Archive for the Study Abroad: The Great Adventure Category

Some Pictures and a Few Thoughts

Posted in Study Abroad: The Great Adventure on April 21, 2010 by aprilpalo

It’s hard to believe this semester has whizzed by so quickly! This week is our last full week of class, next week is revision, and then we’re actually having final exams. I feel like we just got here, but then I remember how far back my first lectures were…

Galway: The view from our bed and breakfast

What’s more, we’ve only got six more sightseeing destinations left – Malahide, Kildare, Powerscourt, maybe London, the Book of Kells, and Phoenix Park – and then we’re on a plane back to the Twin Cities. It seems like we’ve barely done anything, but then I remember that we’ve already seen the Dublin Wax Museum, the National Museum, the National Library, the Guinness Factory, Howth, Galway, the Aran Islands, Cork, Killarney, Blarney Castle, Girona, Barcelona, Ciampino, Rome, Beauvais, and Paris. What an adventure!

Inis Mor: After a bike ride around the largest Aran Island

Since my recent shift in perspective and my new found appreciation for my experiences here (not just at UCD and Dublin, but Ireland and Europe generally), I’ve come to really value these last few weeks abroad. I guess the big question on my mind is: Am I ready to go home?

Cork city

The answer to that is a tough one. On the one hand, I feel like we just got here and there’s so much left to see (especially as I’ve come to really enjoy myself recently). On the other hand, Summer 2010 and the 2010 – 2011 school year is going to be some of the best times of my life!

Killarney

Just in the last few weeks and days – literally! – we’ve finalized plans for some awesome upcoming stuff:

1. Our new home! We’ve seen the place, submitted our application, provided financial documents, forwarded loan applications, and – just yesterday – we delivered the signed lease and security deposit. This adorable little Highland Park studio is going to be ours!

2. Summer collab research! After a lengthy application process and some much-respected competition, I’ve found myself the honored winner of a position with the 2010 summer collaborative research program. My project – “Crosses of Straw and Stone: Saint Brigid and Narratives of Irish Catholic Observancy and Heritage” – is incredible, and I am overyjoyed to get the chance to explore it in a challenging, supportive environment.

3. Summer internship! I am officially going to be a summer intern at the Saint Paul Area Council of Churches! I will be working with the Interfaith Youth Leadership Coalition (of the Twin Cities) and with the Saint Paul Interfaith Network. I’ll be working on everything from developing media packages for training youth groups to developing networking and funding/program sustainability. I’m thrilled and couldn’t be more excited!

4. Fall 2o1o! I’ve just completed my FAFSA and registered for courses this week, so I can actually go to Hamline again this year! I’m signed up for two core classes – “The Gospels” at Hamline, and “Elementary Greek I” at Macalester. Plus, I’m going to be getting credit for my departmental senior honors thesis, which will be a year-long endeavor (culminating in a major defense and NCUR appearance in the spring). On top of that, I’ll be initiating my senior year completion of my major with the “Religion Senior Colloquium”, and last but not least, I’ll be wrapping up my study abroad experience with “Crossing Borders II”. All told, it will be fifteen credits and an absolutely perfect schedule, which will make just enough time for…

5. IFYC Fellows Alliance! Just last night, I completed my phone interview with IFYC’s offices in Chicago for a position with the program. I’ll find out in May if I’ve been accepted to join this exciting and really inspiring team. Fellows Alliance is essentially a year-long interfaith leadership training program. Fellows are equipped with grassroots programming skills and financial support, in order to pull off major interfaith community service projects and get the movement going everywhere in the country! I’m very much hoping I can be involved, and I’m really looking forward to the possibility of working with the program.

6. Mahle Scholars! The Mahle program is funded through a donation to Hamline, and incorporates a year-long educational reflection process into long-term community service programming. The application period ended on the 16th, so I should hear back about this one in May as well. I’m feeling tentatively optimistic, but I’m putting my faith in the selection committee. If God’s good graces allow me to be accepted into both the Fellows Alliance and the Mahle program, I could combine the funding into a huge, singular, incredibly well-supported capstone event! Here’s hoping… we’ll just have to see how it goes!

Blarney Castle

After the fall semester, Spring 2010 will entail completing my degree, completing my thesis, and getting married. Then the Winebrenner-Palo family will be moving to a new home. Where will that be? I’m not sure… Chicago? Maybe New York? Mystery and an exciting future lies ahead!

For now, I’m focusing on finishing up my study abroad experiences here in Ireland with flying colors and a better attitude than ever. Next time I write will probably be one of the last times – maybe even my farewell note!

Until then, be well 🙂

The Burren

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Gratitude and Wonders Upon Turning 21

Posted in Study Abroad: The Great Adventure on April 12, 2010 by aprilpalo

Hello, everyone!

Admittedly, I have barely journaled at all since returning from Europe some weeks ago. Fortunately, this is not due to a depressed lack of motivation, but instead because my mind and heart have felt more stirred and alive than ever!

I feel like I’m finally developing a beautifully well-rounded, passionate, creative existence. I want to share some thoughts on this with you!

Ireland: As a result of early stresses and problems, I spent much of our first weeks and months in Ireland feeling so let down, so disappointed, and so frustrated. I wasted a lot of time on jealousy and regret. Since coming back I’ve realized what a loss that’s been, and so I’ve thrown myself more than ever into breathtaking new travel plans and experiences!

