Since my last journal entry, I have been busy with final semester projects, exams, and travelling. With exams concluded, I hopped on a plane with Kara and John. Thanks to our USIT stipends, we had unforgettable adventures in Barcelona, Nice, and Bordeaux. We watched the lights turn on across Barcelona from the towers of La Sagrada Familia. We went ice skating in Nice and gazed at the sunset over the French Riviera. However, the highlight for me was our stay in Bordeaux. A generous sponsor of the Mitchell Scholarship opened up his chateau for us, and it was incredible. The chateau had history, good wine, and rooms to inspire the imagination. It was almost bittersweet to return to the Irish rain and wind from such a beautiful place.
My mom visited me after the Christmas holidays. It was wonderful to travel around Ireland with her. We visited landmarks around the country, from the Cliffs of Moher to Christ Church Cathedral. My mom visited me after the Christmas holidays. It was wonderful to travel around Ireland with her. We visited landmarks around the country, from the Cliffs of Moher to Christ Church Cathedral. Mom kept remarking how green the countryside was in wintertime. Just walking around was a joy and novelty to my mother. It reminded me of what I felt when I first arrived- excited, relaxed, and tired from taking in new sights. It was nice to see other parts of the Emerald Isle, though I think I will remain partial to Galway.
I find that my introductions to various aspects of Irish culture are rife with humour. On St. Stephens Day, I was invited to dinner. Unfortunately, I was unsure what to do with the Christmas crackers. They are brightly wrapped packages in the shape of a tube. I remember reading about Christmas crackers, but those stories never explained what the fictional characters did with them. When I began tugging at the string to unwrap it, I heard muffled laughter from around the table. Thankfully, I was stopped before the cracker was unwrapped. Apparently you and a partner pull it apart like a wishbone and the cracker makes a bang. It is for these events where I have to laugh at the differences between Irish and American traditions. It is somehow satisfying to learn about these traditions the hard way.
Derek and his friends invited me to the Conradh na Gaeilge after the Christmas holidays. The Conradh is a social club where only Irish is spoken. Despite appearing like a deer caught in the headlights when the barmaid tried to make small talk with me, I learned enough Irish to order a couple of pints. I received a round of applause for my efforts!
My attempt to learn Irish dance was less successful. Irish music was playing and my friends began to dance. One-two-three. One-two-three. No matter how hard I tried, I was hopping around the place and out of sync with the music. Apparently I wanted to add an extra step, kick in the wrong direction, move my arms, and ended up exasperating my four teachers. We had to discontinue the lessons from laughing too hard.
I am gaining a great appreciation for the pride that Irish citizens have for their small country. It is deeper than the “Kiss me, I am Irish” t-shirts that I have seen in the States or the wearing of green on St. Patrick’s Day. It may be more subtle than saying the Pledge of Allegiance; yet it is evident when businesses market themselves based on their Irish origins for Irish consumers. The Irish have a sense of their rich history, which is reflected in their music, pub culture, and sense of humour. Furthermore, as I read and talk with people, I realize what an amazing opportunity I have to learn about a culture that is similar and different to the American culture in which I was raised.