Stand back, I’m going to try blogging! (or, I just made a post where I talk about light switches)

July 6, 2012 § 4 Comments

Hi.

Hello?

Hi.

I don’t know if anyone is still interested in reading this, but I’m going to give it a go anyway.

Having been at home in the U.S. for over a month now, I can no longer do the following things:

  1. Claim jetlag as an excuse for my terrible sleep schedule
  2. Smell my room on my belongings (now they smell like my house)
  3. Say, “I just got back!” (although I still do)

All in all, it’s not an extensive list, but adjusting to life back at home has been. Weird.

It wasn’t weird for the reasons I thought it would be weird, though. For instance, I thought it would be weird driving/riding on the other side of the road than I had been for the past 4 months (it wasn’t). I thought I would feel really weird being in my house and in my bed (it didn’t). I thought I would either be clinging to the seat and begging them to take me back to London or kissing the ground when it was time to get off the plane (I did not do either of those things, thankfully). In fact, the only things that were strange were hearing the announcements in the airport in an American accent and light switches:

down is on! just hit the switch! up is off! just hit it again!

Are you kidding me? I have to lift the switch to turn the light on? I’ll just sit in the dark.

I’m telling you, man, I don’t know why that of all things was the weirdest thing about being home but for a couple of days every time I encountered a light switch it was a hassle.

In short, it’s weird because it’s not weird. Coming home from the other side of the world just felt like coming home from school for the semester, in a lot of ways. I moved back into my room. I unpacked my suitcases. It was hot outside and it didn’t feel weird. It was just… normal. In fact, I’ve started to feel a bit like the last 4 months of my life didn’t happen.

So to combat that, I’ve decided to be a better blogger in the next few weeks! I have a lot of things I never posted about, but I’d still love to talk about them here. So if you’re still interested in reading, please let me know! I’ll be better about posting if I know people will read it.

Maybe.

This is a happy sign about falling rocks at the Giant’s Causeway. For your viewing pleasure. (Click to enlarge)

Saying Goodbye, or, The Sappy Post

May 29, 2012 § 1 Comment

I didn’t want it to come to this, but here’s what it’s come to: my days here, while they have always been numbered, are drawing to a close. I fly out of Belfast on Friday. This morning I woke up to the familiar view of my ugly hotel curtains and closed wardrobe, and while it’s a boring view, I realized I would kind of miss it. I’ll miss the sounds I hear out my window: birds chirping, cars driving past occasionally, bits of conversation as students walk by. From my window, I have a beautiful view of the wind turbine on campus and the lovely green hills beyond campus. I’ll miss that view.

A sunset view from my window

I honestly didn’t think I’d have such mixed feelings about leaving. I’ve missed home, of course, and I’m excited to see everyone, but I am also not ready to leave. I thought that four months would seem like a long time, but it almost feels like it’s not long enough.

I’ve been trying to figure out exactly how time has passed here, discussing it with my various international friends. They agree with me that time has passed in a strange way. On one hand, it seems like a million years ago that we were sitting around in our temporary housing at Agherton Village, freezing cold and clueless about most everything from ordering Chinese food to going to the movie theater– excuse me, cinema. On the other hand, that feels like it was yesterday.

My lovely friends Abbi, Kathryne, and Mackenzie reading a map in Belfast– “We were such babies then!” says sentimental Kathryn.

Perhaps what’s made time pass oddly is that I feel like I’ve undergone a transformation here. I don’t want to say I’ve changed completely, but I do feel different. What’s happened is that I’ve become more myself, settling comfortably into even the parts of myself that I don’t like. I had to do it, because when I first got here, I was the only person I knew. I was hanging out with me a lot. For the first time, I really had to deal with myself apart from anything and anyone I’d ever known. It was scary, but it was also liberating. I was free of expectations and preconceived notions, and I could be myself in any way I chose.

It’s possible that a reason I haven’t been blogging much is because a lot of this experience, for me, has been internal. I work under the assumption that people want to read about the wonderful place that is Northern Ireland more than they want to hear about my feelings. And don’t worry, I’ll try to be brief about expressing them here. But everything I have experienced, I’ve evaluated through that lens.

