Alison Christovich '18

Hey there!  It’s been a while!

I hope everyone had a wonderful holiday and have started the New Year off on the right foot! I know it’s now the beginning of February 2017 – making my first blog post of the year well overdue – but I hope to make up for the gap between posts by talking about everything I’ve done the past few months: from visiting Germany for a few days before bumbling my way through finals to traveling home to Florida to spend time with family and friends at the beach (as Floridians are wont to do), then heading back to Ireland to start class and visit Dublin for the first time. Let’s get to it!

 

Trip to Germany

I wasn’t able to travel a lot outside Ireland last semester because of my accident, but I was fortunate to be able visit my boyfriend Aaron in Bamberg, Germany just before the finals period began. We stayed in Bamberg most of the time I was there, but we also traveled to Nuremberg and Munich for a day. Not only was it a huge plus to be able to travel abroad with a fellow HC student, but it was an even bigger advantage to stay in a foreign country with someone who could act as your personal translator. Before I got to Germany I had no idea what to expect; I didn’t know very much about the country or its history apart from what I’d learned in school. In a way I suppose that made the trip an even bigger and better surprise.

I was absolutely blown away by the architecture and how old many of the buildings were. We passed by several churches that were hundreds of years old, and the first dinner I had in Bamberg was at a brewery that was originally established in 1405. Walking through the streets felt like walking through a fairy tale – if you’ve ever seen any adaptations of German folk tales (this includes stories by the Brothers Grimm!), you might have noticed how many illustrations draw influence from the original, Gothic style of German architecture. Needless to say, it was certainly a treat to see this style – among many others – stand the test of time to the present day. One of my favorite sights in Bamberg is of the Old Town Hall, which is detailed with magnificent painting and carvings that make it a true German icon. In Nuremberg you can check out the Nuremberg Castle, an impressive landmark as old as the Holy Roman Empire. Munich, the biggest of the three cities we visited, has an incredible central square (called the Marienplatz, or “Mary’s Square”) with a massive and intricately-designed town hall that is definitely worth seeing!

A shot of the gorgeous New Town Hall in Munich

 

The level of on Munich’s town hall building is astounding!

 

A view of Nuremberg Castle from one of its towers

 

The outside of the Schlenkerla in Bamberg, a 600 year old brewery famous for its smoked beer (which, oddly enough, tastes a little like bacon)! (PC: Aaron Katz)

 

(PC: Aaron Katz)

A view of the Town Hall in Bamberg from one of the bridges (PC: Aaron Katz)

 

I love the painting on the side of Bamberg’s Town Hall!

 

A Lego model of Bamberg’s Town Hall found in one of its shops

 

Even more beautiful and mind-blowing than the cities themselves was the Christmas markets within them (or Weihnachtsmärkte, as they’re called in Germany). I had heard from a friend that they were much bigger than the one we had in Galway, but I wasn’t prepared for how massive they truly were. Even in Bamberg, a smaller town than Nuremberg and Munich, the streets were lined with local vendors selling handmade goods, sweets, bratwurst, and glühwein, a kind of mulled wine exclusive to the Germans. I had never seen a city so alive with music, lights, and tourists and locals alike enjoying the holiday season despite the bitter cold.

 

Munich Christmas Market

Munich Christmas Market

 

Munich Christmas market during the day

 

(PC: Aaron Katz)

Christmas market in Nuremberg (PC: Aaron Katz)

 

Modest Market

Christmas market in Bamberg during the day

 

Aaron and I walked through all three cities and all three markets for hours, and it truly was an incredible experience. In fact, I plan on visiting again in the spring when the weather will be slightly warmer. For now though, I still have lots of traveling left to do within Ireland!

 

Back Home

Finals were a pain – as they usually are – but I got through with them in time to enjoy the holidays with my family and friends back home. We didn’t go on any vacations – living in Florida, where the weather can be 72° and sunny even on Christmas day, is a vacation in itself. I got to spend quality time with my family at home and even went on a bike ride to the beach with my sister. It wasn’t the first time I’ve come home to my family after being away for a few months, but being away in Ireland made the homecoming even more meaningful.

I also got to spend time with my best friends the week after Christmas. After some much-needed catching up and lunch at Panera (one of many American restaurants I’ve missed!), we went to see an event the beaches area holds every year called “Deck the Chairs”, where the city center is filled with holiday decorations made entirely out of lifeguard chairs. In my opinion, it’s the best way to make use of them during the off-season!

(PC: Lauren Hawley)

 

(PC: Lauren Hawley)

 

(PC: Lauren Hawley)

 

This Harry Potter-themed setup was sponsored by our local library (PC: Lauren Hawley)

 

This massive tree — the pièce de résistance of the event — had lights that changed colors and patterns with the music that was playing. Definitely my favorite! (PC: Lauren Hawley)

 

But of course, all good things must come to an end. I’d be lying if I said I was ready to return to Galway, but it was time to start a new semester.

