Tuesday, October 16, 2012

The Story Finally Ends

Final Blog Post -- End Words Of My Journey

So I didn't keep up with writing this thing.. To be honest, blogs are a bit tedious and I always found myself too busy or at a loss for what to say. But here's a final blog post answering a few questions honestly about my study abroad experience.

1. Have you changed as a person after studying abroad?
  Oh absolutely. My philosophy on life changed entirely after studying abroad. Living in Ireland and travelling across Europe taught me a lot about interacting with other people, because I found myself in situations where people of different cultures, and people who spoke languages other than English, were part of my daily life. A great example of this is the month I spent living in Denmark. Many Danish people my age speak English, but it was not necessarily fluent. It was impossible to tell that I was not a Danish speaker myself, so many people would speak to me in Danish and I was often confused. Being polite, patient, and culturally sensitive are three very big skills I learned while studying abroad. Apart from that, the Irish mentality of "it'll happen" really had a big effect on me. Stress used to really bog me down, both mentally and physically. I got sick, I got headaches, I was anxious and irritable because of stress in my life. But now, because the Irish don't let stress or frustrating events bog them down, I don't either. The changes in myself were definitely positive.

2. What self-discovery surprised you?
    How social I was! I am typically an extrovert so being outgoing was not the shock, but I really surprised myself with how easily I got along with people from other countries and backgrounds. I made a lot of life-long friends in Ireland, and I really amazed myself with how well I adjusted to the new culture and opened myself up to meeting new people.

3. If you took courses in your major; how has studying abroad impacted your understanding of your major?
    Unfortunately, I did not take any classes in my major in Ireland, but since the classes there are mostly lecture based with intensive self-teaching, I discovered a lot about how I learn and understand academic subjects.

4. Single greatest benefit of studying abroad?
    Uh... can I say all of them? The friends, the new cultures, all of the wonderful experiences and opportunities... Studying abroad in general is its own benefit. I would not trade my experience abroad for all the world.

5. How did your life goals change?
   Well I definitely have plans to go back to Ireland and Europe in general, if not to live permanently then at least for an extended stay. I love it overseas, and I have much more traveling ahead of me while I am still young and capable of it. I think before studying abroad I would not have been as excited or as determined to travel. It was a dream I had always had, but not one I considered attainable until I studied abroad in college.

6. What was your favorite experience?
   Though I got to travel all over and see much of Ireland and Europe, my favorite thing was staying in Carlow and going to the traditional band that played in Teach Dolmain, an old-fashioned pub, every Thursday. I got to make many friends with Carlow natives and really get deeply involved with traditional Irish culture. Not to mention the music was always fantastic!

7. Any advice for future participants?
   Yes. Don't sweat it, enjoy yourself! It's easy to ruin the trip for yourself by worrying about Skype dates, families, friends back home... remember, you're the one traveling! Your friends and family will be happy to Skype or talk on YOUR time, so enjoy yourself because time flies by very, very quickly. Don't waste it by getting "stuck" back home, you'll miss out on much more than you gain.

8. Would you study abroad again? Why?
   Oh, in a heartbeat. There is nothing quite like immersing yourself in another culture for a while... or even for a whole year, like I did. You're guaranteed to find something you love about it, and something you love about yourself too. It's a unique experience. Vacations are nice, but studying abroad allows you to really live in a new place and become a native yourself. That isn't something you get with week-long trips or guided tours.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Busy As A Bee and Sick As a Dog.

Wow, I have a blog! I totally forgot this thing existed for a second. Sorry folks.

Now, mind, that isn't because I don't care or because I'm lazy, but I am just so busy! It has been wild here, and I am loving every second of it. I think I am making more friends here than I am at home. Whether or not this shows a change in me, or just a more accepting range of people, I can't be sure. I suppose we'll find out when I come home. If I come home.

Oh, and I'm sick. Of course I'm sick. The climate here, mixed with sleep deprivation and such, has really hit me hard. But I'm pulling through all right, nobody at home panic!

I've made many friends here, some Irish, some French, some German... all of them wonderful people. I think, most importantly, I've also formed some pretty tight bonds with the other American students I am here with. Since we're all in this together, I think that might be the most significant group of friends I have. We all seem to be settling into our lives here, and that's really done a lot to vanquish some tension and awkward situations there were at the start. Tomorrow we will have been here for a month (already! sheesh!) and while it has taken time for all of us to truly pick up Ireland's vibe, I believe we have done so rather admirably.

See what I mean? Happy faces, even in the face of freezing rain and the harsh winds of a cold, cold Atlantic Ocean. As an interesting tidbit, that was the beach on which Saving Private Ryan was filmed! 

I have taken more pictures, of the town of Carlow, of my friends, and especially of the beautiful places we go on our weekend outings for the Irish Experience class. Sometimes those trips are a bit rushed, or perhaps I don't like to hurry anywhere, but they are immensely enjoyable and I come home from them feeling fulfilled and a little more informed about Ireland.

Let me introduce you to the town of Carlow, Ireland.


Beautiful, isn't it? It is absolutely the epitome of "storybook". And the people are just as ideal. Everyone I meet here is another character, brimming with personality. The Irish humor is something not to be missed for the world.

