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3 posts from February 2015


Leave it to a Frenchman to finally get me to begin to understand Ireland

In one of my first days in Dublin, I signed up to get my cool yellow wristband for the gym.  Planning ahead, I already had my workout clothes on, eager to check the place out.  I looked around the gym, walking by a raging spin class, checking out the pool and the pretty girls pretending to work out on the elliptical machines.  Finally, after some searching, I looked down on what I had heard about in whispers but could not believe before seeing it with my own eyes: a full size basketball court.

            An avid amateur basketball enthusiast back in the states, I had inquired to both my CIEE friends and DCU staff about the ability to play pick-up basketball at DCU and garnered mixed responses.  Was pick-up even a thing here?  Maybe at certain times?  Must we provide our own balls?  I shivered at the thought of four months without basketball, especially with college basketball now in full swing.
            As I walked around investigating and looking lost, I was approached by three guys my age who had a little difficulty communicating.  Through broken English and a lot of exaggerated gesturing, we established that they too, were international students (from Paris) who were also looking to play basketball.  We asked the DCU staff, who informed us that we would need to rent out the court for 30 euro an hour.  We politely and definitively declined, and I parted with my French friends in favor of the weight room.  We defeated the language barrier by wishing each other best of luck for the upcoming semester.
            The next night, my friends and I definitely did not go out to a bar in Temple Bar.  Because Temple Bar is totally for tourists, not locals like we were after four days in Dublin.  But let’s just say we were in the Temple Bar District.  For simplification purposes?  Anyway, as we hung out listening to some awesome live music, I got a tap on the shoulder.  As I was facing my friends, I thought who would ever tap me on the shoulder after the four short days I spent here?  I turned to find a face that took me a second to recognize.  It was one of my new French friends!  His name was Victor.  We laughed about our failed basketball explorations, added each other on Facebook, and of course took a picture together.
            Seeing Victor at the bar (and many times at lunch, around campus, etc.) helped me begin to realize what a small city Dublin is and what a small country Ireland is, especially in comparison to the U.S.A.  When I tell my new Irish friends I have family in Galway, they ask where, because chances are they might know a neighbor or mutual friend.  It is a concept hard to grasp coming from such a large country, but I feel like it makes for a more tight-knit community and culture here.  It is one of the many cultural differences I have come across as I settle in.  And in case you were interested in joining, Victor and I now play basketball together each Tuesday night at the DCU gym.


Hakuna Matata: What a Wonderful Phrase

 “Hakuna Matata”—it means no worries.  Although this is a Swahili phrase, it should be the Irish motto. During my first week abroad, I have never felt so relaxed and carefree in my life—but it didn’t begin that way. It all started with a foot race. Touching down in Chicago O’Hare, I had thirty minutes to make my connecting flight to Dublin, Ireland. Plenty of time, right? Not quite. It was my first time flying into Chicago, so little did I know that the airport was practically a city. I get off the plane and look for my gate. It read: Terminal T—however, there is no Terminal T in the Chicago O’Hare airport. After walking around aimlessly, I finally realized that the international flights took off in a completely different terminal that was a train ride away.          Once I made it to the international terminal, I had about 15 minutes to get to my gate. I took a deep breath as I feverishly texted my mother in panic. Great, I made it. I completely forgot, however, that I had to go through security again. I also decided to pick the slowest security line—a whole family misplaced their passports and were leisurely looking for them as I tapped my foot like a mad jackrabbit.

            The moment I get out of security, I hear over the PA system: “Last call for Aer Lingus flight to Dublin.” I am thankful for my long legs even more after that day, because I ran—no, sprinted to the gate—or what I thought was my gate. The gate had changed. So I whipped back around and sprinted in the other direction. It was like a movie, I kid you not. They were in the process of shutting the doors as I crossed the finish line, dripping in sweat and panting like a dog. I made it. I go to my seat on the plane and find that I am sitting with a guy in my program. It must’ve been a great first impression, me soaked in sweat and continuously panting until takeoff.


            I land in the Dublin airport and get through customs. Everything seemed hunky dory until I got to baggage claim. Yes, you guessed it. After nervously walking around the carousel until there were no bags left to be claimed, I finally accepted that my bag was lost. Furious, I went to the customer service desk. They were unable to locate the luggage, but they had me fill out a form. That was it. They were so calm and nonchalant about it that it pissed me off. I leave the terminal without my luggage and find my program director waiting for me. She kept reassuring me that my luggage would arrive and not to worry, but her composure, similar to the Aer Lingus customer service agent, made me antsy and angry. Why is everyone so calm? I just lost all of my clothes and items, but it seemed like it wasn’t an issue to anyone but myself.


