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Bringing It Home

Time May 19th, 2016 in 2016 Spring, College Study Abroad, Ireland | No Comments by

The road to home was not easy. I spent my last night in Cork at a house party with my dear Irish friend (who I already miss desperately) and stayed up sitting in my empty room until 5:00am when I was to leave for my bus. After trying and failing to make the 45 minute walk with my suitcase and two backpacks, I called a cab and made the bus just in time. Four hours later, I was going through US customs screening, two hours later I boarded the plane, ten hours later I was in the San Francisco airport. Everything, somehow, felt as though I had never left. I greeted my parents like no time had past, the two-hour drive to my small town was uneventful. Nothing had changed (but my town never changes). I somehow managed to not get jet-lagged and was able to stay conscious through the day. It was the late afternoon, and we prepared dinner with the rest of my family, like every Sunday that I’ve been home since college. Day turned to night: my bed had the same blankets, my shower had the same shampoo, my  room was in the haphazard state I left it when I first set off for Ireland. I went to bed and woke up, and it was truly as if I had never left. For the few days I was home, I doubted the “post-abroad slump” that so many people had warned me about. Read More »

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Coming to a Close

Time May 6th, 2016 in 2016 Spring, College Study Abroad, Ireland | No Comments by

As I’m sitting here writing this blog, I’m eating the last of my groceries, sitting in a room that’s in the chaotic state between settled and packed, with my notes from my entire year stacked on either side of my laptop. Tomorrow I have my last two finals (Digital Electronics and Early Irish Spirituality), and eleven hours afterwards, I leave for the bus that takes me to the Dublin airport. Read More »

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Faith Takes Europe

Time April 27th, 2016 in 2016 Spring, College Study Abroad, Ireland | No Comments by

One great thing about how UCC does finals is that it includes a study break that’s at least a week long between the last day of classes and your first final. I got a break of almost two weeks– two weeks I know that I could not spend the entirety of studying. Making sure to block off two solid days before my first final to study, I planned my “study break” around Europe. Read More »

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The Nicest People in the World

Time April 14th, 2016 in 2016 Spring, College Study Abroad, Ireland | No Comments by

I’ve mentioned before, I did very little research before deciding to study at University College Cork. I didn’t have a ton of options for schools that met my engineering course requirements; I knew I wanted to study in Europe. And I was adamant that, whichever country I ended up in, the citizens of that country spoke English.

People encouraged me to drop this restriction; it cut out France, Spain, Germany, Italy– so many countries in Europe do not first and foremost speak English, and what if I was missing out on a crucial experience by going somewhere that did? Read More »

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Adventures in Italy (with special guest, my mom!)

Time April 4th, 2016 in 2016 Spring, College Study Abroad, Ireland | No Comments by

Everyone told me that it’s impossible to spend four months abroad in Europe and not visit Italy. The country never appealed to me before, but while my mom was planning her ten-day trip over to visit me, the idea struck her to do a tour of Italy. I didn’t have any plans already in place to visit, so we agreed, and during my spring break we started for Rome.

The first thing that struck me about Rome was the density of people. The streets were packed with people speaking a slew of languages, wearing clothes from all different cultures. The second thing to strike me was how old some parts of it was. Our hotel was right across from the Vatican, and we started our first day in Italy with viewing the Sistine Chapel. To witness this masterpiece by Michelangelo from the early 1500s, a masterpiece I thought I’d only ever seen in movies, was absolutely breathtaking. But to then come upon the Colosseum, a infamous building that is nearly two thousand years old, was mind-blowing. How could this be here, when I’ve only ever seen it in history textbooks? We weaved down alleys to find our first Italian meal, and found it under the glow of lanterns and the sunset. I knew from that meal on that pizza and pasta would never be the same ever again.

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Adventures in London and Glasgow

Time April 4th, 2016 in 2016 Spring, College Study Abroad, Ireland | No Comments by

Something I didn’t consider before choosing where to study abroad was my proximity to an airport. I’m not sure why it never occurred to me, because it would seem that ability to be able to journey from your home base country to another would be extremely important, especially since I ultimately decided to study on an island. Thankfully, there’s an airport a taxi ride away from where I live, with 20 euro flights to places like London and Glasgow, just across the pond.

One of my friends is studying at Queen Mary University in London, so I took one of these very inexpensive flights for a weekend to visit him. I almost chose to study at QMU when applying for schools abroad, and I feared that visiting there may make me regret my choice of UCC instead. Being a laid-back travelers, we wandered from place to place via the Tube, enjoying the sights and sounds of people from everyone rushing from one place to the next. Being foodies, we took advantage of the diverse cultures and ate authentic sushi and Indian food (both of which are very hard to find in Ireland). Being huge nerds, we geeked out at Platform 9 3/4 (I’m a Ravenclaw by the way), and, being shopaholics, gaped in Harrod’s (a very expensive, very beautiful mall, in short). London had the glamour of New York with the diversity of Los Angeles and the sprawl of San Francisco. It delivered the dazzle promised by the media, with a healthy dose of lovely accents and delicious food.

