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?
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.
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 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!