 

Back to my Second Home

My second semester started off in a far less confusing manner than the first one did: I didn’t have to apply for any classes this time, so I could get right into two Classics courses (one about Roman Architecture, the other comparing the Roman author Seneca to Shakespeare), two English courses (one about Drama and Theatre studies, the other a Film Studies seminar), a psychology course on theories of personality, and a course on basic Irish studies of literature and history. I’ve just finished my fourth week of classes and so far everything is going swimmingly!

I’ve also taken on a couple theatre projects for the beginning of the semester before I start Choral Scholar rehearsals again towards the end of February. I was chosen to direct an original one act play titled Good Morning Kindergarten!, a hilarious play about kindergarten students putting on their very own news show, during the Drama Society’s theatre week from February 22-24. It’s the first time I’ve ever led a project like this, and after two days of auditions I’m excited to get rehearsals underway soon! In addition, I’ve also signed on to help with a project orchestrated by the NUIG Career Development Center, in which we intend to stage skits of what not to do during a job interview, that will also take place at the end of February. Needless to say, February is going to be quite a busy month for me.

 

Trip to Dublin

Just over a week ago I went on a brief weekend trip to Dublin with our advisor Kathleen and with a group of other Holy Cross students. After having dinner at a Mexican restaurant, the next day we went on a walking tour of the city and saw many historical and cultural sites, including the City Hall and Dublin castle. We also took a stroll down the streets of Merrion Square, where we saw Oscar Wilde’s house and noted the unique 19th century Georgian style of the buildings. We even got to see inside one of the houses that had been recently refurbished with wallpaper and furniture corresponding with the original style. Some of the flooring and fireplaces were still intact as well!

This seagull was photo-ready as it perched alongside the River Liffey

 

One of my favorite pictures from inside Dublin’s 200+ year old city hall

 

Oscar Wilde’s house on Merrion Square

 

The inside of another building on Merrion Square. The furniture is new, but the style is original!

 

What can I say? I’m a sucker for antiques.

 

Afterward we went to visit Trinity College, which reminded so much of Holy Cross with its stonework and vines. There we got to see the Book of Kells, which is a fantastic manuscript of the 4 Gospels in the Bible that was created in an Irish monastery around 800 CE.  The Book is encased in a glass box in a small museum that describes the history of the manuscript and the types of inks and papers used in this and other manuscripts throughout history.  I was particularly excited to read about the history since I had just taken a class last semester about the transmission of Classical texts.  Unfortunately we weren’t allowed to take pictures of the document directly, but I was able to take pictures of a part of Trinity library known as the Long Room library. It’s exactly what it sounds like: a long room full of old books and busts of famous authors – from Greek philosophers to English playwrights, and everyone in between. It may not sound like much, but I can assure you that the inside was absolutely breathtaking. I felt like I was walking through the Hogwarts library, and was silently hoping the busts would start chatting quietly amongst themselves.

A first look at Trinity’s campus

 

The Long Room inside Trinity Library

 

Once again, I plan on visiting again when the weather outside is slightly warmer!

 

What’s Next

I won’t be doing quite as much traveling as I have done the past couple months, but this month marks a new start of not just the semester, but the start of more exciting adventures in Ireland and beyond. I will certainly keep you up to date on new developments on my theatre projects and post pictures of new things I see in and outside of Galway. Until then, I hope everyone has a great start to the second semester! Take care!

 

Cheers,
Ali

Long time no see, everyone! First of all, I’d like to apologize for my lack of activity in the last month. I actually had the unfortunate luck of being hit by a car on Halloween afternoon, and while I did not have any immediate injuries I took the week off from classes just as a precaution. A week later I fell dangerously ill and had to be taken to the emergency room. The brain injury that I had received from the accident — small as it was — triggered a delayed reaction in my pituitary gland that caused my sodium levels to drop to a level so low that it made me very sick. Thankfully, one of the doctors at University Hospital Galway specializes in these types of injuries, and she knew exactly how to treat it. I stayed in the hospital for a week under the close watch and care of wonderful doctors and nurses, and I was officially discharged after that week with a clear MRI and normal test results. I will be taking medication and seeing the doctor for the next few weeks to make sure everything remains stable, but my health has essentially (and miraculously) returned to normal. My mother flew in from home and my boyfriend flew in from Germany to see me after it happened, and for that I am incredibly fortunate! I am also extremely lucky to have had the help and support of my friends and family, as well as of NUIG and Holy Cross facilitating my transition through classes and finals in the coming weeks. I was even given the option to come back to Holy Cross next semester if I should so choose. I do intend on staying in Galway next semester as planned, but it is truly a blessing to know that I have such a wonderful support system behind me. Thank you all for your thoughts and prayers!

 
Now, on to the rest of the blog post!

 

An Educational Experience

Not long after my last post, I went on a trip with my Exploring Indigenous Arts Class to the National Museum of Ireland: Country Life in County Mayo. There we learned the history of how people lived in rural Ireland in the 20th century through the house items they made and the festivals they held. We even got to see a timeline of how Irish life was portrayed in film and professional photographs compared to what life was actually like at the time — it wasn’t all red hair and cute sheep! In fact, it was so much more.

