January 16, 2012

My return to the U.S. was more exhausting than anything else. The full day of travel helped to ease my anxiousness about letting my life change so completely once again. By this time, I had realized that everything back home did not pause simply because I left. I was not just returning to the life I had left behind three months ago, unchanged. My whole world in Richmond continued moving and evolving, just as I had been doing in Derry. It was traveling down one path, while I was following a completely different one. My task now was to make these two paths reconnect somehow.

On the seven hour flight home, I attempted to compartmentalize my feelings. I decided that, during the first half of my flight, I was allowed to mourn my departure from Derry. The second half, however, was dedicated to yearning to see my family again. I could think of nothing better than just sitting on the couch watching television with my dad and mom. I wanted to play with my dogs and drive around in my car with the windows down and music blasting. I saw so many amazing things while I traveled, but coming back home would be just as beautiful.

The cliche saying “you don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone” never made so much sense to me. It applies to coming back home to Richmond as well as leaving my home in Derry. I made a revelation during my time abroad about the meaning of life. Humans have been trying to decipher this universal mystery since we could think and analyze. I decided that at least part of it must involve creating as many homes in the world as you possibly can. The world exists for people to explore and discover and adapt to. Derry will now always be a place where I can be comfortable and feel at home. It has a meaning for me that only a select few would actually be able to understand. If my conclusion about life is true, I, myself, am not doing so bad. I was born and lived in Kenosha, Wisconsin until I was eleven years old — home number one. I then moved to Richmond, where I have been living for almost ten years — home number two. Living in Derry for those three months created my home number three. I can only hope that I continue this trend in years to come.

The worst part about my travels back to America was not the sadness of leaving Derry, or the anticipation to be in my house again, but the feeling of being in a limbo between the two places. While choosing the cheapest flights with the best times, I signed myself up for a 7 hour layover in the Newark airport. You can imagine my frustration when contemplating the fact that my layover was indeed longer than my flight from Belfast. This was the time that seemed like an agonizing purgatory. I no longer could call Derry my place of residence, but I was not home, either. I was a nomad, wanting to find the next place to set up shop, but every obstacle was in my way.

Sitting in those uncomfortable airport seats, I watched people come and go. Some sat down longer than others, but none as long as me. I tried to read a book, but could not concentrate. Music wasn’t satisfying either. All I could do was sit and think and wait. The hours dwindled down until there were only around 30 people sitting around one last gate when boarding started. My exhaustion overcame me before our tiny plane even took off. I awoke just as we were landing in Richmond. I pulled together all of the energy that I could muster to trudge to my baggage claim carousel. I stood in a daze as luggage slipped by me when I felt a tap on my shoulder. It was my mother. With a surprised exclamation of “Ma!”, I gave her a hug, and I was home. It felt like I was finally sitting down to relax after the longest and most tiring, yet satisfying, day of my life.

This experience has changed me completely. I would not be the person I am today had I not studied abroad. It made me hungry to delve into more cultures and explore more places. It made traveling less of an impossible unknown and more of a feasible necessity. I conquered one city. There is no telling what I am capable of doing now. As for me, I’m just excited to find out.

Saying Goodbye.

January 9, 2012

My last week in Derry came and went far too quickly. After winter break officially began, the Student Village, including my particular flat, was a ghost town. Only the international students remained. I tried to get out into the city as much as possible during this time to keep from contemplating my impending departure. Never have I felt so conflicted in my life. On one hand, I could not stand to think about leaving my new home, but on the other, I could not wait to return to the utterly familiar. The only word that could describe it is bittersweet.

I decided not to travel during my last few days- more due to insufficient monetary resources than to any other factor. It was fulfilling, however, to just concentrate on completely absorbing my new favorite city. It was rewarding to tread the same beaten path that had seemed so new and unfamiliar three months prior. It is amazing to see such quick adaptation in myself. Where once I had stared blankly into my wallet before pulling out the correct coins a minute later, I could now blindly navigate my purse in seconds. If I had gained nothing else from this experience, I am now proficient in three currencies thank-you-very-much. To this day, I only have a £10 Irish note in my wallet… the re-assimilation process is slow going to say the least.