Already, we’ve visited the beautiful sixth century monastic settlement of Glendalough, the gorgeous coastal city of Galway, the green and rocky island of Inis Mor, the cute little city of Cork, and we’ve even gone kayaking and moutain biking in Killarney!

I’m going to blog more about these later – especially Galway/Inis Mor and Cork/Killarney – but for now, I just want to express that I’ve finally, finally fallen in love with Ireland, and I’m so thankful I get the chance to experience it while I can.

Life Perspective: I remember, when I first got back from Paris, I wondered how to translate my flexible, enjoyable, carefree backpacker’s life into my ordinary, hard-working, productive student’s life. Since then, I’ve come to realize the importance of taking time for my own personal fulfillment and hobbies.

Stealing a few moments to talk, relax, walk, and read for fun has made me a happier person and a better, more loving friend and partner. Sometimes it does require a delicate shifting of priorities; sometimes it does necessitate moving a little more swiftly over homework assignments. But the benefits of slowly savoring a book by Patrick Kavanagh over a cup of hot chocolate in a Galway coffeeshop, toes touching Chris’ under the table, is simply irreplaceable and uniquely inspiring. I can afford to buckle down on my efficiency if it means I can come to love and cherish my soul in this way.

Speaking of souls: Maybe it’s the recent joy and observance of Holy Week in Ireland, but every day I feel closer to God, and more receptive to the message and grace of a practicing way of life. I can’t call myself a Christian – I’m not one yet and I don’t know if I would be – but I’m growing, and it’s a powerful journey.

I’ve never felt more alive before, and every day I feel a little bit more enveloped in love. The details of my specific theological viewpoints are still present, of course, but they seem to be taking a backseat to the overall importance of a loving, guided, joyous, community way of life. I’m looking forward to cultivating this further!

Nourishment and fitness: Food, health, and home goals have been so much fun! Chris and I have been fully self-catering for the last few weeks, and I’ve never had more fun with grocery shopping and meals! Planning and carefully selecting meals for the week creates a better, more responsible grocery trip and a connected, less wasteful week. It’s been a blast to pick out dishes and ingredients, cooking often and wasting less. We’re saving a lot of money too!

I’ve also taken up yoga and pilates, and I’ve begun to get serious about walking and/or running every morning. I feel too wonderful to pass up the opportunity to improve my body, my health, my fitness, my shape, and my continued wellbeing and happiness. I’m being given a gift with this life, and I can’t waste it!

As far as home is concerned, we’re beginning the first steps of a long journey towards our dream: living in a fully self-sustaining farm/cottage. That means we’re starting to learn some skills and habits now! Our first goal is to use (and dispose of) way less plastic. I’m really excited to learn!

Summer awesome: Lastly, I’ve gotten some really good news in the past few weeks! First things first, Chris and I have officially nailed down an adorable little studio apartment in the Highland Park area, right next door to Ellen and Adam and Mikayla!

Second, my internship is going to be absolutely awesome – I’m going to be working for Saint Paul Area Council of Churches, the Interfaith Youth Leadership Committee, and the Saint Paul Interfaith Network! Mostly I’m going to be working on developing training packages for area religious communities and working on funding/development for interfaith non-profits. Amazing!!

And best, best, best, best, best, BEST of all – I won a position with the 2010 summer collaborative research program! I am going to be spending all summer doing the legwork and drafting my senior honors’ thesis: “Crosses of Straw and Stone: Brigid and Cultural Narratives of Irish Catholic Observance and Heritage”. It’s going to be SO exciting and such an amazing, learning, growing, awesome time! This summer is going to be great!

So, thank you, life. Thank you, universe. Thank you, love. Thank you God, whatever you may be. I love everything and I am so, so, so grateful to be alive for these twenty-one beautiful years!

Up next, I’m going to be putting up some posts and pictures about our recent adventures in Glendalough, Galway, and Cork. Between working really hard on homework this week and going to the Guinness Factory this weekend, it might be a little while in coming, so please be patient! Thanks!

Europe 2010 Trip: “We’ll Figure It Out” (Rome)

Posted in Study Abroad: The Great Adventure on March 24, 2010 by aprilpalo

Rome

I wrote this section of the journal while waiting for our flight to take off for Beauvais, France. It was about 7:00 am and an early morning sunrise crept up over the Italian hillside outside the airport. We’d just completed the second leg of our whirlwind European adventure: four days in Rome, Italy!

“Oddly enough,” I wrote, “Rome was something of a mixed bag. Coming fresh from Barcelona, it’s possible that our judgment was a little skewed. Either way, we discovered a definite mix of pros and cons about Italy’s ‘Eternal City’.

“Rome is rather tough. An overstressed infrastructure, aided and abetted by Italian tax evasion, makes Rome’s sanitation and road services groan under the weight of citizens and tourists. Even priceless world heritage sites like the Colosseum appear depressed and delapidated. Garbage collects on every street corner, and every bus and train is pockmarked with graffiti. The homeless are an unforgettable feature of the landscape.

“Perhaps worst and most troubling of all are Rome’s itinerant pushers of goods, flowers, toys, scarves, et cetera. They are persistent and rude, thrusting items into your face at every turn. Sometimes they even hand it to you outright, showering you with compliments and praise, telling you it’s free… and then when you turn to go, they hold out their palm and demand “a little something”.  Ordinarily I would feel bad for people forced to make a living in such a fashion, but their utter rudeness and corrupt methods made me really uncomfortable. What with all these aspects of the Roman terrain, it can be a really difficult city for North Americans to deal with.

