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.
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.
Cake #1: Ecaterina’s birthday/goodbye cake (she left the day after her birthday)
Cake #2: The two Italian intern’s goodbye cake
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.
Of all places, we found a Steak ‘N Shake (so clearly I had to get a milkshake)
A beautiful tiled Church
The whole crew
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.
Ecaterina, who was previously working on the Zoo projects
My first clients, one of the (sleepy) Wolves
The second time I went he/she was a little more awake
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.
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.
Sunrise just before landing in Dublin
Sunset in Maywood (my Grandad’s neighborhood)
A seagull chilling at Howth
The boats in Howth Harbor at sunset
Dublin was clearly ecstatic that Pope Francis was coming to visit
Like I said, ecstatic
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.
Soot, my aunt and uncle’s cat. If you leave water out, he will steal it.
My cousin’s bunnies, Maggie and Gus (short for Margaret and Augustus)
Tilly camoflauged in her trellis
Tilly surveying her kingdom (i.e. the garden)
Howth Harbor with Courtney!
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!
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.
About halfway through March I was fortunate enough to discover that I had an unexpected three day weekend at end of the month. My first thought, the same as any study abroad student: let’s go somewhere! My second thought: let’s go to Ireland! Call me unadventurous for wanting to go “home” for a weekend (something impossible at Cornell) over somewhere new, but I was ecstatic at the possibility of visiting my granddad and uncle in Dublin (and my wallet was ecstatic about not having to pay for a hostel and food). I checked the flights and it just so happened that Ryanair’s seasonal direct flight between Santander and Dublin started the Sunday of that same weekend. So I would have to fly out of Bilbao and have a layover somewhere on the way there, but at least on the way back it would be directly to Santander. Not quite perfect, but close enough.
I should start by saying that it was 100% worth it, BUT getting there turned out to be wayyyyy more stressful than it should have been. I must admit it was partially my fault but also very much not my fault. I was flying out that Thursday at 6:20PM, my class ended at 2:00, and Bilbao is only an hour and a half bus ride away, so I had plenty of time, right? Well I got to the bus station in Santander around 2:45 planning on taking the 3:05 bus which would supposedly arrive in Bilbao at 4:30, leaving me plenty of time to then take the local bus to the airport.
I don’t think any bus I had taken from the Santander station had ever been late before (and I’ve taken quite a few) but this one didn’t even get there until 3:20, at which point I was already concerned about getting there on time. However, as soon as it pulled up, I realized that I didn’t have a ticket. You can get them online beforehand, at the station, and for some busses you just pay the driver when you get on. I’d taken a bus to Bilbao many times before and always bought the ticket online, but for whatever reason the system was being really finnicky and wouldn’t process the payment. I figured no problem, I’d just get the ticket at the station. For whatever reason I was thinking that for this route you get your ticket on the bus, but when it pulled up and everyone pulled out their paper tickets I ran upstairs (the station has three floors, the ticket desk and bus terminal being as far apart as possible of course) and asked for a ticket for the 3:05 bus. The lady, who seemingly was not having a good day at all, didn’t even look at me and said that wasn’t possible because the bus had already left. I explained that the bus was late and had just gotten there but she said that regardless, it was past the time of departure so she couldn’t sell me a ticket. After a moment of major déjà vu (back to standing at the gate in Miami airport last summer, entirely out of breath after running probably the equivalent of a mile from my connecting gate, and being told I couldn’t board the plane to Bolivia that the rest of my team was already on) with a knot in my throat and the tears coming fast, I slid the €7 across the counter and she printed me a ticket for the next bus at 3:45. From checking the bus times beforehand I knew that this bus would make more stops and therefore take longer than the other would’ve, not arriving in Bilbao until 5:30.
So yes, it was my fault for not having a ticket, but if the bus had arrived on time (at 2:55 like it was supposed to so it could leave at 3:05) I would’ve been able to still run upstairs and buy a ticket. And even if I’d already had a ticket, the bus left so late that I probably still would’ve been really pressed for time in getting to the airport.
