Saturday, January 31, 2009

it didn't take a miracle

Sarah, Maureen, and I stormed a castle today, and we had fun doing it. I woke up this morning feeling better than I have all week, and I decided it was high time to indulge in some tourist-y goodness.

We left for downtown Limerick around 1pm and made our way through some of the shops and sights. Our mission was to visit King John’s Castle. The architecture of the city is beautiful, and the history of Ireland, and Europe, for that matter, has made me appreciate mankind on the whole. If history were alcohol, America would be a single can of PBR and Europe would be the basement of a frat house kegger. I could have gotten drunk on Limerick’s history, if I hadn’t been careful.

We walked around St. Mary’s Cathedral, a Friary, the original Christian Brothers School for Boys, and Thomond Bridge, finally reaching… a freakin’ castle. Was it a tourist trap? Yes. Did we see creepy mannequins depicting scenes from the Days of Yore? Yup. Did we learn something? Hell, yes. I took so many pictures and video that my camera committed suicide. I’ll resurrect it later. Zombie-camera.

Castles. No joke. Well, maybe a tiny one…
storming the castle!

Friday, January 30, 2009

SICK: the variety pack

I made it through the week. It’s been rough at times, and fun at other times. Sometimes, it’s been both, simultaneously. I’m still sick, though, and getting worse, so I went to the campus medical centre today and spoke with a nurse.

“I have some sort of stuffed and runny nose, a very sore throat, and a nasty cough,” I said.

She looked me over, took my temperature, and finally sat down to write out a prescription.

“Now, I don’t think you’ll need much, dear. It looks like a nasty cold, is all. I’m going to recommend an over-the-counter medicine. It’s called… Soo-da-fed.”


I trudged back to my dorm, and crawled under the covers. I missed going to see the free movie. I missed being able to breathe normally. I missed my bed.

So, if Sudafed is the cure for being physically sick, what do I take to get over being homesick?

Thursday, January 29, 2009

you may think it's funny, but it's snot

The pressure is on to get my travel plans in gear. The pressure is also on my nose and sinuses. I’ve caught an Irish cold and it is suspiciously familiar to an American cold. I was told numerous times that I would either catch 3 more of these things, or possibly just carry this one around for the next several months. Like a pet. Like a stupid, annoying pet. I’m snot going to talk about it anymore.

Class today was exciting. I’m really happy and scared. It seems like it will be much more interesting subject matter, but it also seems like it will be much harder. I have several books to read, a lot of history to brush up on, and eventually, I will have to write papers in a style I am totally unfamiliar with.

I guess the one thing that doesn’t change is the Capri-sonnes.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

power of the collective mind

Rene Descartes walks into a bar. The bartender says, “Would you like a drink?”
Descartes tilts his head and replies, “I think not.”
And vanishes.

I love that joke, but I love the theory of collective thought even more, although I think it might have been Hegel’s theory, not Descartes’. Maybe it was Durkheim. Bah. My point is that I have had some fantastic group encounters tonight that didn’t involve anything dirtier than a cafeteria table.

This evening, Maureen and I went to Red Raisins CafĂ©, the biggest cafeteria on campus, for a committee meeting for the International Society. Now, I’m not planning to head up some sort of committee, but if I can get a game of Journey To The End Of The Night or The Architect and The Urchin going, I would be pretty pleased. The group seemed enthusiastic and willing to try any and all activities that would involve Irish and international students. Heck, they’re screening this movie on Friday night for free, but they seem to be relying on word-of-mouth advertising.

Word-of-mouth can be a tricky thing. Like a game of telephone, the original story could get lost in the mix. Or, maybe it’s like the story Maureen and I heard at the meeting…

“Didja hear ‘bout the American student whose coat got stolen by some gipsy? Ya, I think his name was Andrew, or something…”

His name is Anthony, and he gave his coat to a Romanian girl “because she was beautiful,” but I suspect by tomorrow the rumor will say that he was actually kidnapped by a band of gypsies and escaped, but lost his coat.