Handmade baskets made from several different types of wood and brushes

Handmade baskets made from several different types of wood and brushes

 

A representation of children's clothing in Ireland in the early 20th century

Children’s clothing in Ireland in the early 20th century

 

Dolls made from straw depicting masked performers called

Dolls made from straw depicting masked performers called “Mummers”, who staged shows around Christmastime

 

A bouquet of paper flowers made by a traveler woman in Ireland in 1994

A bouquet of paper flowers made by a traveler woman in Ireland in 1994

 

While in the museum we learned how to make harvest knots like these, which were traditionally given as gifts from teenage boys to girls they fancied at harvest dances. If a girl kept a knot, she was more likely to marry the boy who gave it to her!

While in the museum we learned how to make harvest knots like these, which were traditionally given as gifts from teenage boys to girls they fancied at harvest dances. If a girl kept a knot, she was more likely to marry the boy who gave it to her!

 

After our tour of the museum we got to hear from a guest lecturer about how the Irish celebrated holidays like Halloween, Christmas, and Easter. They also have a tradition of making crosses out of straw or brush on the first day of February, which is known as St. Bridgid’s Day, in order to invoke her blessings and protection in the coming year. It was a real treat to see the number of household items and artifacts and the cultural significance behind them, and you can learn more about the museum here.

 

A Fascinating (And Slightly Terrifying) Halloween Experience

What I didn’t realize before coming here is that the Irish really like to celebrate Halloween. October 31st is also considered a bank holiday Ireland, so we didn’t even have class that day! The weekend before Halloween, a performance company known as Macnas put on their annual parade which this year was called “Savage Grace”. On their website, they described it as “a restless ballad, a deliriously dark and delicious waltz between love and loss”, filled with “[f]oreboding rhythms and musical laments, packaged in rhyme and riddle, [that] herald the arrival of Baba Yaga, a formidable figure defined only by her striking ambiguity”. Quite frankly, I’ve never seen anything like it: the performers all wore elaborate costumes, masks, and makeup, and the parade floats were much more intricate and complicated than any I had ever seen in a parade before.  Some of the younger children around us were frightened by some of the characters and floats!  Feel free to check out Macnas here and take a look at the highlights of the parade below!

 

A Holy Cross Thanksgiving Experience

Once Halloween was over, Christmas decorations went up almost immediately. It was a little confusing at first, considering November had only just started, but then it hit me – Christmas is the only major holiday after Halloween because Thanksgiving simply doesn’t exist here. We weren’t able to go home for Thanksgiving, but our advisor Kathleen was gracious enough to treat us to dinner Thursday evening at Brasserie on the Corner, a popular restaurant and bar here in Galway. The Irish might not be huge fans of turkey, but we were certainly fans of the huge meal we had; I had a personal pot of steamed mussels as an appetizer with stuffed chicken as my entrée, which were simply delightful. Needless to say, it was a wonderful occasion to get together.

The Holy Cross gang about to have Thanksgiving dinner! (photo courtesy of Kathleen O'Connell)

The Holy Cross gang about to have Thanksgiving dinner! (photo courtesy of Kathleen O’Connell)

 

Speaking of wonderful occasions, I hope you’re just as excited as I am to hear about the next holiday we’ve been celebrating here.

 

A Spectacular Christmas Experience

Galway is known for their annual Christmas market, which I’m told has been growing bigger and bigger every year. This year it started on November 18th and lasts until December 22nd, and is held in Eyre Square in the center of town. Not only does it boast of a variety of handmade ornaments, toys, trinkets, and treats, but it also features a giant Ferris wheel that will run for the entire month the market is in town! I’ve yet to get to the top of it myself, but when you can see it all the way from your apartment it’s hard not to be tempted by it! The Christmas market is one of my favorite things I’ve seen in Galway so far, and I hope I’ll be able to find an equivalent of it at home next year. For now, I am thoroughly enjoying the abundance of decorations, food, and Christmas cheer!

A small portion of the Christmas market, which included a Ferris wheel and a carousel!  The sign on the arch says

A small portion of the Christmas market, which included a Ferris wheel and a carousel! The sign on the arch says “Merry Christmas” in Irish

 

A gingerbread house on the lawn of Eyre Square!

A gingerbread house on the lawn of Eyre Square!

Some of many wonderful decorations in Eyre Square

Some of many wonderful decorations in Eyre Square

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It can get quite busy here on a weekend!

It can get quite busy here on a weekend!

 

Looks just as jolly at night as well!

Looks just as jolly at night as well!

 
A New Theatrical Experience

And if that didn’t satisfy your need for all things Christmas, I hope this next video will help. A little over a month ago I stumbled upon a local theatre group known as The Theatre Room Galway (check out their website here!), which hosts several small productions performed by local actors and directors in local venues. Their most recent project was known as “Skype Monologues”, in which a selection of monologues was broadcast to individuals all over the world via an internet call on Skype. I was selected to direct an original monologue titled “Deer Santa” – in the monologue, a young girl has a Skype call with Santa Claus in lieu of writing a traditional letter to him. This was my first time directing a piece, and it was a bit of a challenge since the audition and rehearsal period took place during the time I was recovering from the accident. Thankfully, both the writer and actress I worked with were very accommodating, and it was a great pleasure being able to take part in this project! On the date of the performance, we performed this monologue for three different Skype callers, and we also recorded it live on Facebook. You can view all of the performances on the group’s Facebook page, and you can view “Deer Santa” right here.