Thankfully the next bus left exactly on time and on the way there I was able to check in for my flight online and call a taxi to be waiting for me when I got there (as it would be much faster than taking the local bus). Somehow we arrived ten minutes early so, while kicking myself for not having asked for the taxi to be early instead of right on time (I hadn’t wanted to make the driver wait around) I looked around for a taxi stop. I figured there must be one close to the bus station but I couldn’t find one anywhere and there weren’t any station workers around to ask. As soon as the clock turned 5:31 I called the taxi company and they simply told me that the taxi was occupied, which completely defeats the purpose of calling ahead (and that made it sound like they only had one taxi even though it was a whole company), so then I was just fed up with all forms of public transportation. While still wandering around trying to find a taxi, one pulled up right next to me at a stoplight and happened to be empty. I asked if he could take me to the airport and thankfully he said yes and helped me put my bag in the trunk before the light turned green.
He was very friendly and tried to make conversation but at that point it was 5:45 and I was so nervous that I could hardly form sentences in Spanish. He said I would’ve found one faster if I had gone to where all the taxis were, but he was speaking almost too fast to understand and I was too annoyed in general to bother asking where on earth that had been. When we got there I handed him cash, told him to keep the change, and ran inside. I was scurrying between the two screens on opposite sides of the check-in area trying to find out which gate the plane was at but it wasn’t displayed on either of them. I checked the time, 6:10, and ran to the information desk to ask, trying to sound as calm and sane as possible. The man looked at me, smiled, and calmly told me that the flight has been delayed but will probably be at gate 3. To say I was relieved was an understatement.
I went through security and actually had a bit of time to sit and try to relax. The plane was set to leave at 6:45 but didn’t end up taking off until about 7 so I was still a bit nervous about making my connection. The layover was in Barcelona, meant to be an hour and 45 minutes, now shortened to only an hour, and I wasn’t sure if I’d have to go through security again because I was switching from a domestic to international flight. If that wasn’t enough, Ryanair also requires that silly visa stamp on the boarding pass of non-EU passport holders that you can only get at the check-in counter, so I had no idea how I was going to get that. And after hearing stories of people missing weddings, funerals, etc. simply because they didn’t have the stamp, I wouldn’t have put it past them to not let me on.
Thankfully the connection could not have been easier. The two gates were in the same terminal, really close to each other, and I stalked some Ryanair employees from afar until they weren’t busy and asked if they could sign my boarding pass in lieu of the stamp. Also getting their boarding passes signed were two girls about my age with American accents so I introduced myself. In the 45 minutes they made us stand in line before boarding the plane I learned that they were studying for the semester in Barcelona and going to Ireland for the weekend, where they were from, what they were studying, and we even bonded over the fact that we missed the huge snowstorm in the northeast a few days prior.
By the time we landed it was pretty late (11:30) and after the relatively stressful few hours of thinking that I was going to get stuck in Bilbao or Barcelona, I was ready to sleep, so I didn’t even think to try to find the two girls to say goodbye when I got off the plane. I walked down the long walkway to the main terminal but the flow of people stopped and piled up in the hallway right outside the immigration control room. After a few minutes they let a few more people in and I realized why: the room was packed. I have no idea how many flights arrived at the same time as mine but it must have been at least 3 or 4 because I’ve never seen so many people waiting in line to have their passport checked. Normally traveling on a non-EU passport is an advantage because the line is generally shorter, but in this case there were only two non-EU windows open so even though the line was shorter, it moved much much slower.
I got to a window just after 1AM and after asking me the normal question of “what’s the purpose of your visit,” “how long are you staying,” etc. the guy asks to see my boarding pass for my flight back to Spain. Ummmmmm my flight isn’t until Sunday, why would I have the boarding pass right now?? So he asks me to show him a confirmation email or something to prove it. There was no wifi and I didn’t have any data so I wasn’t even sure if I could search through my email (thankfully it was already loaded though), and for some reason the only email coming up was for my flight there, not the one home. I told him I couldn’t find it but that I could tell him the time, date, airline, everything. He wasn’t impressed. I stood there for at least 5 minutes silently raging at Spain for not letting me get my Irish passport through the embassy in Madrid and frantically scrolling through my email until finally I found it. He let me go but I was honestly pretty annoyed because no one has ever asked me to show physical proof of a return flight when I’m only staying for a few days (and I’ve gone through many passport controls in my life) and he didn’t seem to care that there were a million people waiting behind me in line, including a couple with 5 very young and tired children, at an ungodly hour of the morning after having traveled for probably much longer than I had.
Anyway, I finally made it to my uncle, who had been apparently trying to get a hold of me to ask if everything was all right, at about 1:15 AM, or 2:15 Spanish time. We drove to my granddad’s house where we stayed up for at least another hour chatting and drinking the obligatory Irish tea. So what should’ve taken 7 hours of traveling took 12, but I was just happy to be there. I still can’t even believe how lucky (more like blessed) I was that my first flight was delayed enough so that I didn’t miss it but not enough that I missed my connection, and I am entirely sure that it was quite literally by the grace of God that it all worked out so perfectly.
