My Everything Bagel

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Everything Beagle with Cream Cheese (I saw this photo a few days before Halloween)

On November 1st, appropriately All Saints’ Day, I didn’t get a chance to say goodbye in person to my best furry friend of 11 years when he crossed the Rainbow Bridge. 

When I myself was in eleven-years-old, my parents, for whatever reason, decided that we were going to adopt another dog and he/she was going to be mine. I for whatever reason had taken a liking to beagles, so my mom searched for beagle rescues* in the area. She found Ziggy Beagles, named after the owner’s first beagle. Being only 11, I didn’t have any criteria for the dog except that I wanted a beagle-ish one, so when my mom showed me three-year-old Cody, with his long face and big brown sad eyes, I immediately said something along the lines of, “yup, he’s the one.” When we went to visit him, his owner told me that he was painfully shy, as he had been abused in the past (in what way we don’t know), and he may never get over that. I was advised to not change the name he had been given, because it would be difficult enough for him to adjust to so much change (my mom denies this fact, but had I been given an opportunity to change his name, I absolutely would have; I was not at all a fan of the name, although it grew on me soon enough). Looking back, I’m not sure if this came from intuition or naïveté, but I had no doubt in my mind that if we adopted him, he would eventually overcome his timidness.

I remember on the last half-day of school before Christmas we were driving home when I realized we weren’t taking the correct route, and my parents said they were well aware. I realized we were going to pick up Cody weeks earlier than planned! He was a nervous wreck, wrapped in a towel, and peed on his owner out of fear as she carried him to the car. When we brought him home, he wouldn’t eat unless we gave him moist food, and then transitioned to putting some water in his bowl of dry food. He wouldn’t leave his donut bed, so the bed sat in the living room with him in it as life went on around him. Finally, after three days, he ventured out.

He became a normal dog apart from the fact that he slept a lot and hated walks (beagles are usually very active). It turns out that he was just a very lazy beagle, but we figured that whatever he had been through in his previous life had merited him all the time he wanted dozing off on my and/or my parent’s bed. I still tried to take him on walks every now and again, especially later in his life when he got a bit pudgy. He was always afraid of unfamiliar dogs, cars, and for some reason especially children on tricycles. Each time, after about a minute of walking, he would suddenly make a u-turn as if to say “ok now we go back.” I would drag him on after each attempted turn-around, until eventually he would lie down in protest until I turned around. He always walked faster when we walked towards the house than when we walked away from it. One time early on I accidentally dropped the leash, and when it made a thud behind him, he got spooked and started running, but he turned and ran all the way home and was waiting for me at the garage door. He may have been lazy, but he was smart.

He also had a very refined taste for Irish Breakfast Tea and carrots. Granted, he would eat nearly anything he was given, but he especially liked carrots more than our other dogs, and, along with the others, he would wait diligently every day until my mom finished her mug of tea for a few laps of what was left.

His quirks included lying on his stomach (often in my bedroom doorway) in such a way that his hind legs splayed out behind him (aka splooting), proving to be highly unphotogenic in that he always looked cross-eyed and derpy in photos, and he yodeled (beagles have a distinctive bark, often called yodeling) at absolutely nothing probably at least once a day.

I will greatly miss picking him up and turning him around to continue dragging him along on our walks, having a 28-pound weight leaning against me all night, getting dog hair all over my Christmas dresses, giving him his own bit of cake on our shared birthday (we don’t know exactly when his is, so we always celebrated it with mine), and having someone to finish my tea for me.

(The cover photo is one my mom sent me while I was at college of Cody modeling the t-shirt my EWB team was selling as a fundraiser to build the bridge in Bolivia).

*Apart from one pound dog and one purebred, all our dogs through the years have been rescues. If you’re hoping to adopt a dog (or cat), please consider adopting from a local rescue. They may not be purebred, but they have just as much personality and love to give. The be paying less in adoption fees, making space in a rescue home for another dog from the pound, and giving a deserving dog a second chance at a happy life.

Whatever you do, please do NOT adopt a dog from a pet store (I’m not talking PetSmart, but general pet stores, in malls for example, that only have puppies and they’re all in cages) unless they can prove that they do not get them from puppy mills (because nearly all, if not all of them do). This will only feed into and encourage the practice of puppy mills. And adopt from a breeder only if they are trustworthy, transparent, and responsible. 

If you don’t know where to start your search for an adoptable dog, or if you’re interested in fostering a rescue, these links are good places to start:

Ireland: DSPCA, Dogs Trust

USA: ASPCA, Adopt a Pet

Additionally, beagles are one of the most common breeds used in animal testing of various products. Perhaps with the exception of certain medical trials (such as cancer treatments on rats), animal testing is highly unethical, yet still prevalent in the cosmetic and household product industry. Please educate yourself on which companies/brands do or do not test on animals and make an informed decision to support those who do not. Primark (aka Penneys in Ireland) has recently started its own line of skincare and cosmetic products called P.S. that was created specifically for those who want products that are not tested on animals, but, like most other Primark products, are still good quality and highly affordable. 

Beagles rescued from labs going outdoors for the first time

Leaping Bunny Certified Products

Certified Cruelty-Free Brands 2018

Primark P.S. Brand

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Turn his frown upside down: save the Beagles!
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A Wee Dander Around the North

October 2018

So far I’ve learned that only about 20% of engineering is understanding the basic concepts and their origins, and the other 80% is simply using common sense and thinking things through. That said, I’m learning to ask a lot of questions without coming across as defiant, because either that I have something to learn from asking the question or it does not, in fact, make any sense at all. One day one of my co-workers wrote concrete “sleep” instead of “slab.” But hey, if I had two small children I’d probably have the same thing on my mind. 

Speaking of common sense, I was walking through the city center heading home from work one day when I heard a strange yell behind me and I turn around just in time to see a bicyclist in mid-collision with a female pedestrian. She had walked into the street when the walk sign was red and somehow completely missed the biker heading towards her at full speed. She was flat on her back and seemed relatively ok, but when she sat up her head was bleeding; not a lot, but enough to cause concern. A few other concerned bystanders and I got her onto the sidewalk and sat her down. I had to ask what the emergency number was (it’s 112 in most of Europe) but after the person looking at me like I was crazy and not much of an answer I just dialed 911 (which turned out to be correct, no thanks to the person I asked). Thankfully a Garda (police officer) was passing by and stepped in, and thank goodness no one was critically injured because we waited at least 40 minutes for the ambulance to show up. Moral of the story: don’t jaywalk kids. Or at the very least double check for bicycles.

The Irish weather has continued to be amazing. I keep waiting for the gray rainy days to set in, but they haven’t yet, which is very unusual. Even though it got really cold last week, we’ve still had quite a bit of sun. Ireland also typically receives the remnants of former hurricanes. This year, while the panhandle of Florida was being absolutely devastated by Hurricane Michael, we got a Friday off work due to “storm” Callum, which ended up being no more than a morning drizzle and a touch of wind. That’t the extent of Ireland’s “extreme” weather and capability of handling it.

