Saturday, January 24, 2009

A Semester of First Times

One of the greatest things about going someplace new, is that it introduces a whole new set of "firsts." After three years at Cornell and 14 years in my home town of Blairstown, I had almost exhausted all of the possible novelties. First time at Grassroots? Check. Barbecuing peaches and vanilla ice cream on a warm summer night? You betcha. Board game night where we simultaneously watched Clue the movie while guessing Professor Plum in the Dining Hall with the wrench? Oh yea.

There's nothing like the feeling of doing something for the first time. Not to mention the bonding that goes on when everyone involved has no idea what they're doing. There's something intensely intimate about the blind following the blind. Mutual ignorance and a little tang of fear to spice things up covered with a bravado frosting. Recipe for instant friendship.

Travelling to another country is a little like going back to kindergarten. Or maybe it's more like that dream where you're in class and the teacher tells you you have a presentation that's worth 80% of your grade and you realized you've got nothing. I spend about 90% of my time feeling stupid and the other 10% talking to my friends here about our shared incompetence. Still, not feeling in control is a little like constantly being under the influence. Everything is a little blurred. The colors are brighter and more vivid, and in the morning you either don't remember or you pretend that you don't remember. Also, you continuously have an excuse for bad life choices.

The friendships you make during your time abroad are the relationships forged between survivors. You cling to any aspect of the familiar. You get each other through foreign experiences by reminiscing about NY style pizza and online class enrollment and normal looking toilets. For that time at least, these people because your replacement family, your American-accented lifesaver during the semesters storm.

I wake up every morning knowing that at least one thing that day will be different. Things hit me in waves. The km/liter for gas. The metric system on the measuring cups. The switches to turn on the power outlets. The joules instead of calories on the nutrition facts. The way that when you're walking at someone on the sidewalk they swerve to the left instead of the right (Why are we the only people who drive on the right side of the road btw?). All the firsts lead me to my apartment door at night exhausted, as if I'd spent the day trying to translate French into modern dance. However, there's something inexplicably sweet about each first time...and whether its a good or bad experience, it's something that indelibly branded into your experience.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

This Must Be Cruel and Unusual

I pulled an allnighter. But not the fun kind of `Woo we're going out to party allnighters` or even the `Man I have a lot of homework to do tonight allnighters.` Instead, I stayed up all night because in Ireland, international students register for English seminars at 9 am on a Wednesday morning. There are only three spots in each seminar for international students and you can only sign up for one seminar. This semester, there are over five hundred international students studying at NUI.

My roommate and I were warned we needed to arrive early. That night I went to three bars, one with the chorus, the next in an attempt to see my friend play at a trad session, and the last where I was able to try out Irish dancing for the first time. We walked back in a hail storm around 12 and stayed up eating junk food and watching Forgetting Sarah Marshall.

Four thirty we arrive at school to find thirty students already camped out. It's probably zero degrees and it's raining. Since registration doesn't start until 9, we had a solid four and a half hours to huddle outside on the wet ground. Not good.

Finally we're given numbers to que up later. I immediately determine I'll lose mine and promptly stick it in my right coat pocket, zippering it secure. We trudge to the cafeteria and slump in the corner couches, drinking apricot green tea and eating the best croissants I've ever tasted. That's when I discover my tiny slip of paper isn't in my pocket.

Just to give you a picture of those four and a half hours. My teeth chattered so hard the entire time I was convinced they would shatter. I shivered uncontrollably the whole time and spent most of it curled in a ball on the wet ground with my backpack on my lap as a make shift blanket. Even dressed in ear muffs, two hoods, gloves, scarf, rain coat, and a hat, the cold seeped into you skin. My whole body froze. I tried to curl in a ball to conserve warmth and ended up being unable to get to my feet afterward because my legs had gotten too stiff.

After all this I was signed up for my third choice of English seminars. It's still raining. All I can say is, NUI needs to learn how to post their classes on the internet.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

There are Pigeons in Our Cafeteria

Okay this post idea was stolen from Becky. It's going to be a series of sensory snapshots of my favorite moments/experiences in Ireland to date.