Let me explain. I had a lot of anxieties about coming here, and this semester has been about slowly peeling away all of those worries and insecurities until I’m left with just myself. I hide behind fear like a mask a lot of the time, letting it cloud how others see me, hiding parts of myself I don’t want others to see. And even though I convince myself that it protects me from getting hurt, it just magnifies anything bad that does happen.

Being here alone meant that I had to take that mask off. I had to stop being afraid. And while I can’t say I was always successful, I can say that I believe I got better at it. As a result, I started to feel more confident and secure in myself– maybe more than I’ve ever felt before. I honestly believe this is the most important thing I’m going to take home with me. That, and a few more books than I had before (oops).

Now, here are some pretty pictures of what I’ve been doing in recent weeks:

Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge, take two! This time, the weather was much nicer, the crossing was much smoother, and we got to go all the way to the top of the island to take pictures.

Saw some cows on the beach, no big deal

Lovely (but cold!) evening at the beach with friends. Yep, I’m wearing a towel as an extra layer. Sometimes you have to improvise!

Finally visited the Giant’s Causeway! And apparently became a giant.

I want to apologize for not keeping up with this blog so regularly over the course of the semester, but I also know that I apologize way too much. Instead, I’ll just say that another thing I’ve learned this semester is that I’m hopeless at blogging on any regular basis. Please know that I hope to continue blogging this summer and reflecting on my experience, so don’t give up on me just yet!

The entire time I’ve been here, I have been making lists.

May 4, 2012 § 4 Comments

A selection of these lists is now being made available for your viewing pleasure.

Things I Miss About the States (besides people! you are not things!):

  1. FOOD. If you’ve talked to me at all since I’ve been here, you know about my misadventures in cooking for myself. For the first couple of weeks I was here, I ate a lot of toast. I’m talking toast for every meal, folks. To be fair, I started getting pretty creative with my toast. But it was still toast. There’s specific southern cuisine I miss, too, especially BISCUITS. I am forever having to explain biscuits. “It’s like a scone… but it’s not… and sometimes there’s sausage on it? But like a sausage patty. Or chicken. But you don’t have to put that on it… you can put jelly on it…” “Is that like jam?” “Oh, oh yeah, it’s like jam.” I faltered over explaining grits to people. They didn’t understand why I’d eat it. YOU JUST HAVE TO TRY THEM, OKAY. Finally, I haven’t really had very specific cravings, but the other day I knew I’d reached a low point when I was walking down the street and smelled fried chicken and I thought, “Oh, that smells good.” Then I realized what I was smelling was KFC. Gross.
  2. DRIVING. Folks, I am that person who loves to drive. I find it soothing. I still feel like a big kid when I get in my car. I’m still surprised people let me go anywhere without adult supervision, much less operate heavy machinery. It’s very exciting. So I’m used to being able to hop in my car and go grab something from the store if I need it, and planning trips is much easier when you know you can drive somewhere. Obviously, though, I do not drive here. (Not only do they drive on the other side, most cars have a manual transmission… not happening.) Fortunately, I’ve found the public transportation system here pretty straightforward and reliable, but it doesn’t go everywhere or run all the time. Having to rely on a taxi to get somewhere is something I could definitely do without.
  3. FREE LAUNDRY. Okay, I know it’s not “free,” PER SE, but I don’t have to pay £3 (2 to wash, 1 to dry) for every load of laundry I do at home or at Agnes Scott. It’s just a pain having to get change before I can do laundry. Also, £3 is actually a chunk of change for a load of laundry in my opinion.
Things I Don’t Miss About the States:
  1. Driving in traffic
  2. Georgia heat (muahahahaha, I am still wearing long sleeves, though it’s much warmer now than it was when I got here) (On a related note: everything being coated in pollen at the beginning of spring. So glad I missed that.)
  3. MARTA– the public transit here is much better
  4. The noise! (It’s very quiet in Coleraine most of the time. No train going by at all hours, at least not a loud one like at Agnes)

Things People Apparently Don’t Say Here (that I do):

  1. “awesome” (I have realized I say awesome way too much. It’s awesome.)
  2. “a bunch of stuff”
  3. “dude,” “duuuuuuuuuude,” etc.
  4. “Is that a thing? That’s a thing, right?”
  5. “I feel like… [opinion]”
  6. “y’all” (I was expecting this one though)