 

What’s Next

Classes for this semester at NUIG officially ended yesterday. Monday is the start of our week-long study period, followed by two weeks of final exams. Most of my classes require final papers in lieu of written exams, so I will only be sitting for one exam this semester, but I still have a lot of work to do between now and the end of exams. Thankfully my professors have been extremely helpful with giving me enough time to complete my final assignments after the accident, and I am confident that I will be able to complete them in the time allotted.
In the meantime, next Tuesday I will be leaving on a trip to Germany to visit my boyfriend Aaron for a few days before the stress of finals week kicks in. It’ll be a very long day of travel there and back, but at least I will have plenty of time to work on my papers and still enjoy my visit! Rest assured, I will travel safely and take lots of pictures, and I hope that once finals are over I will be able to take even more trips abroad!

 
I’ll leave you now with a few more of my favorite street performances I’ve recorded in the last few weeks:

 
Enjoy the holidays and take care, everyone!

 
Cheers,
Ali

Before you panic: no, I did not meet a stranger on Tinder and travel halfway across the world with them in hopes of finding romance only to find myself kidnapped and taken to Nigeria where my only means of escape was smuggling myself through a shipment being sent from one of the largest Guinness breweries in the world, all while disguised as a sheep.  Wouldn’t that make for a great blog post, though?

All joking aside, I’ve been fairly busy with midterms and choir as well as helping with a short play about Tinder called “Swipe,” one of several plays currently being produced by the NUIG Drama Society (a.k.a. DramSoc).  I also got the chance to see a local performance of The Importance of Being Earnest by Oscar Wilde (an Irish playwright!) in one of the smaller theatres here in Galway.  In the midst of all the drama, I’ve learned a lot about Irish music and singing, especially a particular form known as sean-nós singing which I will explain later in this post.

 

Setting the Stage

When I heard there was a need for a props master and assistant stage manager for one of the DramSoc shows, I jumped at the opportunity.  I had auditioned for several of them at the beginning of the semester, but unfortunately did not get an acting part.  “Swipe,” the name of the freshers play for this semester, had just recently been cast with first-year students (or “freshers,” as they’re called here) when I first heard about it.  It was written by two drama students and follows two groups of students reacting to an accidental swipe right on Tinder.  Hilarity ensues, resulting in a short but uproarious comedy laden with teen angst, some juvenile sexual humor, and chicken sandwiches.

Fionn (second from right, played by Noel Minogue) seeks advice from his friends (from left to right: John Rice, Daniel Farris, Cian Ó Baoill) after matching with one of the girls at school (Photo credit: Adrienne Walsh)

Fionn (second from right, played by Noel Minogue) seeks advice from his friends after matching with one of the girls at school on Tinder. (Cast from left to right: John Rice, Daniel Farris, Cian Ó Baoill. Photo credit: Adrienne Walsh)

The girls roll their eyes as Megan (second from left, played by Mary Claire Teahan) makes another cheesy joke. (Cast from left to right: Edel McGrath, Áine Cooney, Rachel Gilmore. Photo credit: Adrienne Walsh)

The girls roll their eyes as Megan (second from left, played by Mary Claire Teahan) makes another cheesy joke. (Cast from left to right: Edel McGrath, Áine Cooney, Rachel Gilmore. Photo credit: Adrienne Walsh)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

With only a few weeks of rehearsal, the gang really delivered with their execution of jokes and dedication to the show.  I really enjoyed watching everyone’s characters develop with each rehearsal and how each individual in each friend group brought their own personalities and humor into it.  It was such a pleasure working with this lovely cast on this fantastic show!

Venturing off campus, I was really fortunate to have stumbled upon — quite literally, in fact, as I was walking around town and happened to notice its bright red door — the little gem that is Nun’s Island Theatre.  Although it only seats 80, the theatre hosts many different events, concerts, films, and of course performances from both professional companies and from Galway Youth Theatre — all sponsored by the Galway Arts Centre (you can read more about it and the theatre here).  It just so happened that they were showcasing a performance of The Importance of Being Earnest the very weekend I found the theatre, and for €8 per student ticket no less!  In case you’re not familiar with the plot, the play revolves around two bachelors named Algernon and John who like to take on different identities when they visit the country, especially when they try to win the affections of the women they love.  As one might expect, their deception lands them both into trouble, which turns into a comical conflict between the men, the women, and their guardians.  I loved how intimate the theatre became with its small size and fairly simple set, which consisted of a couple of flats and some furniture for the living room in the first act and a couple pieces of outdoor furniture and flowers for the backyard in the second and third acts.  The characters were dressed in aristocratic fashion with quirky pastel and lavish gold and maroon colors, and the actors did a wonderful job playing on the eccentricities of each character.  Unfortunately I couldn’t get any pictures of the performance, but I can assure you it was quite the local treat!