During the past month or so, I had been rushing around in Derry and on campus like a crazy person. My main focus at the time had been academic work, work, work. Now I actually had time to stop and just enjoy the expansive views of Derry. Because the Foyle River cuts somewhat of a valley through the city, from the top of campus you can see clear across the river to the neighborhoods and fields on the other side. It is amazing how much you can see on an average day- providing that the weather is clear of course. It just makes the city of Richmond seem too flat, or too big, I suppose. Here is a picture of the city:

Making the leaving process so much easier though, was having a close friend who was going through the same thing. Megan was set to leave the night before I was, so we were both sadly counting down the days. She and I frequented our favorite restaurants and pubs in our last days. We shopped for souvenirs to bring home and went to places we had been wanting to go to all semester. We were determined to leave no rock unturned in that city. On our last nights we visited Peadar O’Donnells quite a bit. This is everyone’s favorite pub in Derry. It is the most authentic, right down to the live Irish music played every night. To our great fortune, the father of our best Irish friend Tomas’ band played there most of those nights. Here is a picture inside of the pub with an Irish flag proudly hanging on the ceiling:

There is no better way to take in the Irish culture than to stomp and clap along to Irish songs with friends in a pub. Here is a picture of Me, Tomas, Megan and our friend Ronan on my last night in Peadars:

I was holding back the tears after Tomas’ father dedicated a song to Megan and me. This was the best form of farewell I could have asked for.

Fun Fact #17: Similar to how some Americans refer to their mothers as “ma”, the Irish refer to their fathers as “da”.

Fun Fact #18: Some Irish pound notes feature a picture of the Bushmills whiskey brewery that I visited earlier in the semester.

A Last Minute Trip.

January 3, 2012

Seven days before all final work was due Megan, Tomas, and I hightailed it to Scotland. It was to be our final excursion of the semester. After what seemed like less than an hour flight, we arrived in Edinburgh. Being late at night, we just headed to our hotel for the night. Much to our surprise, our room was spectacularly modern- a welcome change from Derry. Our building was also right on the water so we had a great view. From what we saw, Scotland looked relatively similar to Ireland, but was much, much colder.

The next morning, we got all bundled up and headed to the train station. Our destination? St. Andrews. Not only would Megan be able to fulfill her parents’ wish of walking on the famous greens of the St. Andrews golf course, but I could see my good friend and fellow Spider, Kate. She has been studying at University of St. Andrews. Needless to say, we were all very excited about the day ahead of us.

The train to St. Andrews passed over some beautiful rivers and scenery. When you are in Europe, it is difficult not to miss something. Everything is intriguing and interesting- the nature, the buildings, the people. I could not get enough of simply looking around. Purely observing my surroundings would have been good enough for me.

Meeting up with my UR friend Kate was uplifting. It was just enough of home to help me to the end of the semester. I had been homesick lately, but seeing her washed those feelings away. After visiting the St. Andrew’s Links Golf Course, Kate showed us around a bit. We visited the ruins of a cathedral and a castle. It is amazing that such sights could not really be seen in America. Here’s a picture of Kate and me:

Back in Edinburgh at night, we happened upon a German food festival near the train station. Spontaneous events such as this have been the highlight of my trip abroad. The next day in the city we followed this trend by wondering aimlessly through the intertwining alleyways and streets of Edinburgh. The easiest way to gain the feel of a city is to just walk around and explore. Our main plan for the day was however to visit Edinburgh Castle.

Finally I fulfilled one of my main goals of going abroad- visiting a castle. Perched atop a hill in the city, the views were remarkable. We were even able to see across the water to St. Andrews where we had been the day before. In the distance, the mountains were covered with snow. We explored the dungeons, the oldest building in Scotland, chambers of Scottish royalty, as well as saw the Crown Jewels. Here’s a picture of the castle:

Our last day in Edinburgh ended with a ghost tour in the crypts underneath the city. On that frightening note, I returned to Derry where all of my final work waited for me. Famous for procrastination, I headed straight to the computer lab to get my work done. After a long week of nonstop work, I had finished and turned in the work for all three of my modules.