After that, we met up with Sarah and Randi at Scholars Pub for our first dose of traditional Irish music. Sarah, who plays the violin, was the picture of joy. Randi, Maureen and I also got into it. There’s a snippet of video that I took. I loved the music and how easily the group responded to changes in song. I still don’t know if they were simply practicing or improvising, but I suppose it doesn’t really matter. They did it as a group, and that is something worth watching.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

my confusion knows no bounds

Today was my second day of classes, er, modules. It began at 9am with a course in Irish Folklore. This is verrrry exciting for me, as I tend to derive great pleasure from mythology, fantasy, and folklore. Call me an escapist, I don’t care. I’ve run off to Ireland, so I won’t argue. I’m also taking a Science Fiction: Literature and Film course, but I swear I’m taking it for purely academic purposes (snigger, snort). Both modules seemed awfully full, but I was assured that none of my courses would close. There are seats for all. Huh? Really? You mean I don’t have to rush to sign up for anything or kill anyone to get a seat in the class? But that makes so much… sense.

I also discovered that Limerick residents don’t actually pay for their university education. Oh, and there aren’t any assignments throughout the semester. Students go to lectures, schedule out ‘tutorial’ times, write a paper at the end of the semester, and take an exam. That’s it.

It’s as if they want students to take responsibility for their education by treating them like adults. There aren’t any tiny hoops to jump through, or any red tape to get tangled up in. We are required to listen, read, and learn, but there aren’t any giant shadows of administration peering over our shoulders to make sure we do it. On the other hand, if I had spent my first few years in this system, I doubt I would have made it very far.

My curiosity has lead me to take courses in computer science, theater, journalism, history, art history, and a slew of disciplines that ultimately directed me to English, Sociology, and Education. I’m glad for the journey, because now there isn’t any doubt in my mind that I’m doing what I really want. I suppose there are pros and cons to both versions, but I can’t help being a little pissed off about the money.

In a country with a long and proud literary history, and a long and frustrating economic track record, I can’t say I’m too surprised. I guess I’m just confused by the boundaries I grew accustomed to back in the U.S.

Monday, January 26, 2009

School: The Final Frontier

I made it to my first class of my last semester. It was a 9am poetry course, focusing on modern poetry (read: after Yeats). It wasn’t what I expected. In fact, it seemed a bit dull. Why on Earth would I come to Ireland, study poetry, and NOT study Yeats? I think I might not take this class (classes are actually referred to as ‘modules’ here). Fortunately, I have 5 other modules to “test drive” before I make up my final schedule. Unfortunately, this was the only one I had scheduled for today. Ah, well.

I spent the rest of the day taking pictures. I’m amazed by the landscape. Not only is the campus itself beautiful, but the area surrounding it is magnificent. Did I mention that the River Shannon runs through campus? Yep. I also signed up for a few field trips to Lahinch and Dublin. These seem like promising adventures.

This evening I went to a Debate Club meeting, which might actually be the perfect club for me. After a few years of Speech Team, I know I can hold my own when it comes to public speaking. I don’t know if I’m actually prepared for this sort of debating style. I do know that I thoroughly enjoyed the company of the UL debate team, and if they are indicative of the how the rest of the students here function, then I think I shall enjoy myself very much.

Tonight’s meeting was actually a workshop on how to debate effectively. It was a much longer meeting than I had anticipated, and I think my appetite might still be a little jet-lagged. I get hungry at 8pm, and again at 2am, so, of course my stomach started rumbling mercilessly throughout the second hour of an intense, invigorating, eye-opening workshop.

“When we make an argument, we need to focus on the main points,” said the workshop leader.

“GRUMBLE, Grumble, grrrrroooooowwwwwl,” replied my stomach.

“I’m sorry, miss. What did you say?”

“Uhhh, I was just wondering how to formulate a, uh, counter-argument, um, for something you weren’t ready for,” I stuttered.