The following day was my only chance to go into town for a bit so, even after sleeping for not nearly enough hours, I set out for the bus stop. I wasn’t sure how much it was so I asked the only other person waiting, a grandmotherly woman, if she knew. She said she wasn’t sure but gave me an estimate and, due to my clearly-not-Irish accent, asked where I was from. I explained the whole Florida-New-York-Spain-Ireland thing (I’ve had lots of practice at this point) and she said she might know my granddad since he’s lived in the same neighborhood for so long, but she didn’t recognize the surname Green. When we got on the bus she waited with me to make sure I had the correct amount of change and even offered to pay my fare in the case that I didn’t. We chatted all the way until we arrived at her stop and she made sure I knew which stop to get off at before she left. It was only afterwards that I realized that I didn’t even know her name.
When I got into town, thanks to the lady’s very helpful instructions, I stopped in the tourist information office and grabbed a city map since I didn’t think it was worth turning on my phone’s roaming just to have a map for a few hours. I figured between that and the countless times I’ve navigated through Dublin with my mom and siblings during the summers we spent there that I would be fine. I wanted to first visit Trinity College, my mom’s alma mater, so I set off down O’ Connell street. I wanted to double check that I was going in the right direction so while I was crossing the bridge I stepped to the side, pulled out my map, and literally less than three seconds later a very well-dressed businessman stopped and asked me in the most charmingly Irish of accents if I was trying to find somewhere in particular. I told him I just wanted to make sure I was going towards the college and after very happily telling me that I was indeed headed in the right direction and giving further detailed directions to the entrance, he wished me a lovely day and a lovely stay in Ireland. As he trotted away I merely stood there slightly taken aback, in the best of ways.
I had recently heard of the stereotype that Irish people are very kind and friendly, but before then I had really only ever interacted with people who were either related to me, the kids on the block in my granddad’s neighborhood I used to play with, and parish priests; none of whom I’d expect to be unfriendly anyway. But lo and behold, twice within an hour a random stranger was incredibly welcoming and kindhearted towards me.
The Spire of Dublin, aka the Needle (Note that Cornell isn’t the only place to have random space needles in the smack in the middle of everything)
The Liffey, aka “Sniffy Liffey” because it used to be really polluted
Trinity College Dublin
As I approached the entrance to Trinity, I saw a table covered in Daffodils alongside it (as it was National Daffodil Day for cancer awareness) and in front of the table was a blonde ponytail, boots, and a purse, all looking very familiar. Against all odds it turned out to be the two girls I had met on my flight the previous night! We explored Trinity together for a while, lamented over the insanely long line through immigration at the Dublin airport, and exchanged numbers before they had to head somewhere else for a tour.
Then I made my way through campus to the science museum (which is entirely free, fyi) where they currently have an artificial intelligence exhibition. They had a robot that drew and colored its own pictures, an interactive pet robot, and a machine where if you turned the crank continuously it spit out a penny ever 4 seconds or so to demonstrate the equivalent of their minimum wage. My absolute favorite part, however, was the piano robot. You have to keep in mind that there’s no music school at the University of Cantabria, it’s not socially acceptable in Spain for just anyone to play the pianos in the churches, and I don’t have a piano in my flat of course, therefore I hadn’t even touched a piano since the previous May. So when I walked in the room and saw a piano in the corner I flipped out just a little bit. I racked my brain trying to remember any songs and the only one that came to mind just so happened to be one from an Irish musical (it’s called Once and it’s on Netflix, definitely watch it). The robot’s purpose was to analyze what you were playing and try to play a few notes back that fit with what you’re playing. It didn’t sound very good, but I was so rusty after not playing for so long that I was thankful that all the mistakes I was making blended in with the robot. I probably would’ve stayed and played much longer but figured I should let someone else try. When I got up from the piano, one of the student employees told me he didn’t want me to stop playing.
