From the East Coast of America, to the Wild Atlantic Way of Western Ireland. The journey from home isn't always easy, but it's one to tell. I'll describe the craic I've experienced, the people I've met and the lessons I've learned about moving so far from home and so far out of my comfort zone.
All of my friends were packed and getting lists together of what they were bringing to college and what they needed to buy. I on the other hand was just going to wing packing, I thought it would be no big deal. Usually not my attitude - I'm the one who likes to plan days and weeks ahead down to small details. Not this time though, I felt too tired from going out everyday that week to hang with friends to do my usual routine. Finally the day before I was scheduled to leave from Newark at 7:40 to Shannon, Ireland, I started to pack.
Socks, shoes, shorts, pants, sweatpants, shirts, polos, button downs, jackets, coats, hangars, toiletries, electronics, chargers, swimsuit, paperwork, memorbelia, sandals/flip-flops, hats, scarves, books, pillow cases, bed sheets, blankets. All thrown into two suitcases and more stuffed into my parents suitcase. Thanks mom and dad for giving up space for my stuff! I thought I didn't do too bad (consider everytime I packed before my mom would say I did it all wrong and just dor it for me.)
I couldn't wait to move, it's a day I dreamed about for years; finally able to leave my home and create my own life, learn my own way, and explore the world. While I never thought I'd do all that in Ireland, looking back on it I'm glad I didn't know. Thinking about moving didn't upset me or make me feel emotional. I don't think I felt anything at the time. Nothing seemed real or like, "Wow this is actually happening." The only thought on my mind was, "I hope I'm making the right choice. I hope. I hope."
I weighed my suitcases to make sure they were under the 50 lb (23.5 kg) airline limit - they both rang up well below with an extra 5 or so pounds free. "I don't think you have enough," my mom said. I mean I packed everything I could possibly take. To some degree she was right, there were a few things I could have packed to make moving in easier, but in the long run it was probably best to just buy them here.
Leaving the home was pretty organized and stressless. I put small things in suitcases and carryons and maybe rearranged some stuff. Unfortunately, my sister had to leave for work before I got in the car so she said goodbye. Then I brought my stuff downstairs, enjoyed some snacks and TV then put my suitcases in the car. About 10 minutes before leaving the house I had to say goodbye to my dog, Tonka. One of the hardest things I've ever had to do in my life. I told him how much I loved him and how much I'll miss him and the story of how I picked him up. He used to stick out his little tongue everytime I picked him up - SO CUTE! But I knew I'd see him again in December so gave him a huge hug and a load of kisses. He seemed responsive to me but not really sure what the real affect was.
We arrived at the airport all well and such. No problems or anything. I tried not to think of anything I might have left behind - I knew I would leave something behind and didn't want to scare myself. I was only hoping my parents wouldn't ask, "Did you bring...?" But thankfully they didn't. Phew! I held off getting food before hand as I knew the airport would have stuff; boy was I wrong. The selection inside was terrible. But we got to order off iPads and sit at a fancy tall bar, and watching my parents struggle with it was pretty funny. I ended up ordering a burger, a real juicy fat meaty American burger - one of my last for a while, ginger ale and fries. I ignored the sweet potatoe fries as my mom ordered them. Sadly though, they messed up the order and I never got sweet potato fries. After dinner I called Bop (my grandfather), some family members and FaceTimed some friends. I took some pictures and say final words. I ended up choosing wise words from Winnie-the-Pooh:
"If there ever is a tomorrow when we're not together...there is something you must always remember. You are braver than you believe, stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think. But the most important thing is, even if we're apart...I'll always be with you."
Still, no feeling that I was truly leaving home for a whole new world. Three thousand one hundred fourty-seven point six miles away. I board the airplane. Found my seat. Window! Waited and watched as everyone filed in. So far no one in my row. 20 minutes passed. Still no one. Eventually everyone had boarded and I had no one in my row - good! For the first bit I watched out the window as bags were loaded and made note of when my bags were handled. The employees threw them around....good thing I brought nothing breakable. However, they were much gentler with others' golf clubs. Finally as we started to move, I preferred to just listen to music so I put my headphones in. As we took off, I relegated the doubt and thoughts of uncertainty and reminded myself that I am ready for this. It was one of those bitter sweet moments; I recognized my childhood coming to an end, adulthood creeping in, but at the same time, remembering I'm still a youngling in the big picture. Ready to accept this, but holding onto my past. A past I've held onto, a past I've dreaded leaving.