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Everyday Life in Cork

Time March 14th, 2016 in 2016 Spring, College Study Abroad, Ireland | No Comments by

Since the third week of the semester, I’ve been finding myself calling Cork home. During trips around Europe, I’ll find myself saying, “This is cool, but it isn’t like home,” and when I return to my dorm in Cork, I’ll flop down on my bed and think, “Man, it’s good to be home.” I finally know my way to my two favorite grocery stores, the best chocolate cafe, the biggest department store, and the cute boiled sweet shop. Instead of scrambling around the city with Google Maps open and at the ready, I wander down the alleys and across the bridges, familiar now with so much of the area.

I grew up in a small town and moved to a campus the size of two city blocks for college. When I first arrived in Cork, I was skeptical about feeling comfortable in a place that had nightclubs, restaurants, and department stores around every corner. At first I was overwhelmed, but now it feels natural. I walk across the river to University College Cork, past the college to the handful of cafes on the river, and past the kebab, pizza, and burger restaurants (that’s many restaurants that all sell all three of those things) to the heart of the city. About a half-hour walk from my flat, I can find a Lidl, which is where I buy my groceries. My groceries, which include a lot of produce and protein, rack up a bill of barely 20 euro a week, where in the States the equivalent groceries could easily cost twice as much.

But often when I head into the city, it’s to shop, wander, or go out for the evening. Penney’s, my new favorite store, has Wal-Mart priced but much higher quality clothes, which made it perfect for me to find weather-appropriate clothes when the rain and wind came. Butler’s, a chocolate cafe founded in Dublin, has a small storefront right across from Penney’s, where I love to order a dark hot chocolate on blustery days. A block down from there is the Olde Sweet Shoppe. I’ve found candy stores to be a very common establishment in both Ireland and Scotland, full of gummies and fudge and boiled sweets. I often go to the one in Cork with a friend of mine and get 3 euros-worth of pick-your-own gummies, which just seem better here than any gummies I’ve had in the States. I would say I’ve unashamedly started a very thorough candy tour of Ireland, and it’s far from over.

Nights out in Cork range from quiet and chill to crowded and crazy. For my traditional Irish music class, I go to different out-of-the-way pubs to listen to live music with a glass of Orchard Thieves (which is by far the best cider I’ve ever had). Similarly, I often go out to a late dinner with a group of friends and enjoy some pints by a fireplace or across a polished bar. But Tuesdays and Thursdays are the nights to party. Irish students often go back to their parents’ homes over the weekends, so instead of Fridays and Saturdays being crazy, it’s a couple nights smack in the middle of the school week. The streets become flooded with taxis and college students, with nightclub neons flashing on either side. Though the nights out are amazing, they are never complete without late-night curry chips from one of the many shops that specifically stay open extra late on these extra busy nights.

In Cork I’ve never felt alone and I always feel safe. I’ve become accustomed to this city and the many experiences and adventures it offers every day. I can now walk, take a bus, ride a train, or fly to any place in Europe, but it’s always good to come back home to Cork.

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Adventures in Northern Ireland

Time March 10th, 2016 in 2016 Spring, College Study Abroad, Ireland | No Comments by

Before deciding to study abroad in Ireland, I was unclear where exactly the UK started and ended. Luckily, I’ve had the opportunity to visit three of the four countries that make up the UK since my arrival in Ireland: Northern Ireland, England, and Scotland.

IFSA-Butler organized a trip to Northern Ireland for all IFSA students studying in either the Republic of Ireland or Northern Ireland. Before arriving in the Republic of Ireland to study at UCC, I didn’t realize that Ireland was split into two sections: the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland. Despite there being no passport check at the border between the two, it was very obvious when we arrived in Belfast that we had arrived in another country. License plates and taxis looked entirely different; ATMs dispensed pounds instead of euros; the Queen of England decorated official places instead of the Republic’s harp. I was shocked: I had no idea how different the two places were. I talked to a group of Northern Irish men who were insulted when I said they were Irish: “Sure, we live on this island. But we’re British.”

