Saturday, April 5, 2014

My Month in Pictures - Part 2 (Connemara, Dublin, & London)

Happy Saturday! I have just finished up my last week of classes here in Galway - so crazy!  On Monday, I'm leaving to travel with Alex for about a week, then returning to Galway for a few days to hopefully get some studying for finals in, then heading to Dublin to greet my mom at the airport.  From there, the two of us will get to travel around Ireland for about a week.  I'm so excited!  Once my mom leaves though, it'll be crunch time because I'll have three finals to study for as well as two fairly big papers to write.  Before I know it though, I'll be back to New Hampshire for the summer.  Honestly, I have mixed emotions about this.  I'm super excited to reunite with all my friends and family, but I'm also sad to be leaving what has been home to me for the past few months.  In any event, I'm going to do my best to pack in as much fun as I can in the next few weeks.  Before that though, I wanted to finish updating you on the trips I've taken so far.  

In my last post, I left off with my trip to Edinburgh, Scotland.  Two weeks later, API took us on our last excursion - a day trip to Connemara.  Technically Connemara isn't a town or county itself - it's part of County Galway.  In any case, it was absolutely gorgeous - exactly what I picture when I think of classic Ireland.  We spent a few hours at Kyelmore Abbey, exploring the castle as well as the gardens.  Then we ventured over to Connemara National Park for a short hike.  Along the way, my RD got the bus driver to stop a few times so we could take pictures, including the Church where her parents were married - probably the smallest Church I've ever seen!  Even from the window of my seat on the bus, the scenery was beautiful.  We saw a lot of mountains, water, and fields of sheep, all of which reminded me of Vermont and made me feel quite at home.  Although I love every picture I took that day, here are some of my particular favorites:
The beaming sun - a rare scene in Ireland!


I happened to capture this one when the
bus driver stopped for a split second - I love it!
The next day, I hopped on a bus to Dublin to go visit Alex for Saint Patrick's Day.  Needless to say, my trip was awesome!  We had Boxty for dinner the night I got there.  Boxty is a traditional Irish potato pancake and it's absolutely delicious! We went to bed early so we would be well rested for a full day of Saint Patrick's Day activities.  Unfortunately, I didn't actually get to see the parade.  However, I had a good reason - I had to leave to catch a hurling and Gaelic football match at Croke Park with Sara, who was also in Dublin visiting her friend Laina.  This was my first real experience with Irish sports, and it was awesome!

After the game, Sara, Laina, and Laina's friend Jordan helped me find Alex because let's be honest, I don't really know my way around Dublin!  We eventually met up in a pub and spent a few hours there dancing, meeting new people, and having a great time enjoying the company of our friends.
Matching shirts!
The following day, I got a delicious scone from one of Alex's favorite cafes, and then headed back to Galway.  Three days later, I was back on a bus to Dublin with my friend Kiersten.  This time, we were headed to England!  While by far the craziest of my trips so far, it was definitely my favorite.  Figuring out public transportation has always been a challenge for me, and this trip proved no different.  However, we made it everywhere safely, which is what matters!  Along the way, we got to take a trip to see my family crest at the Salisbury Cathedral as well as Stonehenge, both in Salisbury.  That night, we met up with Sheila and Maya, who each go to SMC and are studying in London and Spain, respectively, for dinner at a delicious Mexican restaurant.  It was awesome to be able to see some familiar faces and share some of our experiences thus far.  Kiersten and I also got to tour the Warner Brothers Harry Potter studios, which was a dream come true.  Before heading back to Ireland, we got to walk around a bit and see some famous sites like Buckingham Palace, Westminster Abbey, Big Ben, the London Eye, and the Thames River.  We also had dinner at a local market, which was delicious.  I tried Bastilla, which is actually Moroccan.  I was particularly excited to try it because my friend Lauren is studying in Morocco this semester.  Overall, it was a fantastic trip and left me feeling more independent and actually quite proud of myself for overcoming all the challenges we faced (for starters, we arrived at our hostel after reception had closed so at first we weren't sure how we were going to get into our room, but that's a story for another day!).

Me in front of Salisbury Cathedral

Stonehenge!

