Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Why Ireland?

My decision to study abroad was a simple one...I just told myself I wanted to go and took the necessary steps (more on that later). But I committed, mentally, before I really realized what I was doing. If you know me at all, you know that I like my comforts. Before I arrived at SMC, I couldn't stand being alone, I was a picky eater (OK, I still am, but I'm branching out), and I needed to know that I could be home from school in under 3 hours. My first flight alone was my senior year of high school when I visited a good friend in Chicago. But that was just for a weekend...this is for 6 months. And Ireland and New England are an ocean apart. And that's why I can't believe I'll be getting on a plane on Saturday with no intention of coming home until the middle of June. I've flown somewhere each semester (with the exception of the first): Iowa, twice, to visit my best friend; Cleveland to visit another; Washington, D.C. for a John Mayer concert. I love flying...but my max flight time is 3 hours. So we'll see how my body feels after staying in the same position for 6 hours. It's an overnight flight, but I doubt I'll be sleeping.

I like lists. They help me stay on top of everything I juggle. Here are two that may give you a sense of the work it takes to study abroad (the reward will be sweet, though, I'm sure!):

Things I've done in prep for Cork:
  • Applied to study abroad with SMC. That included a bunch of research on programs (there are about 5 U.S. programs that SMC has approved that offer study abroad in Cork...and I'm VERY indecisive), getting lots of signatures and a few letters for recommendation, writing a personal statement, etc. Basically a few meetings with SMC's study abroad advisor, Peggy Imai, a few phone calls to programs, a lot of running around, and some writing.
  • Applied to the study abroad through API (Academic Programs International, the program I finally selected). Perks of this program include a trip to Paris -- obviously couldn't turn that one down. API helped me then apply to study at UCC (University College Cork -- it actually has a longer name that states it's part of the national university system), the 14,000-student school I'll be studying at. They have about 2,000 international students each year -- that's the number of kids at SMC.
  • Filled out a billion and one forms: health forms, flight forms, housing forms...sign this, print that, send this one in, get a notary to stamp this, etc. etc. Lots of things to complete, but API mapped it out pretty well. Technological errors screwed me up a bit, but the staff was nice and helpful.
  • Completed online orientation for API and UCC. I think I've done this...there are parts that I can't finish till I get there (i.e. I don't know my address yet -- normally not knowing exactly where I'm living would freak me out, but I'm actually excited that I won't know details till I'm there). This was just some reading to help me prepare for the trip and for UCC.
Things I still need to do:
  • PACK. I need to clear a place in my room where I can spread everything out and then cut out all of the unnecessary items I may or may not use. My plan is to start this process this afternoon.
  • Open a (better) bank account. In Ireland, Americans don't need visas, but we do need Irish Identification Cards. To get one, I have to fork over about 300 Euro and prove that I have more money on hand should I need to stay in the country longer than expected. The bank system is much more limited over there too; there aren't a whole slew of banks to choose from. The economy in Ireland isn't so hot right now, so I'm going to stick to an American bank and rely on ATM access if I need it. My current bank has a bunch of processing and international fees attached to it, so I need to switch.
  • Shop for essentials I don't have. I don't want to get stuck in Cork without sunscreen (apparently pretty expensive over there).
  • GO. Say my goodbyes and get on that plane.
OK, so an answer to this post's title: Why Ireland? First of all, why the heck not? It's beautiful (I hear), the people are wicked friendly (I hear), and they speak English (I know that makes me sound like a stuck-up American, but honestly, I'm thankful that I don't HAVE TO learn Irish to get by...I love languages, but Gaelic/Irish seems to be much different from English and German, the only two languages I know). Aside from these reasons, I want to look into my roots. I've inherited my dad's interest in genealogy, and I'm so excited to research my family's history. We can trace our Irish roots to Dunmanway and Drinagh, small towns less than an hour outside of Cork. Jeremiah Desmond, my great-great-great-grandfather came to North America with his family in the mid-1800s. His father was Thomas...I'm hoping to find out some info about him. Even if I don't dig up any dirt of my ancestry, there's got to be some cool feeling attached to walking the streets your relatives walked centuries ago. I hope to spend a weekend or two in Dunmanway, looking at parish records that might give me more of a clue as to where I come from.