“But Rome wasn’t all bad! In fact, we had some of the best times of the whole trip in this ancient, crowded Italian city. Our hostel was clean, spacious, full of friendly and multilingual staff, and complete with perks like free computer use, free wifi, free breakfast, and a free nightly pasta and wine dinner! Our room was huge and enjoyed a big shuttered window; the bathroom was gorgeous glittering blue tile, and the sun shone through a tiny garden courtyard window!

“Easily the most fascinating part of the trip for me was the history. In Barcelona, our exposure to history was primarily the 1900s – 1930s bourgeois art/architecture/philosophy revolution – Picasso, Dali, Gaudi, and so forth. It was hugely interesting, of course, but Rome opened up so many more opportunities for learning! The Roman empire was one of the greatest civilizations of the human age. Christian Rome is worth the trip alone. And Italy played an irreversible role in World War II and the development of fascism – this all in one city!

“One thing that really stuck out to me is the interconnectedness of different historical legacies and traditions. The Egyptians enslaved the Jews and formulated the basis for the offshoot of Christianity. The Christian tradition was codified in Greek and Greek copies became famed Roman prizes. The Romans sacked Jerusalem, used the booty to build the Colosseum, and persecuted Christian martyrs in the arena; years later, Christian popes consecrated the location and keep Roman artifacts in the Vatican Museum. Pictures on walls detail the rise and expansion of the Empire as far west as the Celtic and Roman British islands of Britannia, while the split and decline of the empire provided the necessary weak point for the growth of Islamic conversion and settlement. The connections are mind-blowing, and in Rome, they can be found around every cobblestoned street corner.

“Speaking of street corners, it would be good to provide a little recap of the trip and our walking/metro tour of Rome. Let’s go, shall we?

Day 1

“First, we had an absolute bitch of a time getting to Rome at all. We woke up an hour late and didn’t realize it until we’d missed our shuttle bus and were standing in the dark, empty ticket station, wondering why the 5:00 am bus wasn’t listed. But ultimately we were able to get there, take a shuttle bus from Ciampino, and grab a train at the Anagnina metro station. From there, we rode the subway to the Termini station (the main thoroughfare for subways, buses, trains, and airport shuttles) before walking down Via Gaeta to our hostel.

“Next, we walked down to Piazza Reppublica and enjoyed our first sight of Roman piazzas. Piazzas are central parks and squares situated between ordinary roads, and they are the center of daily Roman urban life and tourism.

Piazza Reppublica

“Grabbing a thick, hot, crunchy square of pizza from a tiny pizzeria, complete with whole spinach leaves and quartered romato slices, we headed down some steps and explored Colonna Traiana, the Monumento a Vittorio Emmanuel II, and part of the Fori Imperiali.

“The Monument was pretty awesome. A huge white palace serves as the monument for the first king and father of modern-day Italy, the ceremonial resting place for Italy’s unknown soldier, and the location of museum exhibits on Italian military history. The Fori Imperiali is a road stretching the length of the Roman forum and ending at the Colosseum (where we excitedly snapped some pictures)!

View of the Colonna, with the Monumento in the background

Statue on the Monumento

View from the Fori Imperiali

Chris and the Colosseum

Me and the Colosseum

“Next, we looped around the exterior of the Colosseum and headed up Via Cavour past Santa Maria Maggiore – a huge cathedral with a fountain and obselisk in front – before heading back home for a little rest.

Day 2

“In the morning, we hopped on the metro and zipped straight over to Ottaviano station. Walking down the street a few blocks, we finally arrived at the destination I’d been waiting for the whole trip – St. Peter’s Basilica, the Vatican Museum, and Vatican City herself. Vatican City is one of three sovereign states in Roman city limits and is home to the Pope and the upper echelon of the Catholic hierarchy.

“There was a long line at the Basilica, but with the statues, the obelisk, the fountain, the fluttering pigeons, and the whispering cloaks of passing priests and nuns, we had more than enough to keep our attention!

“We started by heading up the 551 increasingly steep steps to the very top of the dome of the Basilica, where we circled the dome and enjoyed utterly spectacular views of the entire Roman landscape. Next, we journeyed back down and through the huge, ornate, fantastically painted chapel. Ceilings, arches, frescos, paintings, and statues towered high above our heads in that holy place, and candles flickered even against the sunshine.

Michelangelo's "La Pieta"

“Ducking out for a bit of lunch, we got scammed at a snack bar and paid 32 euro for reheated Americanized Italian. It was a waste of money and time, we learned at that point to avoid the flashy tourist trap restaurants. 😦 Then we headed over to the Vatican Museum!

“The Vatican Museum was, in a word, extraordinary. It’s enormous and full to the brim with artwork, artifacts, mummies, tapestries, maps, busts, and more. By the time we made it even halfway through, we were utterly overwhelmed and overstimulated by constant, ever-present beauty. At the same time, throngs of loud tourists and schoolgroups crowded every hallway and flashbulbs blinded every few seconds. By the time we reached Michelangelo’s famous Sistine Chapel, both of these situations had come to a head: Slack-jawed and awe-struck, we stared in fascinating up at that beautiful, gorgeous, holy, famous place, taking in every leaf and angel and cloud and flower, not knowing where to look first. At the same time, three hundred other tourists crowded around us and jostled our shoulders, using the flash when they weren’t supposed to, and museum security guards waded through the masses shouting “Silence!” and “No photos!” Completely fried and finished, we left and passed swiftly through the rest of this dazzling museum.

