before midterms, give yourself plenty of time for layovers, and bring a piece of technology, because you never know if you’ll be stranded for 11 hours and need some way to entertain yourself.

Epilogue

Finally having returned home, I find myself able to reflect on my time in Ireland. I came to the island without any experience traveling by myself, and without any particular knowledge of the country’s rich past.

I always knew I would return to The States more knowledgable about Ireland, but had little concept of how much I would learn about myself and my own country’s culture. There are several things that occur as small-scale interactions within American culture that I always took for granted as part of the human experience. Now, having experienced things done in a variety of different ways to the American system, I appreciate to greater degree the variety of life.

Little things like having someone to pack your groceries, or not having to wait for a bus to travel allow me to return to my home with a new appreciation for the country I call home.

I will never forget the things I saw in Ireland, nor will I forget the people, nor the new-found skill which helped me talk to them. There’s a skill to meeting and talking to a strangers different from yourself, and an experience abroad is the perfect time to hone these skills.

I’m grateful to have had the opportunity to experience the wonderful journey this has come to be. My sincerest wish is that everybody can get the chance to step outside of their comfort zone and learn to experience the world in full.

A most special thanks to my professors for providing this lovely opportunity, to my parents for helping me make this dream a reality, and to my classmates and new friends for the unforgettable memories.

The pride of the Dubliners

The final portion of our trip took us to Dublin, the spiritual heart of the Irish republic as well as the nations capital.

We came for the weekend of Pride, and found that the entire city had come to life. Dublin has the highest percentage of national attendance of any Pride event in the world, and the recent announcement of legalization for gay marriage in Ireland and the United States guaranteed this would be the most fabulous Pride festival of all time.

The city streets were at full capacity following the headlining parade, and the area remain flooded with rainbow flag-touring Irish of all ages. We saw people university-age through retirement-age, all celebrating the historical civil rights win. Every-third window seemed to have a flag in their window, and even the Capitol building was flying the rainbow banner proudly.

I was more than a little taken back to see such a prideful display in Ireland, of all places. There’s a connotation of Ireland as a very conservative and religious place, and LGBT issues have historically had a troubled relationship with that type of area. When I talked to some local university students, they told me that they didn’t see any reason to deny people the right to happiness, and that they considered it a victory even though they weren’t gay.

The celebration went on for the majority of the time we were in Dublin. It is my sincere hope that this type of acceptance may become adopted worldwide.

Ireland and its North

Ireland has a short-but-controversial history with it’s northern neighbor. Following a history of colonial oppression by the British, Ireland was finally able to break free, in part, following an agreement in which most of the nations counties would become part of the free Irish Republic. The north had a greater quantity of British loyalists, so a collection of six counties were made to remain part of the United Kingdom.

For some, this was a point of pride, but for others it became a source of distress. Decades of political conflict were brought to a head during The Troubles, when the conflict turned to terrorism from both sides.

Officially, The Troubles ended following peace treaties signed by organizations on either side of the conflict, but the sociopolitical tension remains strong within The North.

We visited Northern Ireland as a daytrip to Belfast, the city which suffered the greatest during the Troubles. Our tour guide told us the history of the nation as we approached the border, but failed to mention The Troubles themselves.

As we reached Belfast and began our tour of the city, we transferred ourselves to black taxis. When asked why this was necessary, we were told the Irish-green buses previously used fell victim to too many terrorist attacks. The guide then went on to explain how religious conflict was still incredibly-common within The North, and how all five of the tour guides had an immediate family member killed in a hate crime.

The city itself remains strongly divided between catholic and Protestant. One neighborhood had 50,000 members and zero Catholics, while another had 30,009 and only Catholics.

The most surprising part came upon touring the Peace Wall, a ten-meter tall concrete partition between the two halves of the city. Designed to prevent terrorism, it’s supported even contemporarily by 85% of the citizenry.

My impression of the Irish republic so far had convinced me of the nations charm, but led me to believe all of Ireland was a slightly-modified United States. It wasn’t until I came to Northern Ireland that I realized portions of the nation still exist in a state of conflict.

The tour made me feel for the people on both sides of the conflict, and brought me a new appreciation of the tranquility of my life in America.

The culture of pubs

Ireland and alcohol are famously intertwined, and for good reason. Home to world-class stouts and whiskeys, Ireland has a proud heritage with regards to the pub.

Developed as a simple location to drink and consume food, the pub became entrenched in the Irish psyche following the use of pubs as political meeting areas. Unsurprisingly, the Irish pub is an establishment as full of culture as it is of hearty ales.

