Student Blogs & Vlogs | College Study Abroad Programs, IFSA-Butler

Saying Goodbye

Time May 16th, 2017 in 2017 Spring, Ireland | No Comments by

When Ashley, our IFSA-Butler Ireland representative sat us down for our Welcome Event, she mentioned how fast this semester would go. Through the ups and downs, the cold showers, the studying late nights, the friendships, the traveling, and everything in between, I never thought Ireland would really become my home in such a short time. And I never realized how fast the semester would really go.

Luckily, I didn’t have to do it alone. With the other 15 IFSA-Butler students, and a few honorary members, we became a group of strangers to a family. I hope you enjoy my last few photos in Ireland as much as I do.

They say that some memories can make you happy, and some can make you sad, but the memories that make you the happiest looking back years later are the memories of travel. I’m so lucky to have traveled throughout Ireland during this semester, and am so thankful to IFSA-Butler for helping me through this crazy change in my life! Read More »

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The Last Few Weeks

Time May 3rd, 2017 in 2017 Spring, Ireland | No Comments by

The last few weeks of studying abroad consists of a whirlwind of emotions. From the happiness of thinking ahead to the warm embraces of my friends and family, to the sadness of thinking of leaving my best friends here and leaving the beautiful scenery of Ireland, I can’t seem to keep my mind straight.

But, with the days down into single digits, I’m just trying to cherish every moment I have. Within the last few weeks I have taken two day-trips in Ireland, spent lots of time studying, and been with all of the people I am going to be sad to leave.

Here’s a look at my day trips to the Aran Islands (Inis Oírr), and my day trip to Letterkenny, County Donegal with dinner in Derry, Northern Ireland, my studies, and some smiling faces :) Read More »

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Irish Everyone Would Visit Ireland

Time April 20th, 2017 in 2017 Spring, Ireland | No Comments by

When choosing a place to study abroad, I didn’t look in depth. I looked for English speaking and in Europe, and when London and Ireland were my top two, I chose Ireland because of family history. Little did I know the experience I would get from being in Ireland.

Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland combined are about the size of Indiana!!! Shocked? I was too. But little did I know I could travel all around Ireland and love every city more than the next. Impartial, Galway is my favorite, but here are some of the great cities I visited this semester, whether for a day or weekend, each adventure was amazing. Read More »

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Excursion to Kilkenny

Time April 10th, 2017 in 2017 Spring, Ireland | No Comments by

With the semester halfway through, I am getting less and less excited to go back home. One of those reasons? The friends I have made here. I am a mid-west girl already planning my travels to the New England area to see my friends once we’re back in the States. Luckily, IFSA Butler provided us with an excursion as part of IFSA Ireland. And although not all of the Galway Gang could make it, the group of Galway Girls were great to hang out with and get to know better. A girls weekend down in the books! Here are some of my favorite moments from the three day weekend in Kilkenny! Read More »

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The Hidden Riches of Galway

Time March 16th, 2017 in 2017 Spring, College Study Abroad, Ireland | No Comments by

Galway: a quaint city on the west coast of Ireland. This harbor city is home of shops, traditional Irish music and pubs, National University of Ireland, and Ed Sheeran’s new song Galway Girl! But what Wikipedia can’t tell you about Galway are the hidden riches and the beautiful secrets — the reasons why I love every minute of my semester here. Read More »

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Outside the Classroom

Time February 23rd, 2017 in 2017 Spring, Ireland | No Comments by

“There is only so much you can learn in a classroom.”

This is one of the quotes I had heard throughout school, but didn’t understand until this weekend. This weekend, IFSA-Butler took the Ireland group to Belfast, Northern Ireland. Northern Ireland is ruled under The Crown, part of the United Kingdom, but there is no immigration to get from The Republic of Ireland to Northern Ireland (yet). With the students through IFSA in Ireland adding to almost 100 (Dublin, Galway, Limerick, and Cork all combined) I figured we wouldn’t get to do much. Little was I was wrong, and little did I know how much I could learn about Belfast in the two full days we had there. Read More »

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The First Week

Time January 16th, 2017 in 2017 Spring, Ireland | No Comments by

Hey guys! My name is Kate Leahy and I’m a sophomore Speech-Language Pathology Major studying at the University of Tulsa. I’m from St. Louis, MO and excited to spend my semester at the National University of Ireland, Galway! Follow my journey as I explore this beautiful city, some of the country, and hopefully a few other adventures around Europe.

