Thursday, January 31, 2013

Week 1: Getting the hang of things

Tomorrow marks the end of my first week of classes and what a week it’s been! I can safely say I’ve mastered the art of getting to and from class. You might find that a bit funny, but hold your laughter until I’ve told you about my trek to school.

My day begins around 7:45 AM when I wake up, get dressed, have the day’s first cup of tea with my breakfast and leave the house. I have a 15-minute walk through the streets of my development, across the busy main road where cars hurtle by, down to the LUAS station. The LUAS is one of the many forms of public transport here in Dublin. “Luas” in Irish means “fast” and I would agree that the LUAS lives up to its name considering the ride only last 20 minutes compared to 40 minutes on the bus. The LUAS is a tram and has two different lines in the city of Dublin. Once I get to the station, I don’t wait very long as a different tram runs every 5 minutes or so. The tram is pretty well filled during the morning commute.


The LUAS drops me off at St. Steven’s Green at the very bottom of Grafton Street. This means I have about a 15-minute walk to the classroom if all goes well. When you factor in large crowds of people who walk at all speeds, road crossings where people hardly wait for a walk signal, rain, and of course the wind, the walk could take longer. I often find myself getting distracted by the window displays or small details I failed to notice before.  I follow Grafton Street to the top and take O’Connell Bridge across the River Liffey past the GPO: General Post Office, the site of the Easter Rising in 1961. The bullet holes in the pillars of the building keep the memory of the past alive as this building is seen as a symbol of Irish nationalism. I duck around the corner of the GPO onto Henry Street where I cut through the Iliac, a mall, onto Dominick Street where our classroom is located.


This morning commute is very different from the 5-minute walk to class I'm used to at St. Mike's. And being dependent on public transportation requires you to be much more aware of schedules and planning for delays. I quite enjoy my morning journey to school. It's a great time for people watching, but also a good time just to blend in to the rhythm of Dublin. 

I’ve definitely fallen behind on my blogging so hopefully I’ll get caught up this weekend. Be on the lookout for a post about exploring the city, our classroom, and my host family. 

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Glendalough and a bit of ice cream goes a long way...

I have officially obtained a camera cord, which means PICTURES! I’m actually really glad that I left my cord at home because it paved the way for an entertaining experience. Yesterday I moved in with my host mother (more about that in another post) and today was my first full day in Dublin. I got in contact with Danny, Arnela, and Tyler, three students in my group who have host families relatively close to mine, and we set out to meet each other at Ireland’s largest mall: the Dundrum Town Center.

I was directed to a small camera store, pulled out my camera, and showed it to the man at the counter. After a few minutes of digging around in cupboards, he found what I needed. It had been used but I didn’t care. When I asked the price, another employee behind the counter said, “If you run into the grocery store and buy us a bit of ice cream, it’s yours.” So there you have it. The awesome camera guys enjoyed their ice cream and I have my cord. Lovely story, isn’t it? And to think I could have missed out on all that fun by being more organized!

So now I have a backlog of photos and experiences to explain. Here we go! One of my favorite parts of orientation was our visit to Glendalough. The name Glendalough literally means ‘valley of two lakes’ in Irish. History of the area can be traced back as early as the 6th century. Little footpaths and trails made for outdoor recreation run amongst the ruins left behind. Marcus Losack was our guide for the day and led us on a pilgrimage through the monastic city. Marcus is an Anglican Priest who has worked in the U.K., Ireland, Libya, and Jerusalem and specializes in pilgrimages and Celtic spirituality. As we walked, Marcus told us stories about the land, the ruins, and the people who once inhabited them and of their pagan and Christian traditions. The upper lake of Glendalough was the site where St. Kevin lived as a hermit and the valley was where he built his monastery.

St. Kevin's Church

Gravestone in the cathedral marking the
death of a man who lived to be 106!

Katie posing for the camera

SIT Ireland group with our Academic Director Aeveen on
the banks of the Upper Lake

Our day at Glendalough was incredible. Words cannot began to describe the range of emotions I felt during the day. Marcus flawlessly recited poetry, quotes, and historical fact, weaving together the past, present, and future. One of my favorite moments of the day was listening to Seamus Heaney’s  “St. Kevin and the Blackbird” as we sat on the stones that once made the walls of St. Kevin’s cell.