Me, Maya, and Sheila
Standing in the Great Hall - beyond excited!
In love with London
Apologies for the number of pictures -  it was so hard to choose my favorites! Anyway, as I mentioned, I leave Monday to go to Poland and Italy with Alex.  It should be a great trip!  But before that, I have a lot to accomplish, so I'm off to get some work done.  Thanks so much for taking the time to look through my blog - hope you enjoyed it!

~Merrill

My Month in Pictures - Part 1 (Paris, Copenhagen, & Edinburgh)

Hi everyone! Can't believe it's been so long since my last post! Guess that means I'm keeping busy though, right? Anyway, I wanted to take a few minutes to update you all on the trips I've been lucky enough to go on in the last few weeks.

As I mentioned in my last post, I was in Paris for Valentine's Day weekend.  To my surprise, the city didn't have quite as much of a romantic feel as I expected.  In any event, it was fun to travel to a new place with new friends!  I went with Sara, who also came to Galway through API, and Sara's friend Laina, who is studying in Dublin for the semester.  We packed a lot into the short amount of time we had there - we saw the Eiffel Tower lit up at night, explored our surroundings on our way to finding a Ferris wheel that overlooked the city, went to a fancy dinner, climbed the Eiffel Tower the next morning, saw the Lock Bridge, explored the Louvre (and saw Mona Lisa of course), in addition to figuring out the Metro system and eating some delicious gelato (thank you to my SMC classmate Peter, who's studying in France this semester, for the recommendation!). Here are some of my favorite pictures from the trip:
One of the first things I saw once we left our hostel to go
explore - it of course reminded me of Saint Mike's!


Me in front of the beautiful Eiffel Tower!


A cool picture of the Tower's shadow from when we rode to the top!
The following weekend, I traveled to Copenhagen, Denmark with my friends and SMC bloggers Alex and Lauren. Unfortunately, many of the things we had planned didn't actually work out (the market we wanted to go to doesn't run in February, we somehow misread the times that tours from City Hall left, etc.).  However, we still managed to have a ton of fun simply walking through the streets of Copenhagen and appreciating the beautiful architecture and each other's company.  Alex has a wonderful European guidebook that gave us some restaurant recommendations.  We even got to meet up with Bizzy, who goes to SMC and is studying in Copenhagen for the semester.  I had to leave a bit early, but after I left, Alex and Lauren got to meet up with another girl named Lauren, who is also studying there.  Getting recommendations from and meeting up with people from Saint Mike's this semester has helped take my SMC community to a whole new level, and I'm absolutely loving it!
From left to right: me, Alex, and Lauren


A square directly in front of the delicious sandwich place we ate at!


A little piece of home, all the way across the ocean :)
The following weekend, I went to Edinburgh, Scotland with API.  It was awesome to be able to go on a trip that didn't require any planning on my part!  Because Alex is also in Ireland through API, we were actually on the same trip.  I got to see some of the people from her program who I had met during my API visit to Dublin in early February.  Being the Harry Potter nerd that I am, my favorite part of the weekend was the Harry Potter tour of the city I got to go on.  Before the tour, I stopped by The Elephant House, which is a cafe where J.K. Rowling spent a lot of time writing some of the Harry Potter books.  The bathroom walls are covered with book/movie quotes and messages of love and appreciation for the stories.  It was absolutely amazing!  The tour itself was a lot of fun and highlighted many of the places where J.K. Rowling got some of her inspiration for the books - including gravestones with Professor McGonagall and Tom Riddle's names, a castle that looks a lot like Hogwarts, and Victoria Street, which looks a bit like Diagon Alley.  In addition to the tour, I got to tour Mary King's Close, an underground area of Edinburgh that was inhabited by members of the lower class in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, see Edinburgh Castle, and explore the city center - which included a visit to the market!  At the market I tried gluten free and dairy free chocolate, which turned out to be way more delicious than I expected!  Before heading back to Ireland, I also got to tour the Royal Yacht Britannia.  Everything was so luxurious - I think I could handle living at sea for a few months!
One of my favorite parts of the Elephant House bathroom

Alex and me after the Harry Potter tour with our awesome new wands!
Edinburgh Castle selfie!
Since this post is getting pretty long, I will save my next few adventures for my next post.  As always, thanks for reading! Happy April!