The flip side of this Irish genealogy search is my German heritage. My grandmother came to the U.S. to marry my grandfather after WWII. All of her family members, most of whom I have never met, are still in Germany. (This will be my first trip to Europe.) After my program is over, I'm flying to Munich to (finally!) meet some of my great aunts and uncles, and second cousins. I haven't spoken much German lately, but I think I know enough to carry a conversation. I'll also hopefully be visiting a friend in Wegberg (outside of Duesseldorf). My main goals in spending a few weeks in Deutschland are to get to know my mom's side of the family better, buy fun Birks, eat breakfast pretzels to my heart's content, and buy a dirndl (just to say I own one).

Other trip ideas/plans include: all over Ireland (definitely the Republic, though I may make a trip up to Derry in Northern Ireland), Paris (at least once with my program, hopefully again to visit my roomies!), Rome (for Easter! -- a Catholic's dream), and the Greek Isles (the only place I absolutely HAVE to go while I'm in Europe; I'll regret it if I don't go). We'll see how realistic these plans are...my family and friends shouldn't expect any souvenirs -- sorry, but my money will be spent on travel! I've heard that's the best way to do it.

I should get going. It's great to plan things out, but now I need to get cracking!

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Home for the Holidays

I was so anxious to get home just so I could be finished with things to do, but I've managed to keep busy for the past few days. There are presents to wrap, people to see, appointments to go to (ugh, I hate physicals), oh - and packing to do. It's a little overwhelming, but I'm trying to relax for a few days before gearing up next week. I'm run-down from finals week, and late nights started off my break. (I'm not really sure if people tend to post play-by-plays of their days like this on blogs, but I think it'll give you a sense of what I'll be leaving behind.) I went to my cousin's house after he and my aunt moved me out of the dorm on Saturday, and we stayed up last catching up and listening to music. I met up with my parents and brother the following day, and we did some Christmas shopping. I spent 6 hours going to and from Boston (it's 90 miles from me) to pick up my sister from school on Monday...traffic was unreal. Then, Monday night/Tuesday morning my ear started to throb and it pretty painful...God only knows how I'll go through labor someday. I stayed up all night, cupping my ear with a heating pad then an ice pack, watching the HSN with my mom (thanks, Mom). Luckily, I had a doctor's appointment early in the morning (a half-hour appointment, by the way, that lasted two hours!). So I tried to suck it up. It is indeed an infection, and I'll be taking horse pills till I leave. Better now than while I'm over there, I guess.

Today I had brunch with a friend who went to Cork last year at this time. It's always nice to pick someone's brain, and with life's big changes I always ask Emmy, who is a year older than I am. A pseudo- big sister, she's helped me prepare for a bunch of transitions. She brought me luggage to borrow, some outlet adapters, and an Irish stamp she had left over. I also got a lot of tips on packing and traveling & that kind of thing. It got me really excited to leave! I've been excited, of course, but it hasn't seemed real, I guess. I have a laundry list of things to get done before January 1, so I hadn't thought about being over there, just prepping for it. Today, though, it kinda hit me that I'm going SOON.

Well, a holiday concert is on TV and I can't listen to music and write at the same time so I'm off for now...

Friday, December 17, 2010

Semester's End

Well, final exams are over at long last. I'm tired (I went to bed at 4 a.m. this morning after finishing a paper I've known about all semester...and I did that the night before too). My roommates have all left so the suite is empty. They're going abroad, too, so they had to pack their rooms up. Everything is white. Everything echoes. It's really depressing. I like the quiet, though.

Today I had to run errands around campus to tie up the semester and I had to make a list of all of the places I had to go and things I needed to do; that's how scatter-brained I've been this week. I tried to balance the workload with fun stuff -- I wanted to savor the last few days of my junior year here. Six months in Europe is a long time. That hasn't really hit me yet, but I know it will. At the same time, I hear study abroad flies by. Still, it's half a year.

I have to go close up my residence hall (my last RA duty of the year!), but once I'm home and grounded (albeit briefly), I'll catch everyone up to speed on my big Irish plans.

Till then...slainte ("Cheers" in Gaelic, though the "a" has an acute accent that I haven't yet figured out how to make on my keyboard)!