            I received my luggage a day or two later, so it wasn’t a problem. I was still shocked that everyone, from my program director to the airline customer service, was so relaxed throughout the whole process. They kept assuring me that it would get there and not to worry. I started to realize that this is just the Irish lifestyle—Hakuna Matata—no worries. This relaxed, problem-free feeling was even more prevalent during the class scheduling period. In the United States, scheduling classes is an event. It can be the most stressful and difficult part of the semester. Your schedule has to match up perfectly. You have to fight to get into classes. You have to fill requirements. You have to do it yourself, with no help or guidance, just the approval of an advisor. I was expecting the same approach to classes in Dublin, but I was wrong. It was so relaxed and carefree that it stressed me out. Timetables, (or when classes would be held) would not be released until a couple days before the first day of school. Some timetables weren’t even available when I was scheduling classes, and some of my class times even changed during the middle of the first week. Classrooms and lecture halls could vary week to week. Initially, I found the system to be aggravating and confusing, but I just had to come to terms with it. This is just the Irish way—to let things work themselves out in carefree pace.


            After a few days in Dublin, I decided to embrace the Irish lifestyle and try to live more and stress less, because to me that’s how the Irish live. They don’t worry about what is coming next—they just live in the moment and cherish their time with each other. Within my first week in Dublin, I received an email from my bank stating that my credit card had been suspended. Someone in Chicago tried to spend $300 on shoes with my card. After losing my luggage and now having my credit card compromised, I should have felt that my luck was running low. Honestly, though, I was not worried. I just simply shrugged my shoulders, dealt with it, and moved on. There was no point in throwing a fit or stressing out over it. It was going to work out at whatever pace necessary, and I was fine with that. In just one short week, I already felt like I had some Irish tendencies emerging into my personality and demeanor. I felt prepared going into my first day of classes and wanted to remain as stress-free as possible. That, however, was harder than one would assume.

            I felt like a schoolchild going to my first day of kindergarten on the first day of classes at Dublin City University this semester. I am 22 years old, but I was still nervous because I didn’t know what to expect. I didn’t know what the class interaction was like and how the setting would be—I had only hunches and rumors to base my assumptions on. Now, I have never been a believer of “culture shock,” at least not until my first day of classes in Dublin. I went abroad to the Wake Forest sponsored program, The Worrell House in London, when I was a junior, so I was not too scared about coming to Dublin. The difference, however, between that experience and this is that in London I was in classes with all Wake Forest students and a Wake Forest professor. In this Dublin experience, I am in classes with other Irish students and professors. The difference doesn’t sound that huge, but boy, it is.


            I walked into my first class, an advanced teaching strategies module. At Wake Forest, you usually know a few people in your class, but you still sit in silence, at least on the first day of classes, before the professor starts. The class size at Wake Forest is about 15-20 students. You stay seated throughout the class. You are expected fully participate and engage in class. Attendance is required. I was thinking that the DCU classes would hold the same, or similar, expectations and tendencies set in place at Wake Forest. You see, I now think culture shock happens when you go to a different culture but still hold similar expectations to that of your own culture, because that’s what happened to me.

When I walked into the classroom, it was a madhouse. Everyone knew each other. Students were wishing each other a happy new year, others were catching up about their breaks, and there was one student standing up on the desk. I felt stares from the Irish students as I entered the classroom and sat in an empty row. I was the only student who didn’t know anyone, and it was pretty clear. I kept checking my watch, hoping class would start soon and I could ease in. The professor didn’t even enter the classroom until 20 minutes past the start time. Once the class started, students continued chit-chatting throughout the entire time. Most students were on their phones and one was even listening to music in one ear. Students would come and go as they pleased. Many students came halfway through the class, others left 15 minutes before it ended. No students took notes—I was the only one with a notepad out. The whole structure of the class was bizarre to me as well. The class had about 50 students in it—almost triple the size of most classes I take at Wake Forest. There was no participation in class, and it wasn’t expected either. It was simply a lecture, something I’m not very used to. By the time class was over, I felt like I had lost all composure. I felt rattled and uncomfortable. It wasn’t that the class was run poorly or the material wasn’t interesting, it was just culture shock at its finest. I wasn’t used to a classroom setting like that, and it blew me away.


            In my next class, a module on the history and development of Irish education, I was lucky enough to have two people from my CIEE program in my class. This made me feel a bit more comfortable, especially after hearing about their similar reactions and experiences in the new classroom setting. I found in this class, however, that I would not necessarily get all the references that my professor would make in class. The Irish students would laugh at jokes that just didn’t make sense to me. It didn’t bother me, but it is interesting how even though we share the same English language, there are still differences in languages. For example, an Irish man on a night out asked me if I had “good craic”—pronounced “crack”—the other night. I was obviously confused and shocked all at the same time, but after understanding the reference (craic means “fun”), I realized that there are terms even in America that the Irish don’t understand. I’m intrigued and excited to see what I will pick up in the language over the next couple of months and what I can teach my Irish friends as well.