As for our neighbors, they’ve been incredibly friendly and welcoming ever since we moved in. The family on either side moved in not long after my grandparents did, so they knew my mom and they’ve known me since the first time I visited when I was two months old. One of the neighbors always brings the bins up the driveway after it’s been collected, and the other always collects our packages from the mailman when we’re not home. Courtney and I even befriended a neighborhood cat named Leonardo, who occasionally walks home with us. One day we arrived home at the same time and were sitting on our front step petting Leo when our neighbor from across the street came over to say hello. She had thought we were locked out, but we reassured her that we were just petting the cat. I suggested that she and her husband and their three small children should come over one evening for tea and biscuits. So about two weeks later they wrangled the kids and brought them over, along with a giant bouquet of flowers to welcome us to the neighborhood. We chatted away (or gnattered, as some Dubliners might say) and they told me about the neighborhood, the local library, the best place nearby to get Thai food (my favorite), and where to get the best fresh bread. We also shared memories of my Grandad, and I rummaged through one of the upstairs wardrobes and brought down some of the toys, games, and puzzles, which dated back to when my siblings and I were very young, for the children. The two older kids enjoyed the puzzle and jenga, while the little one had a blast gradually stashing all the biscuits from the tin in various other parts of the room. I found half a biscuit in the couch several days later.

Last week Courtney’s friend and this friend’s boyfriend’s mom came to visit, so over the weekend we went to visit Courtney’s family (3rd cousins I believe) who live in Ballymena, Northern Ireland. Unfortunately something that I ate for lunch on Friday didn’t agree with me, so once arrived, I spent the first five hours of my stay throwing up. Thankfully it was only food poisoning though and not a stomach bug, so after about midnight that night I was fine, so at least I was able to enjoy the rest of the weekend.

We visited Giant’s causeway (of course) and several sites that were used as filming locations in Game of Thrones: the Dark Hedges, Ballintoy Harbour, and a couple other places whose names/locations I don’t remember, but were equally enchanting. We stayed in an Airbnb, a little cottage out in Ballyclare (the middle of nowhere), and we got to meet our hosts’ dogs and cows. They own over 50 Scottish curly haired cows (I think Galloway cattle), who were really shy and cute.

On Sunday, on the way back to Dublin, we stopped at St. George’s Market in Belfast. I found some great homemade jam, fresh Dutch rhubarb (because there wasn’t a good crop in Ireland this year), yummy savory crepes, and I wandered around dozens of eclectic booths selling candy, pastries, wood crafts, metal work, knits, paintings, jewelry, etc. At one point an old fold-up meter stick at an antiques stall caught my eye and the vendor saw me trying to figure out how to unfold it. He started telling me about it and flipped it over saying “This side here is in inches. Your generation is used to metric, but in the past we used the imperial system. You see, there are 12 inches in a foot…” I politely interjected saying that I’m from the U.S. so I’m actually fairly familiar with the imperial system, which seemed to greatly surprise him. This was the first time I wasn’t immediately pegged as an American once opening my mouth, so I’ll take that as a good sign. 

We also gave our guests a brief history lesson while driving around Belfast and showing them the different residential areas of the two factions during The Troubles (the Protestants/loyalists and the Catholics/republicans), their respective murals, and the peace wall.

And of course, many would say that October isn’t complete without Halloween.  However, Halloween is actually a very new concept in Ireland. When my mom moved to the U.S. in the late ’80s, she thought it was very strange that children dressed in costumes and begged for candy from strangers (understandably). In fact, up until very recently the U.S. was the only country that celebrated the holiday (besides countries with similar holidays, such as Mexico’s Día de Los Muertos). It’s the global Americanization that brought Halloween to Europe.

I was curious to see how it would be and very hopeful that people wouldn’t go to such extremes here, because even though there are aspects of it that I like, it’s still my least favorite holiday. The decorations started popping up at the beginning of October, and people started setting off fireworks up to a week in advance (even though they’re illegal). One of the neighbors told me that Halloween is their “fireworks holiday” because they don’t associate fireworks with any other holiday. I find that odd though because Ireland has an independence day (it doesn’t seem to be widely celebrated but I haven’t been here for it so I could be wrong) and I would’ve though that, if anything, St. Patrick’s Day would be a fireworks-worthy holiday. From the way my mom describes the celebrations from when she was a child, it sounds very similar to our Independence Day celebrations.

Despite my general dislike for Halloween, I was still pretty excited for this one because I’d never given out candy to kids before, because my parents have never liked Halloween and in college I either lived in an apartment or there weren’t any kids in the neighborhood. Because it was right after we got back from Northern Ireland, we didn’t have time to get any decorations apart from a couple of pumpkins. I had heard that if you didn’t have any decorations, people might think you didn’t celebrate Halloween and kids wouldn’t come trick-or-treating, so the first thing Courtney and I did when we got home from work/school on Halloween was make our own decorations. The kids seemed to all come at once, before the rain set in. So I’d say my first Irish Halloween was a success.

And of course, since there’s no Thanksgiving in Ireland, guess which holiday “starts” on November 1st?

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P.S. In case you’re still wondering, a “wee dander” is Northern Irish slang for a walk

New Norms

September 2018

A small addition to my previous post, we had a really quiet day in the office the other day so I was able to get some photos of our little office space.

While I’ve experienced a lot of newness this past month in relation to starting my first permanent full time job, I’ve also had other “new norms” to adjust to.

As most of you know, when I was offered the job in Dublin, my Grandad immediately offered to have me stay with him for a while until I settled in and could find a place of my own. We were both so looking forward to spending time together, but unfortunately that never happened because he passed away rather suddenly in June at the age of 94. However, my mom and uncles, to whom the house now belongs, agreed that I could still move in and stay until the house is sold, caring for the house so I could save for future rent, which will almost certainly be very expensive.

On September 8th, after my first week of work, my uncles (my moms three brothers) and one of my aunts all came to visit from Swords (near Dublin), England, and Scotland. They came to bury my Grandad’s ashes where those of my Nana were buried 12 years prior in the garden adjacent to St. Mary’s Church in Howth. This is where their family always went to church and where my parents were married. One of my mom’s cousins, who is a priest in the Church of Ireland, very kindly came from very far away to say a short prayer service in the garden. It was sad of course, but I’m glad I was able to be there because I couldn’t fly over for the funeral, and I was also thankful for the opportunity to see my uncles and aunt. We went for a walk in Howth that afternoon, where my uncle and Grandad have always gone for walks for as long as I can remember.

My Grandad’s passing also meant that I moved into an empty house, which I knew would be hard in more ways than one. Thankfully I didn’t spend too much time alone, because a few days after arriving I went to England to stay with my aunt and uncle for a week, and shortly after I started working and wasn’t home very much in general. I have no problem with being alone, and very often welcome it greatly after a tiring day of work, so it was nice for a little while. I also know the neighbors because they’ve lived here nearly as long as my Grandad did, and I’ve known them most of my life, since I spent many summers here. They’ve had me over for tea, took me to Howth with them for an evening, collect packages when the postman comes when I’m not home, and take the bins up the driveway after the trash has been collected. Even the new neighbors across the street, a young couple with two children, went out of their way to introduce themselves and offer a hand should I ever need it. So there has definitely been no shortage of community support.