For graphic design, I just needed to edit projects created previously in the semester. Finishing up the work for this module took no time at all. Animation and 3D however were the most time consuming. I needed to finish up my dinosaur character for 3D as well as make my robot character walk for Animation. Both proved to be difficult tasks, but here is what I came up with:

Now all that lay ahead of me was my last week here in Derry and my long, long journey home…

Fun Fact #15: The oldest pub in Derry is called the River Inn. It has recently been converted into a much more modern bar.

Fun Fact #16: Irish people call potatoes spuds.

The Work of a Giant.

December 6, 2011

As the final weeks of term loom ahead, I would like to reminisce about being new to this whole living in Europe thing. Back in the day (sure seems like a heck of a lot longer than just 3 months), I felt the electric excitement of exploring Derry and its surrounding areas. Early on in the semester, a group of American students and I decided to hop on a train one Saturday morning and take it to the coast. Two hours and a long stream of breathtaking landscapes later, we arrived at the Giant’s Causeway on Northern Ireland’s Antrim Coast.

When researching the must-see sights of Ireland, the Giant’s Causeway always tops the list. Ever since I saw a picture of this geological phenomenon, I knew I needed to see it. My American companions all had the same thought. Just as we stepped off the bus, rain began to fall. It didn’t matter to us, though — we were determined. An advisor here at Magee actually told me that going to the coast in less-than-perfect weather was kind of a good idea. She said that seeing the waves violently crash against the coast made the cliffs and sights dramatic to behold. Anticipation was building as we made it all the way down the winding coastal path, passing signs warning of falling rocks. We rounded a final rock wall, and then we saw it. There is no way to describe it. Pictures don’t even do it justice. It’s one of those sights that you have to experience in person. Here are some pictures to give you an idea:

The Giant’s Causeway is basically a path of huge circular rocks projecting into the sea. Millions of years ago, the lava of an erupted volcano cooled in a certain way to form the almost perfectly circular rocks. It is really amazing because they look completely manmade. Even more interesting than the science behind the causeway is the Irish myth (and its namesake) about the place. The story is that an Irish giant named Finn MacCool wanted to battle with a Scottish giant known as Benandonner. Finn built a great stone bridge to link Ireland with Scotland so that Benandonner could cross. As Benandonner began approaching Ireland, his sheer figure terrified MacCool into hiding. The myth goes that MacCool was disguised as a baby and was placed in a giant crib. Upon seeing the ‘baby’, Benandonner did not want to imagine how massive MacCool would be if that was the size of his child. Quickly he turned around and ripped up the pathway as he ran back to Scotland.

As we were exploring the Causway, the rain finally let up and we were able to see the sights really well. We then took another bus to the nearby town of Bushmills. The attraction here? Ireland’s famous Bushmills Whiskey brewery, of course! We took a tour of the plant and learned about how “the water of life” is made. This is the literal translation of the Irish word for whiskey! They sure do love it here. A picture of the factory even appears on some Irish £20 notes. At the end of the tour we were offered a sampling of the whiskey. I’d have to say it was a wee bit strong for my tastes… Here is a picture of me next to a bunch of Bushmills barrels:

The next stop on our journey of the coast was the resort town of Portrush. Seeing it during the month of September obviously wouldn’t reveal all that the place has to offer, but it was beautiful in any case. The city is a place where many families in Ireland and the UK come to vacation. Here I finally had my authentic Irish Fish and Chips that I had been dying for! Here’s a picture:

Reflecting on it now, that trip really opened my eyes to the wonders that exist outside the borders of the United States. It made me hungry to see more and more of what else is out there! This is probably the reason why Megan and I planned a last minute trip over to Scotland. With only 2 weeks until all my final artwork is due, it’s proper crazy if you ask me! Well, at least I’m making progress. Here’s a wee picture of my latest work-in-progress creation… he will end up being a dinosaur of sorts:

Fun Fact #13: The Titanic was built in Northern Ireland’s capital of Belfast.

Fun Fact #14: The HBO series Game of Thrones is shot here. I met someone who was actually an extra in next season’s filming that took place earlier this semester. Also, Rihanna’s video for “We Found Love” was shot near Belfast. Apparently she was filming in a farmer’s field, but the shoot got a little too risqué, so the farmer kicked her off his land.

Adventures in Paris.

