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4 posts from November 2017


‘Tis the Season for New Traditions

‘Tis the Season for New Traditions


There’s something about the beginning of November, a certain magic to it...I’m walking  beside Albert College Park (a beautiful park right beside campus), Americano in hand, Sundara Karma in my ears, and a crisp breeze on my face. This Southern California gal withers in those crisp breezes however, so I pull out my scarf that is always on reserve. As I ride the bus bound for DCU’s St. Patrick’s Campus, I’m welcomed by falling leaves of all colors in the neighborhood. Such reminders cue memories of home and passing the ketchup at Thanksgiving dinner. I can smell the Turkey in the oven and hear the laughter as my Aunt Susie demolishes everyone at the card game of Rummy. I remember the “Friendsgiving” gatherings I’ve had with friends back home, scrambling to cook something decent to contribute and experimenting with a mulled cider that may or may not have had rum in it. I leave the bus for class, I’m late as usual, and now I’m incredibly homesick. I realize that I won’t be home to help put up Christmas ornaments or pick out the tree. I can’t dust off the Christmas DVD collection the day after Thanksgiving while nursing my food hangover. I can’t begin placing my wrapped presents underneath the tree a few weeks early and laugh at my cat attempting to tear down every low-hanging ornament. While I’m busy hosting my own holiday-themed pity party on the walk to class, I receive a reminder on my phone for the Friendsgiving Party taking place in a couple of weeks and a very large smile appeared on my face because I knew...the food coma is BACK.


Feeling homesick for the holidays is normal, in fact, a little to be expected. Homesickness itself is a longing for the familiar and the traditional in times of the complete opposite. Studying abroad or traveling away from home during the holiday season can result in feelings of disconnect or “missing out” (I believe the current colloquial term is “FOMO” or fear of missing out). Luckily, all it takes to turn what could be a negative holiday experience into a positive one is a little proactive thinking!


Below are some tips for having a happy holiday season during your time abroad.


  • Rally the Troops. One of my favorite things to do for any holiday is having a party or “social gathering: with friends. Just because the old faithfuls are back home does not mean you cannot celebrate the same way with new friends! In fact, sharing your holiday traditions is a fun way to become closer with your new expat buddies. Coordinate a “Friendsgiving” potluck or a Secret Santa Gift Exchange. Invite international friends too! They can bring some new dishes and traditions of their own.
  • Get Crafty. So you’re low on funds but want to feel the same festivity you normally experience at home. Head over to the local discount shops (Dealz or EuroDollar) or craft stores and get creative! Making decorations at home can be a fun way to share the holidays with your flatmates and spruce the place up a bit.
  • Celebrate Local. Do a little digging and see what is available nearby. Some restaurants and Pubs in Dublin offer a holiday menu, including a Thanksgiving Turkey Meal. Venues may be offering special events like concerts and ceremonies. Make sure not to miss the Christmas Lighting Ceremony on O’Connel Street in late November! Ask your CIEE advisors and local friends about celebrating like a local and give it a try! After all, studying abroad is about new experiences.
  • Phone home (a little). If you’re missing the festivities at home or want to remain up to date on the family gatherings, consider calling home a little bit to say “hello!” Do your best to not hole up in your room for hours doing this though because you may miss out on the fun happening around you!
  • Share your thoughts. Homesickness throughout the holidays is a normal part of studying abroad and I guarantee that you are not the only one. Express your feelings with a friend or advisor and share stories about what you miss from back home. You may even find yourselves laughing at funny stories and learning more about each other along the way!


Celebrating the holidays abroad is a unique experience that paves way for dynamic personal growth. Take it in stride and embrace new traditions. Who knows, maybe you’ll bring many of them home!



Photo featuring my friends and I at our “Friendsgiving” celebration.


Irish Caving Or Just "Subterranean Swimming"

Irish Caving

Or Just “Subterranean Swimming”

Caving 1

My big adventure this week was a caving trip with the DCU caving club in County Claire (Western coast of Ireland). I have very few pictures from this weekend trip due to how incredibly flooded the caves were. All I can say was that nothing I could have heard before this trip could have prepared me for how intense the experience was. The club leaders said that we were going on a "Freshers Trip" and that we would not be using ropes in the caves, we would only be walking in a largely horizontal manner. I sort of took this to mean that our trip would be sort of boring and introductory. I couldn't have been more wrong. From the very beginning of my first cave, we had to walk through a waterfall to enter, and after that, things got steadily more and more wet. From walking downstream, to crawling neck-deep upstream, and climbing up waterfalls, I had no idea that by the end of the trip, no surface of my body would be dry.

