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!

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