Grocery List from last week (copied word for word):

  1. bread
  2. pasta
  3. cheese
  4. some sort of vegetable idk???
  5. you need to be healthier
  6. nutella
  7. those cracker things you got that one time

Things I Missed While I Was Gone Over Spring Break:

  1. my bed
  2. the view
  3. really really nice people
  4. tea everywhere
  5. the music I hear everywhere and how it’s so varied
  6. the word “wee,” which has not yet gotten old
  7. my computer (don’t worry, baby, I’ll never leave you again)

Things I should do:

  1. update my blog more

Surprise! I still exist in the world.

April 22, 2012 § Leave a comment

I get really frustrated with people who don’t update their blogs. I always think, “You made a commitment! Surely you are doing things that warrant you saying something about them! Why aren’t you blogging?!” 

You can imagine how I feel about myself right now. I think my frustrations show a clear misunderstanding of what blogging is and how it works differently for everyone. I’m learning as I go, reader. You’re witnessing the process. 

As for excuses, I can’t offer you any of those. I can offer you reasons for my absence, however. Frankly, it got pretty exhausting for me to try to recount everything I did in a blog post, and as they were rather extensive, they took some time. Take. Take some time. Because I am going to keep blogging about what I’ve been up to! Just give me some time to get sorted. Expect some posts in the near future about more of my Dublin shenanigans (from multiple trips!) and my spring break adventures on the continent and in England. 

In the meantime, here’s a list of things that make me happy: 

  1. I got 2 Mars bars for the price of one from the finicky vending machine today. That almost makes up for the time it stole 60p from me. ALMOST. 
  2. The weather has been absolutely gorgeous the last few weeks! Of course it’s still rained a bit, and it’s still rather cold, but the sun has shown its face a LOT more than it did when I first got here. Spring!ImageImage
  3. At the beginning of the semester, I was beginning to despair that we’d be reading works by white dudes for the duration of my modules. I’ve realized that all I really care about is the ladies. If I learn about something cool in history, and there aren’t any women mentioned, I wonder where they were. I am most intrigued by characterization of women in works of literature. I am that person who brings up gender in almost every class discussion. It goes on, but I’ll spare you. Just know that I checked out some books from the library this afternoon that make me really happy. Image
  4. Getting to see and talk to friends! One thing I loved about my travels was getting to see other Scotties; I traveled with my roommate Caitlin, we met up with Anna in Amsterdam, we stayed with Sally in Rennes and traveled with her to Paris, and we spent a few days with Uyen in London. I love the international community of Scotties! It’s also been great to see my friends here since being back; I really missed them over the break and I don’t really want to think about how much I’m going to miss seeing them when I leave. 
  5. I’ll be done with finals by the second week of May, which means a lot of work between now and then, but also means I’ll have some time to travel before I leave! Yesssss.

This is my “I’m sorry I haven’t posted lately” post!

March 22, 2012 § Leave a comment

I have been quite busy with midterms and plagued with laziness. Forgive me– I’ll have a proper post soon! 

Here’s a touch of spring, in honor of this seriously gorgeous day… maybe the prettiest one I’ve experienced here so far! 

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Dublin, as in a Dream.

March 1, 2012 § 7 Comments

There are a few things that have happened to me since I’ve been here that have seemed a bit like a dream.

Last weekend, I went to Dublin for a couple of days with my friends Kathryne and Abbi, and it was one of those experiences. I’ve found it difficult to write about, actually, because it didn’t quite feel real sometimes.

We got an early start on Friday morning, leaving the University at 7:30 a.m. I ran out of my house at the last possible minute, of course, grabbing an apple to eat for breakfast. We caught the 8:20 train to Belfast, where we arrived at about 10 a.m. We had a little while to wait until the next train to Dublin left from there, so we had some breakfast (er, second breakfast) and got some euros from the cash machine in the station before boarding our second train. It was so nice! I love a good train. The seats were comfortable and the windows were large, giving me a great view of the landscape as we made the 2 hour trip.