One week in Galway, Ireland includes departure, a city tour, trying to find campus, good food, live music, trying Guinness for the first time(!!!), getting lost (at least) four times, exploring down the coast, and making new friends! Read More »

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From Limerick to Galway Back to Limerick and Off to Scotland!

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

I decided to take a break from studying for my Irish history final exam (I can not believe I just said final exam… what?!) and catch up on what is going on with me these past few weeks. I feel as though each time I sit down to write, I’ve done something new and unique which I feel has epitomised my study abroad experience… I’m definitely not complaining! Read More »

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Where Has The Time Gone?

Time April 18th, 2016 in 2016 Spring, College Study Abroad, Ireland | No Comments by

With only a month to go and final exams looming, things are starting to become more and more bittersweet.  I am happy though because I don’t feel as though I have taken these days for granted.  I truly believe I have grown as a person and learned a ton from this experience… Hey, but let’s not get too melancholy yet.  There is still loads of time! Read More »

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Oh, the Places You’ll Go!

Time April 13th, 2016 in 2016 Spring, College Study Abroad, Ireland | No Comments by

It’s crazy to think I that it’s already week 11 here at the University of Limerick, I have less than five weeks in Ireland :( . The last few weeks have been filled with fun and excitement, though.  Recently I’ve done a lot of touring throughout Ireland, took a trip to Amsterdam, Netherlands and made some other great memories in and around Limerick. Read More »

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Blarney Castle and Ending Thoughts on my Semester

Time January 5th, 2016 in 2015 Fall, College Study Abroad, Ireland | No Comments by

My friends and I decided to end our semesters in Ireland with one of the most quintessential activities of Ireland — visiting Blarney Castle and kissing the Blarney Stone. Below you can see some photos of the castle and grounds, including some beautiful waterfalls.

But this post isn’t just about another adventure I had. Looking back, I realize how little time I’d spent wondering about how my semester abroad would be spent. I chose Galway because of its beauty, but it ended up being so much more than that. Galway became my home base during a three month European adventure, and I definitely couldn’t have chosen a better one. No matter where I was jet-setting off to, by the end of the weekend I was excited to board the bus headed west and see the friendly faces of Galway. Additionally, my semester abroad pushed me to be more independent, something that will become essential in my life as I graduate college and go off into the “real world”. Not only was I really living on my own in a new country, but I was also planning trips and travelling internationally by myself. My semester abroad prepared me for what is in store in just a year and a half, when I leave the JHU bubble and have only myself to count on.

For any future IFSA Galwegians (Galway-ers?), here is my final list of unexpected/weird things about Ireland.

*Note: I’m sure there are more things

  1. It is almost impossible to find normal potato chips. The standard flavor is “Cheese and Onion” (not a personal favorite, but not the worst thing I’ve ever tried)
    1. Note: another common flavor is “prawn”, or shrimp flavored chips
    2. Note 2: it is also nearly impossible to find pretzels in Ireland. This was especially upsetting to me, a self-identifying pretzel addict)
  2. I can’t speak for the rest of Ireland, but at least in Galway, pedestrians do not have the right of way. This is especially important when crossing the major roads nearby when grocery shopping.
  3. The Irish (and much of the rest of Europe) find American politics hilarious, and often make jokes about it during lectures.
  4. While the national language is Irish (note: not ‘Gaelic’ as Americans call it), only a minute percentage of the population actually speaks fluent Irish, let alone those who use it as their primary language. This is odd on its own, however it is stranger even that almost all official signs (e.g. street signs, billboards) are in Irish with an English translation.
  5. While holding up two fingers with the palm facing out is a symbol for peace, flipping your hand so that the palm points in means the same thing as putting up your middle finger. For short: there are no “deuces” in Ireland, so be wary.
  6. Times of day that are 30 minutes past the hour are referred to as “half”, for example “Breakfast is at half nine” or “We arrived at half three.”
  7. While we refer to the school subject as “math”, they make it plural, for example “I study maths at university”.
  8. The last letter of the alphabet is pronounced “zed”. I found this especially funny while listening to Irish friends sing the alphabet song, as it doesn’t complete the rhyme of the song.

 

I hope you’ve enjoyed reading about my semester abroad. Personally, I’m excited to get back home to my family and friends to have a nice winter break before heading back to school. Happy holidays and have a happy New Year!