Sistine Chapel

Sistine Chapel

Sistine Chapel

… To be continued! Next up: the Piazza Navona, the Colosseum, the Forum Romano, the Palatine Hill and gardens, Circus Massimo, Ponte Fabricio and the island of Isola and Tiberinia, Area Sacra (and a nearby synagogue), Spagna and the Trinita Dei Monte, San Giovanni Laterano, and more Rome than you can imagine!

Check back soon!

Rollercoasters, New Hope, and Sufjan Stevens

Posted in Study Abroad: The Great Adventure on March 5, 2010 by aprilpalo

This new blog post actually happens in two parts. I wrote the first part on March 2 and I wrote the second part today. The first post is rather depressing, but the newest one is a definite improvement (and includes pictures and videos!) Read and enjoy!

2 March 2010

It’s been a long month.

Well, not really. As a matter of fact, I can’t believe it’s March already. I feel like we just got here and already our semester is half over. But at the same time, a lot’s happened. In some ways I don’t know whether to laugh or cry. I’ve been really up and down these last few weeks and month(s) in Ireland.

Some days I wake up bright and energized. I’m proud to be here, enjoying where I am and what I do. My classes at UCD are inspiring, I’m living in one of the most enriching cities in Europe, I’ve got good friends on both sides of the pond, and the future looks bright.

Other days, I wake up and my only resolve is to get through the day so I can come home and veg out. UCD is a vapid, boring, racist, sexist party school. Dublin is cold and overcast. I feel isolated and alone, and thinking about the future only makes me want to sleep for hours.

There are a lot of reasons for this emotional rollercoaster, I think:

  • I am still adapting to the academic pace and structure at my new school.
  • I am still adjusting to the culture and unfamiliarities of life in Dublin.
  • Simultaneously, I’m making some great friends and also feeling stifled by other Americans.
  • I’m scared of going to Europe.
  • I’m frustrated and unmotivated by summer collaborative research.
  • I pretty much can’t stop thinking about my dream farmhouse cottage and adopting a puppy and having a baby.
  • I want to feel connected to the seasons and my spirituality, but I feel at a dead end.
  • I’m lonely without Chris around all the time, but at the same time, I wish it was easier to separate and enjoy some separate experiences.
  • Authenticity – What is it? Why am I so dead-set on how this experience is supposed to go?

So, you see, there are a lot of pots on the stove. None of them are boiling particularly hard, but taken together, it’s a lot to keep an eye on. From UCD to Dublin, from friendships to futures, from spiritual needs to emotional ones… I’m a pretty mixed bag right now, and I can’t quite seem to pull it together.

I wish I could share all the lovely things I’ve seen and done over the past month – because, believe me, some of my experiences have been amazing lifetime memories! But I’m simply not inspired. I don’t have it in me to gush over farmer’s markets and movies, wax museums and romantic dinners, first-time drunkenness and making love, dinner parties and birthday pub crawls, rainbows and snowy miracles. All I seem to want to do is sleep and stress. I’ve got a ton of tasks left to accomplish this upcoming week, but instead I just want to curl up into a ball and fret/tense instead.

It’s a little messed up and I’ll be the first one to admit it. It’s like with all the yo-yo’ing I’ve been doing, my fun experiences become trifling annoyances, and my genuine priorities become distracting stressors. That’s pretty screwed up and I’m not quite sure how to deal with it.

Tonight [2 March] I am going to finish up my dinner, roll up my sleeves, and start pounding out some tasks. I don’t want to do it, but I know that if I don’t, I’ll be letting myself down. Maybe I’ll feel better soon!

At this point, I put away my journal and set to work pulling my life together. Here are my new, most recent thoughts.

5 March 2010

Reading back over what I wrote less than a week ago, I am shocked at how quickly I can change, grow, and improve. Perhaps journaling equipped me with the insight and motivation to better my outlook? I’m not really sure. But since the first entry, I feel like a fresh person – scrubbed clean and raw, awake and present.

During this time, I have been listening to Sufjan Stevens, Death Cab for Cutie, Snow Patrol, Feist, and Postal Service incessantly. I feel like “I Will Possess Your Heart” and “For the Widows In Paradise” have seriously helped pull me where I am right now. It sounds weird, but some songs really do drag you where you need to be. I’d like to share them with you.

… Anyway, UCD still pretty much sucks, but the weather has been beautiful. Blue skies, clear, sunny days, and  the crisp air of new springtime make me feel bright and positive like never before. My classes are going well, and I feel like I’ve finally settled into a successful routine as far as my courses and workload is concerned. Having all my tasks properly organized and feeling confident about my studies makes me feel really good!

I’m feeling better about Dublin, too. I’ve had a great time roaming around the city and getting exposed to some new sights and sounds. I finally feel comfortable here, and I feel like I can navigate my way around pretty competently. I love riding the bus, and use my Rambler pass practically every day. Lounging in the top level of the doubledecker, the sun shining in through the glass windows, rumbling through the narrow streets – there’s nothing quite like it.

