Check out my latest video!
Check out my latest video!
So far Ireland is amazing! Yes, it does rain a lot here and instead of thunderstorms there are extreme wind storms. It makes you appreciate the sun and clear day more than ever. The beauty of the rain is that the grass is always green and you learn how to layer your clothing. Now I am not saying Ireland is a terrible place at all. In fact, it is an extremely beautiful country with a lot going on. The cities are gorgeous and filled with history. Also, the country sides are magnificent rain or shine.
I am currently living in Limerick, which is on the west side of the country. There is so much natural beauty that I do not have to travel more than an hour by bus to see something new and wonderful. A couple of great things about Limerick is that it is very centralized to a lot cities on the west coast, there is a huge milk market (farmers market) every Saturday morning that is very unique, and Limerick has a castle located right in the center. It is about 2 euro from the University to the city centre by bus and you can find everything you will ever need in the city centre.
The university I am attending is the University of Limerick and it is the major sport campus in Ireland. I am not sure on the exact number but I know there are at least 6-7 pitches (fields) located next to my flat. Also, they have an olympic sized swimming pool, a large weight/ cardio room, four basketball courts and an indoor track that is six laps to a mile. All of the facilities are always in use; I saw an empty field for the first time last week and I have been here for over a month. The fitness center also offers a ton of fitness classes, which is pretty entertaining because one of the classes is held on two basketball courts and can accommodate over 100 participants (they have to turn people away half the time). As for being an exercise science major, this location is exactly where I need to be for the study abroad experience.
One really interesting thing is that this time of year is huge for the Irish because the Six Nations is in full swing. This is the only time that Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland come together. The Six Nations is a Rugby tournament between Ireland (consisting of players from both Northern and the Republic of Ireland), England, Scotland, Whales, Italy and France. They are very exciting matches and every pub is jammed packed with fans during the matches.
To begin my journey of Ireland, my study abroad group and I (18 students from all over the US) met up at the Dublin airport. From there we were introduced to Ireland through an orientation program with Arcadia. In the morning we would sit down and go through what to expect, things we needed to have completed and how to’s. In the afternoon we were given time to explore Dublin and get to know eachother. We had this schedule for about three days and were then taken to Limerick where we went through an orientation that University offered.
Settling in and classes was weird the first week. I live in a flat with five roommates; we each have our own room and bathroom but share the kitchen and family room. They are all really cool and from all over; two are Irish, one is from London, another is Canadian and then other is from Palestine. All of them are in the Music Grad program at Limerick, so I am the baby of the house. Four of them play instruments (fiddle, flute and pipes) and the other is in the Dance academy. They play in “sessions” at different pubs around Limerick with other students in the academy. Also, they invite me along to listen and watch. They play classic Irish tunes and lots of fiddle music.
Classes are a lot different here. I have three classes where I only have lecture once a week for two hours. One of my classes has a two hour lecture and a two hour lab. The final class has two, one hour lectures with a tutorial. I have never figured out what the difference is between a tutorial and a lecture. I think they are supposed to be smaller class sizes for more one on one and hands on activities, so far we have had two. Also, my final exams are worth 80-90% of my final grade. There is very little work that is to be turned in during the semester. I either have a paper due or a presentation at some point during the semester, but that is it. So right now it is smooth sailing, but come May things are going to start getting stressful.
Walking to class is also very, very different from Transy. My closest class is about a half mile walk, which is definitely different from the 2 minute walk from one end of campus to the other. It is cool to get the feel of a big school as well as getting my walking milage up. Also on my walks to class, I walk across this pretty quarter mile long bridge. It crosses the river shannon which has been filled to its max capacity for a few weeks now due to all of the rain.
As for now, things are going fantastic and my traveling is starting to pick up. So far I have been to Dublin, Galway, Connemara and Belfast. My future trips include many more Irish locations (Cork City, Killarney, Dingle, Kilkenny and more), Scotland, London, Amsterdam and Barcelona.
Just a few pictures of my experience so far:
Us American’s learning the Gaelic sport of Hurling. Here they have the GAA which is Gaelic Athletic Association and each town/county has their own GAA location. The GAA sports include Gaelic football, Hurling, Camogie and Handball.
Halfway across the Living Bridge that we cross everyday to get to class.
bridge from afar
I can in no way describe this walk.
But yesterday’s rain has cleared everything from the sky. Dad and I would call it ‘crispy.’
Drops of water are falling from the trees with rays of white sunlight shining through them. Thus, as they fall, they are illuminated against the dark pavement.
Whizzing cars yield to bird chirps and the far away sound of Le Torse. And as I walk down toward the river the sun has also illuminated the mist rising from behind the peach- colored houses on the other side of the little valley.