November 29, 2011

Since we met each other in September, Megan, Lauren, and I had been talking about taking a trip together. We all wanted to venture deeper into Europe and have a wee vacation away from Derry. We unanimously decided on Paris. We had been told several times that we would fall in love with the city if we visited. A professor had also mentioned that an airline called EasyJet always had cheap tickets for travel within Europe, so our planning began.

We researched several different hostels within the city and settled on one that had pretty good reviews online. The only downside to this particular establishment was that management only spoke French. Having a history with the French language, our little group relied on me to deal with any transactions in my very simple French.  It turned out to be no problem at all.

On our first night in the City of Love we explored a bit trying to find somewhere suitable to eat. I’m not sure about my friends, but I know that I was a bit nervous to walk into a restaurant and order off a menu only written in French. We happily stumbled upon a restaurant/café with the menu posted outside (written in both French and English). The waiter happened to be standing outside when he heard us speaking. It must have been a novelty for him to run into Americans because he seemed excited to learn where in the States we all were from. He guided us inside and immediately recommended the duck- a French classic. Lauren and I decided to try as many French foods as possible while we were in Paris, so we went with his suggestion. It was absolutely lovely. At the end of our meal we chose crème brulee as our dessert to celebrate our trip to Paris. To our surprise, the waiter (who we later referred to as “nice French man”) also brought out a dish of chocolate mousse to welcome us to the great city. As we were leaving he also quickly wrote down metro directions to the Eiffel tower which we were planning to see the next morning. My experience in Paris proved the stereotype that the French dislike Americans completely false.

The next morning we took the lift all the way to the tip top of the Eiffel Tower. The views were remarkable to say the least. I have been in some pretty tall buildings (like the Sears Tower in Chicago) but it is much different to be that high in the open air. Megan and Lauren were a bit skeptical in taking the second lift all the way to the topmost level. I was too excited to look around the be nervous. My knees however did start to quake a bit when we took the stairs down from the second level to the first level. Its very strange to be that high up on an open air structure when you can feel the wind blowing. It will definitely be something I will never forget.

After we made it all the way back down, we walked a good distance away to get a view of the monument from afar. We walked by a street artist with work displayed and I fell in love with some of his drawings. I ended up buying 4 of them and the artist gave me another one for free- see, the stereotype being broken. You can see his work at this website:

While taking some pictures, we ran into another group of American students. They were all from St. Cloud in Minnesota and were currently studying in Germany. It was very strange to hang out with some other Americans for a while. I love the people here in Europe, but it was just refreshing to talk to people going through a similar experience. From the tower we all walked to the Arc de Triomphe and the Champs-Élysées. We walked around for a while then made plans to meet up with the other Americans later for drinks. Being the American girls that we are, Lauren, Megan, and I decided to see all the stores lining the Champs-Élysées- a big shopping location in Paris. We grabbed dinner which included a lovely appetizer of snails. I have had escargot before, so I knew what I was getting myself into. It was great to see Megan and Laruen’s faces as they tasted it for the first time. I was then able to check that off the foods-to-eat-in-Paris list.

While talking to the American students we had met, we came up with the best meeting place ever- under the Eiffel tower. That night we actually ended up going to and Irish themed pub which made the three of us feel at home.

The next morning we had three things on our to do list- Versailles, the Louvre, and Notre Dame. Because Versailles is further out of the city, we decided to go there first. After several buses and trains, we finally got there. And all the traveling was well worth it. The place is massive. And beautiful. In fact, it is so massive and beautiful that there are bikes for rent to take around the gardens and that is exactly what we did. We rode all around the grounds and the pond and just enjoyed the lovely day. Before we left we took a tour of the larger palace and were amazed at the size and grandeur of the place. There are countless rooms with crystal chandeliers and hundreds of pieces of artwork. There were salons with paintings big enough to take up the entire wall. In several rooms, the ceilings were completely painted with Bible scenes. Here are a few  pictures of Versailles:

After we felt so completely like princesses, we decided to head to the Louvre. Not having planned much of our trip in advance, we sadly arrived at the Louvre to find that the museum portion was closed for the day due to a national holiday. This was slightly disappointing, but who can be sad in Paris?! We headed on to the Notre Dame and realized that day was November 11, 2011. That’s 11/11/11. So at 11:11 pm on 11/11/11 we could make the most epic wish ever underneath the Eiffel tower. We had a bit of time to kill so we enjoyed the Notre Dame Cathedral from every angle and wandered the streets of Paris for a while. Then our last night in Paris ended while sitting underneath the Eiffel Tower making wishes. It was magical.