I’ve been feeling really loved by all my friends recently, too. Here in Dublin, I know that at any moment, I can call up Matt or Dimity or Kelsey or Damian or Siti, or any of my roommates, and we can all have a dinner party or go out to the pubs. I walk through campus and people recognize me, they call out, they say “Hello!” For the first time, I feel really capable of recognizing just how fortunate I am to have made some good friends here. And then, when I’m home or on my computer, my Gmail Inbox and Facebook is full of dear old friends from Minnesota and Iowa, shooting me a message here and there, writing me an email or two, letting me know they care and they’re interested in my life. It’s an incredibly valuable thing to come home and find emails or chats from some of the people who have become sisters and brothers to me. (Emily, Abbie, Ben, Alex, Guy – I’m lookin’ at you!)

In relationship with Chris, too, things are definitely feeling better. We’re trying this new thing – we call it “Operation Boomerang” – where we spend time separately during the weekdays, but then come together again for the occasional weeknight dinner and weekend trips. It’s really working out well so far – we each get to experience some separate stuff, and when we do get to spend time together, we both appreciate each other a lot more! So, I’m feeling really good about that!

As far as spiritual and emotional needs are concerned, I’ve been able to create a mental shift in my outlook away from present-tense frustration, and towards future possibilities. For example, even though right now I might be frustrated by my inability to figure out a spiritual/religious community, I feel confident that I’ll get there in the future. For another example, even though right now I feel distanced from my dream farmhouse and dream babies, I’m thinking of ways I can change my lifestyle or adopt new skill sets in order to prepare for that future. Does that make sense?

Before, I wasn’t feeling up to discussing the lovely, fun things I was doing. But now, by flipping a mental switch in my head, I feel prepared to share all the really awesome stuff I’ve been experiencing! Rather than writing a whole lot, take a look at these pictures:

Also, I’d mentioned earlier that my genuine priorities had become distracting stressors. I’m proud to say that I feel pretty back on-track now. My big issue was preparing my summer collaborative research application (which had gone totally off the rails), but now I’ve gotten back on the rails, and actually finished a complete first draft! Once that application is submitted, all my main goals – my degree, my scholarship programs, my research opportunities, my extracurricular involvements, my internships, my work experience – will be mere inches away from legitimate completion. That’s a phenomenally empowering feeling.

One last note: I am currently preparing and packing for a whirlwind Spring Break Europe trip. On Monday Chris and I are leaving Dublin for Barcelona, Rome, and Paris. We won’t be back until March 22!

As far as communication goes, we will have Internet access (occasionally), but it will be intermittent, and we will not have cell phones. So, this will be the last you’ll hear from me for nearly another month. I’m sorry about that, but next time, I’ll be prepared with tons of pictures of Spain, Italy, and France!!

For the time being, I’ll leave you with another song that’s helped change my life. Maybe it will change yours, too.

Everything is lost
But I know that you can take it to the Lord
Everything you want
Is it all that you can gather for yourself?
Do you love a lot?
It’s the love that changes gifts to everyone
Illinois is lost
Is it strange that you perpetuate yourself?
You wonder what it costs
It’s the joy that he will carry to the door
Everything is lost
Still I know that you can take it to the Lord
(All that he has given to the world)

Sloppy Drunk Girls, Haunting Statues, and Rugby Insanity

Posted in Study Abroad: The Great Adventure on February 8, 2010 by aprilpalo

Monday seems to be the day I journal/blog most frequently, probably because I have a two-hour break in between breakfast and class in the morning. Weird 😛

Anyway, this weekend was… interesting. Lots of deep, funny, weird, surreal, fascinating stuff. It was a mostly a collection of strange happenings, powerful thoughts, and curious hopes for the future.

Friday: Good Cider, a Fun Pub, and a Sloppy Drunk Girl

On Friday night after class, Chris and I went out to split a pint of Bulmer’s and some ice cream. We found a great little pub on the river called Messrs McGwire – it’s actually a brewery, restaurant, and multi-level pub. The Bulmer’s was tasty and the pub was warm and relaxed; we had a great time! For ice cream, we actually wound up having some gelato at a little Italian cafe called Botticelli’s, across the street from Temple Bar. Now here’s the funny part.

While we were there, quietly eating our ice cream in the tiny cafe, we looked out the big front window and saw a drunk girl, weaving and stumbling against the wall of the pub. This caught our attention primarily because people don’t typically get drunk out at pubs; it’s not like a bar, the atmosphere is totally different. So this girl really stuck out. Thin blonde hair, too much dark makeup, little shorty dress – really out of the ordinary. Well, then we saw something really out of the ordinary. Her shorty little dress was slowly riding up her thighs with every teetering weave she made as she stood. Weave – rise – weave – rise – weave rise. In horror, we watched as her draws crawled up her hips. Before long, Sloppy Drunk Girl was literally showing her entire vag to everyone. No underwear!

Of course people noticed, and after we all shared an awkward, horrified laugh at her unfortunate drunk expense, I finally did my female sisterhood duty and tipped her off. As I gently informed her that we could all see her vag, she was already smiling and nodding, her eyes unfocused, never bothering to straighten out her dress. Oh well – for all I know, presumably she wandered about Temple Bar the rest of the night, drunkenly exhibiting herself to passers-by and drinking herself into a stupor 😛

Saturday: Delicious Food, Haunting Statues, and Rugby Insanity

On Saturday, we took the bus into town and started the day off right at the local gourmet food market. We both had absolutely DELICIOUS lamb skewers – juicy little bites of meat dripping with spices, super tender and tasty! They looked like this:

Then we had sweet potato soup in a bread bowl – the soup was thick and creamy with potato and coconut milk, mixed with a little chili and tamarind, all in a thick, soft, crusty bread bowl. We ate with wooden spoons, licked our fingers when were done, and made ourselves the envy of everyone around! It kind of looked like this:

We topped it off with a steaming mug of hot chocolate, then went exploring in the Docklands district of Dublin. As we walked along the river boardwalk, enjoying the momentary warmth of sunny skies, we found the Famine Memorial.