 

Setting the Mood

Speaking of local treat, one of my favorite parts about the culture here in Ireland is the music and traditional Irish song.  Through my Indigenous Arts Exploration class we learned about a type of Irish singing called sean-nós, which is Irish for “old style” or “old way.”  Performers of this style sing without any instrumental accompaniment, and they often sing words using several notes at a time rather than singing one note per syllable as most contemporary singers do.  Most of the songs are in Irish (though they are also sung in English), and are often about love or local pride.  What’s really fascinating about this kind of music is how personal and even meditative it can sound; when a performer starts singing, whether they are on stage or in a pub, their audience sits quietly captivated while the performer appears to be off in their own world.  Sometimes, if the song is well-known, people will sing along with them.  When I listen to these performances I feel a warm calmness and a sense of community unlike anything I’ve ever heard in a capella music.  Even though I can’t understand the Irish language, I can connect very easily to the emotion and nostalgia that these singers express through such a unique form of music.  I would highly recommend you look up some examples of sean-nós singing on YouTube, and I hope the links below are a good start!  In the second video is Dr. Liam Lillis Ó Laoire, a lecturer at NUIG who came to our class and talked about the history and structure of sean-nós singing.

 

What’s Next

This semester seems to have flown by already!  Hopefully I won’t be too swamped with papers and assignments in the coming weeks.  I won’t be going on any wild escapades with Tinder matches , but I am making a few travel plans in the coming months.  For now, I’ll leave you with a few videos of my favorite performances that have taken place right on the streets of Galway:

 

Until next time, enjoy the music and take care, everyone!

 

 

Cheers,

Ali

When I told any of my non-American friends that my 21st birthday was coming up, their first response was usually something along the lines of “Nice!  Now you can drink legally back home!  Too bad it won’t matter that much here, since everyone here drinks when they’re eighteen,” followed by a an awkward chuckle, then a casual warning to not drink too much, and then “Happy birthday.”  So no, the drinks I bought that night were not technically my first legal drinks — I’ll have to wait until May for that.  But I still got birthday messages from my parents and best friends that morning, even though it was late at night EST when they sent those messages.  I still wore a cheesy dollar-store button that said it was my 21st birthday.  My boyfriend even sent me flowers in the mail (all the way from Germany!), and my housemates gave me gifts of cupcakes and chocolate.  Legal drinking age or not, it was still a pretty great birthday.  Did I mention that I got to spend it in Ireland of all places?

 

Busy Birthdays

The day of my birthday actually started off as a bit of a downer: I had to wake up bright and early to make my appointment with the Garda (the Irish police) to register myself as a visiting student in the country for the year.  I was a little anxious at first, as I had no idea what to expect beforehand and really didn’t want to start my day off on the wrong foot.  The process turned out to be fairly straightforward, to my utter relief: I showed up with the necessary paperwork, paid a fee via debit/credit card, had my picture taken, then got fingerprints taken and a stamp on on passport saying I’m legally allowed to stay in Ireland through the school year.  Plus I only had to wait for five minutes to be seen.  Simple enough.

Once that was over, I really wanted a cup of coffee, and what better place to go for coffee on your birthday than Starbucks?  So what if I had to walk a half hour across town to the only Starbucks in Galway?  A free pumpkin spice latte is a free pumpkin spice latte!  I’m sure you can imagine the disappointment I felt when the barista at the counter told me that the American free birthday drink voucher wouldn’t work there.  I’m sure you can also sympathize with my buying and enjoying the coffee anyway — it was just as good as the American version.

The week of my birthday was special for a few reasons: first, not only was it my birthday, but two other girls from HC also had their birthdays that week.  The whole group decided to have one night together where we shared dinner and birthday cake — two cakes, in fact — before going out to one of the clubs.  That same week, we went as a group to see a play at the Town Hall Theatre called The Beauty Queen of Leenane by Martin McDonagh.  The show was spectacularly performed by the Druid Theatre Company, a Galway-based company that’s well-renowned both locally and abroad.  They’ve done several shows in the U.S. as well, and will be bringing this particular show to the States this December through March.  I highly encourage everyone to check out the play for themselves!  You can also read more about Druid here.

 

 

Busy Schedule

After a month of auditions, applications, waiting, and still figuring out which classes were right for me, I can finally say that my schedule for this semester is set!  As I explained in my last post, classes have been a bit tricky compared to how they would be back home, but at least I am able to take a greater variety of classes.  I am also taking two classes specifically for visiting students: one is on Irish theatre, in which we are learning about Irish history and how it has impacted theatre (and vice versa); the other is called Indigenous Arts Exploration, and it encompasses beyond what the name implies.  Part of the curriculum for this class involves attending different events sponsored by Arts in Action, a program designed to inspire and engage others through a wide variety of artistic media, from music and dance to poetry readings and dramatic performances (you can read more about the program here).  The first event showcased two Irish contemporary dancers, Magdalena Hylak and Sibéal Davitt, whose works showed powerful displays of emotion through performance, video, and extraordinary sound design.  In class we also addressed the topic of culture and language by watching a short documentary titled Yu Ming Is Ainm Dom (Irish for “My name is Yu Ming”).  In the film a man from China decides to quit his job and move to Ireland, and after finding that Gaelic is the official language of Ireland he spends months learning the language before the move.  He is shocked to find that most of the people he meets in Ireland speak English, a language we might be glad to hear in foreign countries.  I honestly found it fascinating how our treatment of different languages (especially those as old as Gaelic) can be taken for granted over time, and I can’t wait to hear and participate in more discussions about particular cultural differences like these in the future.