“Oh. Well. I thought you might ask that…”

Lather, rinse, repeat. The debate topic for the evening discussed whether or not insuring people’s welfare is more important than guaranteeing their rights. I had a blast with this topic, although I wasn’t technically a part of the debate team. These people really seem to know their stuff, and moreover, know how to have a good time too. After the workshop, we went to Scholars Pub, across the way from The Stables. Scholars was much more my speed. Less drinking and yelling, more talking and hearing.

I’m excited about this club. One of my favorite quotes is from an old show called “Sports Night.”

“If you’re stupid, surround yourself with smart people, and if you’re smart, surround yourself with smart people who disagree with you.” Debate team, here I come.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

town or bust

Bust. I spent most of the day reading, napping, and cooking. I was told that tonight was, “The big night to go out, because all the Irish students get back to campus.” I suppose it was a big night, for some.

Tonight was the most expensive night I’ve had in Ireland so far, and it was mainly due to cab fare. First, I went to The Stables with Maureen. Met up with some people, but it wasn’t busy at all, comparative to the past few days. We decided to go to ‘town,’ meaning Limerick City. Anthony joined us for the jaunt to Icon, a nightclub, which we promptly left. I took some pictures, but everything closes at 12:30am. That’s right, kids. Ireland, the land of beer and whiskey, has a curfew.

I had a great time with Anthony and Maureen anyways. We wandered the streets, chatted up some folks, and finally took a cab ride back to campus. Highlights of the evening included relentlessly making fun of Anthony for giving his coat to some Romanian girl, “because she was beautiful.” He has yet to get his coat back.

Overall, I’m still intrigued by the city, the culture, and everything that includes, but I am also looking forward to classes. Tomorrow!

Saturday, January 24, 2009

moving at the speed of awkward

To recap: Last night was the first “International Student Night” and the International Club set up a meet-and-greet event… in the form of Speed-Dating. For those that don’t know, “speed dating” is a special kind of torture for the Single species. Luckily, I am currently involved and have never had the opportunity to be victimized in this manner when I was single. I was one of the fortunate few last night.

I fell back on the tried-and-true method of “I can’t participate because I’m documenting this with my camera” method. It has worked wonders at weddings. At any rate, I did take part in a few rounds. The footage, or carnage, can be seen here.

Good times. After a few rounds, I decided to walk around the campus. I wound up running into my orientation guide, Steven, and his housemate, Kevin. Coerced back into the fray, I found myself having great ‘craic.’ Craic, pronounced “crack” is a word for ‘fun.’ Irish students are big on craic. Yeah, I’ve already misunderstood it as a horrible drug habit, and had plenty of laughs over the confusion. Now you can too.

After we left The Stables, which is one of two pubs located on campus, my friends and I decided to head to The Lodge, a nightclub we’d heard was great craic. It was something. A nightclub themed to look like a lodge, replete with log-shaped foundations. It was as though I had fallen into some classic fairy tale scene where The Seven Dwarfs might be DJs or Hansel and Gretel emulate The Chemical Brothers. I expected a remix of “Heigh Ho, Heigh Ho, It’s Off to Work We Go.”

I’m not a ‘clubby’ person, but I did attempt to dance, only to be reminded that I have no sense of rhythm despite the obvious, thumping bassline. Ah, well. Snarky comments aside, I actually had a lot of fun.

Have I mentioned my new friends yet? I’ve met a nice little group of American students in addition to the slew of Irish. First, there’s Anthony. He’s hilarious and always manages to be met by interesting characters, without going out his way to meet them. We both go to Northeastern, but I didn’t know him before this trip. Then there’s Maureen, who is a pistol, in her own right. She joined the softball club, and I’m looking forward to hollering my support at her first game. It turns out that Maureen and I grew up in the same suburban region of Illinois. I particularly enjoy her bluntness and sense of camaraderie. Randi is a sweetheart from Penn State, studying Comparative Literature and she seems to exist in an alternate universe where manners and femininity count, and drinking doesn’t exist. I like her universe and I like her. She’s different. Last on the roster is Sarah, a conscientious, intelligent, funny, and insightful young lady from Aurora, Illinois. I feel closest to Sarah, although we hardly know each other. Maybe it’s because we both did Speech Team. That extracurricular is the sort that stays with you your entire life. Or maybe it’s because Sarah knows how important a hug is.

