Greetings from your favorite resident of Ireland! I have lived in Ireland for a month now, but it feels like several years have gone by. I left my family at the MSP security line. The following eighteen hours of planes, trains, and automobiles was exhausting but so exciting as I laid eyes for the first time on the country that I will call home for the next four years.
The first week was spent rushing about and settling in. I researched and purchased a phone plan, slowly accumulated the pots and pans necessary to cook something other than sandwiches, got lost plenty of times in this rather large campus, learned where the grocery stores are, and obtained a student leap card (which gives me access to the bus system) so that I could visit Dublin’s city center for the first time. On my second day, I was treated to an unexpected surprise--my uncle Ted happened to be in Dublin for a night! We enjoyed an evening of pub crawls, and I received a most-welcome mini-orientation to an otherwise completely foreign city. Since then, I have used the landmarks he showed me to continually widen my exploration of the city.
My second week on campus was marked by Freshers Week, a time for the school to welcome first years and for clubs to advertise their activities to students of all levels with introductory events and a club fair. I joined several clubs, including the UCD Sailing Club, the Snowsports group, and the Mountaineering Club. I also started meeting people through campus tours, club meetings, and trips.
My first day trip was to the Howth Cliff Walk. That was also my first time taking the DART, which stands for Dublin Area Rapid Transport and is a train that runs along the coast of Dublin. As a born-and-raised Minnesotan, it’s very strange to be this close to the sea (it’s visible when I leave campus via bus), but I’m not complaining--the views along the cliffs were beautiful.
After Freshers Week, my classes began. I am finding my classes fascinating; I love studying the things I am passionate about while surrounded by people who share those passions. I am taking UCD’s Liberal Arts and Sciences course, so I am sampling classes from many different schools and areas. I will choose a track in years three and four. This model, while common in the United States, is completely alien to many of my European peers, who are entering university to study their core subject for almost the whole of their time here, with the exception of some electives. It has been a bit of a challenge for me to “swim upstream” in this sense, as many of my peers are finding their group of friends in their major and I remain an academic nomad. It also adds another layer to my introduction as I not only have to explain that I’m from the USA but also my unusual path to a degree here. However, the inconveniences are worth it as I am relishing the chance to try new things from many different areas of study, and I love finding connections between the classes.
The weekend following my first week of classes, I was lucky enough to travel with the International Student Society to Galway, stopping along the way at the Cliffs of Moher, Kylemore Abbey, and some of the most stunning vistas I’ve ever seen. Kylemore Abbey housed an all-girl’s school for many years, and walking through the exhibit, I was struck by how similar the schools’ atmosphere seemed to be to Vis’, even though the two schools are oceans apart. As we drove back from Galway to Dublin, I loved winding past the rolling hills crisscrossed by stone fences holding herds of sheep. Tiny houses dot each hill too, some with smoke rising from the chimney, which our tour guide explained indicates that they still use the traditional means of heating their home by burning peat.
I don’t need to leave Dublin for an adventure, however. One of my favorite things to do is to hop on the bus from the bus stop not five minutes away from my dorm and spend some time in the city center. Sometimes I go with friends, or I go alone.
The big, famous landmarks are stunning, but I also adore exploring, moving with the Dubliners and finding little hidden gems to spend time in. On days that my lectures start in the afternoon, I ride the bus into the city center around seven to watch the city wake up. I draw what I see and write about what I hear. For an artist like me, this is heaven.
There has been plenty to adapt to culturally. When I first arrived in Dublin (jetlagged, pulling my luggage by myself through a strange airport at 5:00 am) I was intrigued and thrilled to realize that signs are bilingual here; because Irish is the first language of Ireland, there are laws regarding Irish on public signs, along with how large and where the Irish lettering must be with regards to the English lettering. (By the way, the native language of Ireland is called Irish, not Gaelic--Gaelic refers to a group of languages, and the language spoken in Ireland is called Irish). It’s pretty cool to hear Irish spoken through the bus speakers and to see it on almost every sign here, especially since I am taking Irish as a subject this semester. Learning new English phrases and spellings of words is an ongoing journey too. One of my favorite phrases that is widely used here is to “have a craic,” (pronounced ‘crack’) which means to have a good time. I’m also trying to learn Celsius and the metric system so I can use it fluently in everyday exchanges.
It seems like there’s beauty everywhere in Ireland. At the grocery store, I enjoy witnessing little slices of local life as I watch a mother and child pick out an after-school snack. An elderly man who shops at the same time as I do compares bread brands with me. I love the dogs trotting after their owners on the residential streets near campus. On some of my morning visits to the city centre, I get there in time to see flower sellers set up their small portable shops. Two school girls share a bag of chips/crisps on their way home. Everyone told me about how much it rains in Ireland, but not how many rainbows I would see. I’m grateful for each and every one.