To Arranmore We Go

Arranmore coastline

Arranmore

I’m perched at the base of a flight of stone stairs, ears full of the sound of sea. I can taste the salt on my lips, the wind rushing in my mouth as it widens in a smile or a laugh or that exultant shape of aliveness. Eyes squinting into the bright sun that’s broken through the clouds, my heart thumps against my ribs and the waves crash and churn like milk. It spills from the crevices of rocks whose color changes with every shift of the clouds, little waterfalls running back into the roaring sea. What beauty could crush you in an instant, what watery grave could meet my kin. Here I am to stand and marvel and let it fill me up, as it takes a part of me. But I suppose it always had a part of me.

 

"Welcome to Arranmore"

“Welcome to Arranmore”

“You’ve got the Gallagher mouth.” That’s what Finola says, from the opposite end of her kitchen table. It is one of the most pleasing things I’ve ever heard.

 

This is Arranmore Island. My ancestors are here–some of them at least. They are buried beneath the gentle earth of their beloved island, they are lodged in recesses of memory, ready to be strung out in a yarn, they are in the old stone walls, the lines of turf, the curve of the mouth of some descendant. Arranmore isn’t exactly my story—but it is a point of intersection with that thing called “my story”.

 

We arrive on a Tuesday evening. The day’s drive from Dublin began at 10:30 a.m.—a bright day to showcase that beautiful Irish green. I sit in the backseat trying to write post-cards but inevitably end up staring out the window. There’s so many sheep. So many. It’s like squirrels on a college campus—you expect it and yet every time you see one you get this goofy smile. Our day’s drive is broken up by stops for tea and lunch at hotels along the route Aidan and Rita have taken for many years. As we sip our tea or nurse our soup, we sing along to the music playing through the speakers—rather, Aidan and Rita sing along while I come in on the few lyrics I know. About all I get in “Shenandoah” is Look away, you rollin’ river and I’m lucky to manage When you were sweet sixteen along with Finbar Furey.

 

School on the island of Inniskeragh where Aidan's parents both taught at one point. Photo taken from Finola's.

School on the island of Inniskeragh where Aidan’s parents both taught at one point. Photo taken from Finola’s.

As we enter County Donegal and the landscape shifts to a rockier, wilder, heathered variety, Aidan narrates the stories of the different towns and sites. Ballyboffey—from Arranmore it took two days on foot to walk here. Your great-great grandfather would have walked that route. The stories are varied, ranging from a century past to recent years, reflective, factual, comedic, political, familial—each one quite real. One moment they’re describing the time my great-aunt Sister Mary Kevin and a few other sisters joined in on an IRA anthem at a Dublin bar, the next it’s the politics of the Irish civil war. Then it’s the story of the local tailor, Mickey Anne, who could never make a pair of proper trousers. Soon he’s describing the way children of only 9 years would go to the Lagan to work for Scots, not speaking a single word of English. With my notebook stored in my backpack conveniently located in the boot, I pull out a Kleenex and scribble down reminders for stories. We debate dates of deaths and trips of family members, piecing together our own rememberings.

 

We reach the coast at quarter four, our scheduled ferry departing at five, so Aidan turns the car up a road he hasn’t driven for forty-odd years. To the right, he points out the square where the Dungloe market was held the third or fourth weekend of every month. For the market they swam the cows across the bay tied to the row boats. Ten minutes down the road, he pulls off down a tiny outlet and then in front of the home where his mother was born, and that his Aunts Bridget and Annie later lived in. It has since been abandoned —a home that  once kept in the best of care now left empty. Looking at Aidan and Rita as they examined the broken windows, the musty tablecloth and curtains, the kettle still on the stove reminds me of a similar moment… At a family reunion in Nebraska some five or six years past, the wise elders of my German heritage took us on a tour of several ancestral sites. Some fifty or so of us rode from site to site in a bus as the wise elders used the microphone to tell us stories about each place. As we arrived at one site, I saw my great-aunt’s eyes fill up with tears. “This was such a beautiful home…it had beautiful white siding and the green shutters…” A dilapidated, unpainted, empty house stood before her defying that precious image. Later she said she wished she had never seen it like that.

 

View from Aidan's mother's home.

View from Aidan’s mother’s home.

When the ferry departs for the island, Aidan and I huddle on the top deck. The bracing wind only stirs up my excitement—it’s a sort of childlike exhilaration and expectation. I recall writing a college admissions essay about dreams for the future—I’d written about wanting to come to Arranmore. And then it happens, and you root yourself in the moment, and let the wind wake you up.

 

Finola is the wife of Hugh, Aidan’s lifelong friend. Finola and Hugh met on the island when she came to serve as the island nurse. Aidan recalls her arrival off the ferry—on first meeting, Granny told Hugh that Finola would be a fine match. He followed her advice; Aidan was Hugh’s best-man as he was for Aidan. Hugh died too young, but Finola has remained family; there is always a place for Aidan and Rita to stay when they come to Arranmore. Thus, on Tuesday evening as the light still hung in the sky, we drove off the ferry and up the island to Finola’s home.

 

On the ferry to Arranmore

On the ferry to Arranmore

At the dinner table as we enjoyed a delicious warm meal (I’ve yet to taste a meal I didn’t want seconds on) Finola smiled at me and said that I seemed very much like a Gallagher—I even had the Gallagher mouth. She got out her laptop and pulled up the Facebook page of one of my distant cousins, Sean Gallagher, who is nineteen or twenty himself. Looking at his picture, I couldn’t help but laugh to myself. Here we were, comparing the mouths of two different kids. I was thoroughly delighted in it.