  Caving 2

Above is a picture of what a typical evening of training looks like for the caving club that I am part of.  We practice twice a week for 3 hours, so by the time we all leave we are rather exhausted and sometimes go out together to grab something to eat.  The gear that we are all using in that photo is the same gear that we use in the caves so it is good practice to get used to it with safety mats underneath of us before heading out into real, dangerous caves.


Caving 3

We arrived at the cottage where we would be staying for the next two nights very late Friday evening, long after the sun had gone down, so I really didn’t have any idea where I was until the next morning.  When I woke up, I walked over to the window and this is the sight that I was greeted with.

Caving 4

This, unfortunately, is the only photo I got of the cave with my camera, due to my lack of having a waterproof case.  Though, it is possible to get a little notion of just how wet the whole endeavor was, from this picture.  All the rain on the trees, the waterfall (barely visible toward the back of the hole), and the mud outside of the entrance all flowed down into the narrow opening.  After entering through the waterfall, we trekked a few kilometers down the cave as water rushed all around our feet.  The two veterans of our group of five said that they had never seen it so incredibly wet down there, but it made many subterranean waterfalls along the way look absolutely gorgeous.  After we got as far down as we could safely go with all the water trying to pull us deeper, we had to turn around and crawl back out.  This involved climbing up waterfalls, squeezing through ravines so narrow that it was impossible to turn one’s head to look back, and crawling under fallen boulders that forced anyone left dry to fully submerge their body in the river.

Caving 5 Caving 6

These are just a couple of shots of us post-cave.  I found out the hard way the caving is certainly not a sport for the faint of heart, but I am really glad of that.  I found that I fell in love with the challenge of it.


Hiking Glendalough

Erik Finley

CIEE Dublin

Monasteries, Mountains, and Mines: Hiking Glendalough

Glendalough 1

A Spectacular Glacial Valley Amidst the Wicklow Mountains

My latest weekend adventure was a trip to Glendalough Lake, about an hour’s drive south of Dublin, with the DCU Rock Climbing Club.  Unfortunately for us, the weather was a little too wet for any climbing on Saturday, but it didn’t stop us from going on a beautiful hike the following Sunday.

Glendalough 2

The view outside of our cottage



One of the first things we passed on our hike was a round tower from the historical monastic site of the Glendalough valley. 

Glendalough 3

This tower is thought to have been a bell tower for the medieval monastery in the valley founded by Saint Kevin in the 6th century.


As we ventured further into the valley, next to the lake, the trail became more and more serene. Our group first found ourselves in a lush pine forest with the sun peeking through onto the trail ahead of us.

Glendalough 4


After a while of strolling through the trees, the forest opened up and we got a taste of the incredible view still ahead of us. On the far side of the valley was a waterfall that looks small in the pictures, as it is still very far away.

Glendalough 5 Glendalough 6 Glendalough 7


Walking further down the path toward the waterfall, we came to the Glendalough Mining village, founded in the 1790s.  This encampment was set up to mine lead, zinc, and silver from the mountains and thrived in the truly desolate landscape up until it was closed in 1957. All that remains now are some crumbling structures and an iron or steel grinding mill.

Glendalough 8 Glendalough 9 Glendalough 10
Glendalough 11

Looking around the now deserted village made me consider what it must have been like to live there in the 1800's.  It was windy, cold, and desolate, but a certain peacefulness and tranquility could also be felt.  I am really enjoying my weekend adventures here in Ireland and even with the rainy weather, this was no exception.  I would recommend hiking Glendalough to anyone considering visiting the Dublin area.


Transforming Homesickness into a New Home

Transforming Homesickness into a New Home


Wednesday afternoon: I finish my lecture session and walk back to my apartment, fellow expats beside me. We chat about our upcoming plans visiting new countries and areas within Ireland. The conversation has a zing as we share our excitement of exploration. The door closes behind me and silence of my room began to feel louder than the conversation. My phone is silent; no texts from my friends or family back home in California. I check Instagram, which reveals that my friends were out hitting the town back home and my mother is was busy treating my family to dinner. They’re over there and I’m over here, alone.

Suddenly I realize, I’m not alone and I have so many methods to turn this experience into a positive one so I make some hot chocolate, text my best friend, put on the fuzzy socks, and pick up the book I’ve been wanting read for the last year, but never had time for…


Prior to embarking on our journey to Ireland, my cohort and I were presented with a graph detailing the “typical” experience during a semester or year abroad (shown below). We were told that we would go through a wave of emotions, beginning with a sort of euphoria upon initial arrival. Everything is exciting and interesting! New beers, new food, new friends, new smells and sights...Ireland is a new land to explore that is just excited to meet us. We were warned that as this “honeymoon” phase wore off, we would enter the homesickness phase. A time when all the new sights and smells felt not as comforting as those back home. We would miss the mundane and the routine, including ranch dressing for our fries and the fact that our produce lasted more than a few days in the fridge. After some time coping, we were then told that we would slowly rise out of the hole and fall in love with out new home.