Rewind to this summer at Nazareth Farm. When I mentioned to one of the staff members, Courtney, that I was moving to Dublin, she was shocked at the odds, because she had another friend, also named Courtney to add to the confusion, who was also moving to Dublin, and it just so happened that she was coming to visit the Farm while I would be there. She and a couple other friends of Courtney came for a weekend and she introduced us. Courtney was moving to Dublin because she had some distant relatives in Northern Ireland, had spent some time there, and tuition is way cheaper there, so she had decided to get her Masters in Social Work at Trinity College Dublin (where my mom went to college, interestingly).

We hung out a bit while she was at the Farm, we exchanged numbers, and kept in contact. Once we both arrived in Ireland (she moved and was staying with her family in Northern Ireland a few weeks before I moved) we decided to meet up on her birthday. This was partially because we didn’t really know anyone else at the time and because I saw on facebook that it was her birthday and the last thing I wanted was her to have to spend it alone in a foreign country/city after having just moved there. We went to both of our favorite place in Dublin, Howth Harbour, and then got tea and dessert in the village. We also decided to meet up to celebrate my second day of work and Courtney’s first day of school with Guinness, especially since I’d never had one before. It definitely wasn’t the worst beer I’ve tasted…

Because we ended up getting along really well, after a couple of weeks we decided that when we both moved out of our current residences, we wanted to find a place together. I’m living in my Grandad’s house until it’s sold sometime in the Spring, and she was staying with a host family for what was supposed to be several months. Then my dad suggested that I ask my mom and uncles if she could stay in the house with me. Courtney’s living situation wasn’t what she had hoped for and was very far from Trinity, and thankfully my uncles agreed that it would be good for us to have each other’s company.

So the second to last weekend in September Courtney rented a car and we drove to Lucan, collected her things, and then back to Raheny. We didn’t really plan on it but we ended up spending the entire weekend cleaning and rearranging the downstairs of the house. It was difficult to see it all change so quickly, from being the way it was for as long as I can remember, to something much neater and more practical, although not completely unfamiliar. Courtney said it best: it was like ripping off a bandaid. It was a bit painful, but it also desperately needed to be done, and at the very least it was more enjoyable doing it with someone else rather than by myself.

While I didn’t mind the quiet before, it has also been wonderful to have someone with whom to to cook, eat dinner, clean, and spend evenings talking by the fireplace, drinking tea, and eating biscuits. And it’s lovely to have someone around who’s nearly always as eager as I am to go on an adventure. The most memorable one so far is definitely the day we rented a car, drove with Glendalough as our destination, and simply stopped any time we felt the urge (which was many times) along the way to explore the Wicklow Mountains. In the end, the getting there was even better than the being there.

As You Do

September 2018, Part I: The Job

Note: It’s only in writing this that I realized how much happened in just one month. Seeing as this post is already pretty long, I’m breaking into parts (hopefully just two).

I officially hit the one month mark last week at my job and holy moly I can’t believe how lucky I am. Before I started, one of my biggest fears was that it was too good to be true; that either it was all a scam or that it simply couldn’t be as interesting a company/position as they had made it out to be. I was half right: it’s too good (perhaps even more than I originally thought) but entirely true.

First of all, and possibly most importantly, when I first researched churches near my house and in the city center, all the daily masses were at 10 AM, which really makes zero sense because that means that no normal working person or student can go. However, the closest church to my office, about a 3 minute walk away and a Capuchin friary, happens to have daily mass at 8 AM. Normal working hours are 9-5.30, so because my commute is an hour earlier than most, it’s much less crowded, and I get into work half an hour early when only a couple people are there so there are fewer distractions. And of course, that also means I get to go home half an hour early, which makes a huge difference when the sun starts to go down really early.

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On the bright side, I get to see the sunrise every morning as I walk to the train station.  (pun intended)

There has ever been, at most, 14 people in our office. Two were interns from Italy for the summer but they left last week, one is a permanent intern and works 2-3 days a week, and the owner is out of office about a third of the time because he spends much of his time meeting clients and out on sites. Additionally, two people are in college part time so they’re out once a week, and normally someone is out on site, at a conference or workshop, or on leave, so there’s usually about 8 or 9, with the maximum at 11. I really wanted to work in a small office, so this is the perfect size for me.

Eleven people and zero cubicles. For me that’s a dream come true. It’s an open floor plan with a conference room and kitchenette (or “tea station” as they call it here). With the small number of employees and no isolating walls, everything works relatively efficiently. At my internship last summer if I had a question I had to trek to the other side of the building, but here I can just ask from across the room (you might think it gets noisy, but it really doesn’t). If anything, during the first few days it made me feel more included because I wasn’t isolated in my own little space. It also holds everyone to a certain level of accountability and transparency. No one is ever looking over your shoulder and there’s a lot of inherent trust, but of course if someone did very little work it would be pretty obvious.

The office culture is also just really fun; more so than I even hoped. I get to wear jeans every day and every Friday is casual (although for me there’s not much difference because I’m not much of a T-shirt person). Every time it’s someone’s birthday or someone is leaving, the rule is that they have to bring in a cake (I would’ve thought that someone else would bring you a cake, but hey, I don’t make the rules). And yes, I already know what cake I’m baking when my birthday comes around in June, so I’m actually really excited about the rule. What’s even better is that around Christmas each year there’s an office bake-off. Not quite like the Great British Bake-Off, but still really cool. Over the course of two weeks, each day someone brings in their bake and everyone scores it, and at the end the numbers are tallied and the winner announced. I’ve been testing a U.S. recipe (ingredients here are slightly different) so I can hopefully perfect it (or at least get it to be above average) by December. So December is essentially two weeks of baked goods and then two weeks off.

When they said hours were 9-5.30, they meant it. I’ve heard countless co-workers and friends talk about how at previous/other jobs everyone in the office would come in early and/or stay later than they really needed to, every single day. At Hayes Higgins people actually leave at 5.30. And on Fridays we get off at 3, so technically I’m not even working 40 hours a week, only 37.5. While there are days that I stay a bit late because something needs to be done or I’m nearly finished and just want to get it done, but there’s never any pressure to unnecessarily stay late, come in early, or to ever come in sick. Here it’s much more of a “work to live” instead of “live to work” mentality.

Did I mention that the entirety of the Dublin and Kilkenny offices take a weekend trip to somewhere in Europe each year? That weekend happened to be the last weekend of September, so I arrived just in time. We spent the weekend in Porto, Portugal.  As a group we went on a walking tour learning about the history of the city (the year I was studying in Spain I always did the free local walking tours whenever I visited a new city, so it gave me a good bit of nostalgia) and had dinner together each night. While on our own a few of us went to a bookstore called Livreria Lello, which was JK Rowling’s inspiration for the staircases in Harry Potter (of course they sell a bunch of HP stuff there), found a steak ‘n shake of all things, visited the famous bridge, and browsed a little street market. The trip counts as “Continued Professional Development” (CPD) because it’s technically team bonding.

All of the above doesn’t even include the actual work, which is possibly just as fun the majority of the time. The first project handed off to me was the renovation of the Grey Wolf Exhibit, along with other smaller projects, all at the Dublin Zoo. I don’t know how I was the lucky one who got landed with the most fun job on my first day. The girl who had been working on the projects and we spent the afternoon of my fourth day on the job (also her birthday) at the zoo. She showed me all the areas that will be renovated, introduced me to the contractors, and showed me recently completed projects (also by HHP; they’ve been doing all the Zoo’s projects for 20 years), including the Discovery Center, group entrance, tigers, flamingoes, elephants, and orangutans.