Tall, larger-than-life men, women and children staggered woefully down the river, holding their belongings and their babies in their arms. They were down to rags and had nothing but a hollowed acquaintance with death in their eyes. The statues were crusted with copper and rust, and the intentional disrepair added to their miserable poverty. Accompanying the memorial was a plaque set up by the UN with an international dedicate to eradicate poverty in Ireland and the world. The Memorial was especially significant as it was based on an actual event. All in all, the Memorial was a very haunting sight – especially when you glance back over your shoulder and see them staring after you.

Then we roamed around for awhile. A note about the Docklands area: The city centre (St Stephen’s Green, Grafton St., Temple Bar, O’Connell, Henry St.) is definitely the epicenter of the city’s activity: pubs, bars, restaurants, clubs, shows, parades, the whole lot. But it’s also the oldest part of the city, and there are zero skyscrapers or swanky apartments. Given Dublin’s wealth and notoriety, we wondered where we could find them. And we finally did – because the skyscrapers and swanky apartments are all located in the Docklands district. It’s a beautiful, classy, and elite part of town, and because it’s not crowded by the hustle-and-bustle social scene, it stays relatively quiet and peaceful. Chris and I enjoyed walking around it very much!

As we were picking our way back towards O’Connell Street down the Luas line, we suddenly realized that we were surrounded by a huge crowd of people. It wasn’t a riot or a mob; it was just a very a large, peaceful throng of people flooding down the street.

Sensing an opportunity, we quietly slipped into the crowd and traveled along with them! As we walked, more and more people joined us – out of taxies, alleyways, off of buses. The crowd grew – 200, 300, 400! We would top over a rise, look down, and every city block was full of people streaming out ahead!

Turns out, we’d ended up in the crowd heading straight for Croke Park. On Saturday, Croke Park was the site of the kickoff Ireland/Italty rugby game, the first match of the Six Nations rugby championship series. Of course, we couldn’t get tickets – that would be like trying to get tickets to the Super Bowl on Sunday – so, sadly, we had to double back and leave the crowd (and the game) to its own devices.

* Found out since then: Ireland won! Go Ireland!!

Afterwards, we spent most of the day shopping. I picked up five pairs of tights and two REALLY adorable leggings, plus a knee-high pair of boots and thick black satin laces. Lovely!

When we got home, Chris fixed us up the BEST bangers and mash I’ve ever had! Fresh mashed potatoes with garlic, nutmeg, milk, and cream; sausage links fried in olive oil with a little spices; and the gravy! Oh man, the gravy. Sauteed onions and mushrooms, a little olive oil, flour, dijon mustard, chicken stock, and a healthy glug of red wine – it was absolutely delicious and was one of the tastiest dinners we’ve had here yet!

In keeping with the UK theme, we capped off the night with “Hot Fuzz” and went to sleep 😛

Sunday: Work Day and Positive Productivity

Sunday was a seriously productive work day for me. I completed my entire homework task list, straightened out my mail situation, dealt with my finances, taxes, and FAFSA, and started digging into research and internship paperwork. All in all I am very pleased and proud, and am looking forward to a fun-filled week and weekend!

What’s Up Next: Irish Week, Valentine’s Day, and Travel Plans

This week is Irish Week (“Seachtain na Gaeilge”), so it’s stuffed full of IRish language events, shows, and programs. This morning I watched the balloon launch and participated in my first ceili dancing experience! Later on tonight I’m also going to hit up the Student Bar for a traditional music DJ!

Plus, this weekend is Valentine’s Day. Chris and I are getting a cheap little hotel room in town and spending the day going sightseeing – I’m thinking the National Museum, the Wax Museum, and maybe the Titanic exhibit! We might also have a picnic at Phoenix Park, if the weather is good ❤

We also prepared our travel schedule. We’re definitely going to Europe (Barcelona, Rome and Paris) over Spring Break, but there’s still plenty of Ireland to see, and we’ve both been feeling a little left out in that regard. So, we sat down and worked out where we’re going!

From now until finals, we will be visiting: Malahide Castle, Killarney, Donegal and the Aran Islands, Belfast, London, Powerscourt, Newgrange, Glendalough, and Galway!

I’m really excited and can’t wait to see some real Ireland! In the meantime, thanks for reading 🙂

TradFest, Farmers’ Markets, Celticity, Catholicism, and More

Posted in Study Abroad: The Great Adventure on February 2, 2010 by aprilpalo

Since I wrote last, I have mostly been settling in smoothly. Most of the detail-oriented crap is out of the way, and I have been enjoying settling into my classes, cultivating new friendships, and digging into new experiences!

TradFest

This weekend was TradFest, Temple Bar’s annual traditional Irish music festival. Trad bands came in from all over Ireland and filled up the pubs with songs, instruments, and jam sessions. The festival also put on a bunch of cultural and language workshops, classes, and shows; the Irish Film Institute even showed old Irish movies outside in the square! TradFest was really cool, and I especially loved the music:

Temple Bar, the epicenter of TradFest 2010!

Nyah Cavan

Nyah Cavan's INSANELY talented 6-time national bodhran champion!