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November in Galway

Time December 1st, 2015 in 2015 Fall, College Study Abroad, Ireland | No Comments by

So instead of jet setting like I’ve been doing for many weekends here, I’ve spent the last 4 weekends in Galway. The first picture you’ll see is that of my late umbrella — it became that sad little pile of cloth and metal after a walk to campus one day. Everyone warns you about the rain in Ireland, but no one prepares you for the wind! Some days it just comes out of no where, and your umbrella just isn’t up for it. (Update: I’ve bought a new umbrella since the demise of this one).

The next you’ll see is that of my friend up on stage. She’s one of the Irish friends I’ve made here and she has an incredible singing voice, so we were out supporting her at a competition!

You’ll then see a few from the Galway Christmas Market — one of the actual market, one of the amazing cheese stuffed bread I had for dinner, and one of the candy stall (I stop here every time I’m down by the market).

After this you’ll see my friend and I holding matching drinks. This is another Irish friend of mine, and we were out celebrating our friend’s 21st birthday! Even though turning 21 doesn’t mean anything special here in Ireland, the Irish still make a big deal out of it.

After this is a photo of my friend buying his daily coffee from the Coffee Hut. The owner uses the small opening below the billboards as a small cafe and gets loads of customers.

The oysters in the following picture are local Galway oysters, and they were delicious! I’m always a sucker for oysters, so I had to try the most famous ones in Ireland.

After this are some photos of our Thanksgiving dinner in Galway, which we called “Friendsgiving” (I made that stuffing from scratch). Our two roommates from France shared their first Thanksgiving experience with us, and said they hadn’t eaten so much food in very a long time. We explained that that’s what Thanksgiving is all about!

There is also a photo of a few of my friends and I trying on some hats — there is a little vintage store in Galway that we love to visit.

In the gallery you’ll see an updated picture of the foal up the road that was born at the beginning of our semester here. We’ve watched him grow up!

Last are some photos from our breakfast at Dungeons and Doughnuts, a local shop that sells both board games (e.g. Dunces and Dragons) and some very creative donuts! They were perfectly sugary and definitely worth sharing.

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Why Galway?

Time August 26th, 2015 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

So many people have asked me the same question about my chosen abroad university: why NUI Galway? To them, it’s the predictable backwoods to the hustle and bustle of Dublin and the many other posh European cities. But what they don’t realize is that’s exactly what I want. I’ve lived my entire life 20 minutes outside of the most famous city in the world: New York City. Why would I travel across the Atlantic to live in yet another city that can really only come second to what I have at home?

This has been one of the best summers of my life. As a newly declared photography minor at The Johns Hopkins University, I wanted to get out and take as many photos as I could so that I could find what my style of photography is. Below you can see some of my favorite photos from the summer: flowers in the Berkshires in MA, a house in the Garden District of New Orleans, a scene in Audubon Park in New Orleans, and a panorama of the Blue Ridge Highway (probably somewhere in Virginia). From these, you can probably tell I love nature photography, and I know that I’m in for a whirlwind when I get to Galway. I hope to explore every minute of my time abroad, roaming the exquisite countryside of Ireland and learn more about myself as a photographer, and I can’t think of anywhere else in the world better for me to do that.

 

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Trusting Yourself

Time September 3rd, 2013 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

“Think you’re escaping and run into yourself. Longest way round is the shortest way home.”

–James Joyce

Terminals always make me phlegmy.

I can’t quite explain why, but I think it has something to do with the cheap starchy food you find in the restaurants; it glues to the back of your throat and you cough and sputter and finally try to wash it all away with water and Pepsi, but of course that only makes things worse when you realize that Pepsi is pretty much all corn syrup and sugar and very likely much more ill-equipped for dislodging chunks of potato than nothing at all. Of course, you can still attempt to cough it all away, but when you do be forewarned that any spectators who catch you attempting this will think that you’re either hacking up a fur ball or choking on one.

There are solutions: don’t eat from airport restaurants, consume a huge breakfast, or stick to the light stuff like soups and salads (though these, remarkably enough, can still prove to be a gamble). Maybe attempt Lipton or coffee instead of soda if you’re having difficulties.