Of course there’s always a learning curve though; any time you start somewhere new. One Friday the weather forecast a chance of rain during just one hour, so I opted for comfy canvas shoes thinking it would be soft Irish rain at worst. Of course I ended up having to walk to the Dublin City Council Planning Office to sort out some paperwork for my lovely wolfies and their new home, and on the way back it poured. I had to take off my shoes and walked around the office in wet socks the rest of the day. I didn’t think  anyone would mind; in fact, if anyone even noticed they didn’t say anything. It also took me a good long while to vaguely figure out how fares were calculated for Dublin’s Leap Card (one payment method for all types of transportation), so sometimes I ended up paying much more than necessary. Whenever someone at work mentions a term I don’t recognize, I never know if it’s a different name for something I’m already familiar with or if it’s something completely new, so I’m never sure how much I should let on how lost I am. Although so far no one has given me a hard time for asking a question, no matter how silly it may seem. I also learned that apparently there’s no such thing as a regular savings account. There are many different types and they all have weird rules about how much you can deposit/withdraw and when. And they don’t even use the word deposit, they say “lodge.” You lodge a check. You don’t submit a project application, you lodge it. What kind of country is this??

I could go on, but anyway… As frustrating as things can get, as hard as the accents can be to understand, and as confusing as the words and the ways of this (to quote my boss) “small green island in the Atlantic” can be, I have no doubts and no regrets. In all of the annoying, the weird, and the perplexing moments, I simply think to myself (as my aunt always says) “as you do” and carry on.

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The Good Kind of Craic

18th-31st August 2018

“Why Ireland?”

Everyone asks cautiously as if they secretly believe that I chose to move to a seemingly random country and get a job there before moving back to the states in the very near future, all as a very complicated, drawn out, temporary, and frivolous gallivant across the pond, so therefore I must be mentally unstable.

Ok, maybe that’s not what they actually think, but with the tone that some have asked the question, it seems that way. It visibly puts most people at ease when I tell them that my mom is from Dublin and I have family here and they realize that it wasn’t such a random decision, so I’m relabeled as mentally stable.

On August 19th I got off the plane and passed through immigration in record timing thanks to my handy dandy Irish passport. I’d say it was three minutes, tops, and two and a half were me trying to go through the new automated passport control but for some reason unrelated to me it wasn’t working properly. My uncle picked me up from the airport, which he has done faithfully every time I’ve ever visited as far as I can remember. We then drove to my Grandad’s house in Raheny, also a faithful tradition sating all the way back to my first visit when I was only two months old, but this time, marking a distinct first, we arrived at an empty house.

As you may know from my last post, my grandad passed away rather suddenly in June. The original plan was that I would move in with him for a while until I was settled and I found my own place to live. I’ve still moved in but now I’m the caretaker of the house until it’s sold sometime next year. It’s really strange to be in such a quiet house. I’ve never lived completely on my own before because I’ve always lived with family or housemates, so the solitude is not necessarily unwelcome, but definitely something to adjust to. What’s even more odd is that I’m allowed, encouraged in fact, to “make it mine” for the time being. Of course for me that means that I already have the pantry stocked with flour, sugar, etc. and (because Europe doesn’t do measuring cups) I’m just waiting on the kitchen scale I ordered to come in the mail.

The day after I arrived, one of the next-door neighbors, who has lived there nearly as long as my Grandad had and has known all three generations, kindly invited me to her house for tea (“tea” as in dinner ((but with actual tea of course))). This was the week before Pope Francis came to Dublin and they were hosting a priest who had just arrived from France. They made a traditional Irish breakfast for dinner (which made me very glad I’m not vegetarian or especially vegan because I have no idea how I would’ve gotten around that) and afterwards we went for an unseasonably warm and pleasant walk in Howth Harbor (one of my favorite places) and had some ice cream. I can tell you firsthand that the Irish hospitality is not a stereotype, it’s very much true.

Then, after a few days of unsuccessfully trying to figure things out (like open a bank account), my uncle, one of my aunts, and I went to England for several days to visit another aunt and uncle and my cousins. One of my cousins passed away 15 years ago when he was 20 while he was playing golf, which he greatly enjoyed. Now each year his parents and twin brother host a golf tournament in his honor, and this year, since I was so geographically close and the timing was just right, I was able to be there to support them as well as spend time with them. Apart from the tournament and the family dinner that always follows, for the most part we did a whole lot of nothing, which was great. We spent many hours sitting around the kitchen table talking and telling stories over cups of tea and coffee and biscuits, and we went to see my cousin and his wife’s new house (and bunnies!). Granted I got a terrible cold after a few days and the weather wasn’t great so I don’t think that helped doing anything other than nothing. But after those several days of being mostly by myself, it was wonderful to just sit and absorb all the conversation and jokes and stories that I either don’t remember, wasn’t alive for, or wasn’t present for.

On the whole I’m not complaining (or as the Irish would say “giving out”). The biggest struggle up to this point has simply been the fact that due to the newness, everything requires so much effort. Even though much of it isn’t new to me (the culture, slang, transportation, etc.), I still don’t know everything about this place because I’ve never stayed here long enough before. Exhibit A: I’ve accidentally taken the Luas (Dublin city tram) twice without paying due solely to my inability to figure out where the little kiosk thing where you swipe your leap card was. The first time I thought it was on the tram itself, and the second time I thought I found it but realized only after that it wasn’t it. I feel bad, but no one ever gave me a second glance, so I’m less concerned about getting arrested and more concerned that they’ve made it way too easy for people to ride for free.

Today I started my job (on Labor Day ironically) with Hayes Higgins, so more on that to come later!

Bittersweet Birthday

June 9th, 2018

It’s been a very bittersweet birthday.

It’s the first birthday I’ve spent away from home, which is actually quite impressive considering I’ve had 22 of them and I’m very rarely home anymore. Even last year, when I thought would be the first time away, I ended up taking my 3 final exams in the first two days of the month-long exam period because I had to get back to the U.S. to start my internship, so I arrived home 6 hours before my 21st birthday. The amusing part was that after 10 months of being over the legal drinking age, I was underage again for a mere 6 hours.

This year I left for Bolivia about 48 hours after getting home from graduation. We left on May 31st and arrived back home on June 7th, so I spent my birthday (June 4th) in the Andes mountains in a little village called Calcha. We had a private meeting with the Mayor of Vitichi, met with several community members to gather information about the effects and use of the bridge, and played a rousing game of Bolivian UNO. The team even made me a little birthday card at breakfast and surprised me with a chocolate cake at lunch, brought all the way from La Paz without my knowing, and sang happy birthday.

 

On the day we were to fly from La Paz to Santa Cruz to Miami (and then to Orlando for me), we got stuck in Santa Cruz for several hours due to something malfunctioning on the plane. Knowing I probably wasn’t going to make my connection, and possibly not any connection that night, I called my dad using whatsapp and the unpredictable airport wifi to ask if someone could come pick me up in Miami and just make the long drive home. The answer was “no” because, as I wasn’t supposed to find out until I got home, my dad had to drive my mom to the Orlando airport that night so she could fly to Ireland to be with my grandad. I knew that he had come down with pneumonia the previous week and had been doing fairly well initially but apparently a few days prior, on my birthday, everything started going downhill really fast.