After sleeping for numerous hours on the plane, I could see the ocean underneath me, and the island I call home for the next four years to come into view. A smile cracked. A sense of calmness filled. This was real. This is real. We landed in Shannon Airport, went down to immigration and I handed the officer my papers. He asked why I was here and a few questions. He held onto my papers while I got my luggage than returned to him and he had a picture taken and told me I must register with the GARDA by 22/10/2016. I was in Ireland - I let out a few chuckles that this was real and waiting to be pinched. Nope. I am in Ireland.
After we got our car, my dad drove from Shannon Airport to Galway. However on the way there we made a detour to the Cliffs of Moher. It was a sunny day, and quite hot. A rarity in Ireland. Given this opportunity how could one not pass up the opportunity to see something so beautiful. Galway was in sight from accross the bay, but we had all day. We turned around on the M18 and headed to the N67 for Kinvarra. It was a long twisty road. Bushes growing out of the ancient thousand year old stone walls crept into the road just barely missing the car. Big trucks passed us on the right narrowingly leaving space for an accident to occur. We stopped off at small towns to have a pint and something to eat. I got beef and Guinness stew - one of my all time favourites. The warmth reminded me of when I used to watch movies with my family with the fireplace on and with a cup of hot choloclate. I used to warm my back at the fireplace and then run to the couch and feel the heat soak into my back. The pub was very cute with County Clare colours hung all around and pictures of the town 50 years ago. Two kids were working the restaurant and I saw them pour Guinness glasses - what I would say is probably a staple to know here. Of course, I got brown bread served alongside my soup. You will never return to white bread after this. Finally after sitting for a bit we moved on and drove straight through to the Cliffs of Moher. As we made a turn they appeared in full glory. You saw them in plain sight. We pulled into the parking lot, one that was rather empty, and got out to head over to the visitor center. Apparently we got there just as the park was opening - PERFECT!
We first climbed up to the left and got photos of the iconic side you see in the photos of the Cliffs. The ocean seems to stretch forever. Never ending. Slowly, I was starting to realize how far I was from America. Nonetheless, the wind blew and the water folded in and out creating a thick foam near the rocks. You could hear the screams (?) of the seagulls flying around and see them dive nose first into the ocean to only reverse and soar back up. The wind was so strong they clearly had a difficult time. At least my mom wasnt the only one struggling. Her har was blown as much as those birds were blown around. We ascended farther up the Cliffs to a small castle where you can apparently get a glimpse of the Aran Islands, Galway Bay, Aill Na Searrach and Hags Head (all given it's a clear day). Past the Cliffs there is a fence with a large sign warning that you are leaving the parks boundaries and entering natural landscape. This is where you get those amazing unobstructed picturesque views. You can view more photos at my Photo Gallery.
"May your trails be crooked, winding, lonesome, dangerous, leading to the most amazing view. May your mountains rise into and above the clouds."
After spending quite a bit of time at the Cliffs and hiking both the left and right sides, I can officially tick it off my list of things to see - but I'll still be back. We headed back along Galway Bay to the M18 for Galway. Only 80kms left until home. I had been in a car all day and slightly tired and disorientated from the time difference; however, I knew I could make it till the night. We pulled into Galway Town Centre and made our way to the B&B we were staying at. Tight squeeze for our long BMW, but we made it in and got our luggage out and headed in. After settling in and taking a few resful moments we headed towards the University I would spend the next 4 years at. We walked into almost every building, something I would have shyed away from in fear of looking like some tourist or something. Finally we went into town and had some lunch.
After walking around Galway for a few days, buying things and getting small matters settled, I started to get to know my way around town and was putting places on my list to visit often. An Puncan, The Front Door, The Quays, and Boojum. I also noted a take away chinese place that I'd be ordering from often on my weekends alone when I just want to snuggle in bed with Netflix and some tea; but this activity I plan on rarely doing. It also happens that that same chinese take away place, also sells fish and chips....Odd combo yes, but I do intend to try it - just for the craic. I tried a few new beers as well: Galway Hooker, Heiniken, Orchard Thieves, Jameson and Ginger Ale, Rum and Coke, and Jameson and Ginger Ale. Still have to try a Baby Guinness from The Quays though. I'll update when I've had it. I've also noted a few activities the students here like to do: sparching, It just a shorthand form for going to the Spanish Arch and drinking. Listening to the sound of the River Corrib roll on and the soft whispers of conversation, and fading violin does sound relaxing. Might be a good way to end the night and let yourself just be immersed in Galway.