My fingertips are frozen, for the morning is brisk. A small breeze is blowing, and I would have an earache if it weren’t for the hat I grabbed as I tiptoed out of the little art museum of a french apartment that I now call home.
But I feel warmth on my face.
And this is the je ne sais quoi that confronted me on my walk to art school this morning.
There is no female athlete in the world who is paid more money annually than South Korea’s very own Kim Yuna. There is also probably no person who has more completely taken over control of an entire country without being in political office than Kim Yuna. This place is totally obsessed with her. So you can imagine that the last few days have been pretty rough since she graciously accepted a silver medal to retire on.
A little bit about Olympics coverage in Korea–it’s nothing like coverage in the States. First off, events are played live instead of in a recorded and cut format like NBC shows, so the better parts of the waking hours are taken up by curling since it’s events like these which take place at the times no one wants to watch them in Sochi. Events like figure skating or speed skating usually take place in the wee hours of the morning, and so it was for Miss Kim. The first night she took the ice at exactly 2:24 a.m, and there was a shocking number of people who had obviously stayed up to watch it as gathered from all of the puffy faces on the bus the next day. This was convenient for me because it was the night my medical tests required that I sleep only four hours. At least I wasn’t alone.
The impressive bit, though, was what was happening on the rest of the channels the entire day leading up to her performances, because every single one of them was playing something about her. There were variety shows featuring her, there were commercials where she was endorsing a skincare product, and of course her previous performances were on loop. Literally on loop. Here is a photo from the Vancouver performance to prove it.
The day after her first performance, she was all over the TV again. This time, though, there was no variety. It was all the previous night’s performance, again on loop. People watched it on their smart phones on the bus and subway. The ones who couldn’t afford the data for that month looked at stills from it. I was asked about it by total strangers if I had watched it. The nation was nuts. And then–the unthinkable. She didn’t win.
Abraham Lincoln that if you want to test a man’s character, you should give him power. I assert that if you want to test a Korean’s character, you should tell them the Kim Yuna lost to a Russian. Social media was totally blowing up with complaints, a petition reached some ungodly number of signatures in something like 20 hours, and overall, everyone was really upset. I was there on State Street when UK won in 2012, and this might have been worse. In Korean style, of course. Meaning they were generally also respectful to the winner and only said that Yuna’s was better (for the most part). And then turned the topic to Victor Ahn.
On a lighter note, though, I’m noticing that Koreans are amazingly honest. Today while shopping in Costco with my host family, we left our cart totally unattended with all of our personal belongings in it for several minutes while selecting a laundry hamper and trash can. When we came back, it was all untouched. They also have a system in the grocery stores where patrons have to pay a few won to take a cart and then reattach their cart to the others while returning it. You are probably thinking, “There’s no way that works.” Well, you’re wrong. It’s amazing.
Speaking of my host family, I’m finally moved in to my homestay! I love it so far. Here are a few pictures from my room.
My host parents are lovely people. His name is Kwang-su, and he decided beforehand that I should call him KS because it sounds more natural in English speech. It doesn’t, but that’s okay. Kwang-su is a numbers guy for SC Johnson and works something crazy like 12 hours a day every weekday. My host mother’s name is Gye-young, and I call her Kay. Kay is an English teacher at a private academy here. They have two really cool dogs, Jang-gu and Coco. They lived in America for eight years, so what that means for me is that today’s breakfast included bacon. They’re very, very nice and they’re always trying to give me things, which I think is sort of a staple of Korean culture, but I’m still not quite used to it. They are also immaculately clean (they listed one of their ways to spend free time as straightening up the house), so I’m very pleased with that. They live in a nice apartment complex in central Seoul near Namsan Tower, so they assure me that it will be really easy for a taxi driver to find this place if I should somehow not be able to use public transportation correctly (they know me too well already). Kwang-su likes to tell me things I probably already know, and Kay tells me just to let him do this because he is stubborn. They’re really fun, and I think this will be an awesome place to spend a semester!
In the informal poll I held recently, public toilets won out for the topic of this blog post over the Olympics. I’m not sure what that should say about my readers, but I’m keeping you all at arms’ length from now on. Below are some notable differences I’ve seen between bathroom etiquette in the US and here in Seoul.
1. Koreans don’t flush their toilet paper–I think I have mentioned this one before in my list of observations (not stereotypes, fine line I know). Instead, the toilet paper goes in the wastebaskets which appear in every stall. I assume this makes life much easier for groups of people like Transy’s Bathroom Squad (or whatever they’re going by now…The Water Closet Warriors? The Commode Crusaders? The Artist Formerly Known as Prince?), who seek bathroom equality of opportunity for people of all sexes and genders. Go them! I’m also absolutely positive that this is not South Korea’s motivation for not flushing their toilet paper, as I think it probably has about 100% more to do with the fact that their septic system just can’t handle millions of tons of toilet paper, but I like to be optimistic and say they probably thought of that as a side benefit. Anyway, it’s not so bad right now, but I’m guessing the subway bathrooms get way raunchy in the hot summertime.