He passed away early this morning; my mom and her three older brothers next to him.

He was kind but firm, quick-witted, had a great sense of humor, and was incredibly humble. I never knew about most of his interesting stories until I visited him several times while studying in Spain and whenever we had a cup of tea or dinner together I started simply asking questions. I learned that he had visited and experienced the strangeness of East Berlin during the cold war, was allergic to whiskey, and couldn’t understand some of the really thick Irish accents (I think from Kerry?) despite being a native.

One of my favorite memories was when I visited in March 2017. I flew up from Santander for the weekend, just because. On Friday we were planning what to make for dinner and I explained to him that I wasn’t supposed to eat meat because it was a Friday during Lent. (He was the stereotypical friendly “yer grand” tea-drinking-five-times-a-day elderly Irishman in pretty much every way except in that he was not Catholic). Of course, the traditional Irish diet does not cater well to eating vegetarian, so every option he had contained meat. We ended up ordering pizza (and by “we” I mean “I” because he had never done it before, and I had to ask the guy to repeat everything because I couldn’t understand his accent over the phone) with onions, peppers, mushrooms, oregano, and who knows what else on a thin crust. He ended up liking it much more than he expected. Several months later my uncle messaged me asking what it was I had ordered on the pizza that one time because my grandad wanted to order it again, exactly the same way. So apparently I inadvertently got him hooked on pizza.

Here are a few excerpts from the eulogy that my uncle wrote, of things that I didn’t really know (or at least the details were very fuzzy) until now:

“At the end of his time in school he wanted to study medicine at TCD and sat the matriculation exam which he passed, unfortunately the family circumstances were such that he could not take up the place, so he set his sights on becoming and Accountant and joined the Great Northern Railway.”

“Growing up in Dundalk [he] attended Dundalk Grammar School in the 1930s playing both hockey and badminton for the School. He used to reminisce about cycling 15 miles to Carrickmacross after school to play a match and then cycle back afterwards.”

“He was elected to the Olympic Council where he was Vice president for 8 years, and to the Sports Council. He was at 3 Olympic games, firstly as a swimming judge in Montreal, and as the team manager for the entire Irish team in Los Angeles in 1984 and Seoul in 1988…Dad retired from all his sports positions in 1988, but in 2015 when he was 91, Swim Ireland presented him with a Hall of Fame Award…”

But I do know that he loved apple pie and American bacon, that even at 94 he played sudoku every day, and that despite living in times of great religious and political tensions in Ireland, when all four of his children married Catholics and countless other parents would’ve been furious and unaccepting, he disregarded judgement from others and without hesitation welcomed his childrens’ spouses as family.

 

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When I returned home from Bolivia, the plan had been to properly celebrate my birthday. We ordered a Publix cake and planned to go out to dinner; the usual for birthdays in my family. But now my mom isn’t here. She was boarding her plane as my plane landed. The task of combing through all the messages and emails that have piled up over the last week, including all the ones wishing me happy birthday and asking about Bolivia now just seems daunting.

My grandad was supposed to have his hip replaced at the end of June so he could walk farther and more easily like he used to, which feels like not very long ago. I was going to move in with him in August before starting my job in Dublin in September. I was going to be there to cook for him, help him with daily tasks, and keep him company. My uncle who lives nearby has always come over four days a week to take him out to Howth Harbor, go grocery shopping, and simply spend time with him, but it was going to be a huge help and great comfort also having someone there every day. I was going to live with him at least for the first several months, and then find a place of my own at some undetermined point. My granddad, uncle, and I were going to go to England for a weekend in August to attend my cousin’s Memorial Golf Tournament. My parents were going to come visit in November to surprise him for his 95th birthday, something they were planning even before I got the job and planned to move there. I found it amusing that he would be living at my house in Florida for a couple months a year, while I’d still be living in his house, trading places practically. After having the opportunity to visit several times during my time abroad, I was excited to hear more of his interesting stories from his life, drink tea together, eat sweet potato fries (excuse me, chips), go for walks in Howth and pick up some fresh fish, make rhubarb jam, rhubarb compote, rhubarb everything, etc.

But now it’s going to be an empty house. It’ll just be my uncle and I going to the golf tournament. My parents won’t be visiting in November. I’ll have to find my own place to live sooner than I thought. I’ll still move into the house for a bit, because selling it takes time and I’ll be helping sort things out and maintain it. It’s just that the house will be much quieter and lonelier. I’m still ecstatic to move there, but Dublin has lost a truly amazing Irishman.

Bolivia Take 2

May 31st – June 7th 2018

I returned to Calcha, Bolivia for a few days to close out the program between EWB Cornell and Calcha. Since I’ve never explained fully and mainly focused on the bridge aspect (because that’s the project I was most involved in), this is an overview of the entire set of projects within the 5-year program agreement.

During the summer of 2014, a few students from Engineers Without Borders Cornell (EWB) traveled to the Andean village of Calcha to inspect an existing spring box (which provides water storage and distribution) and test the water quality. The spring box wasn’t functional due to either being broken or not completely installed, so the team planned to do some research during the academic year in order to get it up and running when they returned the following summer. The water test came back relatively clean; the only thing the team could do to further improve the quality was provide them with chlorine tablets, but that didn’t require any type of engineering and the community didn’t show much interest in that idea either. However, while the team was visiting they spoke with individual households, and several community members expressed the need to cross the river when the water rose during the rainy season. The team decided that during the coming academic year they would do a feasibility assessment and, when they returned the following summer, they would potentially do some land surveying. Our team was new and this was their first project, so they didn’t have much experience, let alone in bridge building. The community would also have to show significant interest and commitment as well if the project were to happen.

In the summer of 2015 some team members returned, surveyed the river profile at a few potential locations for the bridge, gathered as many details as possible about the spring box, and spoke with the community again. A couple months later, at the start of the school year, I joined the team. Leadership told us we’d be building a pedestrian bridge in Bolivia partnering with (meaning using the design method and professional guidance of) another similar nonprofit called Bridges to Prosperity (B2P).

As some of you may already know, two years ago during the summer of 2016 I traveled to Calcha for two months with seven other students from our EWB team. We worked with the community members for seven weeks to construct a pedestrian bridge across the Vitichi River, which becomes impassable several times during most rainy seasons, making it difficult and even dangerous to cross, cutting off access to farmland (many families’ main source of income), schools, and hospitals. Between the summers of 2015 and 2016, the government had finally come in and fixed the spring box, so with the water project, again, there wasn’t a lot we could do, so all efforts ended up being focused on the bridge.

During the summer of 2017, a team of four EWB students went to Calcha to reinforce an existing irrigation canal with concrete and to provide an instruction manual and some materials to create gabions to protect both the bridge and the nearby spring box from erosion.

At the beginning of June, marking 5 years of collaboration, and therefore the close of the 5-year program agreement, three of us from the team and a professional mentor traveled to Calcha one last time. It was the final monitoring trip for the various projects, for evaluating the overall impact on the community, and closing out of the program.

