Sunday, June 16, 2013

Can I Go Back to Ireland Yet?

Traveling abroad has definitely made me become more independent and self-sufficient. I have learned how to function on my own, without the help of my family and close friends; I have also strengthened my social skills by becoming extremely close friends with my two roommates, others participating in the program and native, Irish people. Most importantly, I have learned what it is like to truly be myself.

This Sligo, Ireland study abroad program in which I participated allowed us to work in various disability help services throughout the day. I had little to no experience working with the special needs population, so this trip definitely strengthened my skill set within that particular realm. Professionally, I would like to work further with people with disabilities. I would also like to receive a master’s degree in special education at some point throughout my schooling.

I was surprised as to how independent I became throughout my travels. The first few days, I was extremely homesick and counting down the days until the trip would be over. After about half way through the first week, I was sadly anticipating the end of the trip. I had made so many amazing friends and had so many life-changing experiences that I was not at all ready to return home to the boring, same-old. And every day since I have returned home, I have spent at least part of the day reflecting on the trip and wishing I was back in the most beautiful country in the world.

Prior to the trip, my apprehensions included being lonely and not being able to experience Ireland to its full potential due to my lack of close friends on the trip. Thankfully, I made lifelong friends throughout the excursion and made sure to experience as much of Ireland as was humanly possible. I am very thankful for this revelation.

I cannot wait to travel again. I would honestly consider spending a semester abroad, in Ireland preferably. I really enjoyed my three weeks overseas and I would certainly like to expand that time. Unfortunately, I’m not sure if my future schedule will allow more time studying abroad.

The greatest benefit to my traveling abroad was definitely my outlook on independence and self-sufficiency. Since I have returned home, I have become okay with spending time only with the people who show interest in spending time with me. I have begun to move on from my “safety net” group of friends and only do things that make me happy. I have also been researching academic and professional possible future decisions and keeping in contact with the friends I have made in Ireland, including those who are from Ireland.

My favorite experience throughout the entire trip was definitely meeting Ryan, the DJ. He provided us with communication means, the inside scoop on where to spend our time and an entire day in Galway dedicated to Ireland’s history and quirks. He strengthened the relationship between my roommates, new friends and I by not only giving us something to converse about, but allowing us to bond over the next experiences we were being given. Thankfully, Ryan and I are still in constant communication via Facebook and Skype.

I would encourage future participants to make the most of their journey abroad. Do not be afraid to go out into town as often as possible and meet new people. Allow your roommates to become your new best friends, dance the nights away and make as many Irish (or whichever culture you decide to explore) friends as possible. An insider’s knowledge is nothing like the guided tours and tourist sights you will be seeing throughout your trip.