Aside from that, there’s not much more I can think of. Phlegmy throats and coughing fits are a characteristic of terminals that I have never been able to circumvent in all my years of traveling, no matter how adequately I prepare myself. To say I’ve gotten used to it would be an overstatement, though by now I can admit to having achieved a level of complacency. Braving terminals may mean a day of hacks and wheezes, but all things considered, I prefer knowing my inconveniences beforehand so I can prepare for them. And on a more optimistic note, a grainy throat is a small price to pay to go to the places I’ve gone to.

None of this really has anything to do with my upcoming excursion to Ireland per se (three hours and counting until my flight leaves) and you may very well chock these paragraphs up to personal problems and stop reading here. They are personal problems, I’ll be the first to admit, but there’s a traveler’s truth behind them: amateur travelers, experienced go-abouters, and cosmopolitans alike can share an experience of nothing, ever, going as intended.

This is of course true wherever you go, and yet nothing quite brings you into its universal focus until you’re immersing yourself in another culture and realize that every word you say or frivolous hand gesture that you make has the potential to mean something different from what you intended. We forget that culture is as much a concept as it is a developing organism: it adapts to the times and to people and to trends, even borrowing form sister cultures, and always emerging different from its source material.

This is not my first time overseas. I’ve frequented New Zealand and tramped the streets of Prague; I’ve hiked the Swiss Alps and gotten yelled at by the Austrian police for an invalid bus ticket. I consider myself an experienced traveler not because I’ve had the opportunities to go abroad and taken them, but because I’ve made more mistakes abroad than most other people. As recently as last year, I found myself walking a three-hour journey back to the home of my host mother in Austria at four in the morning, having taken the wrong (and coincidentally, last) bus away from the city center. This is hardly an isolated event.

The thing about it is though, mistakes, until proven harmful, are only unintentional paths. Stephen Dedalus had it right when he called mistakes the “portals to discovery”, though it doesn’t have to be only geniuses that make them. If anyone can make a mistake, anyone can be a pioneer.

There is a theme here, in case you were wondering. Getting lost at four in the morning in a foreign country and culture itself: they’re both just mistakes that led to chance products, ones that history, being ineluctable and perpetual history, has simply had to carry on with. The word ‘mistake’ itself does not do us any favours either; mis-intention is perhaps the more appropriate term.

Clacking away at my keys in the corner of the terminal takes the mind off problems like the phlegmy throat, but only for so long. Sometimes, once you realize that the only-so-much-you-can-do isn’t quite good enough, you’re more comfortable with your situation than you were in the beginning. This can go for anything: packing for a semester-long excursion three thousand miles across the world, researching a foreign country in the hopes of having a better understanding of your future home, brushing up on current politics so that you’re careful not to say anything offensive to your fellow countrymen. Accept the fact that you’ll probably forget something (portable toothbrush) or accidentally insult someone and you feel immensely better.

I’ve been researching Ireland for the past five years—from Famine politics to Gaelic poetry of the Great Blasket Islands, the music of the Dropkick Murphys to traditional ceili and everything insignificant in-between. This may sound a bit like bragging: this is definitely a bit of bragging. Even so, after all is said and done and with all my research, I can safely confirm that I know next to nothing about Ireland or its culture. With preparation one can only learn to speculate: culture moves too fast for anyone who’s grounded only in books to have much of a realistic idea about what it means or what’s important about it.

I’m not saying all of this only because I’m feeling philosophical, but rather because most of the pre-departure blog talk you’ll here is pretty much the same. There’s much talk of nerves and worries, packing woes and cell phone troubles, all of which is overlaid with an emphasis on how excited the traveler feels to be traveling. Describing all of these sensations is a fine way of explaining how one feels about setting off on his or her adventure. Most of it is useless.

I imagine that most people realistically don’t care what I’m feeling about going to Ireland. Adventures are adventures only to those who take them; everyone else’s job is to be polite when they regale you about them. Which means that I’m not going to set out and explain to you how I’m feeling or why I’m excited: what you’ll get here are the stories, as many as I can provide, with as much culture as I can possibly squeeze into the gaps.

I’ve probably rambled away for too long. Too much talk leads us in circles like pony trails: better to make your mis-intentions than talk yourself out of doing anything at all. And so, from now until my plane takes off:

Sláinte agus saibhreas!

PS: Attached some pictures here. Still don’t really know how the add images toggle works so I just threw them down without much consideration.