We stayed in Belfast and were able to experience the history that has taken place there, from centuries ago up until now. We were instructed to avoid discussing religion, politics, and any of Northern Ireland’s bloody past to the locals, a piece of advice I didn’t quite understand until the Black Taxi Tour. On the Black Taxi Tour, we walked through the Catholic and Protestant neighborhoods and saw the evidence of the tension that continues to exist there, embodied by the wall that both communities refuse to take down. The men leading the tour all lived through the time of the worst violence in these neighborhoods, and they told their stories with grim faces, having accepted this tension as a fact of life. Something that will always stick with me, that my tour guide said, is “One man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter.” I was shocked that this happened so recently, and the effects of it are still affecting the Catholic and Protestant communities in Northern Ireland today. Knowing this and going from walking through a bustling city to a silent neighborhood with a recently bloody past was an incredible eye-opening experience.

But so much of Belfast is bustling city. Hotels, clubs, and restaurants stretched for blocks among government buildings and markets. One evening we found authentic Chinese food, then a karaoke bar, and then an outside pub all in the heart of the city. We visited St. George’s market in the morning and enjoyed crepes and cupcakes from the local restaurants before wandering through the shopping districts. Each store was unique and modern, and I would forget about what I had seen the day earlier on the Black Taxi Tour. It was hard for me to come to terms with: this modern city, with all of its young people and chic stores and cafes, had only a few decades earlier been full of terrorists and freedom fighters alike. It encouraged me that so much progress had been made there in such a short time, but those who lived through the worst of it know that there’s still much to come.

In my next blog posts I’ll talk about my trips to London and Glasgow and what daily life is like in Cork!

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Visiting Kilkee

Time February 16th, 2016 in 2016 Spring, College Study Abroad, Ireland | No Comments by

My second weekend in Ireland, a group of American students, including myself, set off for Kilkee. I honestly had no idea why we were going or what of interest we were supposed to find there, but with a name like “Kilkee,” the town had potential from the get-go. Five hours of bus later, we arrived in the emptiest town I have ever seen. It was a Friday evening, and the streets and buildings were dark and desolate. We dropped our bags at the adorable bed and breakfast and walked down to the beach, listening to but not seeing the waves crash on the bay.

In the morning, we went over our plans for the day at breakfast. I have fallen in love with breakfast in Ireland, where cheese, soda bread, scrambled eggs, and smoked salmon have been the norm in many places I’ve visited. Once we were all very full, we set out to the cliffs.

Kilkee is shaped a bit like a horseshoe, with ocean in the middle and cliffs branching off on either side. Every set of cliffs we approached, we stopped to take pictures; each set was more grand than the last. Torrential rain and biting wind whipped around us, and we grasped the handrail to avoid being blown over the edge. The steep drop-offs were slate grey and shear, with dark turquoise waves beating against their bases as if to tear them down. Our group was spread thin across the cliffs, everyone pausing in their own time to take in the enormity of what lay before them.

By the end, I felt very very small. I knew that moments like these were what people were talking about when they say studying abroad is a life-changing experience.

We walked down the middle of a country road back into town, running into no one and gazing upon rows and rows of stone walls and grass so green it looked fake. My walking partner and I decided Kilkee was an entirely different planet on its own.

Back in town, we found a spa that did seaweed therapy, a popular type of treatment in Kilkee. I would’ve never thought a seaweed bath would be so refreshing. We returned to the B&B afterward, sat by the fireplace, and rested and talked. Dinner was fish and chips and seafood chowder and lamb stew (which seem to be on the menu nearly everywhere), and drinks were at the Greyhound, one of very few pubs open during the winter in Kilkee. The locals there told us about 900 people lived there, meaning our small group of 10 increased the town’s population by about 1% for the time of our visit. They further shared that the summers in Kilkee are crazy busy, with about 20,000 tourists coming to swim and gaze upon the cliffs and go to the seaweed spas. They were excited to hear that we were American (another common theme I’ve found in Ireland), and welcomed us eagerly to their lovely town.

Another day of cliffs and hearty food and soul searching followed, along with another five hours of bus back to Cork. Kilkee is a place I will absolutely visit again in my life, during the frigid winter, with its whistling winds and weird seaweed baths and lonely beaches and friendly people.

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This Can’t Be Real

Time January 20th, 2016 in 2016 Spring, College Study Abroad, Ireland | No Comments by

I think I attend the most unreal school in the world.

Coming from an 800-person, STEM liberal arts college, I would think it’d be hard to find a less real-seeming school. But I found it in University of College Cork (or Coláiste na hOllscoile Corcaigh in Irish, which I’ve learned is also an unreal language).

On my first day, after crossing the River Lee twice to arrive on campus, I was directed to the “Hogwarts Building.” So named because, sure enough, this building could have materialized straight out of a J.K. Rowling novel.