As the week rolled on, my dad emailed family of a friend to see if we could meet up and go out for dinner. They live in Athlone, right in the center of Ireland - only a 50 minute drive from Galway. We thought to heck with planning this, let's just drive there anyway and we can look around, if he contacts us then we'll go from there. We stopped in a few small towns and walked some castles, took pictures, admired the landscape, and listened to the radio. The radio is interesting here; not in a bad way. They are so frank and honest about what they think of things, but its done in that smart and witty way. First topic I heard about was "wearing your baby," its just when the baby is in a sling around your chest. But it led to some deep conversation and debate. In our travels to Athlone, we weren't able to get much cell reception and couldnt keep stopping for WiFi so eventually we tried ot use a pay phone to call our friends. No luck, so we stopped in at a hotel and I asked to use the phone at the reception. I got a hold of them and got the address (and an Irish address is not as specific, as what I would think, as an American address by any means), and put it in the GPS. We went off and were only about 30 minutes away. Somehow, we found our way to their house and made plans to go out for dinner. They were in the process of building a second home that is more accessible to people of older age and he gave us a tour of it, windows from Germany (complete with German window makers living with them for the installation), thick insulation, and a guesthouse. It was very cute and homey. But their main house is gorgeous. Yes its soemthing you'd see on HGTV, and yes my mother gasped at every little detail just like the couples do in House Hunters. But truly it was an amazing home.
Out at dinner, we had good conversation, some story telling of the fist time my father came to Ireland and visited Athlone, and of course great food. I ordered some Lamb over rice with onions and mushrooms. I definately will not be eating this well as a college student! I was going to get fish but glad I didn't, I'll have plenty of that in Galway from the bay (and the International Oyster Festival)! I got some great advice from our friends and they offered to let me stay a weekend if I ever want to get away from Galway, I plan on taking their offer once or twice, it'd be interesting to see Athlone and experience a life with an Irish family. I think it was finally settling in that I was in Ireland, maybe it was the hospitality we received with our friends, or picking up on small things spoken, or driving by towns only the next second to be out of town. This feeling wasn't charged with an emotion, just some sense of anxiousness and maybe a little bit of nervousness.
After some time of adventures around Ireland and talking with my parents about my new life in Ireland, it was time to get serious about getting things done in time for school to start. Still on my list was to find housing! Probably the most important one, sorry DEFINATELY the most important! However, as the Irish students book accommodation before they apply to schools they were all filled. So I had to wait until their Leaving Certificates (USA students can think of this as the SAT/ACT) scores came out - but it was only days before University started! Applications for open spots in housing opening up on the 24th of August so until then I waited. Still on my list however was to buy MediCover health insurance, a pretty quick and easy process. All I had to do was visit (Odon NUIG Health Insurance), choose my plan and pay the $120 or $170 fee. Cheap by comparison to the US. The health insurance is also needed for the GARDA, so make sure you print it out and if you can not immediately, no worries, NUIG has printers that you can do that at in the library. After getting my health insurance, it was time to open a bank account. I visited the Bank Of Ireland at the end of the Arts/Sciences building. There they told me I needed my NUIG student card. And I couldn't get my student card until university started, and I also needed an address - none of which I had; oh and orientation started in 6 days! Not stressed at all, but I took 5 deep breaths and told myself it would all be okay. Next I needed an extra letter from the International Affairs ofice starting my course start and end dates for the GARDA. So I went to the office and the lovely receptionist (Miriam, who has become one of my best friends here) asked for my student ID number and then printed out the letter. Done! Finally I felt like I was accomplishing things.