At the beach: The first time I went I was convinced it was only a five minute walk to the beach. The second time, it got longer. By the third time, when I trekked out to see it in the early morning, the walk had swelled in proposion, approaching the mileage equivalent of a very large creature, perhaps a dinosaur. However, watching as step by step the horizon took on the grey green tinge of the ocean, and breathing in the twang of briny air, my feet started to forget that we walk more than ten miles a day here. There are no locals who go on the beach. The only other person even in the vicinity was another tourist, and she wisely chose to stay to the cement stadium seating that serves like a seashelled bookend for a crescent of the shore.
I sat in the sand. I was not cool. I chased around the one type of bird on the beach, trying to snap photographs of their strutting step. I dared myself again and again to walk barefoot through the lapping waves, each one burning like icy hot when it licked my feet.

Walking back from the bars: There are humongous swans in Galway. They are the size of a small kindergartener and a little scary. Every now and then one of my dreams stars a large swan such as these, sitting down to a Thanksgiving dinner of people and gobbling down small children with glee. This is what I get for drinking before bed. The only pictures I've managed to get of the swans blur and smear on the camera screen. They rise, coiled on themselves, weighty ghosts perched on the canal's filmy surface. They equally tempt and warn away. I've yet to see their eyes, but I imagine that when I do, they will be bleak and grim and frightfully intelligent. More likely they will simply gaze and glide away, disinterested in yet another foreign trespasser.

The night of my birthday: A giant birthday card covered with old english font and characticures of birthday dragons is safely tucked away beneath my desk. It was made from the remains of a shipping box, artfully cut and stamped with the seal of "weird birthday cards inc." That night, a full moon, we traveled to the Roisin Dubh (Roy-sheen Dove) to listen while men and women joined in to stir together what should have been a cacaphonous melody and instead turn it into an embrace of worn fiddles and basists. Our drinking guests that night were an old man and women (perhaps I'm being unkind...maybe middle age). He was armed with a scraggled beard and an at-times gapped smiles. Her dreads hung down like twisted ropes on either side of her face, swinging as she leaned forward to speak with enthusiasm about the shifting tides brought on by the full moon and the power of different astrological signs.

However, my favorite moments are these: Walking back from town, wishing for the millionth time we had a closer residence, speaking, sometimes slurring to my roommates. We discuss everthing from politics to education to boys to love to homesickness to the difference in culture between our home and Ireland. My feet always hurt. My wallet is always a little bit lighter. I hardly ever remember what we talk about. But these are the moments I'll look back to.

Saturday, January 10, 2009


I woke up at the wishing hour. That's a fancy way of saying that after going out to the pubs last night for the umpteenth time in the row I woke bright and early at the respectable hour of 11:11. Professor Maas would be proud of me and my typical young adult sleeping pattern.

On Thursday my friends and I hit up the college bar (yes, for those of you looking at the screen in angry disbelief, we DO have a bar in the middle of campus). It's full of disco lights and bachelor pad couches and the walls are covered with tree wallpaper that kind of look likethe COE basement...I'm getting better at going up to order a beer without being afraid that three big men in bouncer shirts are going to come up, tap me on the shoulder, and kick me out.

Thursday was karaoke night. One of my New Years resolutions has been to take more risks. So far those risks have included, spending a semester in Ireland, being the first pair of international students to sing karaoke in front of all our new classmates (Let It Be by the Beatles) and going downstairs by myself to order a beer (strangely intimidating).

Knock on wood, but I haven't yet experienced the overwhelming rush of homesickness and feeling out of place. It's my 21st today and it was something i was dreading being in Ireland for. Why you ask? Well here (although I did find out their 18, 21, and 30th birthdays are big deals) they've been able to officially drink since 18 and unofficially drink since birth. Also I've been here for a grand total of five days now and I was seriously doubtful of my abilities to replicate a solid friend network in that time.