Monday, June 10, 2013

A New Friend

Before explaining my favorite weekend getaway, I must first explain our newest friend here in Ireland. As you all know, we do not have international mobile phone services, therefore we need to go into town and find some free wifi so that we can talk to our family and friends. After a busy day of placement, followed by a busy evening climbing Mount Knocknarea our first Wednesday in Ireland, we decided to shower and go into town so that we could catch the people close to us up on our adventures.
We had often walked past a friendly looking bar called Shenanigan's and were quite intrigued by it's appearance and possible drink selection. We were ecstatic to find out that the popular pub also provided free wifi to its customers; We were sold. It was only about eight o'clock in the evening, so the pub was quite empty. We were literally the only three people in the bar, Mandy, Sarah and I. We sat at a small table and booth combination to the left of the bar and talked about our placements, excitements, struggles and homesickness. There was a DJ setting up in the corner behind us who cracked a joke about us all being on our mobile phones. "Are you all messaging each other?" he asked as he walked past us to finish setting up his DJ materials. We all laughed and continued our conversations, right in front of the DJ table. We were all so involved in our mobile phones and our subtle conversation that the music was but a background distraction. As we began to listen, however, we paid attention to the fact that most of the music being played was American hip hop, pop and rock and roll; We had also noticed that all of the songs were at least a year or two old and quite a few were ten or more years old. We loved it - the upbeat, throwback music was exactly what we needed to hear in order to make us a little bit less homesick and a little more at home. However, the pub started to fill up with college-aged students in tight dresses and high heels. Since we were all in jeans and jumpers, we decided it was time to head home.
As we were leaving, Mandy decided that she wanted to let the DJ know that we loved his music; We enjoyed all of the throwbacks and his set list was exactly what we wanted to hear at that point in our trip. Sarah and I started walking toward the door as Mandy approached the DJ. A few seconds later, the three of us walked outside and Mandy shared a conversation with me that influenced the rest of my trip in Ireland.
Mandy had told the DJ that we really enjoyed his music and that we were interested in coming out again this week and wanted to know when he would be playing. He informed us that he played in Shenanigan's on Wednesdays, Thursdays and sometimes Saturdays. We were in luck! We were new in town and had no idea where to go out the next day, so at least being able to predict a good DJ in town was very comforting. Mandy told the DJ that we would maybe be back, but apparently he did not have too much faith in us; Next, the DJ said, "Well, tell your friend I think she's gorgeous. The blonde one," and when Mandy told me this, I knew we had to come back the next day.
Our professors had warned us and we had been in town long enough to know that Irish girls don't mess around when they go out - they dress extremely formally whenever they go out. Since we had recently acquired this knowledge, we decided to have a little bit of fun with it and go all out with our outfits, hair and make up. After spending a few hours helping each other get ready and sipping on our new favorite drink, Kopparberg cider, we went to Shoot the Crows with our professors. They had invited us out to a pub with them to catch up on our first week's adventures and we had invited them out to Shenanigan's with us afterward. However, they decided to stay with the crowd of people they're own age for the night and we honestly did miss them a lot. But after a beer and some interesting conversations, Mandy, Sarah, Christina and I headed across the river to Shenanigan's for a night of drinks, dancing and cute DJs.
The bouncers ID-ed us and quickly let us into the crowded bar; There were literally people from wall to wall, dancing, drinking and just genuinely enjoying themselves. We ran up the bar and grabbed a drink and lucky for me, the DJ spotted us from across the room. Throughout the night, he would turn the music down so that I would notice him and wink at me or blow me kisses. I spoke to him briefly a few times throughout the night, but since he was working I really couldn't have a full conversation. The DJ held our purses for us so that we didn't have to carry them around while we were dancing and he also put us in charge of watching his equipment while he took breaks of his own. At one point, I did get to tell him that I love Ke$ha; He used this knowledge to his advantage. He would play Ke$ha or mix a bit of one of her songs into another just to get my attention while I was out on the dance floor with my new best girlfriends. It was the perfect amount of romance for me: music and dancing.
We waited around the bar while it was closing so that we could introduce ourselves officially the the DJ and have a conversation or two. The bouncers actually kicked us out for waiting around too long, but luckily the DJ came outside just when we were standing in front of the bar. He stopped to talk to us and told us how happy he was that we came back to see him; He really appreciated that we loved his set list enough to come to the same bar two nights in a row. He also confirmed to me how beautiful he thought I was and charmed me a bit more, which I didn't mind one bit. He spent a lot of time talking to me and the girls outside of Shenanigan's. Finally, he handed me his iPhone and asked me to enter my Facebook information so that we could keep in touch. Little did he know, we'd get to see each other a lot more.
His name is Ryan. We Facebook messaged each other constantly from Friday; We were both very intrigued with each other. I had been keeping my professor updated with all of the conversations Ryan and I had throughout the weekend and she was very supportive of the entire relationship. After a weekend of getting to know each other via Facebook messages, we had decided to meet for a first date the coming Monday. Not only did Ryan invite me to meet him at Shenanigan's at eight o'clock the following evening, but he had suggested that I bring my friends along so I didn't feel uncomfortable meeting a stranger in a foreign country for a first date. Because of his suggestion, my professors and friends all felt that Ryan was a fine lad.
Naturally, I had to look my best for this fairy tale date. After placement on Monday, I met with Mandy in town in Sligo in order to pick up a few, last minute outfit options from Penney's and Heaton's (our favorite Sligo shops). I may have went a little overboard, whereas I purchased a few new shirts, shoes and a new purse.... But hey, it was a special occasion, right? Since we were in town, we did a little bit of grocery shopping before returning to our apartment and get ready for MY big night. Mandy, Sarah and I snacked on some cheese, crackers and Kopparberg while I fixed my hair, nails and make up for the event. I tried on a hundred different combinations of outfits and naturally disliked all of them. Finally, I had settled for the perfect jeans, heels, cardigan and scarf combination. After taking one last look at myself in the mirror, we were off for my first date with Ryan, the DJ.