Picture 1


The simplicity of a graph does not explain everything, of course. Each individual living away from home has their own unique experiences. The intersectional elements of each individual’s identity determines the outcomes. For example, those who are accustomed to more distance and infrequent communication with family could thrive living away from home, whereas others, such as myself, who are more accustomed to frequent contact could need time to adjust.

The experience of studying abroad is not only one of outward exploration, but personal development as well. During our time away, we are increasing our self-sufficiency and confidence, learning about our needs and necessities in order to maintain happiness, and broadening perspectives as we engage with multiple cultures. Combating homesickness is just one of the challenges presented to many away from home and it serves as a crucial part of self-growth.


Here are a few general tips to ease the experience of homesickness abroad



1.   Maintain Routine


Identify rituals in your daily life and remember to pack them next to the socks. If you needed that morning workout to kick-start your day at home, bring it with you! Consider seeking a gym membership (CIEE Dublin Students have a membership to the gym at DCU) or downloading a helpful phone app for direction. Did you talk about your day over dinner with your roommates? Try proposing this tradition to your new roommates, jotting down your thoughts in a journal, or sending a recap to a friend back home. Maintaining routine is crucial to maintain normalcy while abroad and is easy to implement. For more complex habits, consider adjusting them. If you always played the trumpet before bed, maybe help your roommates out and play before lunch or with a jazz group.



2.   Maintain Contact with a Support Network


Although home is far away and time differences make communication difficult, arranging for some form of regular contact back home can be incredibly beneficial. Consider asking a few of the people that make you happiest if they are up to talking every once and awhile. Contact does not have to be a large undertaking either! Send a picture of something that reminds you of them or a quick text during the day. Arrange for a phone call when it works out and hear about their days just as much as they hear about yours. If ever you feel disconnected from home, don’t be afraid to reach out to your support network and maybe bring back a little souvenir for them.



3.   Indulge in the Creature Comforts


Studying abroad can be expensive and every penny saved for another excursion, however, a few of the comforting things should be considered an investment. Identify which areas of your life require lower maintenance and which require higher. For instance, I’m not one to need several different outfits, therefore, I avoid purchasing too many new clothes. I am, however, a little higher maintenance in the body-care and coffee departments so I have allowed myself to buy a new face mask, some essential oils, lotion, a French press, and some high-end coffee. Save money in the areas less attended to and invest (within reason) in the areas that are important to your happiness.



4.   Establish a Sanctuary


Back home, you likely have posters on the walls, a music player, television, candles burning, and whatever else makes home feel like home. These elements can also be used to make a new home away from home. Consider packing a few small items that make you happy to put up around your new room and seeking out some low-cost or disposable decor to arrange. These could include hand-made drawings (which is a great form of meditation by the way), interesting postcards or pictures from different sites, fresh flowers, a cool cup from Dealz, or a few souvenirs your find along the way. Make your room your sanctuary where everything on the corkboard makes you smile (so maybe no homework pinned up there.) The second aspect to this is to take care of your sanctuary. It has been long told that a messy space can create a messy mind or vice-versa. Try your best to keep things tidy and take out the trash so that your space is a place of rest rather than stress.



5.   Find your Niche


In this case, niche not only refers to a place of belonging, but people as well. It takes time to make friends and develop social circles, for some longer than others, but remain open to possibilities and challenge your comfort zone a little. Introducing yourself to strangers and signing up for a few societies could be the doorway to new friendships and potentially, a crew to adventure with. Getting to know your fellow cohort is also a wonderful first step to making new friends and developing a supportive circle, however, do not limit yourself to fellow Americans or International Students. Get to know some locals! This being said, recognize what serves you and how to utilize social practices to your benefit. Introverted individuals are those that gain energy by having some alone time in order to later socialize to their fullest. Extroverted individuals gain their energy from the presence of others and therefore desire minimal alone time and need social interaction to thrive. Recognize where you draw your energies from and honor those needs so that you can function your best. (P.S. If you are on the introverted side, like me, remember that it is OK to stay in when everyone goes out to the pub, however beware only making friends with yourself and make sure to get out when you can!)



6.   It’s OK to Feel Homesick


If you notice feelings of homesickness, do not beat yourself. It is normal and healthy to miss home. Consider expressing these feelings in a healthy way by increasing self-care, contact with the support network, or talking to a fellow study abroad student. You are not the only one to long for home and will likely find that every student studying abroad feels it in different ways and degrees. Give yourself permission to treat yourself extra special when these feelings come up and do your best to not bury them underneath more travel plans. Do not push feelings aside, because they will return in fuller force. If harmful thoughts or behaviors begin to occur, speak with a professional or your onsite program advisors. Healthy and happy memories are the most important souvenir!