Grace Huntley: Real Life of a Galway Girl

There’s No Place Like Home
January 24, 2009, 8:53 pm
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 One of the greatest things about going someplace new, is that it introduces a whole new set of “firsts.” After three years at Cornell and 14 years in my home town of Blairstown, I had almost exhausted all of the possible novelties. First time at Grassroots? Check. Barbecuing peaches and vanilla ice cream on a warm summer night? You betcha. Board game night where we simultaneously watched Clue the movie while guessing Professor Plum in the Dining Hall with the wrench? Oh yea.

There’s nothing like the feeling of doing something for the first time. Not to mention the bonding that goes on when everyone involved has no idea what they’re doing. There’s something intensely intimate about the blind following the blind. Mutual ignorance and a little tang of fear to spice things up covered with a bravado frosting. Recipe for instant friendship.

Travelling to another country is a little like going back to kindergarten. Or maybe it’s more like that dream where you’re in class and the teacher tells you you have a presentation that’s worth 80% of your grade and you realized you’ve got nothing. I spend about 90% of my time feeling stupid and the other 10% talking to my friends here about our shared incompetence. Still, not feeling in control is a little like constantly being under the influence. Everything is a little blurred. The colors are brighter and more vivid, and in the morning you either don’t remember or you pretend that you don’t remember. Also, you continuously have an excuse for bad life choices.

The friendships you make during your time abroad are the relationships forged between survivors. You cling to any aspect of the familiar. You get each other through foreign experiences by reminiscing about NY style pizza and online class enrollment and normal looking toilets. For that time at least, these people because your replacement family, your American-accented lifesaver during the semesters storm.

One of the most exciting first times is the first time you call your new apartment home. There’s a couple steps to this process. The first step is acknowledging your new place is nothing like the place you’ve left behind. Admitting that there is a problem. The next step is working to make your new apartment feel more like home. Perhaps some dirty dishes in the sink, the faint smell of burning from attempts to cook grilled cheese with a new stove, a vase of wilted flowers on the kitchen tables are all musts. The comes the fist time you acknowledge the apartment as home to yourself. For me it happened after a long night out at the pubs. Walking into our apartment (each one of which in the complex has an identical modern art picture on the wall) was the most glorious feeling in the world). Finally comes the marriage moment, when you make a committment to acknowledge this new place as home in a public way. I chose the new age very public medium of facebook. This ended in some confusion after I posted, “Grace is so glad to be home,” and several of my friends from Jersey promptly asked me to hang out. Its a big step when you start to feel as if you’re not a stranger in your apartment anymore. Its the first part of the long process where the country you’re in begins not to feel foreign anymore.
I wake up every morning knowing that at least one thing that day will be different. Things hit me in waves. The km/liter for gas. The metric system on the measuring cups. The switches to turn on the power outlets. The joules instead of calories on the nutrition facts. The way that when you’re walking at someone on the sidewalk they swerve to the left instead of the right (Why are we the only people who drive on the right side of the road btw?). All the firsts lead me to my apartment door at night exhausted, as if I’d spent the day trying to translate French into modern dance. However, there’s something inexplicably sweet about each first time…and whether its a good or bad experience, it’s something that indelibly branded into your experience.

Oftentimes everything here does feel surreal, as if I’ve stepped into a parallel reality where nothing quite what I’m used to. Hopefully though I’ll steer clear of falling houses and flying monkeys and with any luck, I won’t be clicking my heels together anytime soon.

Be Care What You Wish For
January 18, 2009, 4:38 am
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The first time I went to Ireland was during the Spring break of 2008. My friend and I had bought our tickets one particularly lazy day in Ithaca. At the time, I was spending my second summer in Collegetown, helping to run a community service program for Ithacan adolescents.

We were sprawled across our paisley couches, legs dangling at awkward angles, bags of chips scattering the floor around me and something requiring infinitely more culinary skill and a good deal healthier gracing the ground in front of her. We were priviledged and sweaty and lucky to have solid jobs and great opportunities. We were bored. Ireland came up on a whim. As a result of pulling 45+ hour weeks, we had both saved up enough cash for the $500 dollar round trip tickets.

That trip was a whirl wind of new experiences and excitement. It was the ultimate assertion of our college independence, the first vacation for both of us that we hadn’t sought our parents’ financial aid or approval. I came back reluctantly, leaving a part of myself doled out on the impossibly green hills, scattered with abandon equally within the pubs and at the many different tourist locations. I knew I had to go back one day.

Now I’m here in Ireland once more. It’s a whole different experience. I’m here for five and a half months this time; the honeymoon period starts to wear off. Instead of the continual high that you surf while on vacation, there’s enough time for things like tedium and discomfort to sink in. I’m here long enough to be homesick. I miss signing up for classes each semester half a year in advance and all online, instead of by department weeks after the semester has begun. I miss plugging appliances into the wall without the worry that they will explode from the different voltage and without having to switch each outlet on. I crave the taste of American pizza and diner food, picked up at two in the morning after a night out.