2. Traditional toilets still appear in Korean public stalls–These look something like this
and are really, really difficult to use, especially if it’s your first time and you’re also scared in the hospital trying to hit a tiny cup without a funnel to give a urine sample. Also they are predictably super insanitary, and I now understand at least one reason which we must take our shoes off all the time. I don’t want pee all over my house either, and I must assume that all surfaces where shoes have been are also surfaces where pee is.
3. All of the Western-style toilets have lids–This is so you can close it to flush the toilet and therefore trap some of the germs in. The lids often have some kind of sticker or design on the inside to make it cute, like a cat or something. Like most things in Asian culture, this is mostly adorable but also kind of weird.
4. Most bathrooms in Korea have a touch-free hand dryer…–and you must be a magician to activate it. Koreans also like bar soap, so sometimes they’ll have a bar of soap attached to a metal rod in lieu of liquid or foam. Making use of this soap is an activity that can, in the right company, seem a little suggestive, so choose your bathroom buddies wisely.
5. Koreans love bathroom-y stuff–This observation is based on things like the aforementioned poop-themed cafe, the Suwon toilet museum (lovingly known as Mr. Toilet House), restaurants where the bowls are miniature toilets and the food is shaped like poop…I could go on, but I won’t.
So the point is that Koreans are very particular about bathrooming, and like most things, they take it a little far. But that’s why we love them!
1) They run everywhere.
2) Everyone is dating.
3) There are motorbikes everywhere…and these are immune to traffic laws.
4) Actually, everything is immune to traffic laws.
5) They are obsessed with Frozen.
6) Everybody smokes.
7) Kimchi cures…well, everything.
8) Koreans will push you over and will not apologize.
9) If your friend is blonde, they will stare at you.
10) Anybody who is Asian is about to get spoken to in Korean, even if they are obviously not Korean.
11) NEVER ask a Korean person for directions if you’re on a time table. They will absolutely not be able to help you.
12) They work at weird hours. This information is gathered from the business which my current roommate and I can see from our window.
13) They make weird things cute. For example, this poop-themed cafe.
14) At every protest will arrive trucks and trucks of policemen…doing absolutely nothing.
15) They don’t flush their toilet paper.
17) They spit everywhere, all the time.
18) They don’t have trash cans on the street. Some people come during the day and pick up the trash off the corners.
19) Korean people like to have their bars and motels very close together. When none are available, they make do with what they have. DO NOT use a DVD room for actually watching movies.
I’ve finally got a second to upload a few photos from my trip so far.
Here was where I got my ticket from Incheon to Kate’s apartment in Migeum.
And here was me waiting inside for the bus to get there.
Even the countryside lights up at night.
Kate treated me to a delicious udon noodle dinner, complete with that fish cake thing over there.
Me in a traditional Korean hanbok. It’s also tradition to take a photo of yourself while wearing one.
Below are some photos of Buddhas, crowns, Bodhisattvas, and celadon ceramics from the National Museum of Korea.
This is funny because it says “GD’s wife.” GD is G-Dragon, a very famous Korean singer/rapper/dancer/model/overall amazing person.
Translation: “I love China. I love Korean girls. ^_^”
To be on one side of the world one day, and then to be on the other side of the world the next day.
To step off of a plane and into a completely different culture. To speak a different language. To be surrounded by no one you’ve ever seen. To send a postcard to someone and write, “hope all is well in the future”, because, you know. Time.
To realize that, man, the world is huge.
To experience how mind-blowingly open and lovely a person can be that she/he would welcome a complete stranger into her house to live.
To find a small figurine of a king in your piece of cake at dinner and be presented with a cardboard crown, because traditions are fantastic.
To feel an an unwelcome and unnecessary fear well up in your stomach when you’re standing in line at a phone store because you don’t know how to say ‘pay as you go’ en francais.
And then to feel excitement and pride welling up 30 minutes later when you realize you live in Aix-en-Provence now.
Where the streets are narrow and I don’t know whether they’re for pedestrians or cars. And the buildings are dirty and old and emanate a sense of excellence and overwhelming exquisiteness. And I can’t say ‘meet at the fountain’ because one exists on every corner.
They told us that we shouldn’t smile too much, because French people don’t do that. But… I don’t know if I can contain myself.