I remember leaving Calcha two years ago, not knowing when I’d be back, if ever. I was thinking that the chances were I’d probably never be back, considering how far away it is and how logistically difficult it is to get there (refer to our trip home later on in this post). So having the opportunity to return was wonderful, and a bit strange, because, as Joe put it “it felt like I’d never left,” and it seemed that most things were they way they had been when we left. The bridge decking was a little more weathered and most of the children were a little (or a lot) taller, but other than that, not much seemed to have changed. Everyone we ran into asked us what we we’d been up to and where were Nati and Beti and Mario and Anna, etc. (some of those are nicknames the people gave them), so we gave the best rundown as we could of what everyone is off doing now, most of us already graduated. This time we didn’t have any electricity where we were staying (only the last day when it was finally fixed). Unfortunately only two out of five of us brought any type of illuminating device, so we survived primarily off of my and another person’s headlamps and flashlights for three days.

The trip there went pretty smoothly, especially because I took an earlier flight to Miami, which was delayed anyway but I still arrived with plenty of time to spare before the flight to La Paz.

We inspected the bridge and canal for continued structural stability and measured the canal (which consisted of climbing over large piles of earth and balancing between the steep sides of the canal, with each of us getting wet feet at one point or another), including the full length and that of the newly implemented section. We didn’t see any new gabions, and the existing gabions were leaning drastically, practically falling into the river. We measured the erosion along the river that occurred in the past year, and it turned out to be small, but not negligible. This only increased our concern about the lack of new gabions.

We had a meeting with the community, much like the weekly bridge meetings we had during construction, to explain to the community what we were doing and that we wouldn’t be back again, as a team at least. The community also explained that they hadn’t put in the gabions because the local government had said they would send a truck to collect stones from the river, but it never came, and they asked us to go to the Mayor and advocate for them. At the end, all the community members present came up to shake each of our hands, which they did before we left last time, which is a significant sign of gratitude and friendship. I got to see Evelyn as well, now nearly thirteen and much taller, even if for only about 15 minutes.

The following day happened to be my birthday and at breakfast everyone surprised me with a pocket-sized masterpiece of a birthday card, made with an index card and crayons. It was fantastic. We then drove the 45 minutes to Vitichi, the capital of the region where the government offices are, to see the mayor. We chatted with him briefly (he remembered us from last time; the banner of us in traditional clothing at a local festival still hangs on his office wall), thanked him for his support these last couple of years, and asked him to continue supporting the community after the close of the projects.

At lunch that day the team also surprised me with a chocolate cake (that was apparently brought frozen all the way from La Paz) and a candle that one of the cooks hand carved into geometric shapes and sang happy birthday. Cake is really hard to come by in Bolivia and I wasn’t expecting it at all so it made a great birthday. My only regret is that I was so excited about the cake that I never thought to take a picture of it.

The last day-and-a-half we were in Calcha, we went around knocking on people’s doors and chatting with them. This is not unusual in Bolivian society, to show up at someone’s house unannounced for a visita. We would ask about their perception of the bridge and how the construction went, how often they used it if at all, whether they had land on the other side, and any estimations of how many other people seemed to use it during the rainy season. And of course each visita meant that we were given (not offered, given) various food and drink, including buñuelos (fried dough), sangani (clear wine-like liquor that you drink like a shot), soda, soup, stew, rice, and potatoes. We ended up telling the cooks that they didn’t need to make lunch for us because we ended up having to eat so much food, as it’s considered very rude to refuse food and drinks offered to you at someone’s house.

The trip home was when things got bumpy. We left at 5 AM and drove for 12 hours from Calcha to La Paz (which is NOT a capital of Bolivia, we learned; Sucre is in fact the one and only capital). There we stayed at a hotel overnight, got up at 3:30 AM to drive to the airport, and were scheduled to take off at 6:30 AM. The plan was to fly for an hour to Santa Cruz, the largest city in Bolivia, get off the plane for an hour, re-board the same plane with new people, and fly for six hours to Miami where we would each make our own connections to various parts of the U.S.

What actually happened:

When we were going through the second security check while boarding the plane, I was randomly selected for additional security screening. When they wiped a strip on the inside of my suitcase to test for explosives, it tested positive. Twice. The inspector was very amicable and spoke English, and he searched my bag. He first asked if I’d been to Uyuni (where the salt flats are) and I said yes, I’d been there and taken the same suitcase but that was two years ago. He called over another inspector. This one asked if I had been around any fireworks. Nope. He asked if I took heart medication. No. They asked where I’d been and I said La Paz and Vitichi (the region Calcha is in) and they both looked confused and said they didn’t know where Vitichi was. After a few more questions about what I was doing there they let me go, thank goodness.

We were sitting on the tarmac and delayed for about an hour before we flew the one hour to Santa Cruz. We got off the plane and rushed to get some food and drinks (especially because we weren’t allowed to bring any water on the plane), but when we were supposed to board again, they announced that we were delayed and would be told more in 20 minutes. We were told this repeatedly until about an hour later they said that there were mechanical issues with the plane (and this was literally the only American Airlines plane in Bolivia, so there was no back-up). They ended up giving us lunch vouchers while we waited for several hours. Around noon, 3 hours delayed, we all knew that we would miss our connections in Miami so we attempted to rebook them, which was a huge difficulty in itself. I was the only one that didn’t receive an email giving me the option to rebook my flight so I was pretty stuck.

I wasn’t sure if I was even going to make the latest flight to Orlando that was scheduled to leave Miami at 9:45 PM, so I decided to call my parents (whatsapp via the sketchy airport wifi) to ask if someone could just make the 3-4 hour trek down to Miami to pick me up.

My dad on the other end told me that he wouldn’t be able to pick me up from Miami. They had been waiting to tell me when I got home that my granddad was in the hospital and not doing well so he was going to drive my mom to the Orlando airport that night. I had known he was in the hospital, but before I left he’d been doing better, but apparently a few days prior, on my birthday, he started going downhill. So not only I was stuck in Bolivia with the potential to get stuck in Miami, but I was losing my granddad, rather unexpectedly.

Thankfully, about an hour later they suddenly announced that we were going to board the plane. As I was standing in line waiting for the additional security check, a really kind airline employee at the front desk saw that I was crying, and I’m guessing she thought I was crying over a missed connection or something because she asked if there was anything she could do to help. I asked if she could put me on the later flight to Orlando because there was a chance we would make it and I wasn’t able to rebook. She came back a few minutes later with a new boarding pass.

I found out when we boarded that the flight was actually 7 hours, instead of 6 like I thought, I resigned myself to staying in Miami overnight because there was no way I was going to make the connection still. I started and finished Marley & Me on the plane, crying my way through the end (it was such a beautiful book). As soon as we landed I called my mom, who was still waiting for her delayed flight to Dublin. As we walked to customs and immigration, we all got alerts saying that all our flights had been delayed by about an hour so there was still a chance we could make them. We walked as fast as we could and thankfully I had decided not to check my bag, so as soon as we made it through immigration I checked the departure board and started heading to the gate. I had to go through security again, but there were very few people since it was 10:30 at night. The gate happened to be the first one after security and I got there just as they started boarding. It was once I was on the plane and I checked my phone that I found a voicemail that I hadn’t gotten in Bolivia because I couldn’t receive calls or texts. It was a call from American Airlines to let me rebook my flight. Thanks American.