However, there are new experiences and sights that help to fill in the gaps my study abroad experience has rent in me. I’m braver here than I am at home, whether a function of a limited time perspective or because of the knowledge that worst case scenario, if I make a fool of myself, it will all be over in 5 months. I’m trying archery while I’m here, joining a writers club, going mountaineering and attempting to do some community service. I thought that while I was here I would crave the free time but now, I seem to have a surplus of it and I’m once more looking for ways to fill it.

Several of my classes don’t start until the 26th of Janaury. Even when they do begin, most of them meet only once a week for an hour or two and do not assess us until May. Our grades rest on a single exam, where an A grade is a 70% out of 100 (apparently no one gets a 70 although I’m not really sure how yet). It’s hard to motivate myself within this kind of system and I find myself falling victim to the Irish student way of life where they party all week long. However, I and many of my friends are American, so we’re used to going out on the weekends. Basically this adds up to making the forty minute walk to town 6 nights out of 7.

They don’t have to pay for college in Ireland. The tuition, besides a registration fee of something akin to 1000 Euros, is free unless a student chooses to switch schools. They start school with a choice of several different majors and narrow it down within their second year. If they choose to transfer schools, then the price becomes 5000 Euros, still infinitely cheaper than our system. At NUI, unless you’re a student of the sciences or engineering, college is a three year program. However, some students stay on longer, taking as many as three years to go through the first year of academics. Although they tend to start at a younger age than we do in the states (in the country students only typically don’t have pre-school programs and therefore start college around age 17), it’s not unusual for a student to spend much more than their three years in school, often viewing college as “something to do to pass the time.”

Personally, I’m fascinated by the idea of a free college experience. The thought of graduating without the pressure of college loans is both unfathomable and exciting to me. However, every now and then I wonder if there’s something essential in knowing you’re paying to be there, that maybe it helps students appreciate their time in college more. I guess I’ll have to keep searching for an answer.

Just last night, I sat in my roommates’ bedroom watching a video she had pieced together of our Galway experiences thus far. It was a medley of clips from the beach and a walking tour of campus and time spent listening to trad sessions in the pubs. Once more I was impressed by how lucky we were to be here. However, this time, there was a small part of me who wanted to click her heels together and whisper, just a little, “That there’s no place like home.”

Advice I’ve Received Before Going to Ireland
January 10, 2009, 9:22 am
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Man I’m lucky. That’s a mantra that’s been going through my head since I set foot in Ireland. One of my friends back at Cornell spent the semester in Galway before me. Before I left she laid out to DO’s and DON’Ts of getting along on the west coast of Ireland.

Things like: DO bring rain gear. Lots and Lots of rain gear.


DON’T stay in Corrib Village (She had here apartment broken into twice and so far my friends staying there do not have heat and instead have a healthy infestation of mold. Although the proximity to school almost makes it worth it.)

However, the best advice she gave me was about the experience abroad in general.

She reminded me that it was okay to feel homesick. That inevitably, things would be different here. Things like having to pay for bags for your groceries at the shopping market and how the flusher is on the wrong side of the toilet and how you have to pay for extra ketchup at McDonalds, these are little details that you don’t prepare for before you leave. There’s no itinerary checklist that can get you ready. It’s like drifting through a sea of jellyfish. Every now and then you get stung and it’s a sharp reminder that you’re not home anymore.

Another great piece of advice I received before I left is that it’s okay not to go out every single night. There will be some nights where you want to just curl up and recharge and really, you won’t be missing out on that much. Although I have yet to heed this advice (We’ve been out almost every night since I arrived) I plan to whip out this piece of reassuring wisdom when the thirty minute walk to town looks particularly daunting.

A lot of people I talk to view going abroad as a fresh start. It’s a great opportunity because you can reinvent yourself while still maintain your safety net of friends and your home environment in case anything blows up in your face. I was talking with some of my friends here about being a tourist and whether or not you want to be perceived as such. She made the point that you wanted to assimilate into the culture here and while I agreed, I believed that at times like this, it’s important to take stock of your role in this new situation and be honest with yourself.

One thing that hasn’t changed is the way that guys and girls relate to each other. I’m thinking flirting is a universal thing. So far, the bars I’ve been to merely seem like an extension of the middle school dance scenario. The night starts out with groups of guys and girls sitting clustered around their own tables or in their separate areas, mostly involved with their immediate group but discreetly scoping out the bar options. Then there’s the moment of eye contact and suddenly someone is crossing the floor while every one at their table hoots or whispers to each other. We’ve gotten past the cooties mark, but just barely.


However, I think the best advice I recieved about the abroad experience was that this is the time in your life to make all the mistakes and try all the things that back home you never would because people would remember the next morning. I want to leave here not regretting the things I didn’t do…and if I regret the things I did, well at least I’ll have some new stories to tell.

Candy Grab Bag
January 6, 2009, 9:58 am
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In the beginning, making friends resembles a game of pinata. Everyone is poised and ready, waiting with a witty opener or an engaging personal tidbit. Then the candy explodes, and everyone takes it as a cue to start grabbing up as many people as they can, hoarding them for lunch dates or binding them with promises of nights at the bars. At this point people don’t really care what characteristics their new friends have. It’s simply a game of numbers. Like Pokemon, everyone wants to collect them all.