Fun Fact #11: Young people in Northern Ireland are paid a “living expense” to go to school when they are around the age of people in high school. My friend Tomas said, “Aye, I think we were given about 30 quid a week”.

Fun Fact #12: “Aye” means “yeah”. People here never say “yeah”. They also never say “little”. Everything is always just “wee”.

Hallowe’en Night

November 16, 2011

Ever since I got to Derry, I have been told again and again about Halloween night. “It’s a shame you’re missing St. Patrick’s Day,” people would say, “but at least you get Halloween!” People around here flock to the city centre for this holiday. The town puts on a parade and a firework show over the Foyle River. The bars and pubs are packed with costumed celebrators.

My Halloween celebrations actually started quite early. Tomas, my Irish friend, and his father picked up me and my two American friends at the Student Village (on-campus housing) around 4 pm. It felt a little strange walking down the street this early already dressed as Dorothy from head to toe. I’m not going to lie… I got a few strange looks. We headed over to Tomas’ house to eat dinner with his family. His mother made lasagna and served it with chips. All the food here comes with chips… even Chinese. (And when I say chips, I am of course talking about french fries.)

Followed by dinner was dessert. This dessert was extra special, because it was the first pumpkin pie Tomas had ever baked. See, a week previously, Megan, Tomas, and I got together to carve pumpkins and bake pies. Megan and I found it terribly strange that carving pumpkins and eating pumpkin pie are not really part of the Halloween tradition here. Very few Irish people I have met have ever carved a pumpkin, and many didn’t even know that it could be made into a dessert. Tomas was slightly embarrassed to be carrying around our five pumpkins in the supermarket, as he was getting some strange looks. We explained to him that carrying around a bunch of pumpkins in America only inspired more Halloween spirit in onlookers. Not only is it interesting to learn about the culture here, but it feels great to introduce others to some of our fun traditions. Here is a picture of the lovely jack-o-lanterns we made that night (mine, Megan’s, and Tomas’):

Later on Hallowe’en night (how many people in Europe spell the word), we headed into town to take part in all of the festivities. We caught a couple minutes of the Halloween parade before heading over to the banks of the Foyle River to get a good spot for the fireworks. They shot the fireworks high above the river, choreographed to a soundtrack. It was definitely a sight to see. Not only were the fireworks amazing, but the number of people who came out dressed in their Halloween best was astounding. I quite enjoyed watching as all the costumes walked by. After the events in town were over, we headed to a Halloween party held in the Students Union. The night truly was a blast. Here’s a picture of Megan, me, and Lauren in our costumes:

Fun Fact #9: Traffic lights here go from red, to yellow, to green as well as from green, to yellow, to red.

Fun Fact #10: Electrical plugs have on and off switches here. This can get quite annoying for us Americans, because we always seem to plug something in, but forget to hit the on switch… so my phone will just end up sitting there, not charging.

Oh Yeah, That School Thing.

November 1, 2011

Going abroad is quite an experience. It is, however, grounded by that one thing that actually got you here in the first place — school. Living in a foreign country and traveling may be the most exciting aspect to studying abroad, but there is still work to be done. Up until this point in my blog, I have really neglected to talk about anything school-related, so here I go.

I am about a month and a half into my stay here, and the schoolwork is coming in at full force. While preparing to go abroad, I heard many times that the teaching style in Europe is very different, and that final grades are often determined by a single exam or paper. This is true in many cases, but my field of study dictates something much different. I am taking three design modules (what we call classes) that are largely computer based. At Richmond, they are transferring in as Studio Art credits. In these type of classes, work is constantly due. Whether it be sketches, print-outs, or final pieces, the module coordinators (or professors) keep you working. In this case, final grades are earned from turning in all revised coursework at the end of the semester. I like this method of teaching because, after a critique, I am able to apply changes to the final product that is turned in.