~Merrill

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

"Bits and Pieces" of Studying Abroad Thus Far

Hello everyone! So sorry it's been a few weeks since my last update - I have been extremely busy between going to class, trying to keep up with homework, making new friends, traveling, and participating in societies (or what we might call clubs)! I have been having a great time and would love to write about all my adventures, but in the interest of keeping this post readable, I've picked out some of the things that stick out in my mind when thinking about my time in Ireland so far.  As soon as I arrived, I noticed that one of my RDs, Kevin, uses the phrase "bits and pieces" all the time.  So, here are some bits and pieces from the last month or so:

1) Generosity - From what I've experienced so far, the stereotype is certainly true - Irish people are genuinely kind.  The very first weekend I was here, I was out exploring Galway with a few people from my program.  We were all taking lots of pictures of each other in the hopes of doing a good job documenting our time here.  A woman who happened to be walking by asked us if we wanted her to take a picture so we could all be included.  Not only did she take our picture, she also took the time to ask us where we were from, what we were studying, and how we liked Galway so far.  This was the first of my many happy experiences with the people of Galway and Ireland in general.  Small interactions like these remind me why I chose to study in such a wonderful place!

Myself, Sara, Meghan, Ellen, and Jacqueline
2) Grocery shopping - There are a few things to note here.  First of all, I was happy to find out that there are multiple grocery stores, all within a ten minute walk from my apartment. On the night of our arrival, Kevin took us to a store called Dunnes, which is quite similar to Walmart (although a bit more expensive, sadly).  However, before we left, he made sure we all had some sort of bag or backpack so that we could carry our purchases back because in Ireland, most stores do not provide you with bags.  While I usually try to bring my own canvas bags when I go grocery shopping in America (thanks for getting me into the habit, mom), I wasn't expecting to have to do that here.  There are bags you can purchase for less than a euro at the checkout, but it's much easier to bring your own (lately I've been trying to embrace "thrifty Merrill" so I have more money to spend when traveling).  During one of my first grocery shopping trips, I brought my backpack, but not everything fit in it, so I was prepared to carry the rest back.  However, the woman in line behind me gave me one of her bags without hesitation when she saw that I might have to carry some of my purchases.  I was so humbled that she so readily gave up her bag for me, and I was again reassured in my decision to study here.

3) Irish time - While I wouldn't say that I run quite as fast as "New York time" when I'm in Vermont or New Hampshire, I definitely feel like everything moves a bit more quickly at home in the States.  What I mean by that is that in general, the Irish seem to be more relaxed and less concerned about being right on time.  For example (sorry for another grocery shopping story), a few weeks ago I decided to go grocery shopping before class.  At the checkout, I was rushing to get everything into my backpack so that I would make it to class on time and so that the cashier could begin ringing up the next person.  The cashier could tell that I was in a hurry, so she said "Don't worry, no one's rushing you unless you're rushing yourself!"  I was a bit taken aback by this, but I smiled and took it as a reminder to slow down; everything would be alright and honestly, it wouldn't matter too much if I was a few minutes late to class.  After being here for just over a month, I think the concept of Irish time is starting to wear off of me, because I've been working on doing my best to take in and enjoy every moment.
Here's a picture of me taking a minute to soak up the beauty of the Cliffs of Moher:

4) Random Anecdotes - Back in January when I went on a Cliffs of Moher day tour, I was lucky enough to have an extremely entertaining bus driver.  One of the things I remember him saying is that in Ireland, there are two driving speeds: full speed and full stop.  Although I won't be driving while in Ireland (I don't know how to drive standard cars, not to mention I'm not sure I would be able to handle driving on the left side of the road without some serious practice), I have noticed that many people drive very quickly (I can't say I've noticed the slow ones yet).  One of my history professors constantly remarks how crazy the drivers in Galway are.
Something else the bus driver pointed out is the stone wall patterns.  He explained that while they might all look the same at first glance, each person had a different way of building the walls, having to do with the way the stones are placed (horizontally or vertically), the size of the stones, etc. Here are some stone structures:


One last story - a few weeks ago my program took us on an excursion that included a trip to Bunratty Castle.  We had quite an enthusiastic tour guide who was clearly full of knowledge about the castle itself as well as the time period in which it was built.  One of the the things that stuck out to me was his explanation of the origin of the phrase "sleep tight."  If I remember correctly, beds used to have ropes under them to support the mattresses, and they occasionally needed to be tightened.  Tighter ropes made for a more supported, and therefore more comfortable, mattress.
One of the beds in Bunratty Castle
5) Feeling at home - This past weekend I was in Paris (I still can't quite wrap my head around that!).  While I had a great time (more details to come!), I surprised myself at how excited I was to return to Galway.  Leaving, if only for a weekend, showed me that I have made more progress than I know in terms of settling in here and making Ireland a home away from home for the next few months.  I can't believe it's already the middle of February - time really is going by so much faster than I thought it would.  While I miss my friends and family (and everything about SMC), I am also so appreciative to have this opportunity to grow and learn about myself in a new place.  I am also grateful to be able to understand what it is that I love so much about Saint Mike's before I graduate, so that way I can take advantage of everything it has to offer when I return in the fall!
Entrance to my apartment village - home
for the next few months!
Apologies for the length of this post, but thank you for taking the time to read it! Happy Wednesday!
~Merrill

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Update on the Past Few Weeks!

Hello everyone! Apologies for not blogging sooner - I have had an extremely busy few weeks! The day after I arrived home to New Hampshire after finals week in December, my family went on vacation to Hawaii. We came back just in time for Christmas, then headed to New York to visit some family. Just over a week later, I left good old America to study abroad in Ireland.  Between deciding on a country to study in, picking a school, applying, booking flights, and packing, my preparation for going abroad was extensive to say the least.  I arrived in Ireland very early on January 8.  I can't believe I've been here for three weeks already!  Time is going by so quickly.
 
One of my favorite pictures from Hawaii.
So lucky to be able to go from one beautiful
place to another!
Many people have asked me while I decided to study in Ireland, and I always give the typical answer: because I am part Irish and wanted to see the beautiful country my family came from.  However, that's only part of the story.  When I was thinking about where to study, Ireland just happened to pop into my head and I decided to go with it.  After attending a study abroad fair at Saint Mike's, I decided to go through a program called API, which stands for Academic Programs International.  An API representative gave me the name of a girl who also goes to SMC and studied in Ireland last year.  After getting in contact with the girl (named Katie), I asked her some questions specifically about Galway because that's where she had gone and I was seriously considering it.  Katie had nothing but good things to say about Galway, which made me feel very comfortable that I was considering it.
 
As great as Katie said Galway (and specifically National University of Ireland in Galway, which is where I go now) was, what drew me to the school was the opportunity to take a class called Learning and Literacy in the Community.  This class is specifically for students from the US and is centered around service learning at a primary/secondary school homework club in Galway.  The course description reminded me of my first year seminar, called Horses & Healing, where a huge part of the course involved traveling to a horse farm each week to volunteer.  I love working with kids, so being able to do that while abroad seemed like it would be especially rewarding.
The school where homework club takes place!
I have now been to homework club twice and I absolutely love it.  Even better, I love my professor, which makes Learning and Literacy my favorite class here.  In addition, I'm taking: Ireland in a Global Context, Family in Modern Ireland (which combine to fulfill my Historical Studies LSR - Liberal Studies Requirement), Forenic, Abnormal, and Clinical Psychology as well as Applied Organizational Psychology (which together count as an elective towards my psychology major), and Social Issues & Policy Responses, which goes towards my sociology minor.
 
While I am technically here to study, I'm also planning on traveling in and around Ireland as much as possible.  Fortunately, I've met some great people who are just as excited to travel as I am.  My friend and fellow blogger Alex, who is studying in Dublin, came to visit me this past weekend.  We will have the opportunity to travel together as well, which I'm super excited about!  We'll also be meeting up with our friend and blogger Lauren, who's studying in Coleraine, Ireland.  It'll be like a mini Saint Mike's reunion across the world!  So far, I have trips planned to Copenhagen, Paris, and London, with my friends Sara and Kiersten, who are both American but met here.
 
Alex, Sara, and me. It may be rainy here, but it's never
too cold to enjoy some delicious milkshakes!
 