St Kevin and the Blackbird

And then there was St Kevin and the blackbird.
The saint is kneeling, arms stretched out, inside
His cell, but the cell is narrow, so

One turned-up palm is out the window, stiff
As a crossbeam, when a blackbird lands
and Lays in it and settles down to nest.

Kevin feels the warm eggs, the small breast, the tucked
Neat head and claws and, finding himself linked
Into the network of eternal life,

Is moved to pity: now he must hold his hand
Like a branch out in the sun and rain for weeks
Until the young are hatched and fledged and flown.


And since the whole thing's imagined anyhow,
Imagine being Kevin. Which is he?
Self-forgetful or in agony all the time

From the neck on out down through his hurting forearms?
Are his fingers sleeping? Does he still feel his knees?
Or has the shut-eyed blank of underearth

Crept up through him? Is there distance in his head?
Alone and mirrored clear in Love's deep river,
'To labour and not to seek reward,' he prays,

A prayer his body makes entirely
For he has forgotten self, forgotten bird
And on the riverbank forgotten the river's name.

The group with Marcus just after he recited
St. Kevin and the Blackbird at St. Kevin's cell

How incredible to stand on the very site where St. Kevin spent seven years isolated from society; to walk on the path he used every day. It was a great way to start my much longer pilgrimage in Ireland. I will leave off with another quote Marcus shared with us. I think this quote could easily be the theme of my experience here in Ireland. If my memory serves me correctly, it is from a university professor in Texas named Turner:

“Sometimes the present can free us from the shackles of the past and make the future possible. But sometimes the past can free us from the shackles of the present and make the future possible.”

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Waking up in a Postcard

I have arrived in Ireland! Landing in Dublin around 9:00 local time, I met up with the 7 other SIT students and from there we set off into the mountains towards the Knockree Youth Hostel where we will be staying during our orientation. The van almost lulled me to sleep as it traversed the narrow and winding roads. The shift from city to country was sudden and before I knew it, I was staring at scenes fit for a postcard.

The hostel we are staying at is the first stop on the Wicklow Way Trail and according to one of the guides, has housed many Vermont hikers. It’s easy to see why Vermonters are attracted as Ireland’s resemblance to Vermont is uncanny and the fact that our arrival was on the day of the first snow sealed the deal for me.

Although we were exhausted from travelling, our group decided to go for a walk on a trail following the Glencree River led by our guide Jarek. Bundled up for all sorts of weather, we set off down the hill into the valley. The smell of the muddied path, wilted brown ferns, and mossy rocks reminded me of springtime in Vermont. But as we began to climb up the stone steps on one of the hills, the smell of spring gave way to the crunching of snow beneath our shoes. At the peak of our hike, we stood in a good 4 inches of snow, gazing across the valley to other snow-capped peaks.

View from our window

From the front door

Sugarloaf Mountain

We trekked home, slightly damp from sweat and the mist, which began to fall on our descent.  It was truly an incredible way to end our first day in Ireland.

*Since I’ve forgotten my camera cord at home, pictures from my camera phone will have to do for now. Hopefully I’ll be able to buy a new cord back in Dublin!

Monday, January 21, 2013

Departure Day

So departure day has finally arrived and I have to say that it really snuck up on me. With the excitement of the holidays, I had very little time to contemplate leaving for my semester abroad. And if you know me well, the fact that I haven’t blogged about this trip yet illustrates how busy I was leading up to this point. But today is the day! Last minute packing was a bit stressful, but nothing in comparison to packing for Rwanda (if you are interested in my Rwanda blog, you can check it out here). And of course my mom helped me pull everything together with time to spare.

So as I sit waiting for my flight to Philadelphia in the Burlington airport, I invite you all to follow along with my adventures in Ireland this semester. As with any travel, I don’t have a clear idea what this island has in store for me, but I know whatever it is, it will be amazing. Check back in a few days to hear about my first impressions.