Beautiful sunset in my neighborhood, Sacre Coeur 3
Me and me newest friend at a hip hop exposé on my friend Elli’s birthday. He taught me what I should do with my hands while rapping, held my hand during the concert, walked to me the bathroom – what an 8-year-old gentleman
Sacre Coeur vs. Derkle at Stade Demba Diop
Ile de Madeleine off the coast of Dakar – beautiful November morning!
Panorama in the Sahel Desert – starting from the sun and moving towards the moon. Is it day or night right now, you ask? Yes.
Same desert, same time, same camera – started from the moon, moved towards the sun and it’s a whole new world
Lodging for the Festival du Sahel, a weekend-long festival of world music and wonderful people in the desert
Thanksgiving in Dakar! Many thanks to my school for hosting and great friends with which to share the noms.
Entitled “Come at me, bro”. Bird reserve in Saint Louis, Senegal.
Heading to the beach after an awesome night in Saly, Senegal for my friend Jamie’s birthday!
I have now been in Senegal for three months and am beginning the last quarter of my journey. I cannot believe how quickly the first three months went and I know I can’t even fathom how much this trip has changed me yet. But for now I’m just relishing all the daily crazy adventures!
For some blogs about the first part of my trip you should check out my personal blog at http://toubabtales.wordpress.com ! I’ve celebrated Eid al-Ahda here, visited the largest waterfall in Senegal, become obsessed with café touba, bissap juice, and fataya, trusted my life to taximen, planted trees in northern Senegal, and met incredible people. I’ve learned so much about culture, politics, values, social norms, perspectives, and to be cliché, life. It has definitely not been an easy road though.
I agree with Shane (read: blog below) about deciding to study in a non-anglophone country. I spent the greater part of the first couple months here just trying to be less confused about everything. What you just asked me a question, Mama? Well it had the word “lekk” in it which means to eat, so…yes I’m hungry? You’re hungry? I haven’t eaten yet? We’re having dinner? It’s been particularly interesting in Senegal, where the official language is French but the language spoken most is Wolof. Many people also learn English in school – people my age tend to be able to speak it pretty well (luckily for me my host sister is one of those people). So, I have three classes in French (one being Wolof…taught in French), three classes in English, speak Wolof and English at home and French to one of our maids Seyni, speak French and English to friends while they speak English back to me to practice, speak French to new people I meet but Wolof to taximen and boutique owners, and listen to everyone around me speak Wolof when I’m not part of the conversation. Basically I’m at a WoloFranGlish stage in which I can’t actually speak any language properly anymore (in fact, yesterday I am positive that I made a sentence using words from all three languages). The fluidity of language is really cool though – there are some things I’ve realized can only really be expressed in one language or another, certain words in one language that don’t exist in another, and ways to communicate even if you are reduced to a second-grade level in every language.
Everyone who encouraged me to come to Senegal thought I would be fluent in French when I got back – I’m not even sure if I will be fluent in English anymore. But there is so much about a language that can only be learned by immersing yourself. For example, I still remember the level of boss-ness I felt when I realized I had had a conversation over text messages only in Wolof and a little French at the end. I not only texted in a different language, but used abbreviations. Text speak. I could pass as a Senegalese preteen! There are also a lot of colloquial phrases and local sayings that you would never learn in a classroom; and regardless of how much more of the language you actually learn, you definitely get better at conversing quickly and without translating in your head. Right now my technique is working – we’ll see what happens when I get back!
I am living in Dakar, the capital of Senegal. At 2.5 million people, it’s the largest city I’ve ever lived in and I am adjusting to city life as well as a new culture. There is so much right at your fingertips here, if you’re willing to deal with public transportation of course – cultural centers, concerts, beaches, theater, crazy night life (Dakar ne dort pas, yo), football games, restaurants and street food, and a conglomeration of people. Being in the capital city is basically experiencing Senegal on steroids – you are closer to the politics, the organizations, the people that make (or don’t make) things happen. Before I came, I had some expectations of Africa and I definitely heard others’ expectations of what my life would be like here, and I’m happy to say that Dakar has crushed those expectations into a fine flour-y powder, mixed that flour with many other ingredients and made cookies out of it (weird metaphor, told you I can’t speak English anymore). If you might be interested in studying here or in an African country, I highly recommend it!
There’s so much I want to do in this next month that all the excitement is kind of stressing me out. I’ve been able to travel all over Senegal already but there is so much left to do! On the agenda for the next month is Lac Rose, a lake that turns pink during the dry season because of certain bacteria in the water; Saint Louis, the former capital of West Africa; Ngor Island just off the coast; finding a Mexican restaurant because I’ve been craving tacos for like 5 weeks now; making Thanksgiving dinner for the family; and visiting the holy city Touba. Inshallah! (If Allah wills, pretty much the slogan of our program). I will keep the world updated on my adventures – thanks for reading!