Kiersten and me enjoying a night out on the town!
When I was thinking about what to include in this first post about being abroad, something from freshman year orientation at Saint Mike's came to me: "You are not alone."  I don't want to give away the context that this message was presented in, but the point is that, especially during the first few days here, I was taking my time to adjust and I definitely missed my family (both nuclear and Saint Mike's).  However, even being here for a short time has shown me that although most of what I refer to as "my people" are across the ocean, they're always with me in my heart. I have become immensely grateful for technology and the ability it provides me with to communicate with the people I love (while also doing my best to live in the moment and make strong connections here in Ireland).  I can feel myself growing and learning every day, and knowing that I have a huge support system back at Saint Mike's allows me to feel confident in what I'm doing - whether that be academics or joining clubs (or "societies" as they refer to them here) in order to make new friends.  I know my journey here is just beginning, but I'm sure that everything that being at college has taught me will help me to make my study abroad experience one I'll never forget.
 
I will be sure to post again soon with more details on what I've been up to for the past few weeks.  Now it's time to go get ready for bed so I'm well rested for class tomorrow!
 
As always, thanks for reading my blog!
~Merrill

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Yes Mom, I'm Being Taken Care Of

Happy Sunday! I wanted to share with you a few things about all the amazing people here at SMC who have helped me out over the past week.  I could probably go on forever, but I'll try to cut to the chase.

Last Friday, I unfortunately found a nail in one of my tires.  Although I'm perfectly able to get gas, fill up my tires, get a car wash, and other basic things like that, I'm rather incompetent when it comes to bigger issues relating to my car.  Long story short, I ended up needing a new tire.  Since I don't live in Vermont full time, I wasn't sure what I should do to find a truthworthy and reliable person to replace my tire for me.  I ended up calling my mentor of sorts and the Lit Choir director, Jerome, and asked for his mechanic's information.  Rather than giving me a name and number and leaving me to my own devices, Jerome called me back with a plan to take me to a number of different places to ensure I found a tire that would be compatible with the rest of my tires.  The next morning (which was a Saturday), he took time out of his day to accompany me in my search for a new tire, which ended up being a success.  He even called his mechanic to make sure they thought my new tire would work with my old ones.  Before calling Jerome, I had thought about driving all the way home to my own mechanic, but I'm so glad I didn't.  I felt so blessed to have Jerome's help in what otherwise would have been quite a difficult situation for me to handle by myself.

Marianne (who I met through Jerome), myself, and Jerome

This past Friday brought with it a whole different adventure of sorts.  After attending the Career Symposium (which was a fantastic event, more to come later), I really didn't feel well.  I thought after I got some food in me I would feel better, so I headed to my friends' house for some pizza.  Unfortunately it didn't make me feel any better, so I decided to go home and go to sleep.  My wonderful friend Sharon came up North with me, missing the shuttle back to Main Campus to make sure I was alright.  I was so grateful to know that I had someone there if I needed anything.  I ended up sleeping for a while and feeling much better by the end of yesterday.  Both Sharon and my friend Cait checked in on me multiple times, which made me feel really special and important.  Not that I like being sick, but in a sense it served as a reminder that my SMC family will always be there for me, especially when my immediate family can't be.  Usually when I'm sick, all I want is my mom (which may sound childish, but oh well).  But this time, I was totally content (well, as content as I could be while sick) to have my friends take care of me.
Sharon and me :)

Sharon, myself, and Cait being a little crazy

Not only does my SMC family make me feel better, they help my mom and family out as well.  When I first came to college, my mom, being her wonderful and loving self, wanted to make sure that I would find people who would always have my back when she couldn't be there for me.  I would definitely say that I've done just that.  I couldn't be more grateful for the amazing people I've met here, many of which aren't included in this post (by name, at least).  I know I've said it before, but I honestly couldn't be happier to have attended Saint Mike's.  The community that I've been immersed in has been so welcoming and continues to help me in whatever way I need.  I am going to miss it immensely when I'm abroad next semester!