There are many parks here, and quiet places to sit and to draw. I have not actually done so yet, but I bought a new sketchbook and pastels precisely for this purpose. I intend to capture this town in the best way I can.

In a moment of feeling brave, I decided to stand up and sing (upon being requested to rather passionately by those around me) at the local pub, Teach Dolmain. I have been singing for many years, but it is still somewhat of a difficulty for me to get up on my own two feet in front of a crowded room and sing a song for which I have no music. But there I was, surrounded by musicians who have been performing at this place for years, singing Rufus Wainwright's 'Sonnet 43'. As I ended the last note of the song, the audience gave me an enthusiastic round of applause, and the members of the band already present asked  (or rather demanded) I return the following week to sing again. I am making a name for myself here, and it is a great honor to be included in a tradition that I am told has been practiced for over 30 years.

As I am discussing how eventful and interesting life is here, I feel the need to contrast it with how at peace I feel here. There is a lack of pressure here and everything is met with "Oh, you're grand!", which inevitably relaxes one into a state of the unofficial motto: It'll happen. Without additional panic, or arguing, or pushing.... it'll happen. I try to remember that as often as I can, and it helps when I feel I want to revert back to panicking or pushing.


I recently made a friend by the name of Eric, with whom I got along swimmingly and very much enjoyed the company of. After an uneventful afternoon of watching television and eating takeaway pizza, we decided to walk into Carlow to see what the night offered. He took me to this little local place, which did not even have a sign on the door, called Club D'Art. There, all gathered around a tiny stage in total silence, were many Irish people (and a decided lack of students) listening to a petite woman tell a classic tale... in Gaelic! Following her were many others, some speaking or singing in Gaelic, and some in English. Even Eric went up to sing an old Irish tune. It was really magical, standing in this small room absolutely plastered from wall to wall in playbills, posters, postcards, stickers, bottle caps, and album covers while listening to . There were paintings, pages from books, and even a few shirts tacked up on the wall, serving as the most interesting wallpaper I have ever seen. I met many people that evening, and even made a few more friends. At the time of writing, Eric's musical talents have taken him to Tenerife, Spain. I may never again go to Club D'Art, but the people there gave me a t-shirt and I will always remember my time at the club.


So far, those are my most memorable adventures. The trips with the class are great, and I love them, but I find that I most love finding the little places with good friends rather than having a big guided tour at a tourist attraction. Audio-visual films are incredibly informative and a very nice introduction to place with big history, but I will still prefer tales and rumors told by the locals.

~Erin go bragh~

Sunday, September 25, 2011

The Dog Days Are Over And Other Strange Sentiments

At first, I was going to write about how I felt for each day I was in Ireland. But then I realized that there is far too much living to be done here for me to sit cooped up at home writing lengthy blog posts about my feelings. So I abandoned that idea.

My next brilliant plan was to summarize each day I hadn’t blogged in a series of paragraphs separated by date. But again, there’s too much to do in Ireland to merit time for that. Every night I have done something new here, and I am far from running out of things to do. I continue to meet new people, make new friends, and generally enjoy myself.

With these plans thoroughly defeated by decisions like ‘Should I go out into town with my friends, or stay in and write in my blog all by myself?’, I have put off blogging for as long as I can. So I will write this one for you, and that’s just how it will be. Luckily I’m a bit under the weather, so spending time inside is mandatory. If I weren’t sick I might not be here at all. Just kidding!

I don’t remember much about my thoughts on the first day. I remember being absolutely, unequivocally exhausted. I can’t sleep on planes, and this one wasn’t any different. Any negative emotions I had, though, are being muffled by the overwhelming positive emotions I have now. I absolutely love Ireland. The people are great. They are a never-ending well of joy, lust for life, and kindness that I am not used to seeing in America. In this country it is less “What can you do for me?” and more “What can I do for you?” and it is infectious. It’s impossible to be selfish unless you really, honestly try to be. Unfortunately, a few of the American girls are really clinging onto the whole idea of being an American who belongs in America and does things in an American way. I may have been able to shed my negativity and apprehension easily, but there are others who have struggled immensely. Culture shock and homesickness make it virtually impossible for them to enjoy themselves, and I feel guilty about it. I can’t do anything to help them enjoy themselves. I wish I could.

I try not to dwell on that fact, cruel though it may seem. I am here for myself, not for them, and I am having a great time. I go out to see the town, I meet new people everywhere I go, and I love it here. Maybe it’s my personal joy, but I swear the air is fresher here. My apartment is near a farm, so I hear cows mooing as they wander around the pasture now and again. A lot of Irish people walk everywhere here, so I do too. I drink a lot more tea than I used to. I feel released from something I didn’t even know was holding me back. It’s doing wonders for my mood, mental health, and happiness. At this point in my trip, I really wish I could stay here for a year. The few months I have here just do not seem long enough.  If I cannot stay a full year, then I will certainly return to this place as soon as I am able. Ireland is too beautiful never to return. Though I haven’t been here since I was little, I am glad I waited. I am old enough now to truly appreciate where I am and how lucky I am to be here.


