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.

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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Letting Go: Lisbon

I have both good news and bad news. The bad news is that I’m kinda behind on this blog because November=exams. The good news is that I had my first exam this week in Geotechnical Engineering and I was the first to finish so hopefully that means I knew my stuff! If that happened at Cornell I would be scared out of my mind because it could only mean that I understood absolutely nothing and gave up.

Anyway, we had somewhat of a Fall break because (with Spain being nominally Catholic) All Saint’s Day (Nov 1st) is a national holiday and we had Halloween off and I don’t have classes on Fridays so000 5 day weekend!! The logical thing to do? Fulfill the “abroad” requirement of study abroad and go to Portugal! Did I bring homework/study material for my upcoming exams? Mmmmmmmaybe…

I must say Lisbon was definitely the most…interesting…trip thus far as well as the most exhausting. Seriously, I took a nap the day after I got home. Anyone who knows me well knows that I don’t nap unless I’m either really sick or I pulled an all nighter (of which neither even applied in this case).

In my last post I said that I’ve come to realize how much I still have to learn (about culture, life, and pretty much everything) and this weekend definitely confirmed that. I say this because there was many a moment when it would’ve been so easy to give up and turn back, get frustrated, start complaining, or turn into a decidedly negative nelly for the rest of the day, but instead I did my very best to exercise my positivity muscles.

I could recount all of the missed trains, unplanned and unnecessary mountain hiking, hours spent trying to find a place to eat that wasn’t closed or full, the many times we arrived somewhere only to find that it was closed on that one particular day of the week, and the brief period of panic that ensued when we couldn’t find a taxi to get to the airport at 5:30 AM and were convinced we would have to buy another plane ticket home…but what good would come of that?

Looking back, my favorite part was not when we made the train on time, or finally found a delicious vegan buffet after much hungry wandering, or found a great Fado* restaurant because we triple checked to see if it was in fact open (and actually had Fado). Honestly, my favorite moments include lying on a stone bench with Priya in a plaza at 11:30 at night because we were too tired to walk home and discovering the relation between Fado and crackers, eating an entire fish that frankly was the most delicious fish I have ever eaten in my entire life (even the head, tail, and bones didn’t faze me at all), and moseying around the smaller and more intimate city streets with Michaela while pondering stress, coffee, being abroad, future plans, and the best ways to be a traveler instead of a tourist. And I realize now that many of these things wouldn’t have even happened had our plans not gone awry.

*Fado is a genre of traditional Portuguese music with two types of guitars and vocals. Our tour guide said that most people think it sounds sad but that it’s not meant to be sad. It’s meant to emulate the feeling of when you remember something very good but you simultaneously realize that you will never have the exact same experience again. In my opinion it’s more of a mix between nostalgia and bittersweetness, and can be sad I suppose, but remembering happy things isn’t mean to be sad. The Fado crackers story: I was telling Priya that one time I came home from school really really hungry for some reason and I ate some crackers that I’d had many times before, but for whatever reason in that moment I had never eaten more delicious crackers than those. Of course they never tasted that good ever again, but I still have the memory. It’s definitely a slightly sillier example, but that’s the idea of Fado.

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Plus, I learned some very important lessons while I was there:

  • Portugal is not Spain. Not even close. They may share the same peninsula but they’re also huge rivals. Things are on a different schedule (what I would call the normal non-Spanish timetable) and businesses close one day a week but instead of all closing on the same day one will be closed only on Mondays, another only Tuesdays, another Sundays, etc. It seemed like the majority of people (even random people on the streets) speak English.
  • Don’t try to speak Spanish to the locals. It’s normally received as an insult. If you start speaking English you’re saying “I don’t speak Portuguese but English is becoming a universal language (especially in Europe) so there’s a fair chance you also speak English,” but if you start in Spanish you’re saying “I don’t speak Portuguese because I chose Spanish as my second language instead because it’s globally superior and more useful. Plus it sounds basically the same as Portuguese, right?”
  • The most fun thing to do in any city is try to pretend to be a local. I’m not saying to ditch the tourist label entirely; you will get lost and need directions, and definitely take lots of pictures to help you remember how much fun you had and to share with others, but know that the best parts will probably not be the monuments that cost an arm and a leg to get into. I love wandering all the little streets, especially in the older parts of places, finding hole-in-the-wall cafés, local family-operated shops, and the hidden but beautiful sights.

And most importantly…

  • COFFEE IS  APPARENTLY NOT SUPPOSED TO BE BITTER AND GROSS. AMERICANS ARE JUST DOING IT WRONG. Michaela and I found an adorable coffee shop and I got a latté. Normally I would have to add tons of milk and sugar to coffee to make it even bearable (which is part of the reason I hardly ever drink it) but this was just espresso, milk, and an adorable design in the foam on top and it was absolutely perfect. No sugar necessary and no burning hot, bitter, bean-ey, watery dirt. I was amazed and Mich informed me that this is what coffee is supposed to taste like. Teach me your ways Europe.

All in all, it was a wonderful weekend away from school, exploring a new culture, and learning to let all the negative thoughts go. Things will always end up being ok. Maybe not in the way you’d expect or want, but they will be ok. I’m absolutely positive.