One fault I have with the university system here is that classes only meet once a week for about 4 hours. The idea is to give students ample time for independent work, but I would much rather learn from a professor and gain experience in the classroom. This is part of studying abroad, though — learning different ways of doing something.

Although the classes are set up differently, I am finding them extremely interesting and beneficial. I am learning computer programs that I probably wouldn’t have used back at Richmond. In my Animation course, we are learning to animate scenes using Adobe Flash. When we get further along with the course, I will post an animated video on my blog. I am also taking a Graphic Design module in which we use InDesign, Photoshop, and Illustrator quite a bit. This week we critiqued a poster design brief (what we call a project). Here is a picture of my class’s posters:

My most challenging class is 3D modeling. We are learning a program called 3D Studio Max. Designers use it for character and product design. Imagine a scene in a video game — it was probably created in this program, or a program like it. It is engaging material, but definitely a little more difficult to understand. I still have over a month until my final projects are due, so I think I will get a handle on it!

I have been spending a lot of time in the Learning Resource Center (basically a library — reminds me of exam week last year!) to get work done. My advice would be to get most of your work done during the week so you are free to explore during the weekends! I made sure to get everything done this week because Halloween is Monday, and they do Halloween big here — I’m talking thousands of people, costumes, parades, and fireworks. My next post will definitely be about this event!

Fun Fact #7: While living here in Derry, I have learned that people are not expected to tip. You don’t tip taxi drivers, you don’t tip waitresses, and you don’t tip at the bar. I have to say that I am a fan of this cultural difference!

Fun Fact #8: Shelled peanuts are called monkey nuts. People generally don’t eat peanut butter although it is sold in stores (doesn’t taste the same as good ol’ Jiff). Jell-O is called jelly. Jelly is called jam. And most people haven’t heard of a PB&J.

Good Craic.

October 17, 2011

When visiting Ireland, it is essential to know the meaning of this expression. No, it’s not what you’re thinking, and I didn’t misspell anything. The noun craic basically means “fun” or “what’s going on”. Expressions such as “It will be good craic” or “What’s the craic for tonight?” are used often. And let me tell you, Derry is good craic.

Up until now in my blog, I have discussed my issues with traveling, as well as information I have learned about my new place of residence. Now it is time for me to let my hair down and talk about all the fun and excitement there is to be had – I mean, it is college for heaven’s sake. I am currently in the UK and, as many of you may know, the legal drinking age here is 18. This is by no means a reason to study here or even study abroad in general. It is just a fact that changes aspects about the college lifestyle. And by that, I mean it brings pubs into the picture.

Here in Ireland, pubs are a huge part of the culture. When walking in the city, you pass pub after pub after pub. There are hundreds of them and they are all packed almost every night of the week. I can only imagine the great economic impact these establishments have on the local economy. (They sure have an impact on the weight of my wallet.) Pubs are not places to drink too much beer and get wasted every night. They are places to gather socially — to catch up with friends and to listen to music together (and a lot of the time, it’s traditional Irish music). When explaining to some American students, an Irish woman actually made a comparison between Irish pubs and American coffee houses. They provide that type of atmosphere. So, it is no surprise that Irish students go to pubs, bars, and clubs 4 to 5 nights out of the week. Not to mention, there’s a uni bar with events every Monday and Thursday. This may seem impossible to an American student with class every day of the week and piles of homework. Here, the style of teaching is much different. Each module (or class) only meets once a week for a few hours and most students only take 3 modules. This allows for loads of free time in which students are expected to do the majority of work independently. It also allows time for us to get dressed up and go out during the week.