One of the first nights I was here, my friends and I decided to check out the local night scene in town. Carlow is a college town, with a large student body who all get very bored very easily. One of the late-night establishments is a nightclub called the Foundry (for whatever reason. I’ve no idea). As we entered the loud, vibrating, sweaty place, I felt my first twinge of nervousness. I am not one for “clubbing”, and certainly not amongst strangers in a foreign country. My friends seemed to be doing well for themselves, and I watched them dance for some time. without joining in myself. Now, this may seem like a pointless little insert about the nightlife in Carlow, but allow me to correct you. This was a defining moment for me, and it was the precise hour when I knew for certain I would fit in just fine in Ireland. I may have been enjoying myself up to this point, but this is when I knew it was really going to be okay. Suddenly, out of nowhere, my favorite song came on loudly, the opening riffs pouring out over the crowd on the dance floor. The whole club erupted into cheers, and I am surrounded by people lip syncing, or singing out loud. So I joined in with them, singing and gesturing wildly with people around me, who seemed to love this song as much as I do. As I sang as loudly as I could without holding anything back, I felt a great relief come over me. The weight on my shoulders was lifted, and I felt awesome. Since it had been a few days since I arrived in this country, the lyrics seemed more appropriate and meaningful to me then than ever before.

-“The dog days are over… the dog days are done…”-


I have not taken nearly enough pictures here. I am distracted too easily, forgetting that people back home want to see what I am seeing. Forgetting that I will want the memories because I can’t stay here forever. Or maybe it’s not that I’m forgetting, but that I don’t want to remember. Either way, I will definitely be taking WAY MORE pictures from here on out.

I was walking home one rainy afternoon, and I happened to glance over to my right, toward the river and the countryside and farms in the distance. To my shock and great joy, I saw a beautiful white swan flying gracefully by, over the river. It was breathtaking. I happened to be alone on that particular walk, and I’m glad I was. I felt like the only one who saw it, and for some reason it became a very personal thing. That was my swan. This is my life, my journey through Ireland.

My roommates and I have made some excellent plans to shake up the little town of Carlow with art! I will tell more about those projects as they are realized. But I cannot take art classes here in Ireland, so I will be putting my creativity to use by bringing a bit of color to the town. Not that the people aren’t colorful enough as it is!

Oh, and don’t worry. It’s not anything a brisk Irish rain wouldn’t wash away. It’s only chalk, after all!

So that sums up me at the moment. Bit sick, a lot exhilarated, and very much the happiest girl in the world. I’m already embarrassed about my first blog here.

~Erin go bragh~

Thursday, August 4, 2011

I find myself thinking about my trip a lot as my summer winds down to its last month or so. I suppose that is to be expected but I keep saying the same thing to everyone who asks about it. I always blurt out "Yes I'm excited but I am also nervous. What if I don't fit in?"

And I must really be concerned about it if I can't seem to say anything else about my upcoming journey. I don't really know why it is my main concern. What about jet lag, or my classes, or the flight itself? There are plenty of things to be deservedly nervous about. But I am dwelling on fitting in. European culture is vastly different American culture, so I am told. While we call ourselves a melting pot of culture, there is certainly nothing like being on a continent with dozens of different countries and cultures. I am going to be (somewhat) surrounded by people who do not speak a language I am used to hearing. Even the English in Europe is spoken slightly different. How will I handle that? It seems like such a small thing to worry about, but I am anyway. The language is the least of my issues, but what if I find the accent hard to understand? How many times can I get away with asking someone to repeat something before they label me as "stupid American"? I feel like Americans don't worry enough about fitting in... I sense a feeling of entitlement from people. Some ignorant Americans think everyone is perfectly capable and pleased to speak English to them overseas, as if it is some exotic language they're all dying to learn. But just like their attitude toward "foreigners" in America, the opinions go toward them, too. Arriving in a new place and knowing nothing about the culture, language, behaviors, or people is not just silly but just plain rude.

I've done my research on Ireland. I've even been there before. But maybe it is the reputation that precedes me as an American traveler that makes me so nervous. I hear awful things from some friends overseas! Embarrassing things about rude Americans getting drunk in public or simply not understanding a culture to the point of offending the people around them. I am already being told to overindulge on alcohol in Ireland, as if that is customary like getting a lei when you step off the airplane in Hawaii. But that's not what this trip is about, not at all. My heritage is in Ireland, so it seems like the perfect place to get some experience traveling abroad. So maybe it is just the weird obsession Americans seem to have with humiliating themselves that makes me so nervous.

It isn't about fitting in as an individual, but as an American girl overseas. I am worried about being treated differently or sneered at. I don't want anyone to have expectations of me before I can make my own impression. I am more nervous about making serious social blunders than I am anything else.

Hopefully it is not as bad as it seems. Perhaps it is an exaggeration and I will be treated just as respectfully as I plan to treat everyone I meet there. Maybe we are not so different after all and I am worrying over nothing. Maybe someday I will look back on this blog post and laugh about how delightfully ignorant I was being.

But, yes. I am excited! Very, very, extremely excited.

I am also nervous.

What if I don't fit in?

~Erin go bragh~