The walk into town had never seemed so anticipated. Mandy, Sarah, Christina and I all strolled at various paces toward Shenanigan's, which me checking back at everyone every few seconds to make sure that we were all in line: I was nervous. Fifteen minutes late, we arrived at Shenanigan's. Awkwardly enough, the bar was empty, with two bar tenders behind the bar, three bar tenders sitting at the bar and Ryan, sitting at the last chair of the bar with a coffee and his laptop, where he was looking up the top ten music charts for the week. Us four girls just stood there waiting to be noticed when, finally, Ryan looked up and saw us all. Everything about our first date at that point had been awkward. Mandy, Sarah, Christina and I ordered Bulmers cider and sat at a round table with five seats and expected Ryan to follow. When he finally sat with us, we all tried to start conversations, reminiscing on our trip thus far and laughing about our past experiences in Shenanigan's. Things became less awkward throughout the night and I walked Ryan to his car around eleven o'clock or midnight. It was sprinkling; He mentioned that he was from Galway and that he had driven two hours in order to meet me. He had a long drive ahead of him and he would Facebook message me when he could. We really didn't think that we would ever see each other again.
After countless Facebook messages and plans to run into each other throughout my last two weeks in Ireland, we were blessed with the chance to see each other at Shenanigan's Wednesday and Thursday night. He was DJing and Mandy, Sarah, Christina and I all loved to dance, so it was the perfect situation. Since Ryan new that we were travelers and could not talk to our families without the use of wifi or internet, he gave us a mobile internet device to use in our apartment. This was honestly the nicest sentiment any of us could expect; He had provided us with social networking and countless other entities provided through the internet. Wednesday night we sort of just stopped in to say hello before going out to a few other pubs in Sligo, but Thursday we decided to go to Shenanigan's lastly so we could dance and wait for Ryan to be done DJing for the night. I think all of us girls were a little bit star struck that evening. We did not have to show our ID whenever we entered the bar because the bouncers had recognized us hanging out with the DJ and Ryan had us on a VIP list for a local night club. After Ryan finished putting all of his DJ equipment into his car for the evening, we had asked him what he was doing afterward. Mind, it was about one thirty or two in the morning at this point. He answered that he would love to take us out to a night club, but we had other ideas. He invited him to our apartment for tea, frozen pizza and Ke$ha in exchange for nothing other than a ride home. He accepted.
Ryan came over to our apartment and was such a typical, Irish man. The first thing he asked was if he could make himself a cup of tea. Mandy, Sarah, Christina and I couldn't help but laugh for a while, but we told him that he was welcome to anything and everything in our apartment since he has given us so much throughout this trip. We made a few frozen pizzas and sat around listening to bad Ke$ha music and reminiscing about our evening and trip in general. Ryan made himself at home on our couch and was extremely respectable of all of us. He stayed for a little bit, but left around four o'clock in the morning since he had a two hour drive home to Galway.
We had to suffice with Facebook messaging and random tweets to each other again for a little while, but the fact that we now had internet in our apartment because of him made that so much more bearable. There was definitely a spark between us, though.
Now onto the actual assignment for this blog: Describe one of my most memorable weekend getaways.
On our last Saturday of our adventure, we traveled to Galway, Ireland. Ryan had read our itinerary when he was at our apartment, so he knew that we would be visiting his hometown for the day. Because of this, he suggested we meet up with him after an hour or so of being there so that he could show us some things that only Irish residents would know about. We accepted his offer and met up with him after we finished up a little bit of souvenir shopping. He took us through Galway town and showed us some of the less tourist-y stores, such as his friend’s candy shop, which only sold American snacks and candies. He also showed us a few of the local’s favorite clothing stores, which all of us girls loved; While we were shopping, Ryan just simply stood at the front of the store and waited. He did not want us to rush through our day in Galway and he wanted us to enjoy the time we had. Eventually, however, we became exhausted of all of the shopping and asked him what he had planned for us next. Ryan took us for a walk by the water, where he introduced us to a water polo game that took place on kayaks. Next, he walked us to the Claddagh, which is the part of Ireland in which the popular ring is modeled after. He also told us the story of the Claddagh and what each of the symbols mean. Ryan also explained why the ring is shaped the way in which it is: the land where the Claddagh is located is shaped similarly. Ryan had suggested that there was a beach only a short drive away, so we decided that that should be our next stop. We got into his mustard yellow Volkswagen and drove through intense traffic in order to finally reach a car park outside of the beach. Since it was extremely rainy and overcast that day, Ryan simply explained the horizon to us and allowed us to discover the landmasses around us. Next, we crossed the street and went to an authentic Gaellic soccer game, which we stood in the crowd of and experienced. We had about an hour and a half left before it was time for us to be “collected” (for some reason, Ryan kept asking us when we were going to be collected by our bus and we thought the expression was hilarious), so we decided that it was time for some dinner. Of course, Ryan knew the perfect place. He took us to the restaurant in which first employed him when he was fourteen years old. It was so special to us to have had a native Irish tour guide show us around Galway, especially when he was so passionate about the place in which he grew up.