We landed in Orlando and I checked my mom’s delayed flight to see if she’d still be there, because maybe I’d be able to stop by her gate to say goodbye, but they were boarding just as we landed. I met my dad and we got home at about 2 AM.

Although the end of the trip was rather rough, it was so so lovely to see all the community members again. I hope to one day visit Calcha again as an individual and to make many more visitas.

 

The Adventure Begins Now

My mom said to me, to offer some words of encouragement (I think) during my final semester of studying Civil Engineering, “you can see the light at the end of the tunnel…but in this case you’re the one building the tunnel.”

I was ready to graduate by the time I finished my junior year. After spending a year in Spain, a year of feeling like a real human being, I was not ready to go back to Cornell for another year. However, the fact that it was only one more year is what kept me going. While I’m proud to say that I have never in my life pulled an all-nighter (for academic purposes), but that doesn’t mean there weren’t times I walked (more like trudged) home from the engineering quad at 4 AM. With starting up a new engineering project team (Bridges to Prosperity), serving as President of Cornell Catholic, still volunteering through Alpha Phi Omega, surviving classes, applying for jobs, studying for the Fundamentals of Engineering (FE) exam, and spending time with friends whom I hadn’t seen in a year, I was constantly juggling many, many things. Not to mention getting sick three times in my last semester; a record for me.

So by the time graduation came around – let’s be honest, by Spring break I was more than ready to be done with school. I’ve had a love-hate relationship with Cornell for the past four years (three years if you count when I took a year-long break from it). I love all that I’ve been able to experience and learn there, I love all the opportunities I’ve had, all the organization I’ve had the chance to be part of, many of the professors, TAs, and staff, and I love and miss all my friends very much. However, I can’t stand a constant schedule of prelims (exams) on top of regular classes and homework, most problem sets (Dynamics was the bane of my existence in the spring), and the pressure to not only do everything, but to simultaneously excel in everything. It’s an incredibly stressful environment and I’m always in awe of the people who spent all four years there, because I was only really there for three and I still at times thought I wasn’t going to make it.

Graduation weekend was so crazy with events (notice the title photo of a very rainy graduation ceremony), packing, saying goodbyes, making sure my parents didn’t get lost, and trying to enjoy my last bit of Ithaca, that I kept waiting for it to sink in that it was all finally over, but it never did. Instead it’s been happening very gradually with small realizations. For example, a few days ago I was telling someone about how Cornell makes its own ice cream and how delicious it is, but I stopped in the middle of a sentence because I realized that I won’t get to have Bavarian Raspberry Fudge for a really long time (it was the first flavor I ever tried and still my favorite).  And it really hit me when I was filling out the customs form just before arriving in Bolivia when my friend Joe reminded me to write ingeniero/a (Engineer) in the “occupation” field. I definitely freaked out a little bit with excitement.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about all the crazy things I did in college, the adventures, the new experiences, the growth, the messiness, the uniqueness, the inspiring nature, and the beauty of it all. As my very wise friend Michaela said to me, it doesn’t feel so much like an ending, but more like a beginning. It’s the beginning of real life. So I’ve been thinking to myself: these past four years? All these amazing things that I’ve seen, done, and experienced?

This has only been the beginning.

Like, IT GETS EVEN BETTER!

Our whole lives people have asked us what we want to do and who we want to be, then we applied to colleges with our desired programs, picked a major, and worked our butts off for four years, often (and understandably) forgetting what the end goal was. And now we’re all finally going to do the things we’ve been saying we want to do for the last however many years! HOW EXCITING IS THAT!? In a world with so much talk and so little action it’s incredibly beautiful to see so many of my friends and peers setting out to make (and in many cases, have already made) a visible and tangible impact on society. Among those whom I admire greatly, I know people who are volunteering with the Peace Corps, studying robots that aid developmentally challenged children, building bridges, studying earthquake engineering, finding ways to make affordable food more accessible and nutritious, teaching high school AP science classes, becoming a nurse to help mothers and babies, studying theology and philosophy in pursuit of priestly ordination, teaching music, and teaching English as a second language to adult immigrants (many of whom are migrant farm workers from Mexico). That’s only to name a few. And on top of that, several of my friends will soon be getting married and I know they will be the example to show that two people can be joyfully (exuberantly!) committed to one another for the rest of their lives and to raise children to be selfless in this prideful world. I can’t wait to witness and celebrate their profession of love with them!

Michaela and I were lamenting about some (not all) adults we know seem to lead not terribly interesting lives and are very content with that, and we were worrying about ending up in the same situation but being unhappy with it, because we love adventure and travel and always trying new things. But then we had an epiphany. We can still be responsible working adults and still have amazing adventures and do cool things. Perhaps it won’t be quite as straightforward because we’ll have jobs and families, but that doesn’t mean we can’t do what we love. Instead it’ll be us and our families instead of traveling going solo, or it’ll be adventures on a slightly smaller scale, or we’ll be changing scenery once or twice a year instead of what for the past four years has seemed like every few months. I always think of my AP Euro teacher Mrs. Hals and her family, our EWB/B2P Professional Engineering mentor Johann, and the Spanish family whose children I taught English to last year, because all of them lead “normal” lives, but they still find the time to do some really cool things in some really cool places.

You don’t need to have a foreign passport, or make a lot of money, or speak another language, or I don’t even know what else. You just have to keep your eyes open for the opportunities, be persistent in working towards them, and when the times comes, take the leap.

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Still relevant!

To all the graduates, thank you for an unforgettable college experience. Though I already dearly miss living a few minutes away from each other, I am beyond ecstatic to see all the incredible things you all accomplish, all the setbacks you overcome, and all the joyous occasions you encounter. You are amazing.

Ad Maiorem Dei Gloriam.

FAQ: Graduation, Across the Pond, and Beyond

Congratulations to the 150th graduating class of Cornell! Which answers the first question: did I graduate? Yes, thank goodness! Although it still feels pretty surreal. I graduated, along with many of my wonderful friends this past weekend. The weekend was very different from what I expected it to be (isn’t it always?) but exciting and memorable nonetheless. I could definitely write a novel on that alone, but as I haven’t even processed it all myself, if I do, it will be later. Right now I’m just doing what I’ve been doing for the past four years: putting one foot in front of the other, despite whatever my level of feeling overwhelmed may be. And, understandably, what those next steps look like garners many questions, so, as per tradition, to keep the growing circle of people I’ve promised to keep updated actually updated I’m answering the most common questions I’ve received in the last few months:

What are your plans after graduation?

In March I accepted a job offer from Hayes Higgins Partnership, a small engineering firm in Dublin, Ireland. They work on many different types of projects, of which I’ll have some say on which I work, but I’ll most likely get to work on residential projects, schools, and renovations for several Dublin Zoo exhibits, which is a highly unique opportunity. It’s exactly what I wanted: a small firm, a structural engineering position, working on various interesting projects, and close to family (it ended up being extended family, but family nonetheless).

How did you find the job?

