Wednesday, September 3, 2014

My New Life in Ireland

Dear friends and family. So here I am in Cork City, which is incredible by the way. I can show you photos, but that will never do it justice. The more I see the city. the more in-love I fall with it. It was dark out when I flew over the Atlantic, and the window was closed most of the time. I was actually sitting next to a band member from Celtic Thunder, and he opened the window at sunrise when we were over the island and flying into Shannon Airport. I remember feeling, "Wow, this is a real place! It had seemed just a dreamland up until now. Once we got off the the plane, my left ear wouldn't unplug for awhile but we walked through halls and down escalators till we got to the bottom floor and went through the gates with our passports. They had lanes with titles such as 'EU passengers, Students', and 'All other passengers'. Going through the gate was fairly easy; I just had to show my university acceptance letter, my passport, tell my birthday(the Irish way, lol), etc. Then I went to claim my baggage, which was fun. All we passengers stood around this circular conveyor belt till our suit case came out the chute. Then I went through some more doorways till I ran into Thomas, who is from London and is my resident director. He was holding up a sign with my program name on it. He gave me a warm welcome and grabbed one of my suitcases for me. Then I met up with the other study-abroad students from my program, who were all very lively after the long flight! Thomas gave us a welcome packet with some information, and visited us while we waited for the taxi driver to come. We stepped outside the airport and I breathed my first Ireland air. Beyond the parking lots and runways, I saw green grass. Once the driver arrived, we hopped into a funny-looking van and sped, (and I mean fast), down to Cork City. Trees, fields with cows and sheep, and lots of adorable-looking houses sped by. Thomas informed me that the type of single-story house is called a bungalow. They're quite colorful here! For a little while, when first driving by fields and greenery, I was thinking: "Yeah, this isn't too too different from Michigan, right? But then all of the sudden we whizzed by some awesome castle ruins and I was like,"No, that's definitely not like Michigan!" It's funny how the very old mixes with the new here; it just has to. After at least an hour, we arrived in the city and to our accommodations. The lady at the my lodge's reception desk was very friendly and pretty, and I loved the way she talked. Nothing like a first welcome. Then we brought our luggage up to our rooms, and Thomas gave us a little time to freshen up in our rooms before walking into the city and university. Okay, I love walking, but man do we ever walk here! People everywhere, (and there are a lot of them), walking throughout the city all day long. There is public transportation yes, and it's very popular, but people still seem to walk or bike places as much as they can too. But there is also a LOT of traffic and it's fast too!!! No shoulders to their roads, the sidewalk run run along the crazy traffic. So there would be no forgiveness should you trip off and fall into the street, or your dog run out. People here live more fearlessly and dangerously. I watch buses full of passengers whip around tight corners and barely miss the small cars. People also J-walk all the time. Though you're supposed to wait till the green man shows up on the crossing post, still you see people make a run for it across and sometimes cars slam on their brakes and honk at them. It's hilarious. Even today at my orientation, some of our speakers admitted that they do this and told us not to follow their example! So...into the city we went. There are such cute shops everywhere, I couldn't count them. One of our stops was to an adorable little shop called The Bagel Box, where I got the most delicious croissant I've ever tasted, (I mean, have I even ever had one before?), as well as a cup of tea. I love how at every coffee/tea shop in Ireland there are little open pictures of cold milk or cream. I've actually noticed that when you step into a lot of these shops, especially chocolate shops, it smells like the milk house of a dairy barn, because it's so fresh. And yes, food here is SO good, it really is. And Thomas told it's partly due to the fact that this is an island and it's hard to get some things imported in. Cost of living is definitely higher than in the States though, so bringing as many personal and comfort items from home is a good idea. However, we discovered that some things are cheaper too. Such as hair dryers, certain fruits and vegetables, etc. There are many many sandwich & soup joints as well, and people are often sitting at cute little tables with a mug of coffee and chatting happily. The weather here is actually much better than I thought! Throughout the day, it will be both sunny and partly cloudy off and on, and it's mostly good for light jackets or a sweaters. But it will often feel even too warm for your jacket too, say when the sun shines and it's humid. It's quite pleasant! All day as I walk and walk around, I am mesmerized by the incredible architecture. These building are intricate, and there are artistic metal gates everywhere. Lots of thick vines hang over rock walls, and willow bows sweep over the River Lee. This is totally my type of place. There are some things to get used to of course too though: such as finding supplies. I see why it's a great idea to bring a generous amount of euros with me since I needed a few things right away. Today I found out that my card does work though! Thankfully there is a Penny's store here and they have the best prices for dorm supplies. But I forgot my money the first time our group went there, so I went to Tesco's later, which has both groceries and house  supplies, and bought a pack of two pillows for 17 euro, a pot plant, flour towel for my bathroom, etc. Walking to Tesco's, I was besides a sweet Irish woman who answered some of my questions and showed me how to retrieve a 'trolly' for shopping, which are locked up and you have to put a euro in a slot to use. I was desperate to get a good night's sleep last night, so I went to bed early and the pillows were so worth it. I was a bit cold as I slept though and had to wake up in the middle of the night to turn my heater on. So thankful there's a heater! I still have yet to get a duvet for my bed, as most stores have quickly gone out of stock while students have been grabbing them left and right. I'm very glad I brought my small fleece blanket, and I recommend this to anyone else thinking of coming here. I realize that when you're a guest in another country it's important to practice gratitude for EVERY small thing, and learn to live simply. The Irish people are a little more relaxed than Americans, and most businesses close up earlier.