IMAGE 1: My attempt at sporting some Irish cool

IMAGE 2: My attempt at sporting some Irish sexy

IMAGE 3: Packing despair: do we pack the hurling cleats or the stepdancing heels? Every man’s worst nightmare.

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The End.

Time December 14th, 2012 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

“Never say Goodbye, because Goodbye means going away, and going away means forgetting…” – J.M. Barrie

Well this is it.

The end.

And I feel completely unprepared for it.

I feel like there are so many things I didn’t get to see or do or enjoy enough. But then I also think even if I were here for a few years it wouldn’t be enough time. But 4 months is definitely not enough time; that I know.

I don’t think I can adequately express how much I have loved the past 4 months of my life. All of the amazing people that I have met and who I know will be my friends for the rest of my life. All of the breathtaking sites I have seen. Every note of music I’ve heard. Every interesting taste or smell that I know I won’t find at home. Even little things like just walking through town or experiencing the disorganization of a Ryanair flight. Hearing different types of Irish accents around me at any given time, or hearing people speak Irish at the Tesco down the road. Digestive biscuits, fresh doughnuts (emphasis on the dough), mulled wine, pints of Guinness, street performers, the Citylink bus to Dublin I took more times than I care to admit, crappy instant coffee, the 20 minute walk into town, all of the construction on campus, tiny showers/toilets, paying for public toilets, train rides through foreign countries, getting lost in foreign cities and discovering beautiful gardens and buildings. I’ll miss it all.

Yea, some of those don’t sound so great and I’ll probably miss some things more than others, but with the ever-growing-closer date of departure looming a mere day ahead of me, I feel nostalgic for it all already. I went Christmas shopping today on Shop Street and looking at all of the Christmas decorations, which in DC makes me a little homesick for my family, made me incredibly sad to think that I wouldn’t be spending Christmas here, in Galway, in Ireland, in Europe.

I am, of course, beyond happy when I think of seeing my family, my friends, my house, my own room, my dog. I will soon be able to go to the grocery store and recognize every brand, I will spend money without doing conversions in my head all of the time, I will drive a car, I won’t have to walk to the store, I will eat some of my favorite foods and get delicious home cooked meals. I will celebrate Christmas with my loved ones, as well as my 21st birthday and New Year’s. Even with all of that though, and even with one last daunting final to complete, I really, really, REALLY don’t want to leave what has come to be my home, Galway.

Galway Girl

With a broken heart and a ticket home.

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“Not until we are lost do we begin to understand ourselves.”

Time November 2nd, 2012 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

Embarrassing…only half this post went up and I’m not sure why. So here it is again, but different because of course…I didn’t save the original!

Last weekend I took my first international weekend trip since I’ve been to Ireland! I traveled quite a bit before arriving in Galway but it was my first trip to Hungary (the country where my dad’s side of the family immigrated from), and the first time where coming back to Ireland felt like coming home.

Unfortunately, a few nights before I left my wallet was stolen at a bar in Galway. In all honesty it was probably more my carelessness that enabled someone to take it than anything else since I’m the only one from my program to experience any kind of problems here.

Luckily my immigration card wasn’t in my wallet but I did lose some money, my NUIG student ID, and most unfortunately, my debit card. On a positive note, I have some amazing friends who helped me out and loaned me money while I cancelled my card and ran out of the cash I had at home. Since I opted not to open an Irish bank account and my bank is a smaller state bank, I had to wait for them to send my card to my home address in the US and have my mom forward me my card here, where it got stuck in customs for a few days because it needed some kind of special form to be filled out. Then there’s no post on Saturdays and Sundays and this past Monday was a bank holiday so again the post service wasn’t open. I finally received my card though, and all is well. But a little word of advice: maybe don’t bring your card with you when you go out and also have some kind of contingency plan with your bank so that there’s a faster way for you to regain access to your money!

Luckily, this little hiccup did not stop me from having an amazing time in Budapest! It was really one of the best trips of my life and I am already trying to find a way to return.

Alleyway in Budapest. St. Stephen’s Basilica is in the background covered by the smog/haze that seemed to coat the city.

View of the Danube River and the Hungarian Parliament building from the bridge leading to Margaret Island.

Hungarian lace and linen at the little market we ran into on the streets of Budapest.

Me standing on the Chain Bridge that leads over the Danube to the Budapest Castle, it was absolutely beautiful!

