Ireland Update: The First Week

The Flight

On Sunday January 11, Chris and I boarded a flight from Minneapolis/St Paul International to Chicago O’Hare. That night, we flew overnight from O’Hare to Dublin.

Our flight on Aer Lingus was one of the best flights I’ve ever been on! We had two seats in the back near the lavatories, and so we had the whole row to ourselves. We each had a little on-seat player so we could watch free movies, TV, and music, and we got served dinner! Usually airport food sucks, but this one was delicious – bread, cheese, roast beef, salad, cheesecake, and coffee! Yum! Fortunately, we were also able to catch a few Zzzz’s over the Atlantic.

First Impressions of Dublin

When we arrived in Dublin in the morning, we caught an AirCoach through the city. A word about Dublin:

Dublin is very old. Hundreds of years ago, the Iron Age saw Ireland occupied by the Celts/Gaels. After the Romans, the Vikings came to Ireland and founded “An Dubh Linn” – literally, “black pool”. (How cool is that?) As medieval Ireland gave way to the Normans and the English, Dublin transformed into a major seat of power and center of trade and shipping.

In the twentieth century, Ireland became a hard-won independent nation, and the 1990s gave Ireland not only peace but prosperity. In the late 1990s, Ireland was the second richest nation on Earth and Dublin boasted the highest standard of living and home ownership in Europe (besides Luxembourg).

Driving through the city on the bus gave me a glimpse into the age and nature of the city. Airport and suburban sprawl gave way to north Dublin’s working class neighborhoods. As we passed through the central city centre, I saw nothing but lanes and streets looping off in all different directions, each one crowded to the limit with shops, pubs, and flats. Cobbled streets were thick with people, even as the rain fell in a steady mist. Once we reached the southern – and rather higher-income – part of the city, we arrived at University College Dublin.

University College Dublin

UCD is called An Colaiste Ollscoile Baile Atha Cliath in Irish, and it’s the largest university in Ireland. It’s got 22,000 people, and you can definitely tell. It seems to need a lot of space! New, modern buildings twoer over gren grass expanses, and paved sidewalks wind around roads, bus lanes, soccer fields, and modern art installations. With three student pubs, a bank, and two or three buses continually available, UCD is exactly the large school environment I was looking for!

Residences

Checking in was a bit of a challenge. Nothing moves very fast in Ireland, but forms and paperwork still need doing; when these two truths combine, a long queue results!

Chris lives in Merville. It’s laid out much like Hamline’s Heights – except instead of small rooms and shared bathrooms between thirty people, Merville is composed of independent flats. He shares a kitchen, living room, and two bathrooms with three other men, and they each get their own furnished single bedrooms. His roommates are from New Zealand, Australia, and France. I’ve met the Kiwi and the Ozzie, and they’re both really nice and generous!

I’m living in Roebuck. Roebuck is also composed of independent flats, except it is newer, nicer, immaculately clean, and super swanky. I have a gorgeous single room and a private bathroom. It’s all very modern and cosmopolitan – easily the nicest place I’ve ever lived.

I’ve got four roommates so far – Kayla and Jackie go to Notre Dame, the other two go to UVA. They all seem really thoughtful, helpful, happy, and excited to be here, and I think we’re all going to get along swimmingly!

Coleman and Exploring Dublin

After our arrival, we met Coleman – he’s our Interstudy contact and guide on campus. With long hair and sideburns, he’s quite a relaxed guy. He’s also a PhD candidate and professor at Maynooth. We’ve developed a really friendly working relationship with him, and I look forward to staying in touch.

Coleman gave us a whirlwind tour and orientation on the fly – all in the city center. We walked and talked for hours! In between questions and answers on UCD, classes, and books, we explored major streets, landmarks, and nearby shops and stores in town. We came back full to bursting with an onslaught of new sights and sounds, and also carrying a few bags of essentials – bedding, towels, and porridge for the morning.

First Meal

Incidentally, our first meal in Ireland was with Coleman at a place called The Church. A 16th century galleried stone church was converted into a restaurant and bar, and today serves as an architectural preservation and a community hang-out spot. I had penne with a tomato, onion, garlic, and chive sauce – delicious!

Once back on campus, we spent the night settling in and unpacking. We fell into our separate beds around 10 pm, sleeping soundly and comfortably for the first time in almost forty hours!

The next day, Tuesday, we met for a breakfast of fruit porridge in Chris’ flat. Then we caught a bus into the city and met Coleman for brunch. We also met Max, a URI student and experienced world traveler. This time we ate at O’Neill’s, a traditional-looking old pub with a huge array of fresh selections. I had roast turkey with dark gravy, and two kinds of potatoes. My favorite was the rose potatoes – they were soft, sweet, and cooked in rosemary and garlic. Best meal so far!

Shopping

Tuesday we also went shopping. We walked probably about a mile to the nearest Tesco – it’s like a Target – and bought dishes, supplies, and groceries for the future of our stay. Buying groceries is freaking awesome – all of the brands are different, and some of the products are totally new to me! We also stopped at the local Centra cornerstore on campus and topped up our phones! All in all, a fun day. (Oddly, they rarely stock peanut butter, of all things.)

First Night Out, First Pint of Guinness, and Thoughts on Beer

The evening was fun, too. We met Max for a pint in the city center. It was rainy/sleeting out, so we found warmth in a pub called Bruxelle’s. This is where I also had my first pint of Guinness.

Not having touched a drop until this year, and then only small sips – my first real drink was in December and I’ve only been tipsy one time at New Years’ – I am obviously not an experienced drinker. I simply don’t have the taste for it. Guinness is a very dark, very stout, and somewhat strong beer, and I actually didn’t like it at all 😛

Afterwards, we went walking around and visited another pub or two, finally stopping at Quay’s in the Temple Bar district. TB is a very, very touristy area, and the pints were excruciatingly overpriced – 5.50 euro for one pint! (That’s over eight dollars for a glass of beer.) But it was warm and quiet and cozy, so I tried my second and last drink of the evening. Carlsberg is a lighter, much more gentle beer, and once I got through the foam (yuck) I liked it very much.