Well, it’s Saturday night, and one of the 6 days that people go out and party. Maureen, Randi, and Sarah decided to come over to my dorm instead. We watched television and chatted, and I had a fantastic time with them. We would have baked cookies, but were deterred by the lack of necessary ingredients. Like baking powder. Another night, perhaps…

Friday, January 23, 2009

Orientation Day 2: The Revenge

It is only my third day here, and I already want to sleep in. The sunrise comes late. I took a few pictures. The dark one is at 8:15am.

And the other is 10am.

As Yeats once wrote, the sunrise is “cold and passionate.” Cold, indeed. I have been freezing since I arrived, and I don’t expect to warm up anytime soon. Let’s do some brief math and then I can describe the rest of the day, shall we?

Late sunrise + COLD = Shama skips the second day of orientation

I missed it, by a long shot, but not entirely of my own doing. The ceiling light in my room burned out, and then my wardrobe door fell off. Yes. Fell. Off. On my foot. After that, I didn’t want to do much of anything, except curse, which thankfully, is widely accepted in Ireland, if not outright encouraged.

After cursing and nursing my sore foot, I went out in search of the orientation group. Wildly unsuccessful. I did get to see more of the campus though, which is, in a word, astounding. I have never had an on-campus experience before, despite my long career in higher educational pursuit. This is different. I wonder what it would have been like had I gone away to school when I was younger.

I probably wouldn’t have gotten up early back then, either.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

disorientation meetings

There are orientation meetings today, all day long, and I am already 30 minutes late. I have to figure out the shower and get to a place I can’t even pronounce let alone locate. I’m excited. The last time I tried something I couldn’t pronounce it turned out to be a delicious dish of steamed dandelion stems at a little restaurant in Greektown.

Several hours later…

The day has been long and full of small glimpses of what is to come. I feel as if I have been walking along a corridor full of doorways, and each of them has a keyhole just large enough for me to curiously peek through. I went on a walking tour of the campus today, and it reminded me of the Hogwarts from my fictionalized memory. I met a good many people, many of whom were good to be met. I trudged through the rain with three new friends to a mobile phone store where I purchased a high-tech version of a glass bottle and scrap of paper, all for the low, low cost of 30 euro. I hope the bottle’s signal makes it across the Atlantic. I have people to call. It was pricey, but looking back I think I actually bought a little of the time I needed to make some friends.

I’m still lonely, but more hopeful that things will change. The Irish are charming and brash, and above all, friendly. After the meetings, the tour, the trek to buy a phone, and dinner, I meandered back to my dorm and debated whether or not to head out later with Maureen, to meet up with her future softball team. I like her, and she seems to like me, so I opted to join her even though I was freezing and exhausted.

Long story, short – I made friends. The Irish are relentlessly good talkers, and once Maureen, Anthony, and I were cornered, the only choice we had was to converse. The two fellows we met simply turned around in their seats and started talking.

I am a decent conversationalist when I need to be, but these two were amazing.

One of the better moments happened when Aidan (Irish) started calling my friend Anthony (American) a stupid bint after finding out his relatives come from Cork. Aidan had just finished a good-natured tirade about the “pretentious snobs from Cork.” I jumped in, mock-angrily demanding that he not take that tone of voice with my friend. Aidan paused for a moment, bowed his head, then looked up at me and said, “You’re right. I ought to be a bit angrier,” before bursting into laughter.