Stall at the market where the delicious Transylvanian Chimney Cakes were being roasted over a coal burning fire. These were so good and unique tasting that we went back the next day for more!

And of course we had fun at our hostel when they organized an open mic night and some of the guys sang part of a song…over and over again! [youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Jmcj1Ilqysc&feature=share[/youtube]

Since I didn’t have much money, I had a nice excuse to have a weekend exploring Galway, something I should have done long ago. I went to the fresh market Galway has on Saturdays downtown, and on Sunday walked to Salthill, a suburb right on the beach outside of Galway.

We got some delicious hot and fresh donuts from one of the stalls at the fresh market! Seriously it was so fresh and hot that it got squished from being in the bag for only a minute or so.

Fresh carrots and onions from one of the vegetable stands at the market.

One of downtown Galway’s main roads on an early Sunday afternoon.

Galway Bay, on the walk to Salthill

View of Salthill from the diving platform…where we saw several people swimming in the freezing cold water, some of them not even wearing wet suits!

The little explorations of Galway came at just the right time, though. After having so much fun in Budapest I was feeling the excitement of Ireland starting to wind down after being here for 2 months (especially since school was starting to get a little more serious with midterms and essays and presentations due and that was what I had to look forward to on my return from Hungary), I was just feeling a little tired of Galway. But exploring the city and the surrounding areas got me excited about Ireland again. Sometimes you just need to change up your routine a little to shake off any bad feelings.

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“Not until we are lost do we begin to understand ourselves.”

Time October 30th, 2012 in College Study Abroad | Comments Off on “Not until we are lost do we begin to understand ourselves.” by

Last weekend I took my first international weekend trip since I’ve been to Ireland! I traveled quite a bit before arriving in Galway but it was my first trip to Hungary (the country where my dad’s side of the family immigrated from), and the first time where coming back to Ireland felt like coming home.

Unfortunately, a few nights before I left my wallet was stolen at a bar in Galway. In all honesty it was probably more my carelessness that enabled someone to take it than anything else since I’m the only one from my program to experience any kind of problems here.

Luckily my immigration card wasn’t in my wallet but I did lose some money, my NUIG student ID, and most unfortunately, my debit card. On a positive note, I have some amazing friends who helped me out and loaned me money while I cancelled my card and ran out of the cash I had at home. Since I opted not to open an Irish bank account and my bank is a smaller state bank, I had to wait for them to send my card to my home address in the US and have my mom forward me my card here, where it got stuck in customs for a few days because it needed some kind of special form to be filled out. Then there’

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The American of Inis Mór, or: Are You Right There, Father Ted?

Time November 15th, 2010 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

A cold air and a gray sky met me on my walk to the train station, a sure sign of foreshadowing as any, and a fine atmosphere to match my downtrodden mood.  I’m always out to save a few bucks wherever I can, so I’m taking a very early train out to Galway, which I found had a ticket price of zero.  Hard to argue with that.  As the train sped off smoothly towards the west I let its gentle hums lull me back to the sleep I was so sorely missing then.  A few hours later I awoke as we pulled into Galway’s combination train and bus station, and was greeted by a somber and slow rain.  I put my jacket over me and my messenger bag, with all of my clothes, and set off.

My first mission was to find the office to pick up my tickets for my ultimate destination, the Aran Islands.  After asking around a bit to find the right office, the first one I had found was closed, I grabbed my tickets and was told to meet nearby in the late afternoon to catch the shuttle to where the ferry would be moored.  This gave me about six or so hours to kill in Galway before I had to be on the bus.  For once, I had decidedly planned ahead and actually knew a few things to do in Galway, whereas my normal method was to wing things and make it up as I went along.  By planning ahead this time, I of course mean I had quickly glanced at a guidebook for Galway, memorized a few things that stood out for one reason or another, and hoped for the best.

I made my way down a street not really knowing where I was going, and came out past the shops and into the wharf area.  Winding my way through the docks and piers in the rain, I went towards the bay.  Sea lions poked their heads out at the water and gazed at me.  No matter what I said to them, in English or through random noises, they ignored me, and continued floating and staring.  A man stood idly fishing while two kids messed about around him, screaming and squealing.  As I walked to where the seawall divided the docks from the beach, a song was in my head, and as I reached the sands of the beach, like in a movie the song faded out slowly and softly, and was soon replaced by the natural soundtrack of the ocean’s waves rolling up the beach, the rain gently colliding with my jacket, and the faint calling of seagulls in the background.  I let the scene surround and envelop me, giving in to its beauty and calm.