As time progresses, it turns into more of a Halloween night scenario. It’s like when you would come back to your friend’s house, or your own, and empty your pillowcases and plastic pumpkin buckets in the front hall. Then you carefully sift through your spoils, trading jawbreakers for Reeses cups and Skittles for M&Ms. This occurs in the making friends process when people start to evaluate the groups they wound up in. It’s after the dust finally settles, maybe in the second or third week, that people stop trying to impress everyone long enough to notice who’s standing next to them. At that point there’s the friend swap and shuffle, a subtle garage sale of companions, where everyone looks over their neighbor’s fence to decide what they want to covet.

Luckily, my current friends of convenience, my roommates, also happen to be amazingly nice. We’ve bonded over a common ignorance of the customs and a love of obscure music and movies. I’ve had ample time to get to know them on the solid thirty minute walks into the city centre, made longer by the fact that we continually stopped to check our map to look for street signs, all of which happent to be posted at knee height in the centre of Galway. In the meantime, we’ve traveled, both on purpose and by accident, all around the city, taking in the sites like the Catholic Cathedral and the giant swans in the Claddagh area, which I was kind of glad were safely in the canal. Those things were huge.

Although we have yet to successfully open the door to our apartment with our finicky key on the first try, we have managed to locate the beach, which is a mere five minute walk from our front door. The shore is like something out of a romantic movie or off of a postcard. The sugar sand fairly glows at dusk and the sunset lingers on the horizon, creamy blues and lilacs diffusing into the night sky, spread out like oil puddle rainbows. While walking on the beach, my one pair of comfortable shoes sinking into the damp sand, I wondered what it would be like to have paradise for a backyard, and if you ever forget to appreciate it.

We walked up the water edge and I was suddenly flooded by future memories of bonfires and frisbee and a semester’s worth of foreign experience. That’s when I stepped a little too close to the January waves and snapped out of my reverie with a yelp. Still, good times ahead.

Are We There Yet?
December 29, 2008, 10:51 am
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The thing that no one tells you about going to study abroad is that you leave months before you ever get onto your plane. This entire semester has been one giant ticking clock, a digital bomb counting down slowly to D-Day…only in this case D stands for Denial of leaving and Destination Ireland and avoiding Discussing the fact that with some of your friends, these last few months will be the last time you have together.

The end of every semester at school is always a little rough. You go from seeing people every day, from knowing their favorite brand of cereal when they wake up and going out to dinners with them every night and buying your shampoo together at Wegmans, to suddenly going home and putting (if your lucky) miles and minutes between you or (if you’re unlucky) states or oceans or countries. You spend your time at college building up a support network and then at the end of each break you cut yourself loose from it, disappear off the grid. Many of my friends were seniors this semester. Some of them were graduating. This meant that at the end of Fall semester, instead of wishing my friends happy holidays and nice breaks with their family, I was suddenly wishing them nice lives and good luck with their future jobs and endeavors.

I’ve spent the last three years carving out a place for myself at Cornell where I’m finally comfortable. However, to me this means that it’s time to leave, at least for a while. I do the most personal growing when I’m awkward, unsure, out of my comfort zone. Going to Ireland will accomplish all those things.

Still, it’s scary. I’m not sure if that’s emphasized enough. People are so busy reassuring you how wonderful it’s going to be that sometimes it feels like they don’t really listen to your fears. I know that when I get there, when my flight lands on the runway in Dublin, when I change all my clocks to six hours again and haul my 2.5 suitcases off of baggage claim, maybe it will feel a little bit more manageable to me, but right now I’m terrified that when I return everything I’ve worked to build in the last three years will have changed.

Going abroad is a choice you make for yourself. I’m glad I’m doing it, but sometimes I wish that it hadn’t been up to me. During my Cornell career, I had a very brief foray into the world of women’s rugby. It’s a hardcore sport, where you’re made to follow the most counterintuitive instincts. See a big girl running at you? Do you run away? No! Instead you run straight at her, without any kind of padding, get low, and attempt to take her down. While at one particularly unsuccessful tackling practice, I was eyeing the girl I was partnered up who was twice my size, and thinking to myself, “Wow, I really only have myself to blame.” About five seconds later I was on my back looking up at the ceiling of the auditorium in Bartel hall.

Sometimes going abroad feels kind of like that. Am I choosing to stay safe and happy in an environment I’ve already figured out with friends I know and places I can find? No! Instead, I’m volunteering to go to another country, directly enroll into a 20,000 person school, and start all over again. The anticipation is like the slow climb up a roller coaster before the first drop, only this anticipation lasts for months and requires you to still go through the motions of homework and dinner dates and clubs and activities.

We’re supposed to give you an honest glimpse into what we’re feeling before we leave. Honestly? I’m excited to be going, sad to be leaving, worried about packing, but mostly, I’m terrified about starting over.

Hello world!
December 8, 2008, 12:04 pm
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