After getting my letter and learning I couldn't open a bank account for a few more days, there really wasn't much else I could do, except wait for housing. Scary to think about, but nearly everyone esle is in the same boat so it must be alright. Finally it was the 23rd of August and I didn't know when Corrib Village was going to open applications so I stayed up all night until I received an email from them. Yes, I was crazy enough to pull an all-nighter despite knowing that no sane person would send out a housing applicaiton at 3:37AM. Finally the email came through at around 10:30 and I filled it out in about 40 seconds. I was in no way missing out of housing when moving 3,147.6 miles away from home. At the end, I got a confirmation that I had actually been reserved a spot at Corrib and information about payments and such. Relieved that I had a place to live, I gladly payed my dues. After housing there was nothing else my parents could help me with. US students may feel racked about doing things so last minute here, but get used to it, and as the Irish will say: "It'll be grand, it'll be grand!" Truly everything will come together to work out for you in the end.
After spending all night up waiting for the email, I realized how totally exhausted I was. So I took a short few hour nap before heading to Dunnes Stores and Penneys for some home shopping. This was one of my last shopping trips with my mom and honestly, it was so sad. This was the last time in a while I'll be able to sneak things into the shopping cart hoping she doesnt notice, or try on pajama onesies and run around the store, the last time she'd offer to buy me anything. But we got some great deals on items like: bath mats, toilet mats, tea towels (You need them here!), bed sheets, pillow cases, pillows (I recommend getting memory foam ones - you'll appreciate it later), toilet paper, detergent, cleaning supplies, hangers, small food items, and some clothes as well! Some things here are so cheap, you'll think why isn't it this way in the US, but other things that are cheap in the US are expensive here. So it all balances out.
"I can pinpoint that as the single happiest moment of my life, because I realized then that Mom would always have my back. It made me feel giant. I raced back down the concrete ramp, faster than I ever had before, so fast I should have fallen, but I didn't fall, because Mom was in the world."
~ Maria Semple, Where'd You Go, Bernadette
August 27th rolled around and it was my parents last day with me. They were heading back to Shannon a day early for thier flight out on the 28th. I still had 2 days before I could move into Corrib Village, but I had found a lovely little AirBnB right in town I could stay at for a few days. It was time to rip the bandaid off and say good bye. So we headed back from pizza at Fat Freddy's to my AirBnB and said our goodbyes. All throughtout high school I had said how much I wanted to leave for college and make my own life. And now the opposite feelings were permeating through me. I thought about the fun times of driving back from Kaorake at 1AM blaring Kesha out my car windows, running to Tanner's for milkshakes with friends, going to target with mom and buying everything in sight, baking muffins with my sister, driving into work on a cold morning with the heat on full blast, or surprise visiting my friend with a gallon of pork fried rice (yes we ate all of it!). But, I had worked too hard to move to Ireland and do my own thing. I wasn't going to let me past hold me back from building a life I dreamed of for so long. Plus I was sure I'd have plenty of memories here in Galway that I'd one day look back on just as I do about high school. Quite frankly, I still miss those days, but my goal for Ireland was to live in the now and not the past.
So it was finally my day to move into Corrib Village, the student accommodation above campus. I left my AirBnB that I had to rent for 2 days as my parents had left me before move in day and headed for Corrib earlier than the check in time they gave me. Of course it was no trouble as the Irish are such accommodating people. I got a key card, like one you would receive in a hotel. I opened my door to Apartment 3. Kitchen with a stove, Living room with couches and a TV, silverware, glasses, microwave, everything you need. I knew I was room 3 and at first only saw room 1 and 2 but I was in the back of the hall across form the bathroom. Perfect! Unlock my door and I have a large bed (double here doesnt mean two people in a room - it means a queen sized bed!), plenty of shelves, a closet door, cabinets (knows as presses here) and nice carpets. So I started to unpack and lay clothes out and hang up pictures around my room. Soon enough it was my own, a place to call home. I was estatic.
I waited a bit for my housemates to arrive. I saw several cars pull up, only to see them end up living in Apartment 4, the apartment in the same building as mine but on the other side. Finally though, one of my roomates arrived. He was from Ennis in County Clare and was studying Mechanical Engineering - a fellow Engineering student like me! I met him and his mother outside and helped them unpack and bring things inside. We talked a bit and got to know each other. He was very nice and it seemed we were going to get along this semester.
Secondly, my next housemate arrived. He was from Sligo and was doing civil engineering (Another! 3 in one house). We all sat on the couch and talked a bit about what brought us to NUIG and out lives back home and anything and everything. The normal housemate bonding stuff. His friends had dropped him off, rather than his parents but they seemed very nice and also went to NUIG.