For the next few hours I wandered about the town, briefly visiting the National University of Ireland (NUI) Galway campus just to see what that looked like.  I stopped for lunch at a nice little place, Mustard I do believe it was called, because I was starving at that point and needed to escape from the rain, which was coming down like a monsoon.  I spotted a museum across the way and figured it was another place I could kill time at, and, importantly, do it out of the torrential downpour.

When I stepped into the museum I thought I had mistakenly walked into the middle of an elaborately absurd play.  There were about a dozen different ethnic groups, and maybe a dozen people of each, from around the world all dressed in their traditional garb: Africa, China, Mexico, and so on, adults and children alike.  Pictures were taken by professional photographers here and over there, food was set out, with bottles of wine to accompany.  I watched the spectacle in front of me for a few moments before I decided to use the chaos as an excuse to tour the museum sans payment, not to mention sneak a bit of free food while I was at it.  Honestly, I don’t think there was any charge, but the chance to pretend to be devious and get away with it was too good an opportunity to pass up.  The museums halls were filled with the history of Galway, from the history of its curraghs (small boats), its role in military history, the legacy of the visit by former President Kennedy, among other exhibits.

Some time later I had wasted enough time to make my way to the bus.  I made a stop on the way at a place called McDonagh’s to grab some food to eat on the way since I wasn’t sure if there’d be anyplace to get food late at night when I arrived on the island.  If you ever find yourself in Galway, do yourself a favor and stop at McDonagh’s for a bite to eat.  I went in because I could get deep-fried salmon, but while reading their newspaper clippings they had hung on the wall I learned that they had recently been voted the “Best Chips in Ireland.”  With this in mind, I added chips to my order.  I must say, I can’t really definitely say if those chips were the best in Ireland since I didn’t think they were mind-blowing in any way, though still very good in their own right, but the salmon was excellent and I was bitterly disappointed on my return that they weren’t open.  With food in hand, I jumped on the bus and waited to leave.

A short bus ride later, we boarded our ferry for Inis Mór (or Inishmore), the “main” island of the three Aran Islands.  The boat broke through choppy waters, bouncing up and down, over and over. I won’t claim to back up my substantiations for this at all with any legitimate meteorological knowledge or expertise, but with all of the rainfall Galway had received recently, coupled with strong winds, made for one rocky voyage out to the island.  I think I saw about a fourth of all the passengers step out to the outside decks for fresh air, or something more, during the short voyage.  Fortunately I wasn’t affected by the bounces in the waves in the least bit, so I enjoyed my greasy deep-fried salmon and chips, probably very much to the chagrin of all the other nauseated passengers.  This did not hamper my mood in the least bit however, and I ate to the joy of my hungry belly.

Forty minutes after we departed from the mainland we arrived on Inis Mór and a hop, skip, and a jump later I was in my little cozy hostel where I would spend the next two nights.  The nice hostess there told me and others that a pub up the road just a short distance away would be hosting some music that night and that it would be a lot of fun for us to go watch.  Since it was still relatively early, probably around nine in the evening, and I didn’t have anything better to do, unless I wanted to read literary theory, I opted for the fun night at a local pub.

I should make my reasons known at this point for why I wanted to visit the Aran Islands in the first place.  I first came to know of the islands through the plays of the Irish playwright, Martin McDonagh, respectively his plays The Cripple of Inishmaan and The Lieutenant of Inishmore.  Most know McDonagh’s  2008 film, In Bruges, starring Colin Farrell.  It was these plays that pushed me to go visit the islands, so that I could see the landscape and people that inspired them.  While researching the islands, I learned that they were also the inspiration for the setting of the BBC’s much acclaimed series, Father Ted.  If you decide to study in Ireland, whether it’s for a year or just a single semester, it is imperative that you watch this show before you arrive, as the Irish will almost certainly ask you if you’ve seen it and will make constant reference to it regardless if you have or have not.  Even if you aren’t studying in Ireland you should watch it, it’s just that good and full of hilarity.  Legend has it that when it was on the air pubs would switch from whatever sport was playing on the television to the show, and entire pubs would watch together.  With these two reasons to visit, I had little choice but to follow suit.