Speaking of hearing and participating, I am also proud to announce that I am now a member of two chamber music groups!  The first is a coed a capella group known as the Sing N’ Tonics, which reminds me very much of HC’s Fools on the Hill.  The second is a choral scholar group, which focuses not just on singing liturgical music, but also on increasing the musicianship of the performers in the group.  It’s a lot like singing with the HC Chamber Singers, but this program also offers occasional workshops, masterclasses, and musicianship classes outside of rehearsals specifically tailored to different members’ skill levels.  As much as I miss singing with the choir back on the hill, I am incredibly excited to continue singing with both groups and to build up my singing skills over the year!

 

Busy Day in Cork

But I’ve said more than enough about what’s happening in Galway; Ireland may be small, but it is certainly not that limited!  A group of us took a day trip to Cork to visit the Blarney Castle, which is famous for the Blarney Stone and a plethora of germs from the people who have kissed it/touched it/etc.  If you don’t know the story of the Blarney Stone, legend has it that those who kiss the stone will be given the “gift of gab,” or gain better speaking ability.  But here’s the catch: to get to the stone, you have to climb several narrow, winding stairs all the way to the top of the castle, wait in line for your turn, then have someone else bend you over backwards so you can kiss the bottom of the stone below where you just stood.  Definitely not everyone’s cup of tea.  Still, whether you decide to kiss the stone or not, Blarney Castle is a beautiful destination spot that’s well worth visiting.

I never realized just how massive this castle is!

I never realized just how massive this castle is!

 

Blarney Castle has lots of rooms still intact, including this narrow passageway to what was once a dungeon!

Blarney Castle has lots of rooms still intact, including this narrow passageway to what was once a dungeon!

 

As part of an art installation by the Cork Textiles Network, many of the trees in the castle garden were dressed with 'scarves' like this one

As part of an art installation by the Cork Textiles Network, many of the trees in the castle garden were dressed with ‘scarves’ like this one

 

In case you were curious as to how to kiss the Blarney Stone

In case you were curious as to how to kiss the Blarney Stone (yes, that’s me in this photo).  The sight of the ground below can be a bit intimidating! 

 

What’s Next

I know in my last post I said I would be writing more often, but it has been a bit difficult to do so in the last month because of birthday fun and schedule complications.  Now that all that has been settled, I do plan on blogging on a more regular basis while keeping up with all my classwork and extracurricular activities.  After all, Halloween is coming up in just a few weeks, and the Irish are no strangers to the spooky festivities that come with the fall season!  Sadly, the changing of seasons isn’t quite as apparent here as it would be back at HC: we have much more falling rain than falling leaves.  At least the grass is always green!

Well, I have an assignment for English I still need to write, so I’m signing off for now.  I hope everyone back on the hill has a restful Fall Break next week!  Take care, everyone!

 

 

Cheers,

Ali

“Are we in heaven?”

I heard a little boy ask his mom this as we were getting ready to take off on our flight from Boston to Shannon airport.

“Not yet,” I thought.  “But soon we will be.”

From the boy’s perspective, we were in heaven for about 6 hours.  As for me, I’ve been in heaven (read: Galway) for much longer.

Hello everyone, and fáilte go Gaillimh (welcome to Galway)!

 

Getting Settled

When I got to Logan airport around 5:30pm I was relieved to find half of the group from Holy Cross (there are currently 12 of us here in Galway) waiting for me at the gate.  We got to know each other over sandwiches at Potbelly’s — one of my favorite places to eat at the airport — and then we got settled on the Aer Lingus plane.  About six hours (including an hour or two of turbulence) later, it was already 6:30am in Ireland.  So much for sleep!  Despite the rough flight, we found our way through customs and to the Galway bus station without too much trouble.

A street sign inside Shannon airport. We’re quite far away from home!

Fun fact: most signs in Galway are bilingual (English and Gaelic)

 

The day we arrived proved to be quite busy: we met Kathleen, the student coordinator of our group, who brought us to our residence and showed us where we could buy food and bedding for our rooms.  Needless to say, most of the day was spent stuffing groceries and other necessities into reusable shopping bags (European stores typically don’t bag groceries at the counter; you have to either bring or buy your own bags).  Thankfully the closest shopping center is only a ten minute walk away from Cúirt na Coiribe (pronounced Kurt nah Kurbah — don’t worry, it doesn’t make sense to me, either), one of NUIG’s student accommodation complexes and my home for the year.

Our apartments are fairly standard: we have a common space with couches and a TV; bathrooms with electric showers; a kitchen space with an oven, sink, fridge, freezer, microwave, plenty of cabinets, and a dining room table with chairs.  What I find particularly exciting about our kitchen is how we’ve been supplied with most of the dishware we’d need to cook, including glassware and silverware — this is a huge time and money saver.  So far I’ve spent a good deal of time in the kitchen figuring out how to upgrade my meals from grilled cheese sandwiches to baked chicken and pasta dishes, and have made considerable progress.  My favorite dish so far is baked chicken and potatoes seasoned with garlic powder and several other herbs, and it was surprisingly easy to make!  Hopefully I will be able to branch out even further with my cooking skills and test out a few Irish recipes as well (I am googling ‘recipes with potatoes’ as we speak).