I found the other classes during my first week to be a bit more comforting after settling down from the culture shock. After venting to some of my friends, I realized that I just had to embrace the culture, the Hakuna Matata attitude, and just go with the flow. I will be in these classes all semester, so adjustment is necessary to be successful and completely integrate myself into the Irish culture. Saying that, a goal of mine this second week of classes is to sit next to and engage with an Irish student in class. I have already become friends with my roommates, all of whom are not in my program, but it would be nice to feel more comfortable around my classmates during my time here. Like my Irish roommate said, you just need to relax and just let go of all stress. It is crazy how in America we are so caught up in time and demand, needing things instantly, and stressing over minute issues. I just need to continue living the “problem-free philosophy, Hakuna Matata”—the Irish lifestyle—and everything will be, as the Irish call it, grand.


Overall, my two weeks in Dublin have been amazing, to say the least. It feels like I have been here for a year, but that’s not a bad thing. Time will fly by, and before I know it, I’ll be experiencing the reverse culture shock when I return to the States. Lost baggage, a stolen credit card number, and different class structures are all things I have dealt with since being in Dublin. I have learned that what once worried me then will not worry me now. I am abroad, so not only do I need to embrace the culture, I also need to just live life. We all get stressed out—it is inevitable. There are things, however, that aren’t worth stressing out over, and the Hakuna Matata mindset in the Irish culture has taught me that in my two short weeks in Dublin.


Be The Change You Wish To See In Tourists With Large Cameras

When we arrived in Dublin, our program directors, Aoife and Martin, told us the first two weeks we were allowed to be tourists. To take numerous pictures of the city, stare aimlessly at maps from the tourism shop, and travel in large packs that made us seem like a scared, American mob. After that phase we were expected to behave more like locals and attempt to become one with the people of Dublin. Aside from the linguistic challenges that presented, we were faced with the task of accepting a couple of truths.


1. Just because you’re carrying a large camera, doesn’t mean you have to be obnoxious.

Having a compulsive need to document your travels does not give you a right to become oblivious to the regular citizens trying to go about their lives. I feel biased about this one because I experience it in my hometown, Chicago, quite often. If you see something you want to take a picture of, walk quickly ahead of your group, move to the side where you are not blocking anyone’s path, then take your picture. As a personal preference, I sling my camera across my body and tuck it under my arm when I’m not using it. It doesn’t totally camouflage your foreign identity, but I believe it makes you seem more distinguished in your adopted country.




(With friends at Dublin Castle)


2. Relaxing is for the weak, at least at the beginning.

Downtime may seem desirable after the stress of moving to a different country, but it is not always the best thing at the beginning of your trip abroad. It gives your mind time to wander, possibly inducing homesick-ness while depriving you of the bonding experience others will be having while trying to ignore it. It easy to relax into your uncomfortable dorm bed and kickback while your new friends go enjoy the city. Beware of the thoughts that tell you to take time for yourself, fight them off and forge on. Without this thought process, I would not have gone to the Dublin Castle, the Wicklow mountains, Kilkenny, and to the Causey Farm all in one weekend. I’m sure there will come a time soon where relaxing won’t fill me with guilt and fear of missing out, but sadly I am not there yet.


(An authentic Irish farmer and his Iphone at Causey Farm)


3. Don’t go to Temple Bar.

Or do, but deny that you were there if anyone Irish asks what you did last night. Temple Bar is the only place I feel comfortable advertising the fact that I’m American, because everyone there already expects you to be naive. In that radius, feel free to wear your fraternity letters, American flag backpack (my roommate purchased an American flag backpack the third day we got here, we’re friends so I’m allowed to make fun of him), and perpetuate as many stereotypes as possible.


(Tim and I at the Wicklow Gap) ​


In my short time in Ireland, I’ve been in awe of its beauty and by the people that inhabit it. Almost everyone I’ve met has been more than willing to assist me with whatever I’m in need of. At the end of my exchange with the Irish Customs officer I asked, “Am I good?” The officer smiled, handed my passport back to me and replied, “As far as I’m aware.” The Irish manage to be helpful yet not overly earnest, which in my eyes makes them trustworthy. 

As far as natural beauty goes, Dublin is in close proximity to scenery I’ve only dreamt about or seen in movies. I mean that literally, the county Wicklow is featured in numerous films and Daniel Day Lewis lives there, which counts for something. Hollywood, a town inside of Wicklow, has a makeshift Hollywood sign that was erected by a local farmer. Our tour director said he reckoned it could have been made a bit bigger.


(Nice day for a walk in the park, Kilkenny)