The walk to the pub was up this unlit road, and were it almost anywhere on this earth I would be frightened for my life, but considering it was such a small island that survives on tourism, I bet on the option that there were not any psychopathic killers inhabiting the island.  In retrospect, considering McDonagh’s plays involve such insane characters, this might have been a poor choice.  But it turned out to be completely fine, I had nothing to fear and I made it to the pub without a single fright.  Almost all the patrons there were locals, with the exception of the random Japanese film crew; everyone knew each other in a way that was a bit like the show Cheers, minus the laugh track.  I sat at the bar with a drink and waited for the music to begin.  Maybe about fifteen minutes later a girl looking about my age walked in and came up to the bar next to me.  Asking for a menu, I could tell by her accent that she was, clearly, American.

Breaking my usual style and form, I decided to play it “cool” by waiting a bit for her to settle in before I spoke up.  Why, I have no idea, but so it was.  I learned that she was a nanny for a family in Holland, but that she went to college right by my hometown in central Minnesota, and in fact knew a few of my friends.  The Minnesota diaspora, or our travelers it seems anyway, is large and all over the world.  Eventually the music began, two local boys on bass and guitar playing mainly covers of popular 90’s tunes that brought back a flood of middle school and other memories.  A rousing rendition of Colin Hay and the Men at Work’s song, “Land Down Under” was played for two Australian ladies at the counter.  We stayed as long as we could take before venturing back into the dark and back to our hostel.

Up early the following morning I rented a bicycle, as that’s about the only way to get around the island.  I was a bit shaky at first, seeing as how I hadn’t ridden a bike in say about six or so years, but I somehow managed to gain control of the mechanical beast and rode my two-wheeled steed northwards.  I watched the sun rise over the island’s bay and wrap its warm rays over the hills and pastures.  I zoomed and soared on the islands winding roads, hugging the coastline as I went.  I passed cows and goats grazing as I made my way up to the northern end.  I passed a few of the island’s designated “sites,” old churches and things like that, but I was more interested in just getting to the northern tip so that I could not only say that I did so, but also so I could venture to the cliffs at the extreme tip.

When I got to the end of the road, literally not metaphorically, I ditched my bike and began climbing over the rocks to make my way to the cliffs.  A storm had moved in at this point and I had to take shelter beneath some rocks for nearly a half an hour while I waited for the rain to let up.  Under a rock I sat, huddled up to keep warm, and wondered about what had brought me here on my own, to these islands and to be crouched under rocks miles from any human contact, and many more from major civilization.  No answer.  The rain eventually gave me respite and I continued my way to the cliffs, not too far away.  In the distance was a small bleached lighthouse, and white waves crashed upon the shores nearby.  I climbed to the top and I was faced with the sight of an entire ocean before me.  Hundreds of feet below the ocean waves roared and the wind blew something fierce.  I felt as if the entire universe existed in just my presence.  I stared out over the ocean, and mimicking the scene from Garden State, I yelled as loud as I humanly could, my voice carrying over the waves and across the ocean.   That was my answer.

I biked back across the island, to the center and west, where I visited the Dún Aengus, a decrepitude prehistoric fort that’s one of the Aran Islands’ big draws.  I walked around its ruined walls, thousands of years old, and watched a group of Americans be loud and obnoxious.    Outside the remains of the fort, I bought one of the trademark sweaters of the Aran Islands, famous for their stitching style and quality.  Though I bought an “Aran Island sweater” I did not get one of the handmade kind, as no matter how nice and warm they looked I could not justify to myself purchasing a €130 sweater.  Inside one of the shops I overheard an older man, who looked to be in about his mid-sixties, talking with the shop woman about his recent doctor’s visit.  He learned his health was getting better so he told his doctors was going to return to his “usual five or six pints a day,” to which the doc replied, “I didn’t hear that.”  This is Ireland.

I ended up biking all the way to the very southern tip, to be able to say I’ve biked the length of an entire island.  Hijinks ensued later when I got lost on one of the little back-roads of Inis Mór and ended up taking an unintended self-taught lesson in mountain biking at quite uncomfortable speeds and angles.  I celebrated my survival through the day with a much deserved dinner at the same pub I visited the night before, and ended my stay on Inis Mór before I left the next morning with more music, laughs with the locals, and drank into the wee morning hours.  The following morning, the ferry took us into the rising sun, and I made the voyage home, having completed one of my pilgrimages and knowing myself a little better too.

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