And sure enough, UCC has a flourishing Harry Potter Society, in addition to fashion, drama, musical, music, fermentation and about 100 other clubs and societies (the ones listed got my enthusiastic approval and signup). I found it very interesting that every society advertising itself had a bin full of gummy candies to entice passerbys. Every single one. Gummy candies must be like mints in the United States? Investigation pending. Also, Fermentation Society? A society dedicated to cheese, bread, wine, and all things fermented? How can you not sign up for a society like that?

As it turns out, the creative societies throw a ball at the beginning of this semester. Not a dance, a BALL. With an ORCHESTRA and BALLROOM DANCING and LONG DRESSES. I approached the ticket booth and asked if I would need to know how to ballroom dance to attend the event. One of the people behind the counter hopped up and cued music, “I’ll teach you how to ballroom dance, right here, right now!” And he did. In the middle of the academic basement.

I’m telling you, this school can’t be real.

In fact, this whole city can’t be real.

As someone hailing from both Northern and Southern California, I don’t see many bodies of water that aren’t the ocean. The fact that the city center of Cork is surrounded by two substantial rivers still blows me away. The buildings and bridges are straight out of fairy tales, and all Cork residents seem to accept this otherworldliness as the norm.

And they’re the friendliest people on Earth! Always eager to answer questions, lead to destinations, recommend the best pubs, give the in on the live music around town. Cork is an easy city to navigate, not because of the winding streets and alleyways, but because of the walking friendly roadmaps that every citizen seems to be.

I’m busy planning trips across both Ireland and Europe: Kilkee, Ireland, a busy summer location but absolutely empty in the summer; London, England, where a friend of mine is studying at QMU; Glasgow, Scotland, for the beautiful hills and social atmosphere; Paris, France, for wine- and cheese-tasting; Venice, Italy, for the food and the beautiful canals; Zurich, Switzerland for the landscapes and castles; and anywhere else that is just a hop, skip, and a jump away. This continent is so dense with culture, and the close proximities of other countries makes it easy to see it all.

Next post will be about my trips to Kilkee and the Ring of Kerry, so stay tuned!

 

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Just a Backpack and a Suitcase

Time January 5th, 2016 in 2016 Spring, College Study Abroad, Ireland | No Comments by

It hasn’t hit me yet that I’m studying abroad.

Nearly three months ago I got my acceptance from University College Cork.

Two weeks ago I packed up my entire dorm room and said goodbye to all my friends.

Yesterday I got my euros, bought my suitcase, and double-checked my flight.

I remember a very similar feeling—a concern that I wasn’t more concerned about such a big change—when I first left for my home college, Harvey Mudd. I packed up everything I needed to survive college into a car in order to start a new life somewhere else. If you’re a college student, it’s likely you’ve experienced the same thing; maybe instead of a car you had a moving van, or maybe you had just a suitcase.

For all you “just a suitcase” people, all of you that moved from your hometown to your college via plane, I salute you. Because my dear transnational and international friends, I am currently feeling your pain.

Suitcases aren’t very big. But our lives are huge!

As I mentioned, I just packed up my college dorm room—that took twenty boxes. And then I packed my bags for coming home for the holidays—that took a box, two backpacks, and one giant suitcase. Now I have to pack one backpack and one medium suitcase (both according to strict international flight size restrictions) that will sustain me for the next five months of my life.

My life has gone from twenty-boxes-sized to one-backpack-and-one-suitcase-sized.

And I’m terrified that I’m not more terrified.

I am one week away from studying abroad.

I am one week away from flying across the world to a country I’ve never visited, to live with people I’ve never met, in a culture I’ve never experienced.

I am one week away from the inevitable culture shock and missing my friends and family, armed with only my backpack and suitcase.

I’m also just one week away from the most amazing experience of my life.

I do get excited for my trip when I consider all of the adventures I’ll be going on, ranging from hostel-hopping to finding the nearest grocery store; from flying across Europe to figuring out how to be a vegetarian in Ireland.

And I hope this blog will be an opportunity for you to follow right along with me!

To give you some background, I am an industrial engineer from Harvey Mudd College in Claremont, California. In my spare time, I enjoy costume design and construction and late night hot cocoa and boba runs. It was important when choosing my abroad college that it was English-speaking, offered certain technical courses, and was populated with friendly, fun people. Everywhere I looked, everyone I talked to, Ireland came up as the country with the loveliest people I could ask for. I’m going to be honest: that was about the extent of the research I did before making my decision. I chose University College Cork over University College Dublin because, coming from a very small school already, I wanted to stay at a relatively small college. The more I learn about Cork, the more and more happy I am about my (nearly blind) decision (Are you ready for culture shock to hit me like a brick in the face? Because I sure am!).

Even though I have yet to process this adventure that’s occurring in my very near future, I know it will be the adventure of a lifetime. I’m excited to have you along for the ride!

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