I guess I shouldn't have worried. There's more than ten of us going out tonight. Some of the girls from Cornell here with me are even bringing over a cake and then we're all taking a jaunt down to the beach. After it's out to City Centre to the Crane or the Roisin Dubh for some traditional Irish music.

Classes don't officially start for me until the 26th of January. The free time is making me go a little crazy in the meantime. All I can say is that when I come back I will be fit (I eat just as much but now I'm walking two miles there and back to the restaurants) and well read.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

It's Fuckin' Cold Here

Okay so I thought if anything, Ithaca had prepared me for the cold. Maybe I wouldn't be the most fashionable kid on the block, maybe I wouldn't remember anything I learnt in freshman year Chemistry, and maybe I would never be tan ever again, but at least I believed that I'd be walking around in shorts in the balmy 40 degree Ireland winters.

This is yet another thing I have been wrong about.

It's cold here. Not the "lets put on a cute jacket and frolick about in layers cold" and not the Ithacan, "when I go out in the morning my hair freezes and I can break off pieces of it cold" but definately enough so that even inside my apartment in a sweat shirt and inside my thirty degree sleeping bag, I'm shivering.

Other things that are different here so far:

-There's a lazer noise when you're allowed to cross the street
-There's no butter on the popcorn at the movies
-When you ask for a packet of ketchup at McDonald's they only give you one, and you have to pay for the mayonaise
-When you enter a restaurant, no one seats you, and they never check to see how you're doing
-In the center of Galway, the street signs are posted at knee level, if they're posted at all
-Asking for a "ride" if propositioning someone
-It's not courteous to tip
-The only kind of deordorant sold in late night stores is spray on
-You have to pay for your bags at Dunnes

Irish Vocabulary so far
-"Off license" means you can buy liquor inside the store but can't drink it on the premises
-"to let" means to lease or rent
-"take away" is take out food
-"mobile phone" instead of cell

It's cold and the ground is always wet even when it's not raining.
That said, I absolutely love it here. It's beautiful and surreal and so not the US. I continually feel as if I'm walking in my own personal "Once" or "PS I love you" or "Under the Tuscan Sun" (only in Ireland)...without the poverty or the relationship fights or the death of my husband or the infidelity thing. It's perfect.

Monday, January 5, 2009

Twenty-four hours until destination Ireland

24: Met my friend Jacky in New Brunswick
23: Went out to fill up their keg and get a bottle of Everclear for her friends going away party (She's also going to Ireland!)
22: Go out to Stuff Your Face and get delicious pierogis!
21: Back at the house and start catching up on life and drinking wine
20: Start drinking beer and taking shots...none of which I recommend
19: Still drinking--> 16
16: Three of us, pass out in the bed
12: Wake up to drive home
10 1/2: Arrive at home and start freaking out
9: Shower off the road grime...and hung over feeling
8: Go out to breakfast with my parents
7: Convince myself I lost my glasses and take apart my three and a half suitcases to look for them
6: Spend time weighing the benefits of bringing thirty thousand T-shirts...decide not to because of overweight suitcase costs (Ends up being overweight any way)
5: Curl up in a ball and decide I don't want to go. Teach my dad how to use iTunes
4:Leave for JFK. Finish reading Kushiel's Dart. Pretend we're going to Chuckie Cheese.
3: Arrive at the airport. Say good bye to parents and ask the security person if my piercings will set off the metal detector.
2: Spend 9 dollars on chicken noodle soup and bowtie pesto pasta. Become paranoid about leaving my bags unattended because of the continual warnings of the disembodied female voice on the loudspeaker.
1: Rock back and forth in my seat waiting to board.
1/2: Get onto the plane. Glare at the commotion in front of me when people can't figure out their seats. Realize I'm the root of the problem because I've sat on the wrong side of the plane.
...6 hours, the movies "The Rocker" and half of "City of Ember," another couple hundred pages of Kushiel's dart later...
I arrive in ireland. Oh yea baby.