Contrary to popular opinion, you do not need to be best friends with your housemates. Just be friendly and respectful. But do try and get to know them.
Finally after we had all arrived and talked for a bit, we decided it was best to go food shopping. We found our way at the TESCO down the street at the bottom of the college and we got some milk, butter (Kerrymaid is amazing!), bread, and ice cream because its not college if you dont eat some sweets whenever you want. Sadly I was uninformed that they don't give plastic bags here in stores, bring your own or pay 70cents for one. Luckily it was a small trip so I just carried it back but I bought one anyway as I'd need it for the future. On our way back we went through the college as opposed to Newcastle Road on the side of the university, and just took in the place we'd study at for the next four years.
September 7th, 2016. In red sharpie on my calendar with a red circle around "UNI", and yes it is exactly like the movies. This was my first day of class class, not orientation, not first day alone. First lecture. How exciting! I was too eager yet nervous to venture into this. And first on my schedule was general engineering. It was in ENG017. No idea where it is but I assume the ENG is for the enginnering building (hey this whole university thing isn't that hard). And yeah hopefully there will be a map of the building inside wher I can easily find it. After getting a shower, brushing my teeth...twice, realizing I dont have moisturiser, packing my lunch, and taking a first day photo -- mom would be proud of me, I headed down to ENG017.
I step into the Enginnering Building and there isn't a map, there isn't a desk, there isn't even a screen insight, expect for the one blasting about how many litres of water was used yesterday. Alright, well I notice a small scared little boy walking into a room, figuring we're in a similiar position I head his direction and what do I see? ENG017. Perfect. Again this whole university thing isn't that hard! And now hold up! This lecture hall is huge and its filled with people. Like 200 people. Girls are here too. Girls! Not that that matters much but like....girls. This is a major shock as I went to an all boys high-school so when I see one its like a rare species. But yes, tons of people in here and I'm just this small American who stumbled his way to university 3,147.6 miles away. But anyway I looked through all the faces and settled on a seat in the top row on the right. I put my bag down filled with NUIGalway items and phamplets down in front of my feet. Suddenly some fear struck me that when I come up from under the desk I'd need to talk to the small girl next to me.
"This was my first day of class class, not orientation, not first day alone. First lecture. How exciting!"
Cooly, I sit up and fix my hands on the desk and straightened my posture. I slowly turn towards the right. I greet her with a smile and say "Hello." She responds the same back and asks my name. Followed by asking where I'm from then a confirmation of her guess that I'm American. I ask her where she is from and she says Castlebar. Trying to look somewhat intelligent and assimilated I nod and give some weird facial recogniton. For what I knew at the time Castlebar could have been an island near Scotland -- it's not. We talk for a bit just about the course we're doing. She introduces me to her friend next to her, Aoife. She is from Connemara. This I knew! A few minutes into conversation, a man wearing jeans and a brown suit coat comes in and grabs our attention about our course and starts to talk about math. Oh what fun! He has quite a somber expression on his face and talks with short pauses scattered frequently. A few words I manage to catch out of his outh were: "We aren't going to do any math today, just intro stuff." Phew. I'm glad already. The lecture seemed to go pretty fast and at the end I went up and introduced myself to the lecturer and asked a simple question Next off, I had to head to Fundamentals of Electronic and Electric Engineering. I took a class in this during my senior year of high school called Circuits. It was quite hard, but I managed to get out of it with an A -- shoutout to my high-school friends for helping me pass!
For the rest of the day I only had one more lecture and that was for Algorithms and Information Systems. It seemed like an interesting topic considering this was my course of study. It was a female lecturer this time which was nice and she seemed very prepared and attentive to her students. She asked us each why we chose this course and if we wanted to study anything specific in our four years. Overall this seemed like it might be one of the most invovled and interactive classes (which they call modules over here) for my first semester which is nice. After that, I tried to find the girl who I had met earlier, Ella; but she and Aoife had already left and were far ahead of me. As I left the classroom I wanted to talk to the people next to me but they were already cackling with their friends (how did they make them so fast -- oh wait!) so I just trudged on and tried not to think about the isolation I felt. It was fine. I'd just go home and make some dinner and see what else I can do to preoccupy my mind. Maybe I can do something online like register for an IT account and update my printer credit. During my walk back a short drizzle started to occur but I should really be getting used to it. It's the west of Ireland, it will ALWAYS rain.