We arrived at Connolly Station at 12:45 p.m., and the first thing that caught my attention was that it was very bright outside and quite warm. Turns out we’d picked a beautiful weekend to visit; it was in the 50s and sunny.

Check out that sky!

The first thing we did after arriving in the city was look for our hostel, which we’d already booked online. We went to the place where we thought we would be, only to see that it was closed. A sign and a few helpful shop owners told us that we really needed to go to another hostel, right around the corner. I think they were run by the same people. Anyway, they were close to each other, so it wasn’t too bad. We stored our bags, grabbed a bite to eat at a restaurant called The Good Bits (which I found irresistibly hilarious), and set off for our first destination: Trinity College Dublin.

This was top on my list of things to see for a number of reasons. Look at all those little reasons.

We arrived at the College just before the last tour of the day, where we joined a student guide and an older couple on a tour of the campus. It was quite nice, getting to look around at such a cool historic place. Our tour guide, who was very funny in that dry sort of way many people I’ve met here seem to be, said he knew someone who used to live in Georgia. (Tidbit: nearly every single person I’ve talked to in Ireland, north and south, who knows someone in Georgia says they live in Savannah. If they’ve been to Georgia, they went to Savannah. Considering Savannah is super proud of its Irish heritage– they go nuts on St. Patrick’s Day, for example– this is interesting to me!)

So cool! Also, I have never seen so many bikes in my LIFE. They were EVERYWHERE.

We kept talking about how strange it must be to have tourists on your campus. Prospective students are one thing, but tourists? It must be… distracting. Then again, I’m sure they’re used to it.

The tour ended at the library, where we were able to see the Book of Kells and the Long Room. The Book of Kells was created in 800 by Celtic monks and contains the four gospels. What I found particularly interesting were the displays about how the book was made, its history, and other similar gospels and manuscripts. So cool, and each page took such painstaking work. Unfortunately, we weren’t able to take pictures there or in the Old Library, so all I have for you are images from google. But they’re probably better than the ones I’d have taken anyway.

I don’t think I need to tell you how much I loved getting to see the Long Room, though I was disappointed I couldn’t go roaming in all those books as it was naturally roped off. There were displays of old French books in the middle of the room, which was interesting and all, but all I really wanted to do was climb the ladders and touch the books. I actually got a weird look from the people who worked there because I was standing very close to the rope and trying to read some of the book titles. What can I say? I’m a rebel everywhere I go. It’s probably just as well I couldn’t get closer, though; I’d probably have drooled on them and that’s no good.

As close as I'm gonna get to taking a picture of the real thing.

After we left the college, we walked around a bit trying to find Dublin Castle. By the time we found it, it was a little after 5:00, so it was already closed. It was nice to look around, though. We headed back to the hostel, where we were able to get our room keys and settle in before we headed back out to meet Abbi’s friend from home, who was also visiting Dublin for the weekend. He said he would meet us at the “spike in town,” which, since we’d been on the other side of the river all day, we really hadn’t seen. Some googling informed us that this was the Spire of Dublin on O’Connell Street. By the time we got there, it was pretty obvious we were in the right place. It’s pretty hard to miss. We actually ended up eating Italian for dinner, which was delicious. Abbi’s friend is studying in England, so it was interesting to compare experiences!

It's also beautiful at night.

By the time we finished dinner, we were pretty tired so we headed back to the hostel to plan for the next day and get some rest. This is when my blog starts getting weird.

So picture this, if you will. I’ve been up and going for nearly 15 hours, waking up at stupid o’clock and spending a lot of the day trying not to fall asleep because why would I sleep on a train, trains are the coolest, then I arrive to a beautiful sunny day in Ireland. And it doesn’t end there. I walk through the coolest library ever, I eat Italian food in Ireland, and I lie down on what has got to be the most comfortable bed I have ever experienced in a hotel, hostel, or dorm room. I start thinking to myself, this has been such a weird day. I fall asleep quickly, which is uncommon for me.

This led to me waking up in the middle of the night to what must have been some sort of race going on in the hallway, judging by the volume of the cheers and the noise coming from the other side of the door. In my fuzzy, confused state, I thought, I am in Europe. 