Though we have a great shared kitchen, we also have our own rooms in the apartment.  I live with four other house mates/fellow NUIG students: one from HC (Emily), two from Ireland (Keri and Nikita), and one from France (Camille).  It was a little odd at first, seeing lots of doors to different rooms and having one of those rooms for my own, but all of us are getting along quite well so far!

 

Getting Started with Classes

International student orientation began our second morning in Ireland.  To get there, we walk alongside a busy highway and across a bridge that has a lovely view of the River Corrib.  It’s usually a very pleasant walk, but the wind can get a bit more intense when crossing the bridge.  Still, it certainly beats walking up and down several hills to get to class!

A view of the River Corrib on a slightly less cloudy day

 

Orientation went swimmingly: over the course of two days we learned about what classes were available to us and how to register for them, as well as what opportunities are available to us as new students at NUIG — from academic resources we can use to clubs and societies (or what we would call sports and clubs, respectively).  The number and breadth of societies is enormous: they have everything from volunteering societies to dance societies, and even societies for Harry Potter and Doctor Who!  I’ve already joined quite a few societies myself: the Drama Society (or DramSoc), the choral society, the musical society, the traditional music society (or TradSoc), and the baking society.  I’ve also auditioned for some of the plays DramSoc will be putting on this semester as well as for the musical Urinetown.

As for classes, my situation is a bit unique: even though I’m a theatre major, the exchange agreement between HC and NUIG won’t allow me to take any drama classes at this time.  While that may seem counter-intuitive, I’ve decided to make the most of the opportunity and take courses in other departments that I’m interested in: I’m currently registered for a class in the classics department about ancient texts and their adaptations, a philosophy class on aesthetics and the philosophy of art, an introductory psychology class on positive psychology, an English seminar on Victorian-era plays, and an Irish theatre course specifically for visiting students.  I’m still waiting to see if I got accepted into an Indigenous Arts course also for visiting students; hopefully I will be able to take this one as well!

One thing about classes here compared to HC is the odd flexibility with classes in the first month: students aren’t expected to be fully registered until towards the end of the month, so we’re encouraged to drop in and out of classes we may or may not be interested in until we find the ones we wish to take.  The dropping in part isn’t too difficult, considering most classes take place in large seminar rooms that are easy to hide in.  Waiting in agonizing anticipation to see whether the courses for visiting students I applied for while trying to build my schedule around having (or not having) those classes, however, was just a little bit stressful.  Thankfully I have most of my schedule solid at this point, with the exception of the Indigenous Arts class.  I’ll definitely keep you posted!

 

Getting a Feel for the Culture

We picked a fantastic time to be in Galway: the city was actually just named the European Capital of Culture 2020!  This means that we will be seeing the beginning of a great showcase of Galway’s rich and unique culture that will build up to and beyond the year 2020.  You can see the pride in everyone’s faces and on the bright blue flags and banners that are strewn throughout the city.  I can’t wait to see it all unfold in the coming months!

Last week NUIG offered walking tours of the city during the weekend, which were both fun and informative.  We got to see many of the major hotspots in the city, including the Galway Cathedral, the Spanish Arch, and several fun places to have a pint like The King’s Head and The Crane Bar.  We even found a place called Dungeons and Donuts: a game shop that doubles as a delicious donut shop (check out their website here, I promise you won’t be disappointed).  I’ve fallen in love with the small-town feel of Galway and how nice everyone is.  My favorite part about walking through town is that not only can we walk to the center of it from home within fifteen minutes, but no matter what time of day it is we are bound to find at least a few street musicians!

Galway can be quite busy both during the day and at night!

 

There are many individuals and groups who play music every day!

 

A view of Eyre Square in the center of town. The flags you see here all represent the original clans and families of Galway.

 

But the fun didn’t stop there.  After the walking tour, I sampled a couple local brews with a friend at a bar called The Salt House, then went to dinner with the HC group at a lovely Italian restaurant called Da Roberta at Salthill, which is on the sea coast of Galway.  Afterward, we walked through a good deal of rain and wind to get to the Galway Bay Hotel, where we attended a popular event known as ‘Trad on the Prom’ — a spectacular show of traditional Irish music and dance on the promenade.  We weren’t allowed to take photos or recordings, but I will never forget the beautiful and irresistible foot-tapping music (one woman in the group played at least ten instruments!) or the incredibly quick and intense Irish step dancing.  In fact, the majority of the group performing was all from one family.  I’d never seen so much talent from a family like this!