Google! Seriously. By the time March came around I’d had several interviews for positions within the U.S., but nothing came of any of them. There was one that I really fell in love with at Arup in Houston, but the position technically required a master’s degree (they decided to put my application in for it anyway because they were interested) so understandably the job went to someone probably a little more experienced. I had also applied to the Peace Corps, going so far as to enduring the intense and surprisingly strict hour and 45-minute interview (which was way more intense than I had expected). It wasn’t until a few days later that I finally acknowledged (what I think I had known for a while but didn’t want to accept) that it wasn’t going to help me grow in the way that I’d hoped, and that being in that position for two years wouldn’t really make me happy.

So it was actually out of sheer frustration that this one day I decided to Google search “civil engineering firms in Dublin, Ireland” and contacted the first three that I found located in the center of town. None of them were advertising open positions or anything, but I sent my resume and cover letter, along with a short explanation in the email saying that I’m American with Irish citizenship, graduating from Cornell, and interested in working with them as a structural engineer.

I got one response and it was from Donal Higgins, co-founder of Hayes Higgins Partnership I was guessing, merely an hour after I sent it. He said my resume and cover letter seemed to be missing from the email. The first email I had sent bounced back, so I sent another one and must have forgotten to reattach the files, so I apologized and sent them along. A few hours later he emailed me back again, at this point it was 2 AM Irish time, saying that my resume and cover letter “made for an interesting read,” which was a very odd response, but at the same time a positive one. After more email exchanges and approval from the senior management team, we scheduled a “brief chat” for the coming Friday. It happened to be Good Friday and I was visiting my friend Patrick in Ohio for Easter (shout out Patrick, even though this isn’t a podcast) so at 9 AM EST I found an empty room in the dorm to wait for a call from Dublin. Long story short, the “brief chat” ended up being 40 minutes long and he offered me the job on the spot.

Did you have to get a work visa?

Nope! I automatically have Irish citizenship because my mom was born (and raised) in Ireland. I finally got my Irish passport this past October (after trying to apply for it while I was in Spain, but to no avail because Spanish bureaucracy might just be worse than American). If I didn’t have citizenship I probably wouldn’t have even applied because the chances of getting hired if you also need a work visa are incredibly slim. Plus, after struggling to get even a student visa for Spain, I really didn’t want to go through that again.

How do you feel about being so far away?

Technically being within driving distance of my family in Florida was nearly at the top of the list of what I wanted in a job (hence the being close to family part mentioned earlier), but I figured if I didn’t end up within driving distance, then I might as well make the leap and work abroad. And I knew in that case I’d still be close to family, just not my immediate family. I think this confuses other people, but to me there’s not much difference having to fly back and forth between Cornell and Florida, and between Ireland and Florida. For me, the difference between driving and flying is significantly greater than the difference between flying for 3 hours and flying for 8 or 9 hours. The bane of my existence (apart from problem sets) for the past four years has been fitting my entire life into a couple of suitcases that cannot exceed 50 lbs., so really not much will change in that respect.

Plus, living in Santander for 10 months prepared me for living abroad long-term, and the Ithaca weather prepared me for the Irish weather, so I’m all set.

How long do you want to stay there?

I could tell you, but I’m pretty sure once I give it a concrete number, God will simply laugh and throw all my own plans to the wind (as He very well should, as I’ve learned). Right now I want to say 2 years minimum, because 1 year doesn’t seem like very long to be at a particular job, and my contract doesn’t have a time limit. After that I can reassess and decide how to continue from there. I do hope to return to the U.S. eventually, and yes, I still have hopes and dreams to live some place where it’s consistently warm and my nose hairs don’t freeze to inform me that it’s below 10 degrees.

Are you traveling to Swaziland this summer with Bridges to Prosperity?

Actually no. For the entire Fall Semester I don’t think there was ever a plan for anyone who traveled to Bolivia to travel again besides our Project Manager Nathalie (because PM is required to travel and she’s amazing and talented so she’s probably the best person to lead the team anyway), because we want as many new members as possible to have the opportunity. It was only at the beginning of Spring semester that this plan changed slightly and we decided it would be better to have at least one other relatively experienced student to be in country for the first two weeks to relieve some of the responsibility of the PM and Professional Mentor. Since Bethany and I, the co-leads of the engineering subteam, were the two options. My previous project team, Engineers Without Borders (EWB) also needed one more person who had already traveled to Calcha to travel again for the last monitoring trip (see next question), and again, Bethany and I were the two options. So one of us needed to travel to one and the other needed to travel to the other. The way dates and availability worked out, I ended up on the Calcha trip and Bethany ended up on the Swaziland trip. We both would’ve loved to do both if we could, returning to our friends in Calcha and making new ones in Swaziland, but of course that’s not possible, so we’re both super excited. Really I think the only downside is that we won’t get to travel with each other. If you’d like to stay updated on one or both projects/teams, check out our (their?) websites: B2P and EWB.

Are you going home for the summer?

Mmmmmm sort of? I graduated on Sunday (!!), I’m flew back to Florida along with my family yesterday, and tomorrow I leave to go back to Calcha, Bolivia for a week (June 1st-7th). You may recall that Calcha is the community with whom EWB-Cornell built a suspended pedestrian bridge in 2016 and a concrete irrigation channel in 2017, so we’re returning one last time for a final round monitoring and evaluation of the projects, and official closeout of the (I believe) 6-year program we’ve maintained with the community. I’m incredibly excited to visit the people, the bridge, the stray dogs, and the beautiful mountains at least one more time! What’s also really cool is that I’ll get to be there for my birthday (June 4th). This will actually be my first birthday not at home, because despite the fact that I spend most of my time away from home, somehow I’ve always ended up being home on that day.

After that I’ll be home for a week, and then I head out again to West Virginia to be a sojourner at Nazareth Farm. It’s an intentional living community that does volunteer home repair for the local community members. (if you want to make a donation, check them out here, they do awesome work!). I will be there for four weeks (June 16th-July 14th), and my friend Victoria is marrying her lovely fiancé, Dan, in Connecticut on July 21st, so between WV and CT I’ll be staying in NYC for a few days with my aunt. After the wedding I’m going back home to Florida for a solid month to, figure out how to fit my life into approximately two suitcases, go to some last doctors appointments and all those fun adult responsibilities, and spend time with friends and family. I’ll depart for Ireland sometime in mid-August to give myself time to settle in before I start in September. So it’ll be fairly equal parts craziness and relaxation, which is a much higher ratio of relaxation than I normally get, so I’m totally happy with it.

Thank you so much to everyone who has supported me through this craziness that has been Cornell. I have many thoughts on my last four years, graduating, and all the wonderful people I’ve met along the way, so I hope to find a way to properly say thank you, but for now I at least wanted to let you know what I’ll be up to in the immediate future. I definitely plan to revive the blog, especially because I’ll be off doing who knows what pretty soon. I will do my best to keep in touch throughout the summer and beyond, so if you’d like to contact me and you’re not sure how (since my address, phone number, etc. will all be changing soon) Facebook messenger is (surprisingly) the best bet regardless of where I’ll happen to be.

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Like the balloon says, this is only the beginning (ft. two of my amazing friends, Michaela and Victoria <3)

Ad Maiorem Dei Gloriam!