That thought became, I AM IN EUROPE AND I HAVE BEEN HERE A MONTH AND I’M NOT EVEN EUROPEAN WHAT AM I DOING HERE WHY ARE THOSE PEOPLE SO LOUD maybe I should get up but OH MY GOD THIS DUVET IS AMAZING. WHAT IS IT MADE OF, HEAVEN? soooo waaaarm OKAY KATHRYN DON’T FREAK OUT BUT is that a person standing in the doorway?

Turns out our roommates for the night had arrived after we went to bed at the early hour of 11:00 p.m.

It was a weird night.

To be continued

Transgressing, Imposing, and Generally Walking Where One Shouldn’t.

February 19, 2012 § 4 Comments

I’m fascinated by the idea of boundaries in a very general, abstract sense. I’m intrigued by the boundaries that culture arbitrarily sets up– between masculine and feminine, sacred and profane, public and private. I love when boundary crossings show up in literature and popular culture. Last semester, I wrote a paper about Marilynne Robinson’s wonderful and haunting novel Housekeeping, and the culmination of all these small border transgressions comes when the main characters cross a bridge meant for a train. I mean, how much better does it get? The paper practically wrote itself.

You might think this post is going to be a lot more brainy than it actually is. Really, I just want to talk about crossing a bridge.

I'm gonna physically and metaphorically cross this bridge all up in your internets

This one, to be exact. The Carrick-A-Rede rope bridge is about 17 miles from Coleraine, at the northern coast near the Giants’ Causeway. As most of us had school work to do this weekend, we decided to make a day trip to cross the bridge. The rope bridge itself is 30m (about 100 feet) above the water, spanning the distance from the mainland to a small, rocky island. It was strung across by salmon fishermen and is now a popular tourist attraction.

The day we decided to go was very pretty (as you can see) but VERY windy. I have never felt wind like this in my life. It physically moved me. And it was freezing. I do not say this lightly. It was freaking cold.

Fortunately, by the time we had walked the 1 km trail to the bridge itself, the wind had calmed somewhat. We had a relatively smooth crossing on the way over. The only way I can describe the sensation is, well, being on a boat. The bridge swung back and forth almost as if it were on water. I tried not to think about the fact that it most certainly wasn’t, that the water was 100 feet away, until I was safely across.

Here's the view we were rewarded with on the other side of the bridge.

At first, the feeling of the solid ground felt strange after swinging on the bridge, even though I wasn’t on it for long. After regaining my land legs, I walked up the path with my friends to the top of the island (or as high as we could go). The wind got worse the higher we got, so we came down quickly, but we managed to see this:

Yeah. YEAH.

By the time we came back down the hill, it had started to get dark and cloudy. Perhaps because it was so windy, the weather was starting to turn very quickly. I also do not say this lightly. This was a span of maybe 7 minutes.

*ominous music* *perhaps 'Jaws'*

We prepared to make our trek across the bridge again, and noticed that they were holding up people on the other side. I thought that this was our cue to cross. I began making my way across the bridge.

I almost immediately regretted this decision. The wind was picking up much more than I’d realized. Determinedly, I gripped on to both sides and moved until I had to stop.

Deep.

Breaths.

I was about halfway across when the man in the red National Trust jacket told everyone else to go back and came out to meet me halfway.

“Hi!” I called nervously. “It’s windy, isn’t it!” I get chatty when I’m nervous. (See also: The time I told the flight attendant on the plane to London, “Oh my God! They’re babies!” about the small soda cans he was giving out. He didn’t think this was as hilarious as I did.)

“Hold on to this side with both hands,” he told me, demonstrating by holding on to the right side firmly. I followed suit, repeating his words. I honestly couldn’t think about how high up I was, or where I was; all I could think about was holding that rope and breathing. We finished crossing that way. My feet touched the ground and I immediately started shaking.

I felt monumentally stupid. How could I have just begun crossing that bridge when it was obvious, in hindsight, that I shouldn’t have? Was it my bone-headed American-ness? Was it my independent streak? Was it the fact that I was chilled to the bone and too proud to admit I just wanted to get back to a warm building as soon as possible? I looked back and my friends were all standing on the other side. The bridge… looked pretty crazy at this point.