Note: You may feel alone for the first days...or months, but I can guarantee you, it will not be that way forever. There is no need to find a crowd immediately, just talk to everyone. Everyone! It doesn't matter who. You have thw ability to choose.
I spent the rest of my night planning out what I would need in my room for decorations, trying to reput on my sheets as apparently double duvets don't fit a double bed, writing down information about Galway and places I wanted to go, and contemplated some things. Not too much, it was a quiet night but thats okay. I was alredy tired despite no work being done. Tomorrow, September 8th, 2016 at 10AM sharp I had math class.
In 4 short months I had managed to travel to all the places above and see one amazing Haloween themed parade - Macnas. RyanAir is your friend, treat them nicely. Cheap flights and good service. One of my first trips was to the Aran Islands. Located jsut about 7 miles off the coast of the Galway Bay I figured this was a good way to get used to travelling and finding my way. It waspretty simple I just went onto Aran Island Ferries and booked a day and time and showed up to their store location and got my ticket. Then I headed to the bus right around the corner and off we went. It was a 45 minute bus ride to the dock and then about 45 minutes to the islands. The boat was rather rocky but a good ride, escpecially since I sat on top and got to watch the waves crush and flow from under the boat. It was like flying just above the water but not getting wet. Warning: If you do get seasick be preparedfor this ride, but still do it - you can't pass up the beauty of the Aran Islands up. Finally, I arrived on the island and quickly headed down the dock to beat the crowd and turned left to a small little hut where they rented out bicycles for riding around the island. Pay €20 and get €10 back when you bring it back. Good deal! After receiving my bike I headed to towards the Aran Island Sweater Shop and up the road near by. I knew I wanted to hit up Dún Aonghasa (anglicized to Dun Aengus) and see the beaches. There was a light but steady (as I've said before, prepare for rain - IT'S THE WEST OF IRELAND) drizzle coming down, but it was refreshing. Yes my shoes and coat were soaked all the way through but it didn't matter, I was content zipping around on my bike. One my way to Dun Aengus, I saw a tall round structure to my left and a steep hill upwards. I was going to leave my bike at the bottom but figured I could bike my way down after. It was a strenuous walk up but going inside was pretty cool. It was an old castle in ruins but seeing something so old and well preserved is really cool. The grass was so thick and grown you felt like you were in the fields of Salzburg where The Sound of Music was filmed. Finally after taking pictures and staring down at the houses bordering the ocean I left for Dun Aengus.
Upon leaving the tower, I went down the steep hill I climbed up with a heavy emphasis on the breaks. I turned left and continued down the road. Again it was raining, but it didn't matter. It's a fature of the island you have to appreciate. Little signs carved onto stone displayed any upcoming features and distance. The distances were all in kilometers and coming fram the States I never knew how long a km was, but it didn't matter. I wasn't worried about distance or time; I just wanted to relax and enjoy my ride. This was too good of a day to spend worrying or questioning. Next landmark was a beach on the island. Immediately my mind raced back to my week down the Jersey Shore with my friends after prom. We ran onto the beach without socks or shoes on and just took in the sand and water feeling so free. It brought back some nostalgia but as I stepped onto this sand it was very soft and not so rough like the Jersey Shore was. It had that smooth look as it was always wet from the rain and dampness. I walked down the the waves and took off my shoes and socks, tip-toed into the water and felt its chilling temperature. I backed up a bit and stayed put. The water now just tickled my toes and then faded back into the ocean. Looking up and into an enedless, cloudy sky youcant help but feel so isolated yet enveloped with some emotions. There isn't a land that make you feel so welcome as Ireland. I heard giggling behind me and turned to meet some smiling french girls who also took to the ocean. We engaged in some small talk and admired the water. After a few minutes I headed back on my way to Dun Aengus. After reaching a small house before setting off by foot to Dun Aengus, I climbed up some small steps to the fort and entered into a small little tunnel that brought me inside. On my left was a cliff leading down to the ocean. It was like I was on the edge of the world looking down at everybody. Despite being so high up, I could still hear the sound of the waves crashing off the rocks below and whooshing in and out. I could smell the foam and ocean salt and taste it in the air.