Consequently, the Saturday in which we spent in Galway was my favorite getaway during my study abroad experience. I must also say that meeting Ryan, the DJ, made this experience so much more memorable and I can’t thank him enough for showing us around to places beyond the itinerary and making our journey so much more complex. 

Saturday, June 1, 2013

A Typical Day in the Most Beautiful Place in the World

During the first week of the trip I would wake up about two hours or so prior to my placement time, just so I could catch up on laundry and make a nice breakfast. Lately, however, I've been waking up as late as possible because we've been so busy! I wake up and take a shower before I even leave my room. It is so convenient having my own bathroom connected to my own room here. Who knew I'd have more space on holiday than I have in my own home! I've been attempting to do laundry and the dishes every morning. Mom - I completely understand why you always try to clean the house before we go somewhere; Coming home to a messy house/apartment is the WORST. So I try to make sure it's somewhat clean before we all leave for placement. And since I am the last to leave every morning, I try to do my best to have the house in tip top shape before my departure.... Most of the time.

Since LaMar and I's placements are within about five minutes of each other, we leave together every morning. He shows up at my door around 9:45 and we walk through Yeat's Village and then through the I.T. Sligo college campus. It is still so difficult to get used to walking along and across the street with the cars driving on the opposite side; Everything is backwards. After LaMar gets to his placement, mine is only an extra five minute walk. Then, I finally arrive at Holy Family for a busy day with busy kids!

First, I place my belongings into my staff locker in the back of the building and then I report to the "yellow room," which is the base classroom I have been doing the most work with. I assist the teachers, Marie, Kathleen and Caroline, with anything they may need. The students have story time and do jigsaw puzzles for the first hour or two, but often they get off track and end up running around and playing with the toys provided for them in the classroom before the end of their work time. The classroom had nine boys and one girl, so it could get pretty hectic at times. Throughout the day students were coming and going from their base classroom in order to work individually with other teachers, but all of the students arrived back in their base classroom in time for lunch, or as the Irish call it, dinner. The students were usually outside while the teachers set up their lunch time area, so I would stand outside with them. Whenever they heard that dinner was waiting for them in the classroom, they would rush to be assisted with putting on their aprons and find their seats. Many of the students ate their dinners with no issues at all, but a few students refused to eat or would put up a fight over their provided meal. I found lunch to be one of the most difficult parts of the day. After cleaning up after dinner, most of the students went home on the bus. There was only one student left from the class and he caught his bus about an hour later, so I would spend some individual time with him until the second bus arrived. We would travel to the ball pool, which was a multi-sensory room designed for the students to develop posture and physical skills; We would also play in the sandbox or read stories outside. I cherished the time in which I spend with this four year old child with Downs Syndrome. After he left on the bus, however, my favorite part of the day had come. I spent the last hour of my day with another boy with Downs Syndrome, whom loved spending his time with me and couldn't wipe the smile off of his face for any reason. He had recently started walking, so he would just bounce around from room to room and activity to activity in order to show off to me. Every moment I spent with this boy was spent with a smile on my face. But at three o'clock, my long day was over.

I also forgot to mention that twice a day I was given a tea break. These half hour breaks were dedicated to drinking a steaming hot cup of tea and socializing with any of the other faculty members who were also enjoying their break at the same time. Tea breaks are honestly the most difficult thing to get used to here in Ireland.