During my first weekend here, I had the great fortune of meeting an Irish guy, Tomas, who goes to school with me at Magee (that’s the name of my campus). I became friends with two American girls, Megan from Idaho and Lauren from North Carolina, during our week of orientation. On our first Friday night, we went to a pub where we ran into Tomas… see, a social atmosphere. Since then, he has introduced us to many of his Irish friends who we have been having great fun with. One thing I will always say about Derry after my trip is that the people here are ridiculously nice — so helpful and generous. It feels really nice to be accepted into a group of friends who have known each other since primary school (elementary to us). I definitely have met one of my goals: making friends with Irish students. Here’s a picture of Megan, Me, and Tomas at a club one night:

Through the process of having fun and creating a lifestyle here, sometimes I forget where I am. I have to sit and think a minute: wow, I am in Ireland; I am on a completely different piece of land than the one where I grew up and have lived my whole life. I can’t drive 20 minutes and go see my Ma and Da (Mom and Dad to Irish kids). I suppose this phenomenon is a positive thing; it means I am comfortable here and that it is becoming home. But sometimes the realization that I am not in America anymore slaps me across the face or literally rumbles the ground under my feet. One night this week, I was out shooting pool with some friends, having a normal night, when there was a loud bang and the ground shook. It was a bomb. Yeah, not in Virginia anymore.

The police had found a bomb in the City of Culture office and set it off as a controlled explosion. They barricaded the area so no one was injured. Here is a picture from outside the bar I was in when the explosion went off:

From what I have heard, a car was blown to pieces and the building was pretty damaged. What surprised me was the reaction of my Irish friends. They were so nonchalant about it. The explosion was literally a block away. They just looked out the window of the bar and continued on with our game of pool. Startled, my friend Lauren said, “Why the heck was there a bomb?!” Our Irish friend Brian simply replied, “It’s Derry.”  It makes me realize that, although it may not seem very different here, there are struggles going on that I will probably never face at home.

Fun Fact #5: In Ireland, the solid balls in pool are called “plains”.

Fun Fact #6: Exit signs are little green running men. You see them EVERYWHERE. Here’s a picture:

So Much to Do, So Much to See.

October 3, 2011

Induction for international students at the University of Ulster (a.k.a. UU) is not unlike freshman orientation at UR. We had a very detailed itinerary with several meetings and speakers. Some parts were — how shall I say this? — less exciting than others. It definitely included information that I needed to hear, but my favorite day, by far, came on Friday– the day of registration and the city tour.

I had my enrollment form filled out and all ready to go by early Friday morning. I’m pretty sure my school here is fairly new to the whole online registration thing. I had a paper form filled out by hand, but then they led students into a computer lab where we basically input the contents of our form into the computer system. It was good for me, though… I was out of there in no time.

Some American friends and I decided to walk to the city center early to look around before the tour started. It is so liberating to attend a school that is embedded in a city. It takes about 20 or 30 minutes for me to walk to the middle of the Derry. Sure, UR is on the edge of Richmond, but it is pretty isolated. It is a great experience to go to a different type of uni (as the Irish students abbreviate). It is also a very different type of city. Derry doesn’t really have the glassy and steel office buildings and skyscrapers that litter Richmond’s downtown. Most buildings are made from stone or brick. Especially in the city center, buildings are hundreds of years old.

One similarity the two cities share is a winding river running through. However, for us, the James acts as a fun place to hang out with friends during the summer. The Foyle River here in Derry acts much more like a dividing line, but the people here are trying hard to change this aspect of the city. Before I can explain the geographic significance of this river I need to give a brief history of the country:

Northern Ireland has a sad history which is probably all that many Americans know about the place. Locals refer to these times as “the troubles”. They were a time of unrest and disparagement between Catholics and Protestants about the status of Northern Ireland as part of the UK or the Republic of Ireland. The Good Friday Peace Agreement of 1998 started to put an end to the bad times and the country has been recovering ever since. Derry has actually been chosen as the first UK City of Culture for the year 2013 (which makes the inhabitants extremely proud). I may have to make the journey back then to take part in the festivities.

So, back to the Foyle. The city center is located on the western banks of the river. This part of the city is called the “city-side”. The opposite side is referred to as the “water-side”. Traditionally, Catholics live on the city-side and Protestants live on the water-side. There is however a tiny bubble of protestants who live on the city-side. They show their pride here with murals and by painting the curbs red, white, and blue. Here are some pictures of that community:

Let’s return to the tour, where I actually learned all of this information. So, my friends and I were exploring the city before we were to meet up with our international group. We decided to enter The Guildhall, which is basically the city hall where the council meets. This building was amazingly beautiful. As an art person, I could really appreciate it. The floors, ceilings, walls, and even windows were beautifully made. The windows were stained glass dating back to the 1910s. When we met up with our school group here, we actually were able to sit in the same room the council meets and hear the Mayor of Derry speak. Here are some photos of this building and the mayor:

Our tour guide, Garvin, showed us around the old city walls and energetically told us the stories of the city. The walls surrounded the original city of Derry for protection. They are quite wide and tall and the public is allowed to walk on top of them around the city.