Ever since I was 12 years old I had this one notion in my head that I wanted to see Edinburgh. Don't ask why because I have no clue how it got into my head. Growing up and applying for colleges in the States I thought I'd never see Edinburgh, and if I was lucky enough to see it, it would only be for a few days on vacation. But now that I was living in Europe and only about an hour and a half away from such a city, I couldn't let this opportunity pass. In fact, it was my top priority to see it; and to that it end became my first international trip while abroad. My good friend RyanAir offered me cheap flights (€78 return flight) and good timing. I would leave late Thursday after classes and return last Sunday night before Monday morning classes. I could't ask for much better. I had to call my sister to walk me through this process as it was my first time using RyanAir and knew there were tricks to the baggage. After the tickets were booked, I felt the new rush. A new place to explore. New food to taste. New beers to drink. New people to meet. A new adventure to do on my own. I was estatic. After years of dreaming of visting Edinburgh, I was finally going to cross off #1 on my bucket list.
In a short 1 hour and 30 minute flight the wheels of the plane landed down in Scotland and i debarked from the plane into the cold fresh air. I looked around atop the landing of the stairs and took in the airport. Overcast. Grey. Cold. Slightly raining. It was typical weather for this region but it made the region look more beautiful actually. The blue somber colours brought out the history and emotions of the place. After going through the airport and catching the bus through town I arrived in the city centre. Downtown Edinburgh lit up at night, with its architecture being perfectly illuminated and carved, old steel fences bordering pavements, roads full of cars parked, and trams and busses passing. My first instict was to head towards my hostel (Castle Rock Hostel) and drop my bags off, then I figured I'd hit the city and see whats around. Unbeknownst to me, that night there was a beer pong tournament going on and decided to join in. It was really fun. They had around 40 people playing and put the boards side by side on a long table. Sadly, my team was eliminated after the first round, but me and my frend teammate had such a good time. And we got drink for an amazing price - €2. Alcohol is alcohol, and that can't be debated. I went to bed rather quickly after that and woke up at an early 5:30AM.
Upon waking up in my dorm room of 20 people, I quickly shut off my alarm got down from my bunk and gathered my hygiene items for a shower. I lept down the hall and into a shower cubicle. The water was warm and had good water pressure. Aer getting dressed and getting some breakfasts at a small cafe near my hostel I set out to climb Arthurs Seat and watch the sunrise over the city. It wasn't a hard hike, just quite a lot of steps going up. On my way up just near the top there was a alrge field and I spotted a beagle running about. Seeing it halt against the orange sky holding one paw up was one of the most beautiful sights. You could just barely see the city peeking behind the hill. In that moment I started to shed a tear. Here I was, thousands of miles away from home, visiting a city I've dreamt of seeing for years, climbing in a park to watch the sunrise. It felt so surreal. Atop the mountain I overheard two men from Scotland talking about the highlands and its beauty. I put that on my list of places to visit. Over looking the city, you could see Edinburgh Castle, The Royal Mile, Holyrood Palace, and over across into the water. After watch the sun slowlylight the sky on fire and the sun creep on the buildings and cast shadows across its architecture, I headed down and took a stroll east towards Holyrood Palace and took a tour of the castle. The Queen of England still spends some of her time in this castle for special ocassions! Following my tour it was nearing noon so I figured I would head up the Royal Mile and find some Haggis. After much walking I found it. Delicious. I never ate something so good in my entire life. I'm sorry Ireland, but haggis beats outs a full Irish.
I will not continue into detail everything on this trip or my many others listed above, I gave you just the best tastes of them. The ones that made me feel like I was on Cloud 9, the ones that made me feel like a new person. Whether you're studying abroad for a semester, a year, or are a full-time international student like me, you have to experience this feeling for yourself. You have to adventure out alone and make your own path. No one will do it for you and I promise it is a lot less scary thank you think. You can follow some of the pictures and videos of my travels at my Photo Gallery.
After my semester I exams had finished I was packed up and ready to leave Corrib Village for a bit from the comforts of back home; namely my bed and shower (no flip-flops!), and some good ole home cooking from mama. My flight was at an ungodly early time of 7:30, but after thinking I get to ride CityLink at the time of the sunrise I was glad to leave at this time. Plus I got to get through the airport rather quickly since no one would really be there. I arrived at the airprt and checked in my suitcase and found a quiet place to eat breakfast. Halfway through I became saddened by the fact that I would be leaving behind life in Galway, my friends, and everything I had started there. Tears swelled up in my eyes and a lovely gentleman from across the table handed me a napkin (it was the best he could do) so I could wipe my tears. I'm usually not an emotional person, but I had come to fall in love with Galway and was proud to call it my home.