Not only was I the last to leave my apartment every morning, but I was the first to arrive home every afternoon. Mostly, I would tidy up a little bit or take a short nap on the couch for the hour and a half I was alone every day. This was certainly my least favorite part of the day. I couldn't wait for my friends and roommates to return home after four and tell me the stories from their days at placement. We would compare our experiences and talk about the things we were excited for and dreading the next day.

Most days, we would have a scheduled sight seeing activity immediately following placement. We would travel to some tombs (I have been to more cemeteries in Ireland than I have been my entire life), or the beach, etc. My favorite days, however, were the days where we could come home, make dinner and relax until later when we would walk downtown to Sligo. Most of the stores would close around six, so if we wanted to go shopping, we would walk right to town after placement. If we were interested in going out, which we usually were, we would head down around eight or nine (which was so early for the Irish). We were almost always the first and only people in the bars every night. We would order a cheap drink and attempt to connect to wifi in order to speak to our families. Some nights that was good enough, other nights we would get a few drinks and go dancing. There was never a dull evening in Sligo, Ireland!

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Homesick in Ireland

Nicole's Blog

While looking out of the plane window into the country of Ireland, I was amazed at the countless miles of grass, separated by stone walls built from farmers in the past and present. I was excited to land in the town of Shannon and was highly anticipating the upbeat intensity of a typical airport, but walking off of the plane and into the main area of the airport was a bit of a shock. All of the airport workers seemed to be pretty interested in our arrival and curious of our nationality. I was expecting to see various gift shops with Irish phrases and the town of Shannon spread across sweatshirts and hats, but it was just the opposite. I walked into the only major gift shop and the only item in which I could find with anything related to my last name was a key chain, which I purchased, of course! After a bit of time passed and the excitement seemed to build up, our tour bus arrived and we boarded accordingly. 
We were given a driving tour of Ireland and were informed about some of the cultures and differences in the Irish culture. We stopped at quite a few venues, which we slept in between stops on the bus. First, we stopped at Saint Bridgit's well, which was a beautiful collection of prayers and wishes shown through pictures and and decorations. Although we were very tired, we all enjoyed our first sight seeing adventure. Next, we were off to the Cliffs of Mohar. Mandy, Sarah and I explored the furthest of the cliffs and really enjoyed the unreal view. We also were very stricken by the fact that we could travel so far without any guard rails or regulations as to where we could explore. We made a few more stops throughout our journey to our apartments, but we were all so exhausted that we can barely remember. We did, however, stop in a grocery store to begin stocking up on our items for the apartment, but bread, candy and cookies were our main snacks. We then slept again until we arrived at our apartments, which were much different than we expected.
Mandy, Sarah and I decided that we would room together since we had so much in common and really enjoyed each other's company throughout the beginning of the trip. We walked into the Irish looking apartment complex and noticed the abundant amount doors and rooms. There was a full kitchen, dining room table and a living room with two couches and a television. There were also three bedrooms and a bathroom connected to each. After claiming our rooms, we all unpacked and moved inside and took quick showers to recuperate from the long plane ride and settle in for our long journey.
After everyone was comfortable in our new homes, we had decided that we wanted to travel into town to find wifi and contact our families. The directions in which we were given seemed to be unclear, so we ended up traveling about thirty minutes in the opposite direction, where we encountered a terrifying lose dog. Thankfully, a cab driver approached us and helped us find our way back into town, where we could Facebook message our families and grab a few more groceries. 
The first night was terrible for me, however. I was extremely homesick and I definitely cried myself to sleep with music playing softly in order to deal with the loneliness. Each night became a little bit better and less lonely, fortunately. 
The next few days seemed to fly by. We did a lot of sight seeing and exploring our new land. We also enjoyed live, Irish music (which is called Trad music in this culture) and I purchased my first beer. I finished my first glass of beer without any troubles, a Smithwicks. The meals were very much like home and extremely reasonably priced. Every time we entered a restaurant, especially one with wifi, we felt very much at home. Every time I was able to contact my family and see their responses and know that everything in the States was going all right, I was unbelievably happy. Nothing here makes me happier than receiving a message from my parents and sisters. Sight seeing on Monday was very stressful to me, however. We were stuck on our tour bus all day long and with a lot of down time. We also traveled to many different locations throughout the day and everyone seemed to be quite unhappy with the lagging time. It was also cold and muddy outside, which brought all of us down a little bit. Thankfully, when we arrived back at the apartment, we freshened up and went out for a couple of drinks. That definitely took away most of the stress, especially since there was wifi and we could contact our loved ones. 