The coloring robot
The piano robot
I did some thorough wandering and exploring around Dublin city center (centre, if I’m culturally correct) and on my way back to the bus stop I went in search of a key part of every summer spent in Dublin: a hole-in-the-wall donut place. And I mean that quite literally because it’s nothing more than a little window where you can buy the most delicious donuts I’ve ever had for €0.80 each, and I had to ask my mom where to find it because I had never bothered to find out its name. They’re nothing at all like Dunkin’ Donuts or Krispy Kreme. They’re homemade, really fluffy and warm, and come in three flavors: sugar, cinnamon sugar, and chocolate. This is one of the few places I will ever choose another flavor over chocolate, and I love watching them toss the donuts in the little tray of sugar. They were even better than I had remembered.
(it’s the window on the right that the boy is standing in front of)
❤ ❤ ❤
I then realized that I actually didn’t know where to catch a bus home because it definitely wasn’t the place as where it had dropped me off. Again, from the random bits of memories I could gather from nearly a decade ago, I somehow found the block where we always used to wait for the bus after a day in town, and I even bought some daffodils on the way. This time I sat on the top floor (they’re all double decker, another thing I love about Dublin) and at the very front. While walking home from the bus stop the sun was just setting over the horizon and with all the yellow daffodils glowing it was just magnificent. Unfortunately it was also on this short walk that I somehow suddenly realized that I was coming down with a really bad cold. I was annoyed that it might put a damper on my visit but also slightly relieved because I would much rather get sick at home than at school.
My granddad had a few options we could make for dinner, but like any real Irish meal they all contained meat. I suddenly realized that it was a Friday during Lent so I asked if there was anything we could make that wasn’t meat, but we soon found out that the only vegetarian option in the house was something in a can that had been sitting in the cupboard for many years (we actually found things that had been there since I was in high school). I told him it was perfectly fine if we had meat since there wasn’t really another option, but, even though he himself is not Catholic, he insisted that no it was not fine and we would find something. He had a flyer for pizza on the countertop that he had received that morning in the mail, so we called them up. I’m honestly not sure if my granddad had ever ordered pizza before, so I made the call, relieved that it wouldn’t have to be in Spanish (Spanish over the phone is way harder than Spanish face-to-face). Of course, with my luck, the guy on the other end spoke so fast and with such a heavy Irish accent that I had to ask him to repeat everything he said a second time anyway, but in the end we got our surprisingly cheap thin crust veggie pizza. I felt kind of bad for putting my granddad through so much trouble just because I forgot to tell him beforehand that I wasn’t supposed to eat meat on Fridays, but he was really happy with the pizza and between the two of us managed to eat nearly all of it.
I had promised my parents that we would skype them when they got home from work, so 10PM our time, but I only made it until 8:30 before I went upstairs and collapsed on my bed. I think getting sick was a delayed reaction of the combination of traveling, being around a lot of people, stressing out, and not sleeping much over the past 48 hours. The next morning I woke up around 7:30AM with a full-on chest, head, and everything else cold. And even though that sounds really early, considering that slept for 11 hours (which is highly unusual for me anyway) it really wasn’t. Since I had gone to bed so early I hadn’t gotten as much homework done as I had hoped, so somehow I mustered up the will power and worked, still in bed wrapped in all my blankets, until 9:30 or 10.
It wasn’t until I heard my granddad’s neighbor Mrs. Sheehy come through the front door, like she does every morning, to bring the paper and chat for a bit that I summoned all my energy, shed all my blankets except for one, and shuffled downstairs. When I slid into the kitchen the first thing they said was why didn’t I just put on the robe that was hanging on the back of my door? The thought honestly hadn’t even occurred to me because throughout college I’ve always avoided having extra unnecessary things because having to fly back and forth is such a pain and very limiting in what you can bring, so I’ve never had a robe. I’ve always just shuffled around wrapped in a fuzzy blanket. But I was already downstairs so I wasn’t going back up.
I made some tea and we all sat and chatted for a while about I don’t even remember what, and after Mrs. Sheehy said goodbye my granddad started telling me stories: of an aunt who worked in a leper colony for a few decades in Africa the better part of a century ago, how he found out he’s allergic to whiskey, and, since St. Patrick’s Day had been the previous Friday, I asked him what the holiday was like in Ireland. He said that everything closed, including the bars, everyone had the day off of work and school, there were several big parades in town, and many people had get-togethers with friends and family. It’s also first and foremost the feast day of Ireland’s patron saint so I’d imagine that a lot of Catholics attend a special mass that day. So to me it sounds like the equivalent of our 4th of July, but minus the barbecues. Also, fun fact, they actually don’t eat corned beef and cabbage. That tradition was started by Irish immigrants when they arrived in America, so really it’s Irish-American rather than Irish. Although my mom had told me that she remembers her mother always making special orange and lime Jell-o with whipped cream as an Irish flag-colored treat. All that said, it honestly makes me sad that when celebrated in pretty much any country except Ireland (I saw it here in Spain too), people simply use it as an excuse to be drunk all day.