This past weekend was actually just as breathtaking: we took a day trip to the Aran Islands, which are a set of islands just west of Galway Bay.  We went to Inishmore, the largest island, and got to see more than our fair share of stone walls, old churches, Aran sweaters, and goats.  The two highlights of the trip were eating Guinness Beef Stew at a cute, family-owned cafe on the island, and walking to the top of Dun Aengus — the biggest fort on the island.  The walk wasn’t too far or too steep, but making it to the top and watching the waves crash against the massive cliffs was beyond exhilarating.  We did our best to keep our distance from the edge of the cliff, though I did see a few other travelers sitting with their feet dangling over the edge and still others trying to take selfies with their phones in slightly dangerous positions.

The roar of the waves against the cliffs was magnificent

The roar of the waves against the cliffs was magnificent

 

Close (but not too close!) to the edge

 

All of us together at the top of Dun Aengus! (Photo credit: Kathleen O’Connell)

Speaking of slightly dangerous, there is a pier in Salthill from which a few locals like to jump into the ocean on a warm sunny day.  Naturally, we just had to try it for ourselves when the usual clouds decided to stick around in another part of Ireland for the day.  It was low tide, so we could only jump from the lower part of the pier, and the water was actually quite cold compared to what I’m used to in Florida around this time of year, but the jump was absolutely worth it!

 

What’s Next

After experiencing such a warm welcome these past couple weeks, I can’t wait to explore more of Ireland and see what the rest of this year has in store.  My schedule is still a little confusing right now, since I’m still waiting to hear about the Indigenous Arts course while figuring out my extracurriculars.  In the meantime, I will be taking more pictures and I will attempt blogging more frequently so I don’t end up writing massive posts like these every couple of weeks.  Maybe I’ll post a little poetry or drawing.  Maybe I’ll buy that Aran sweater I’ve had my eyes on for a few days.  Maybe I’ll go grocery shopping for the second time this week.  Who knows?  Until then, take care, everyone!

 

 

Cheers,

Ali

Hello all!

Welcome to my blog!  My name is Alison Christovich (Ali for short), and I’ll be writing as often as I can about my adventures in one of the most beautiful cultural centers of the world: Galway, Ireland!  I will be studying at the National University of Ireland in Galway and living just 10 minutes away by foot from both campus and the center of town.  So a little bit about myself: I am a theatre major from Florida who enjoys long walks on the beach (and on campus), chocolate, avocados, taking pictures, grammar-checking, performing in shows, and singing with the College Choir and Chamber Singers.  Most of all, I love traveling, and I can’t wait to travel to Ireland for the first time!

Exciting as it all may be, I am a little nervous about leaving tonight.  I do get a little anxious when I have a lot of packing to do for a long trip — I restricted myself to only one checked bag and a carry-on! — but once I get there I’ll buy everything else I need, including my bedsheets and basic toiletries.  At the very least I have all my staples: my passport, my paperwork for the Irish Immigration Office, some cash Euros, my handy dandy travel purse, a pair of walking shoes, a pair of rain boots, and — of course — a Holy Cross rain poncho (thank you HC Bookstore for putting it on clearance!).

This trip won’t be my first rodeo though: I’ve traveled to India and Argentina by myself and with a group, and even being at Holy Cross for months at a time before coming home to Florida has been relatively easy for me.  Still, being in a foreign country for nine months will be a huge first for me.  People have asked me if I ever get homesick, but to be honest I really only get homesick before I leave home!  Thankfully, my family has been really supportive with helping me prepare for Ireland both emotionally and financially.  I won’t be alone in Ireland either: a group of about 12 of us will be in the program together, and most of us have been in communication with each other about travel plans and other trip-related questions.  I’ve also had the good fortune of being able to stay on campus for a week to sing with the Chamber Singers and staying with my cousin Ashlee in Bedford, MA.  Yesterday we ended up going to a national park in Concord, MA before having a very New England dinner: clam chowder and a lobster roll.  I’m so glad I got to see my friends  and cousin and say goodbye to them before I’m gone for the year!

 

Chaplain Norm Gouin directing the Chamber Singers during Mass of the Holy Spirit (that’s the back of my head on the far right).  Photo credit: Tom Rettig

My cousin Parker had a lot of pictures taken of him at the park!

A beautiful shot of the bridge in the national park in Concord

 

 

 

 

A great picture my cousin took of me near a garden! I wonder if I’ll find places like this in Galway

 

One of the things I’d like to focus on in my blog is allowing readers (and myself!) to watch my progress in making this adventure I’m about to undertake a spectacular one.  With that in mind, I have a few goals I’d like to achieve over the next few months:

 

I have my Celtic Knot journal and bracelet ready!

  1. Stretch out of my comfort zone a lot more (which will be somewhat inevitable!)
  2. Meet new people and building relationships
  3. Try new foods, classes, and activities
  4. Find new places to spend time with friends — both in and outside the country
  5. Do and watch as much theatre as possible — both on and off campus
  6. Sing as much as I can, whether I’m with a choir or in the shower
  7. Find sources of inspiration – music, landscapes, people, etc.
  8. Write, write, write (so I can blog, blog, blog) in my new journal!

 

 

I am incredibly excited for what will unfold in the coming months and I can’t wait to share my experiences with you all!  I will be writing again as soon as I get settled in my apartment and begin orientation (which starts Thursday).  Until then, so long America!  Galway, here I come!

 

Cheers,

Ali