Classic old trad band in Temple Bar (all wearing matching Irish cableknit sweaters, I might add!)

Extremely talented fiddle-player for a street theatre Punch and Judy show

Electric Ceili - easily one of the top bands of the weekend!

The Auld Dubliner, my favorite pub in Temple Bar (besides The Duke, which is my favorite pub in Dublin)

At any rate, we didn’t get a chance to attend much of the workshops and classes (some of them were pretty expensive), but we did roam around the area and find some cool stuff on our own!

Farmer’s Markets and Good Food

One of the high points of the weekend was when we roamed around Grafton Street and Temple Bar and found the local farmers’ markets! One farmers’ market was extremely upper crust, selling all organic, gourmet and imported goods, but I loved it anyway. (I love me some gourmet cooking!) Plus, it had an absolutely DELICIOUS open-air food market across the cobblestoned alleyway – breads, chocolates, kabobs, seafood, pastries, cheeses, mugs of chocolate – it was all looked, smelled, and tasted wonderful! I had the best hot chocolate I’ve ever had that day: steaming hot, melted chunks of chocolate, whipped cream, the whole bit!

Oh, and to cap off our TradFest weekend, we also had a traditional Irish breakfast fryup: eggs, bacon, tomato, mushroom, sausage links, and blood sausage! I didn’t particularly care for the blood sausage, but everything else was amazing – especially the sausage links and fried mushroom.

Anyway, the other farmers’ market was a little lower end. It wasn’t the fresh, local produce we were sort of expecting – it seemed more like the vendors had gone to Tesco, purchased a bunch of groceries, and then were just selling them on the street. This is possible, I guess, but the price was low and the quality looked good. So we picked up a big bag of mushrooms and garlic! Afterwards we trooped home and I helped Chris make the BEST dinner we’ve had since arriving: thick, tender, delicious salmonf illets over creamy garlic/mushroom alfredo pasta! It was so good and the salmon practically melted under youf rok. Yum! Plus, we got five meals out of that whole, fresh salmon slab – and there’s still more in the fridge!

How To Feel Valuable When I Am Not Working

Sunday was nice. I got almost all of my entire homework list done for the whole week! I also completed a major loan application, got ALL of my laundry washed, folded, and put away, and cleaned my room! It feels really good to be productive and on the ball with my tasks and chores.

But one thing about that bears some discussion. For most of my life – the last two or three years, at least – I have simply not felt right unless I am working. If I am alone, not hanging with friends, not spending time with Chris, I literally do not feel like a valuable person unless I am accomplishing some kind of task.

Of course this workaholic motivation can’t last, so eventually I just collapse and veg out and feel useless until it’s time for bed.

So, I’ve been thinking about how “relearn”/”remember” how to be alone with myself and still feel happy and fulfilled. In particular, a few different ideas have caught my attention:

1. I want to read more, especially about ancient Celtic culture and early Christianity. I just finished Bill Watkins’ “Once and Future Celt”, and really, really loved it. I want to read more books! This is especially true given how much I’m learning about ancient pre-Celtic, Celtic, and Christian cultures in these islands. There is SO much I’m learning – Newgrange, Boudica, and St. Brigid is only the tip of the iceberg, and there’s a monumental wealth of cultural and religious experience to dig into here!

2. I want to go exploring by myself. At the end of the day, UCD is a very international, very privileged party school in a very nice part of town. I want to get out of Dodge and experience some real Ireland. Dublin and TradFest fulfills part of that for me, but I want more and I want it better.

3. I want to practice my spirituality. I’ve been nearly three years on this journey now, and I feel like I’m *thisclose* to knowing what I really want.

In the end, I want a way that (a) I can practice regular rites, rituals, holidays, and festivals, feeling really connected with nature, time, and the passing of seasons, and (b) not have to give up/legislate my views on Judaism, Christ and Christianity, pluralism, and religious heritage.

In some ways, Judaism gave me the former, but doesn’t really help me cultivate the latter. (Christ wouldn’t get to be even remotely central in my practice and wouldn’t quite fit anyway.)

In the meantime, Christianity gives me the latter, but maybe not the former. Christian rites and practices (when practiced to the degree that I want) would rotate highly around Christ and frequently seem determined to internalize the pagan right out of them.

Obviously these are gross overgeneralizations, but I don’t want my faith tradition to relegate me to the outskirts or minority of my community.

For these reasons, I’m tempted to think that Irish Catholicism – tied so deeply as it is to pagan/pre-Christian practices and practiced with such ardent fervor in this country – might allow me a decent opportunity. Maybe I could explore yearly rites, rituals, and seasonal events, all while still celebrating my spiritual life?

It’s a tough call, though, and I don’t know what I’m ready to do or what I want to give up to follow it. So, I want to work on that.

It’s fitting, I think, that as I first wrote this blog, it was St. Brigit’s Day! Brigit is a female Catholic saint, an Irish female heroine, and the contemporary incarnation of a possible pre-Christian/Celtic goddess (potentially “Bride”, among others). She’s pretty much Irish Catholicism and Irish Celticity’s power female figure and heroine, so maybe it stands to reason that I’m thinking about her around her day.

Anyway, this blog post has covered a lot of stuff I wanted to touch on. Until next time, enjoy the pictures!

Ireland Update 2

Posted in Study Abroad: The Great Adventure on January 17, 2010 by aprilpalo

We’ve been here in Dublin for about a week. It’s been a really mixed bag in a lot of ways. In this blog post, I’m going to cover some of good and bad things about settling in at UCD.