A few times a week my uncle takes his two dogs (well really his sister-in-law’s and niece’s dogs that he watches often) and my granddad for a walk in Howth Harbor. I like to joke that he walks the dogs and the granddad. (Side note: If you ever go to Dublin, go to Howth Harbor, it’s absolutely beautiful and you literally see the fish part of the fish ‘n chips you’re about to eat coming off the trawlers.) On the way there we stopped at the pharmacy to get sudafed and cough drops so I wouldn’t be a zombie and they worked almost immediately.
Thankfully I got super lucky and the weather the entire weekend was actually better than in Santander, which is crazy unusual, so the drugs and beautiful weather did me a lot of good. I got to walk Luca, the crazy one, and we meandered around the piers a bit. After learning about breakwater structures, ports, wave patterns, etc. in my coastal engineering class, I actually found it really interesting to walk see Howth from an engineering perspective. We also picked up the fish for dinner, Sea Bass I think it was, at a little family-owned fish shop that my granddad has been going to for as long as I can remember. I also noticed for the first time ever that there was a fish tank with a few goldfish (clearly not for the purpose of eating) and I found it amusing but at the same time slightly morbid.
On the way home I asked my uncle if all the daffodils in my granddad’s neighborhood had just been planted recently because I didn’t remember ever seeing them there before. “They’ve always been there,” he said. And in that moment I realized that every time I had ever visited was during the summer, so of course they were never in bloom and I just thought they were all patches of extraordinarily long grass.
Back at home my uncle made tea, put on the Rugby game, and pulled out the tea brack. What is tea brack, you ask? According to my two minutes of google research, it’s a type of “breakfast bread” (but I’d say more like a fruitcake) that has dried fruit that has been soaked in hot tea (normally Irish breakfast tea). It’s also nicknamed Irish freckle bread which is an AMAZING name. (I actually laughed out loud when I read it and immediately changed the name of this post because that is just the greatest thing I’ve ever heard.) Anyway, my uncle said he’d give me a “small bit” to try and he gave me a whopping slice that was probably about an inch thick. Luckily I ended up liking it! My granddad also pulled out some rich tea biscuits so along with everything else it was probably as Irish an afternoon as it could possibly get and it was absolutely lovely.
After my uncle left with the dogs my granddad and I made fish, sweet potato fries chips, and a rhubarb compote with custard for dessert. We chatted a bit more and, thanks to the aforementioned drugs, I was able to do more homework and actually stay awake long enough to skype my parents. My granddad wasn’t too familiar with skyping, as he just makes calls on the telephone, and he thought it was a great invention to be able to hear and see the other person.
Sadly, Sunday had already arrived and my flight was at 1PM. Had I nearly (or even completely) missed this flight I wouldn’t have been upset in the slightest. I would have no problem being stuck in Dublin with my granddad for a few more days, but unfortunately, with having very easy access to the airport via a 15-minute ride in my uncle’s car and a direct flight to Santander, there was almost no chance of that happening. Darn.
I went for a walk around the block where I used to play with the neighbor’s kids, past the cluster of short trees that we used as our clubhouse, and through the empty field across from my granddad’s house where we used to play fetch with Bruno the Bassett Hound when he and his owner were out. It was a lot of Fado. At one end of the block there’s a cul-de-sac and I stumbled upon an intense hopscotch chalking. Seriously, this kid was training for the hopscotch olympics. It went all the way around the cul-de-sac and up to number 311. You go kid, you go.
I didn’t know until the previous day that this particular Sunday was Mother’s Day (I think only in Ireland though) so I asked my uncle if we could stop by St. Mary’s church to see Nana before going to the airport. It’s the church where my mom grew up, where my parents were married, and where my Nana is buried. I wanted to bring the Daffodils but my uncle said they don’t really like people leaving flowers there (I’m not sure why). We stopped by for a bit, ran into the church organist, and I attempted to make the overgrown and very illegible gravestone look a little less overgrown.