The first few hours home, I sat around and relaxed, showed some of my photos from my travels and watched some television. I did miss funded television, but not the ads so much. Unpacking took me a few days, as I think everyone can relate too, but since I had washed my clothes before I left there wasnt any rush to get anything in the wash in fear of a smell.
For most of my time back in The States from the holidays, I was itching to get back home (Galway home that is) and travel more. I also longd for more sturcutre in my life full of classes and seeing friends for lunch and doing society work in the SocsBox on the weeekends. I missd my room in Corrib Village, despite its cold face, and being on my own. But finally, I was here and readying myself for the semster ahead. I got sick the previous days before and also managed to spill red candle wax on my favourite pair of jeans -- I got stain stick remover, am I an adult yet? I gotback to making food in my CrockPot and making funny cooking videos for my friends. I went for coffee and brunch with my Irish friends and heard about their holidays. Christmas seems like a big event here for them, they really go all out.
After a couple of hours back, I noticed how I felt about living in 2 places and having a home (Galway) away from home (Philadelphia). When you move somewhere and really invest in the people and community, you begin to get comfortable and forget that you haven't lived there all your life. It becomes a part of you as much as you become a part of it. I guess to me, this was the goal of moving abroad; with that being to blend in and be like everyone else, that they forget I'm foreign. Walking down Shop Street, I stopped in Aunt Nellie's Sweet Shop and got myself gummy sharks and sugar coated milk bottles. It was a little pick me up I needed from the dreary rain and overcast weather Galway was having. I noticed a few shops had closed, ut new ones had sprung up in. The Christmas lights strung along the street and up sides of the buildings were being taken down. I miss the holiday season, but this would be my first Spring in Ireland and I was excited to see what it was like. I hope the saying "April showers bring May flowers," isn't twice as emphasised!
Being back, I was especially excited to travel again and book more flights on RyanAir. Ya think that with booking so many flights they'd give me a free on right - book 10 get one free? Either way this semester I planned some of the trips I wanted to do and went to Copenhagen, Cologne, Croagh Patrick, and Sligo. I did this plus one more when a close friend invited me up to their house in Mayo! They were all wonderful experiences and made amazing friends and had great craic. Usually I book flights after a night out and am not in the bst state to do so, but hey thats the adventure of it so! I'm working up to just going to the flight desk and booking a random flight then leaving. As for the rest of this semester, it was filled with studying, societies, balls, hangingout with friends excessiely too much, trying to start a budget (failed miserably), and then studying for 6 exams. I really started to enjoy my course alot more this semester and feel challenged by the work load. Since I had taken a lot of it in high school due to AP and honours courses, first semester had a lot of overlap. The second semester was full of more programming, which I like, and had to make a presentation which I also love doing. Having 6 xams out a larg stress on me as I needed toreally devote times specifically to that subjct and then switch gears and move on. Time management was never something I was bad at, but having this much work to do was really good for helping me practice and improve.
Packing up at the end of the second semester was pretty hard. I tried to get rid of all the food I had, ship back some items I couldn't save here or give it to friends who could use it over the summer. I had to say good bye the everything I knew, the people I befriended, and the life I created for my self abroad. I knew this was only temporary but I loved everything here and seeing myself back in The States was hard to imagine for a while. My final wish for this year was to go to breakfast with my closest friendsL Emily and Megan from Drogheda, and Anne-Laure from France! We went to Finnigans and had a nice full Irish breakfast (except for Megan and Emily because they're vegan), and talked about what our summers would look like and any plans we had. While mine was the least exciting with most of it bing work, I loved the company and the people there and looked forward to seeing them. Plus it was structured 9AM-5PM so I knew exactly what was going on everyday!
Overall, I enjoyed my first year so much and I can fondly look back on all my memories here with positive thoughts. I made so many friends, got to travel a lot and learn new things about so many cultures from so many people. I am very fortunate to have these opportunities and definitely look forward to future years here in Ireland and Europe. I'm excited to be going back home for the summer, but also look ofrward already to get back to Galway -- at the same time!
Getting back to Galway
Second Year and Travels