Some cafes and churches are actually located on the walls. They are about 1 mile in circumference. The views from the walls are spectacular. Derry is located in somewhat of a valley, so you can see surrounding churches, neighborhoods, mountains, and the Foyle River. I can actually see the Foyle River from campus. The views here are unlike anything I have seen. Although the tour was optional, I am so happy that I came along. I know so much more about this beautiful city. Here are some pictures from my adventure around the walls:

My main advice to anyone wishing to or planning to study abroad is to take advantage of any opportunity that is offered you. If the school planned a city tour, take it. If there is a seemingly boring residence meeting followed by dinner, go. Attend as many events as possible. Meet as many new people as possible. Immerse yourself in the culture. Become part of the culture.

Fun Fact #3: Derry, Northern Ireland is home to the oldest department store in the world, called Austin’s. Yes, it is older than Macy’s in New York and Harrod’s in London. It recently celebrated its 180th birthday.

Fun Fact #4: To be called a “Professor” in Ireland is much, much more impressive than to be labeled a “Doctor”. It’s a little tough keeping this cultural difference straight.

A Rough Start.

September 26, 2011

Traveling to Derry was quite an adventure, to say the least. Physically getting myself from within the United States past the borders of the UK and finally to my flat in Derry took much longer than was originally expected. The trip from my driveway to the doorway of my apartment took a “wee bit” under 24 hours. I won’t bore you with the extraneous details, but here’s a short recap of my trip:

I arrived at Richmond International Airport with plenty of time to make my first flight out to Newark. See my photo below of New York from the air!  There, it took about 45 minutes to find an open gate before we were allowed to exit the plane. So, once I was finally able to get off the plane, I basically sprinted to my next gate, only to find that the flight had been delayed and passengers were not yet boarding.

And then I arrived in London. Here is where all the fun begins. See, Heathrow Airport is separated into different “terminals” which are essentially mini-airports connected only by a 10 minute bus ride. I had 2 hours to get from one terminal to another to catch my final flight to Belfast. Little did I know, transferring terminals requires you to go through customs and security. I made it through and to the ticket counter (to receive my last boarding “card”) with 30 minutes to get to the gate. However, according the the airline rep, my bags hadn’t made it to the airplane yet. I was on time, but my bags were not. Apparently, if your luggage hasn’t made it to the plane, you can’t be checked in. So, I needed to catch the next flight out. Which, conveniently, happened to be 4 hours later.  Here’s a picture of London from the air – also pretty impressive!

I finally made it to Belfast (the capital city of Northern Ireland). But, guess what… my 2 bags weren’t with me. How, I must ask, was I checked into the next flight if my bags weren’t on it? This whole story is very contradictory. The baggage claim lady at the Belfast Airport finally told me that because I switched airlines at London (from Continental to Aer Lingus), I should have grabbed my bags at Continental’s luggage carousel and then transport them to the next airline. Who knew?!

Finally, I met a University of Ulster representative at the airport who arranged for some other international students and myself to catch the 2 hour bus ride to Derry. Although exhausted, slightly homesick, and minus 2 bags, I was definitely excited to step into my new room.

Okay, that explanation of my travels was not very brief, but such a lengthy journey deserves a full paragraph or two. I arrived on Monday night. It is now Wednesday afternoon and my bags have been delivered. Other than my baggage debacle, transitioning into this new culture has been quite smooth. I haven’t been to the center of town yet, but I’ve gone to some shops and have taken a few taxis. So far, the Irish people have been extremely nice and helpful. My first week here is all about orientation and getting prepared to register for classes (which will not be as difficult as I originally thought!). Next week all of the Irish students will return to campus, and classes start. There are definitely more adventures to come and I am ready.

Fun Fact #2: Irish people refer to ATM machines as “cash points” or “holes in the wall”. They also call plastic page protectors “poly pockets”.

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