I kept thinking, “How do they manage to keep up their banter, the friendly line of questioning, the tidbits of personal history, and opinion on Ireland? Did they practice?” And then it occurred to me: they do practice. I decided that the caricature of the drunk Irishman is unfair. In America, people go to bars and get drunk. In Ireland, people go to pubs to socialize. The result is a country of people that enjoy company, and happen to enjoy it most frequently in a pub.

In Chicago, working in bars, I have seen some disgusting behavior. Things I didn’t see tonight, that I would have expected: drunken girls wearing little more than cocktail napkins, slobbering beasts of drunken men, vomit, annoyed bar staff, and idiots who insist they “can drive just fine.”

The glimpse from the evening’s final outing showed me that for the Irish, a laugh is more important than a drink, but if they can get away with having both, they will.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

ghost story

It is 11:15pm here. It is 5:15pm there. Ireland is beautiful, damp, and green, just like I’ve read. Home is far away, yet being here has made me reevaluate where home is. I feel like a ghost here.

I feel like a specter that has been whisked off by a strong wind. I feel transient, transparent, and unsubstantial. Ireland is beautiful, but I miss Chicago. I felt grounded and solid in Chicago. I suppose I felt too solid there, too comfortable, too settled and stagnant. Ireland will cure that. It has already begun.

From the grumpy airport processing officer who eventually laughed at my terrible jokes to the slew of confused international students to the cheerful University Representative, I felt off my game. Maybe it was the airline food. Maybe it was the 8+ hour-long flight. Maybe it was the concept of leaving home for an extended period of time finally sinking in. It is 11:30pm here, and after making a fairly uneventful trip to the grocery shop I have no idea what to do with myself.

I have no phone, no internet, no friends, and no idea where to procure any of these things. I have an orange bedroom and mixed feelings. I have a massive campus to maneuver and an even bigger country to explore. I have the ability to gain substance through experience, just as I have in Chicago. For tonight, I am a ghost in Ireland.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

spatial relation

It’s done. I’ve left. When I get back, there won’t be snow on the ground. I’m glad I got to go sledding before I left, even though my pants are still damp from the excursion. I’m sure no one on the plane can tell. Not that I care. I got to go sledding and they didn’t.

The plane. I’m at the point of no return. I’m sad. Really, really sad. On the other hand, I sure do like plane rides. There’s something so fascinating about seeing clouds on their own terms. It’s a little like going to a good friend’s house for the first time. You see them every day, but it’s always at some neutral location, like work, or school, or the bus stop. Clouds are much bigger in their own home.

Right. So, I’ve left. Am I ready? Not at all. I don’t know how anyone can be ready for something they’ve never done before. Scratch that. Astronauts can. Aside from astronauts, I don’t know how anyone can truly be prepared for a new experience. At least I’m prepared for this flight. I’ve taken long flights before and I am ready for this one.

6 hours later…

I’m still on this plane and I’m getting mighty sick of the view. No offense, Clouds. You have a lovely home, I just think I may have overstayed my welcome

sleeper hit

It is the night before I leave for my grand, trans-Atlantic adventure and I can’t sleep. I can’t sleep in the way that one can’t sleep when they are very young and worry that a horrid, stinking monster will eat them as soon as they doze off. I can’t sleep in the way that one can’t sleep the night before a big competition. I can’t sleep in the way that I used to not fall asleep the day before school begins.

I can’t sleep.

This is the first entry I’ve written in several months. In those months I have taken giant steps toward finishing my undergraduate degree, learned to knit, made new friends, gotten back in touch with old friends, and plotted out my final semester of school. Of the many events, trials, and encounters, the most exciting thing has been planning for my semester abroad in Limerick, Ireland.

And I can’t sleep.

I can’t sleep in the “Oh dear God, what have I done?” kind of way. I can’t sleep in the sense that my mind won’t stop whirring like a hand mixer, churning up worry, fear, excitement, curiosity, and a pinch of self-loathing to flavor the filling for my Humble Pie. I plan to bite off more than I can chew.