Tuesday morning, I woke up relatively early so that I could wake up early enough to begin my first day of placement. I showered, dressed in my most appropriate and professional outfit and did my hair and make up in a way that it would not distract me from my work. I walked out into the living room and kitchen area, where Mandy was eating breakfast and preparing for her day as well. I made myself a hearty breakfast and sat and talked about our anticipated day. I cleaned my dishes and hand washed my laundry before I finished getting ready for my first day at placement. Luckily, Mary (one of our professors) and Lamar (one of the students on the trip with us) were able to walk along with me to my placement. When I finally arrived at my placement, everyone was extremely welcoming. I first met the principal, who gave me a tour of the establishment and introduced me to most of the staff and faculty members. I was then told to report to the "blue room" (the rooms were separated by three colors, all measured by severity and resources). 
The room was extremely colorful with many resources, which I later learned were provided by the parents and local donors. There was a wide variety of students and the severity of their disabilities. Two students were unable to eat normally, which meant that they had to eat through a feeding tube. This was a new experience for me and I was unable to decide how to react and deal with this change in my comfort levels. The rest of the students were quite high functioning. I was never told the exact disabilities of the students in the classroom, but I was able to work personally with most of the students. One of the students had little focus and would drift off while working on simple objects like puzzles. It was very difficult to keep her focus. Another student whom I worked with individually seemed to be a mainstreamed student. She loved to sing and paid attention well; she was very involved in doing puzzles and other small, table activities. However, when I took her outside to swing, she through various temper tantrums and was unhappy with many of the decisions I was making based on the length of time we stayed outside. Lastly, I worked independently with a younger, boy student who was very affectionate. According to the faculty members, he became very close to one or two members of the staff at a time, but it was a big deal that he was so taken by me after only a few hours. He had the most adorable smile, which he would not let me forget. He would also cuddle up next to me constantly and try to engage me in the different activities in which he was completing throughout the afternoon. Meeting this boy was one of the most rewarding experiences thus far and I can't wait to spend the next three weeks with him and his classmates. 
In regards to culture and my placement sight, I would like to make one observation. Tea breaks are a huge part of the Irish culture and are frequently held throughout the day. It is a rough adjustment to have two or three breaks a day in order to relax and drink tea. This is something that the American culture does not encounter.

Although I am very lonely and anxious, especially at night, I know that I will look at this experience as one that I will never forget or regret. As hard as it is to not talk to my family constantly, I am slowly adjusting to the differences. I love you all and I cannot wait to return home with all of my stories and experiences! 
I hope your dance recital went well, Julie and Sara! I love you both!

Friday, May 17, 2013

Anticipated Adventure

I never expected that I would be the type of person to study abroad. Currently, when I am asked where my favorite place in the world is, I either reply with my home and neighborhood or my family's yearly vacation spot, Put in Bay, Ohio, which rests on Lake Erie. I have become very comfortable with these places and traveling anywhere outside of them just seemed unnecessary. Although I have this particular outlook on travel and exploring the limits of my comfort zone, I couldn't be more happy with my decision to study abroad in Sligo, Ireland this summer.

I hope to become more independent throughout my journey in Ireland. I would like to become more comfortable making decisions based on myself and without the influence of others. I would also like to explore responsibility. Having the opportunity to spend my weekdays in a classroom will provide me with experience that will forever influence my teaching skills. I am hopeful that my trip to Ireland will provide me with a more positive outlook on travel and a willingness to share my outlook with family, friends and strangers. I am a Carlow University tour guide, so I believe that my experience abroad will also strengthen my tour guide skills. I will be able to provide perspective students with first-hand information on the Global Learning Center and study abroad programs at Carlow University. Lastly, I hope that this trip will increase my level of cultural awareness. Although my family does have Irish roots, we are not aware of many Irish traditions and cultural practices. I would like to bring home with me some of those traditions and practices and strengthen my family's knowledge of the culture we have been so proud of throughout our lives.