From Welcome Aboard to Welcome Abroad

“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. As you can see, we’re quite far from home (4655km to be exact)!
Fun fact: most signs in Ireland 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 so many individuals and groups who play music every day!
A view of Eyre Square (pronounced “Air 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!