That night we got a little lost on our way home, but my instincts surprisingly got us straight to our bus stop! By then the shops and restaurants were closed, so we rode home for some sleep.

Lazy Day and Making New Friends

Wednesday was a slow, lazy, enjoyable day. I slept in because I was feeling a little sickly, but a good breakfast, lunch and lots of sleep made me right as rain. After lunch Chris came over and visited – he’d been out with Coleman and Max at Dublin Castle! It sounds like he had a fantastic, huge, authentic Irish breakfast – jealous!!

Afterwards I stayed in and journaled for a few hours. Then Chris and I went into town. A comfortable day, a beautifully warm night, and a nice meal out made me really happy 🙂 Then we hooked up with Chris’ Ozzie roommate (Matt) and two other people from Australia (Dee and Kelsey), and Max. We hung out for a good three or four hours, laughing and talking and sharing stories. We swapped cultural tidbits and wandered the streets and gabbed until we had to go home. It was a really wonderful night, and it feels really good to be making friends!

International Student Orientation

Today was our first day of Orientation. Given that it’s second semester it was a fairly chill process, but the forms/paperwork parts of the day were really frustrating. Fortunately I hope to have my last class straightened out tomorrow – everything else is golden, and I’ll be good to go for the start of classes on Monday.

Cultural Differences – Topics for Future Blog Posts!

So far, there are a few things I’ve noticed that I’d really like to expound on in later blogs:

1. Time. In Ireland it is considered perfectly acceptable and normal to show up fifteen minutes late for everything. Showing up early is not only unnecessary but a little awkward. Correspondingly, Irish life moves at a slower, much more relaxed pace.

Surprisingly, however, this doesn’t necessarily make Ireland lazy or ineffective. It’s simply a more flexible way of accomplishing tasks. This is a major stumbling block for me, and something I’m looking forward to digging into/improving on. Relaxing, taking life a little slower, and being much more flexible will be a really valuable skill set for me in this country.

2. Kindness. Irish people seem to be incredibly nice. In fact, Ireland is very much a talking/sharing culture. Information is passed on through talking, and questions and answers are an enjoyable, expected part of the experience. As such, everyone is perfectly willing to stand around chat forever about anything and everything.

Here’s the fascinating thing, though: Such friendly kindness does not necessarily equal any openness about personal matters. Irish people will help you out with any question, and they’ll light-heartedly rib you about anything – humor and joking is part of how it works – but there are definite levels of acceptability as far as personal content is concerned. Politics? Fine. Family? Maybe not. I honestly have no idea where those lines are, so that’s going to be a learning process for me.

3. The Irish relationship with alcohol. Like it or not, Ireland is a drinking country and the drinking capital of the world. Alcohol is simply part of life. Irish people grow up with it, and wine or beer at dinner is perfectly normal and acceptable at an early age. You can buy, possess, and drink at 16, and even that limit is not rigidly enforced.

In a lot of ways this is a really positive thing, because it makes drinking less taboo. A less ironfisted cultural stranglehold on alcohol means that people develop a healthier relationship with drinking, and tend not to go absolutely nuts (like many American college students do) at every opportunity.

But for me, it takes A LOT of getting used to. Tonight, the first night of Orientation was capped off with a wine reception – white and red wines were both readily available, even several glasses, to each and every student. I’ve never seen that before, and it really takes some getting used to.

4. Money. The exchange rate is really, really bad here. Dublin is extremely expensive anyway, even by European standards, and the dollar is so poor against the euro it’s even worse. A pint at a touristy bar is eight dollars. Doing laundry is five. It costs around three to take the bus. You have to pay a euro to use a cart in the grocery store. (You get it back, but you get the idea.) Also, we get hit with a $5 ATM charge every time we take out cash at the ATM, which means we have to pay with a card every time we go anywhere. Simple, right? But here in Dublin, not everybody takes cards – it’s a Visa, sure, but what if they don’t have a machine? Cash is largely the way the city operates.

Our budget is really tight and small as it is, and I’m literally counting on a major refund from Hamline coming in the next few months. It’s a really stressful thing to think about, and it’s actually the only thing putting a damper on my spirits.

Well, that’s all for now! Also, check out my new page with my contact info, including my international phone and mailing address!

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4 Responses to “Ireland Update: The First Week”

  1. Hey! Im currently studying abroad in Marseille, France at the Euromed School of Management! I love it here and can agree wit your references to time and Europeans….as the french dont seem to mind being late either.

    I turn 21 this weekend. Back home my friends and I would celebrate at a bar because i can “legally” drink…but I celebrated it the first day I got here when the association for international students had a reception similar to the one you described! lol! Check out my blog on my experience in Marseille!

  2. This sounds like such an awesome learning experience for you! I’m excited to read more (and see more pictures!) over the course of your adventure abroad.

  3. Sheri Cron Says:

    Thanks for your blog! I’m so glad to hear you guys are settled in safe and getting familiar with schedules and your atmosphere! Keep the pictures and posts coming so I can continue to read about your extraordinary experiences in Ireland. In my job, I work in EUR currency everyday and it amazes me to see the USD’s comparison to other currencies worldwide. Take a deep breath regarding budgeting and let it all out. You have some ‘once in a lifetime’ memories to make and without fail; it always works itself out. xoxo!

  4. aprilpalo Says:

    Thanks for the comments, folks! I’ll definitely keep the blog posts coming. More experiences to write about!!

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