Thanks for reading and have a great Sunday!
~Merrill


Thursday, October 24, 2013

Appreciating the Scenery

Hello everyone!  It's now arguably the most beautiful season in Vermont - fall.  Personally I think the Saint Mike's campus is gorgeous all year round, but there's something about fall that stands out.  I have been extremely busy with classes (we just had midterms), but it's so refreshing to be able to see the beauty of nature right as I walk out of my dorm or my classrooms.  I wanted to share some pictures I have been collecting over the past few weeks:
 
A gorgeous tree up on North Campus, where I live this year.
Red is my favorite fall leaf color!
A view of Camel's Hump from the field across the street from SMC.
I love these clouds! On the highway right near SMC :)
Some more cool clouds across from SMC.  I also like this photo because to me, the biker is
so "Vermont" - many students (including me) ride their bikes around campus all the time.
Lake Champlain is just beyond this photo, taken in
South Burlington where I babysit.  I love the sun shining through the trees!
We've had some fantastic sunsets as well, but my camera never seems to do them justice!

Anyway, in addition to the scenery, I think it's extremely important to take time out of our busy days to appreciate what's important to us - especially the little things.  This year has been particularly busy for me (hence my lack of frequent posts, my apologies for that!), so whenever I get the chance to spend some time relaxing or hanging out with my friends, I am very grateful.  SMC students had this past Monday and Tuesday off, so I was able to go home for the weekend.  It was great to see my family and some friends and take a bit of time off from homework.  However when I returned, I was reminded that while I love being home, I love Saint Mike's and the people here just as much.  I've said this before, but I really am so happy to have found a place like Saint Mike's which is truly beautiful from the inside out. 

I hope you can find time to come visit us - I promise you won't regret it!  In the meantime, feel free to email me with any questions you might have or find me on Twitter to get some little tidbits about my life here at SMC.

Thanks for reading and have a great night!
~Merrill

Monday, September 23, 2013

Turning the Ordinary into the Extraordinary

Hello everyone! Hopefully this post finds you settled back into the school routine.  These first few weeks of the semester have been pretty busy for me, but I'm doing my best to enjoy every minute.  This past weekend I was able to get away from all the craziness and go on a retreat with the Liturgical Choir.

As some of you may know, I have been a singing with the Lit Choir here at SMC since my freshman year.  It is my absolute favorite activity on campus, not just because it got me to sing (something I never did much of before college), but because the group has truly become like a family to me.  Saint Mike's is known for its community atmosphere, and I consider Lit Choir to be its own community within SMC.

Last spring, Jerome (the Lit Choir director) began to think about having a retreat for the choir and he asked me if I would help him plan it and give a "talk" during the weekend about prayer.  (As you may remember from my last post, I returned to SMC a few days early to have a "team retreat" for the core group of students working on the retreat for the whole group).  After lots of hard work throughout the summer, everything finally came together.  The retreat was held at Saint Anne's Shrine in Isle La Motte, Vermont.  It was an absolutely beautiful location for the retreat.  Our group (along with the men's basketball team) was actually the first to stay at the Shrine.  All of the staff were extremely friendly and provided us with delicious food!  Here are some of the beautiful views from right outside the cafe:

 

As I mentioned, Jerome asked me to give the prayer talk on the retreat.  I honestly feel so blessed to have had this opportunity, especially because I never would've expected anything like this to come about from simply deciding to sing in the choir.  Being a part of the choir has shown me that something that seems so small can really have a big impact.  I look forward to Mass each Sunday because I know that I will see many familiar faces who all share my love of prayer and worship through music.  The choir is a place that makes me feel comfortable and confident expressing myself, through faith and through the silly jokes that I bring to the group each week (which usually involve pirates).

One of the things I loved the most about the retreat was that it brought old and new members together.  Some of the people in the group have been singing with Jerome for many years, and it's awesome to hear about their past SMC experiences as well as to know that even after I graduate, I will still be welcomed back into this SMC community.  The fact that a 2013 graduate returned tonight to play violin with us goes to show that once you are a part of the SMC (and Lit Choir, in this case) community, you never really leave it.  It comforts me to know that the place I've come to call my second home will always be there to welcome me back.

I hope that the Class fo 2017 is starting to feel like SMC is a second home and that those in the midst of the college search will come see what SMC is all about :)

Until next time, I'll leave you with some more pictures from the retreat.  Thanks for taking the time to hear what I have to say and have a fantastic week!
~Merrill 
Marianne (one of Jerome's friends who helped us plan the retreat),
myself, and Jerome
My lovely roommate Emma, enjoying the sunset on the beach!
Group photo!