This wasn’t even half of it
The Daffodils in my granddad’s neighborhood
The very forlorn grave marker for my Nana
My uncle dropped me off at the airport and told me to try not to get everyone on the plane sick. Lo and behold I ended up in a row with only one other person who coincidentally was just getting over a cold. He appeared to be maybe in his early thirties and introduced himself as Iarlaith (pronounced EER-lah) and we ended up laughing for a good ten minutes over all the strange ways people have messed up our names in the past. It turned out that he actually used to teach English in Gijón, a town not far from Santander, and he was going back for a week to visit friends there. Then he asked me where I was from and what brought me to Dublin, and he got really confused when I answered (I don’t blame him haha). ¿Entonces tú hablas Español? he asked. So we launched into Spanish and it was really cool talking to someone who speaks with the same clearly-native-English-speaker accent and makes the same mistakes that I do.
When we were landing there was a bit of turbulence which is not unusual, but every ten seconds or so we could hear the engines increasing the jet propulsion for a few seconds, and then going back down to normal. As we descended, I realized that we were seconds away from landing and still over water, and then right before we landed I heard the engines turn up but they didn’t die down again like before. I’m pretty sure we were incredibly close to landing in the bay, but I figured worst case scenario I would still make it back alive, so I wasn’t terribly worried. Ahhh I’m going to miss the excitement of flying with Ryanair.
If you made it all the way through I commend you for your perseverance, because I’m pretty sure this is the longest post I’ve ever written. Now that I think about it, I think I wrote this more for me so that I can remember my too-brief time in Ireland this year, but I hope you found it at least somewhat interesting. Keep an eye out for my next post about Holy Week in Rome! I’m going a bit out of order because I’m so behind but everything will make it into the blog eventually so just bear with me. But if you’re impatient like my you check out all the photos at least on my facebook. Hasta luego!
This week was the last bit of play before all the work sets in.
Last Monday I took my final exams for the intensive Spanish course that consisted of a written grammar test and an oral presentation. I thought the grammar portion was quite easy and I got one of the highest scores in the class so I was really happy with that. The writing class was graded off of the short essays we had written throughout the two weeks and I scored about average compared to the rest of the class which is good (but I have no idea how he graded them because all the 9’s, 9.5’s, and 10’s had the same amount of red correction marks…??)*. I didn’t do as well on the oral presentation as I’d hoped because my presentation was on google drive and unfortunately the internet picked that exact day to stop working so I had to use a really last minute makeshift presentation so I was kind of panicky because I felt so unprepared by the time it was my turn. But honestly if that was my worst, then I think my worst is pretty good.
I spent Wednesday to Sunday at my granddad’s house in Dublin, Ireland because my mom and my three uncles were all in town (sort of like a mini family reunion). I missed the international student orientation trip because of this, but apparently all I missed was pouring rain and a few places we’d already seen in the month we’ve been here. Bummer.
Thursday my mom and I took a train to Belfast to visit the “Titanic Experience.” It’s not a museum, but more like a very detailed and interactive story, and being a huge history geek I absolutely loved it. I think we spent a good 3.5-4 hours there.
On board the Nomadic, a Tender for Titanic
The slipway where the Titanic was built
Friday we went to Newgrange, an ancient burial tomb that’s older than Stonehenge and the pyramids (which by the way IS THE COOLEST PLACE EVER). It’s lined with massive boulders (somehow transported hundreds of miles before the wheel existed), carved with various designs, built with different types of stones collected from all over Ireland, it has a vaulted roof made of large flat rocks and no mortar but it hasn’t leaked a drop of water since the day it was built, and there’s an opening above the entrance that is purposely lined up with the horizon so that on the winter solstice the rising sun illuminates the entire cavern. Maybe that’s just my civil engineer/architect/history geek fangirling over a mound of rocks and earth BUT SERIOUSLY IS THAT COOL OR WHAT.
Anyway. The rest of the weekend I spent just hanging out with family and hearing so many stories that I never knew about my mom and her brothers.
And, because I’m absolutely incapable of going anywhere without learning a new recipe, I tried Rhubarb for the first time and learned how to stew some fresh stems from my granddad’s back yard. Fun fact: Rhubarb leaves are poisonous, you can only eat the stems!
Picking the Rhubarb
Stewing (essentially just boiling)
P.S. Special thanks to Duolingo, the language-learning app that says I’m not fluent because I finished all the Spanish lessons but I am still definitely not fluent. How helpful. (But at least is wasn’t unhelpful…)
P.P.S. Now I really just use Duolingo for French since I want to visit but they speak neither English nor Spanish, so this will be interesting.
*Spain grades on a scale of 1-10 with 5 being a pass.