“We’re going to close the bridge for a few minutes,” the man said to the people waiting in line. He told me I’d done a good job, as did a woman waiting at the very front of the line.

“Thanks,” I said sheepishly, walking up the steps to wait for my friends. It appeared they weren’t going to let anyone else cross for a while. I waited a while in what was now a miserable drizzle before deciding to go ahead and walk back to the beginning of the trail, where there was a small gift shop/restaurant. The trek back was, if possible, worse than the trek there. The wind was unbelievable. I finally walked through the gate, where I almost immediately saw my roommate from home, Caitlin!

I couldn’t believe it. You don’t expect to see the one other Agnes Scott student in Northern Ireland  at the same place you are if you haven’t planned it, no matter how small the country is. We talked for a few minutes, and I met her friends from Queen’s, but they were heading for the trail and it was starting to rain… no… hail.

That’s right. It hailed. Being without much protective gear, I ran to the nearest building.

A few minutes later, my friends emerged from their trek, soaked and freezing. We stayed in the tea shop and warmed up before catching a ride back to the university.

This first transgression– crossing the bridge when I wasn’t supposed to– leads me to something that’s been on my mind a lot lately. I’ve spent quite a bit of time here being overly concerned with a) not offending anyone with my brash American-ness, and b) not doing anything stupid. I’m sure there have been plenty of instances where I’ve done both, but I’ve been going out of my way to avoid them. For instance, I’ve noticed how loudly I tend to speak, even though I generally consider myself a pretty quiet person, and have deliberately gone out of my way to speak more softly.

Of course, it’s never good to offend people. But crossing that bridge made me realize that sometimes, doing something stupid can both make for an exciting story and make you wiser for the next time.

A word to the wiser-than-me: if it’s windy and they aren’t letting people cross the bridge, don’t try it. Don’t assume anything. Just… don’t do it.

Then there was the literal crossing, of course. Both times I crossed the bridge, I wasn’t thinking about all the scary stuff around me. I was concentrating on one task: get to the other side. I apply this determination to a few things in my life: running, walking outside in the cold, getting from the warm bed to the shower very quickly, essays on tests, flying across the Atlantic, crossing a scary bridge. Get to the end. Don’t think about how many scary or seemingly impossible things you have to do on the way there. Just go.

It also isn’t until the end that I realize how much I actually had to do to get there. It seems like someone else did it. Was that me? Did I do that? How on earth did I do that?

I don’t know.

I just did.

Another instance of uncertain boundaries occurs, for me, when I’m approached with such kindness by people around here. This happens everywhere, of course, but I’ve noticed it more since being here. Two weeks ago, my friend Abbi and I visited a church in town called The Vineyard, where we met a nice woman who took us out to coffee after the service. I’m always touched by simple gestures like that, and I’m always surprised. Sometimes it verges on awkward, because I hate accepting things from people when I don’t feel as if I’ve earned them, but I’m slowly learning that it’s not imposing if someone wants to do something for you.

This afternoon, I was invited to accompany my friend to her “host” family’s house for lunch. She had registered early in the month with a program called International Friends, and was matched with an incredibly welcoming and sweet family with three young children. We went to their house and stayed for a couple of hours, playing Wii and having a delicious lunch beef stew with mashed potatoes, apple crumble and custard, and tea and biscuits. It was lovely.

I am always so concerned about visiting people’s houses, even in the U.S., because I hate imposing or intruding on people’s lives. But they were so genuinely hospitable and friendly that I didn’t want to refuse, and I didn’t feel like I had to.

In this case, I wasn’t pigheadedly crossing a bridge or talking loudly in public. I was interacting with people in their home. And still, somehow, I felt as if I was transgressing some sort of interpersonal boundary. In reality, I wasn’t; they had invited me, after all, and were incredibly generous to do so. It was really my hang-ups I was battling against here.

I suppose what all this comes down to is comfort. It takes me a while to feel comfortable anywhere, and until then, I have to tread carefully. Sometimes, I get impatient and begin traipsing around and trampling the metaphorical flowers in the garden. That’s when there are problems. That’s when I end up clinging to a rope on a bridge between two rocky islands.

But sometimes, getting out of your comfort zone gains you some sweet new friends or gives you a spectacular view.

Or both.