During my time in Ireland I learned about rounds, the practice of buying and having drinks bought as part of a small group. It’s an amazing system for bringing people together and feeling as if you’ve been given a gift without anyone necessarily losing money. As I met Irish university students, I found myself part of many rounds, and always enjoyed the bonding experience they provided.

Rounds weren’t the only thing to be enjoyed in Ireland’s many, many pubs. From dance clubs to old-timey pubs filled with the sound of guitars and bagpipes, I never failed to enjoy the musical experience of Ireland. On a specialized musical tour, me and my classmates were even given a history of Ireland’s musical instruments and the role they played in pubs. Music helped bring people together, and has been a source of pub entertainment for generations.

A nation born from conflict

I’ll be the first to admit that I knew very little about the island nation when I initially signed up for this trip. Everyone knows the stereotypes- leprechauns, fields of clover, sheep, and dark Irish stouts- but my knowledge of the real country was shockingly-hollow.

It wasn’t until the end of the first week of classes that I began to understand the forces and events which shaped the Irish socially and politically. Ireland was an is a nation shaped by conflicting ideals. Collected from the disunified remnants of several city states and perpetually torn between the Protestant and Catholics faiths, Ireland exists as a product of these ideas.

While this conflict still exists in some ways throughout the nation, I found my trip to Ireland excessively peaceful and welcoming. Never in Ireland was I met with a frowning face, nor did I encounter anything to convince me of any present danger.

A question of scale

I arrived in Ireland a day before my classmates, and got my first views of the country as I made my way out of Dublin Airport. The airport, it turns out, was impossible to differentiate from a “normal,” American airport until you saw the half-English, half-Irish signs.

I took a bus through the Irish countryside, down the length of the state-sized nation, to the second largest city, Cork, where I would spend the bulk of my time this trip.  When people look at a map of Europe, many fail to appreciate just how compact the continent really is. For the British and Irish isles, I imagine, this applies doubly. The reality is that Ireland exists as a cultural megalith trapped on a piece of land the size of Indiana. As we drove to Cork, I shouldn’t have been amazed to hear “local” traffic reports about car crashes and traffic delays in cities on the opposite side of the country, but it was hard not to be.

Home Sweet Home

Being away from home taught me so much about the world around me, but it also made me appreciate what I have at home. They always say you never realize what you have until it’s gone, and I have definitely experienced that over the last few weeks. There are many things I’m glad to have back now that I’m home, but there are also a lot of things I miss tremendously about being abroad.

Things I Love About Being Home:

  • Customer Service – In Ireland, customer service was nearly nonexistent. Servers work for a living wage and do not receive tips, therefore they don’t check up on you during your meal, refill your drink, or ask if our food was satisfactory. I felt like a queen at my first sit-down meal back in the States.
  • Family & Friends – One of the best parts about being home is having my family and friends near me at all times. I missed them so much while I was gone, and it’s so nice to be able to see them in real life, rather than through Skype.
  • Phone – I never realized how dependent I was on my phone until I was lost in London with no internet access on my phone and the inability to call anyone for help. I appreciate having my phone working again more than I could have ever imagined.
  • Not Living Out of a Suitcase – Being able to wear something besides the 8 shirts and 2 pairs of jeans I brought to Europe makes getting dressed so much easier. I’m beyond thankful to have access to all of my clothes now so that I don’t have to go buy something every time I don’t have the appropriate clothing with me for certain events. My wallet and my fashion sense appreciate it too.
  • Routine – Now that I’m not racing off to different countries and trying to squeeze as much into a single day as possible, I am a lot more relaxed. I finally have opportunities for some much needed down time.

Things I Miss About Being Abroad:

  • Adventure – Never once while abroad was I bored. The same cannot be said about being home. Sometimes while I’m doing nothing but watching TV I think about what I would be doing if I were still in Ireland — Exploring castles and meeting awesome people are usually at the top of that list.
  • Friends – Although we were only together for a short period of time, my classmates and I became super close. I miss living, learning, and exploring with all of them dearly!
  • Learning – Whether it be in or out of the classroom, I learned something new every single day while abroad. I was always curious about my surroundings, the history of where I was, or the culture of the area I was in.
  • Freedom- While abroad, I was (for the most part) able to do whatever I wanted, whenever I wanted. If I wanted to take the train somewhere for the day, I could. If I wanted to buy last minute tickets to a concert, I could. And if I wanted to just stay in and read or watch a movie, I could. Now that I’m home, I have to work so I’m not as available to take advantage of every opportunity that comes my way.