Good Things

Positives include: relaxation, nice meals, plenty of exercise, bus adventures, shopping, pubs, and making new friends!

Days are slow and satisfying. For once, I am actually eating right, walking, and taking care of my body. We’re learning the city pretty well, and I’m really proficient at the bus now! I’m loving the shops, pubs, and restaurants, too. Our roommates are all really cool, really positive and helpful, and through them I’ve met some likeable folks as well.

Here’s a picture from the bus/shopping adventure we went on yesterday!

Bad Things

Some other stuff has been really draining, though, namely: Skype/communication issues, finances, registration/timetables, and some troubling social questions.

Communication

Not being able to communicate with my parents has been kind of frustrating – not because I desperately, painfully miss them, but because coordinating a time to talk is a hassle given the time difference. We both have to go out of our way to set something up, and when it doesn’t work or we can’t be there, it’s a let-down for both of our hopes.

Finances

Finances have probably been the biggest issue for me so far. The problem is primarily twofold: First, Chris unexpectedly owes a good amount of money to pay his bill to Hamline (and, by extension, to Interstudy and UCD). So, he’s working on how to knock down that price and/or get it paid off with his family through loans.

Second, I was anticipating a fairly sizable refund through a combination of low cost and high loans. Unfortunately, a few missed connections have made costs a little higher than expected, sapping the refund and therefore my additional funds. The refund wasn’t for fun, sad to say – it was meant to help us sustain ourselves given the cost of living here in Dublin.

Fortunately our available assets are such that we can live without those funds for the time being, but if we don’t recoup the value somehow, Chris will have to tap his credit card by the end of the semester. So, I’m working with Hamline to see what I can do.

Registration, Timetables, and Bureaucracy

Registration and timetables for class haven’t been nearly so frustrating as having to deal with money, but it’s still a pain. They’ve instituted so much bureaucracy  for international students’ registration, it’s pretty ridiculous. Until this year, ISs admitted directly into the department of their choice and dealt only with them; registration was done online and the whole process was relatively smooth.

But in an effort to centralize and streamline the process, ISs are now admitted via the study abroad center, whose officers are now responsible for our registration. They’ve never done it before and so they’re having an understandably rough time. Not only that, we can’t register online any more; it has to be done manually and through a study abroad officer. Because they’ve only got one or two officers working at a time, this lengthens the process into hours or even days. Frequently the relevant department is not even included in the discourse.

Fortunately I am better off than some – my registration is completed and only took two days – but I know some students who are still not registered properly or have barely begun. (Classes, of course, start tomorrow.) I feel sorry for them!

Making Friends, and “Authenticity”/New Experiences

The last tough thing I want to explore is the whole experience of making friends and having authentic new experiences. The people I’ve met and the things I’m doing are all perfectly enjoyable and wonderful. But they’re also fairly claustrophobic at this point. Let me clarify what I mean:

At this point, it’s mostly been other Americans and international student orientation events. I’m really anxious to get out there and meet Irish students, and get involved with real, fun campus activities. Don’t get me wrong – I am absolutely having a great time. But so far, it’s simply not that different from home, at least on-campus. (The situation is different in the city, but there’s only so many things I can do in town given my time and resources at the moment.)

I guess it’s just weird for me. I’ve never had a hard time getting out there – meeting new people, digging into new stuff – but here I am, having a hard time with both.

That’s why I’m really looking forward to starting school tomorrow. It’s really nervewracking and terrifying, but it will be a good opportunity to meet more students and get some new experiences in. Plus, once I get a handle on my schedule and workload, I’ll be able to do some traveling and take advantage of more fun stuff in the city!

Some Other Little Thoughts

Overall, my mood is still really positive. I think I just haven’t hit that really “blossom”-ing point yet, where I can really dig in and grow.

A couple of additional notes:

– The ratio of Americans to Ozzies, Kiwis, and people from other parts of the world is simply astounding. All of my roommates are Americans and almost all of the international students I’ve met are, too. I think that’s another reason I’m so anxious to try new things!

– Also, I met my History faculty chair. He won’t be one of my professors during my time here, but I look forward to working with him. He is an absolutely impeccable man, dressed to the nines in a suit with a perfectly-coiffed wave of hair and an extremely prim English/northern Irish accent. He is also very angry with how bureaucracy has affected us and his department. Hearing such vitriol come out of his perfectly elegant, grammatically correct voice was a real treat! He also gave us a recipe for a hot toddy, incidentally, which I tried and it was delicious.

– A word on drinks – After three failed attempts (more accurately, sips) to like beer, I’ve given up and found two new drinks I actually enjoy. The first is a hot toddy, which is hot whiskey, lemon and honey. The second is Bulmer’s Irish Cider, which is chilled apple cider that’s been fermented in a process similar to wine. It’s absolutely delicious!

(As I noted on Facebook, because I’m just not a drinker AT ALL, I just don’t have the taste for beer. Guinness is treated very, very special over here, but it’s just way too strong/bitter for me.)

– Interesting note about the pubs. In Dublin, going out “for a pint” or going out “to the pubs” is not at all like going out to bars back home. No one’s really there to drink, to be honest – they’re mostly there to socialize and have fun spending time together. So despite having gone out a few nights this week, I’ve barely touched a drop – and it hasn’t been a big deal at all!

Anyway, thanks for reading! Until next time!