 

Aidan and Rita

Aidan and Rita

The sun came up on Arranmore and I looked out the windows of Finola’s sitting room, homemade brown bread and marmalade in one hand, coffee in the other. The sight from the window took the air out of me—I remembered a beach house on the Oregon coast we stayed in fourteen years ago, and waking up to the crashing waves. As in that moment, I shook myself, remembering that this was real. And God nudged me once again to say, I’m here.

Morning view from Finola's

Morning view from Finola’s

 

I think there should be a new type of injury labeled “tourist whiplash” which occurs when said tourist has just too many good things to look at and engages in a somewhat idiotic looking routine of rapidly unbuckling, switching sides of the car, rebuckling, craning ones neck at ridiculous angles, letting his or her jaw drop, then repeating said process for hours. The good news for those suffering from tourist whiplash of course is that if done correctly, the injured will have plenty of great mental images to distract themselves from the pain. I gladly claim my place among these tourists.

 

Aidan and Rita showed me the island in a day, or at least as much of the island as humanly possible.

 

We walked through the church where Aidan grew up, touched a plaque to commemorate the lives lost in the sailing disaster of 1934.

 

Stained glass at St. Crone's

Stained glass at St. Crone’s

Stood on the burial sites of Aidan’s grandparents and brother, walked the rows of Gallaghers and O’Donnells and Boyles. Saw the faded pictures of young faces, lives taken too early we say. Looked out at their view of the sea, gently stepped over headstones knocked over by a strong storm, hurried through the lashing rain to the warmth of the car as we say Lord have mercy.

 

Looking out from the cemetery onto the sea.

Looking out from the cemetery onto the sea.

We drove their familiar roads, passing houses as Aidan and Rita narrate That’s the one where I grew up. My aunt’s one’s there. Does Barney still live there? Did that lady there die? Who lives there now? The names—Sheila and Barney, Tony, Hugh, and Grainne—all fly past me. I don’t know their faces, but I hear their stories.

 

Aidan's former home

Aidan’s former home

Then we leave the village behind—the old abandoned homes and the new council ones, the old stone walls, the boats in the distance—and it’s like we’ve been transported to the Scottish highlands or a Lord of the Rings film. The rain returns and we wait it out—they’re “local showers,” here one second and gone the next. Aidan and I make a half-run up a hill, afraid the rain will return. We reach the summit, the wind bracing, it’s like the downhill drop of a roller-coaster when your breath gets snatched away. From here, you can see 360 degrees of the island. Aidan points out the islands, Owey and Torey and Inniskeragh among them, and tells the legend of the three rocks out at sea.

 

View from the summit

View from the summit

We roll on past the lakes and the bogs with their fresh sharp ridges from the turf-cutters and then emerge back onto the coast, climb over a locked gate to the lighthouse, and inch along the wall to see the crashing waves below. It’s like churned milk! Like milk spilling out of the rocks they say. The color of the sea changes from every angle.

Arranmore Lighthouse--the third lighthouse built at this site.

Arranmore Lighthouse–the third lighthouse built at this site.

We climb back over the fence, leave the beaten path and go down to the sea where we find the stairs that only locals know. Clinging to a rope with one hand, the rocks with the other, Aidan and I descend the steep steps til we perch next to the roiling sea.

Looking down the steps to the sea

Looking down the steps to the sea

Rita is yelling out something from above, but we just assume she’s praying and then make our way back up, the taste of sea in our mouth. Turns out she was warning about a wave that looked like it would overcome us. A rainbow claims the sky for a moment, then is replaced by another squall.

 

View from the bottom of the steps

View from the bottom of the steps

Tea time becomes lunch time becomes calling time back at Finola’s. With coffee and tomato-leek soup and smoked salmon sandwiches, we sit at the table as a couple neighbors come in to say hello. They talk as if time hasn’t passed since their last meeting. We become the “callers” at cousin Tony “Post Office” and his wife Mary’s house. Pictures and stories are swapped, an old back and white postcard of a Donegal sports team—the winning team made up of boys who all grew up within two miles of each other.

Aidan, sunrise on the ferry back to the mainland

Aidan, sunrise on the ferry back to the mainland

We sit in front of Finola’s fireplace, stomach stretched from that last Christmas pudding and the final cup of coffee. Her young granddaughter calls to tell her that she’s going to get glasses, we chat and watch the news, the fire grows small and we crawl into bed. I pull Flannery O’Connor’s A Good Man is Hard to Find and a book of Celtic legend from the shelf, and start to fall asleep with the electric blanket still warm.

 

The thing about visiting is that you leave. I know, deep, right? This is when you say “get over yourself”. But we did—we left, got on the red ferry as the sun rose above the mainland horizon and drove back to Dublin. My great-great grandfather James Rackawn Gallagher left Arranmore as well. If he didn’t I don’t suppose I’d be writing this today.

 

The coming and going is a part of the island. Young people went to the mainland and, once they were old enough, to Scotland for work. Inevitably, some left for America; most of them didn’t return. On the night before their departure, they held an “American wake”—family and friends would call on the departing islander and stay with them ‘til dawn, waving them off until the ferry disappeared from view. Today many children born on the island leave for America or Canada or New Zealand or England for work. Finola’s and Tony and Mary’s children have  left. But many come to the island—the school runs summer courses that brings in hundreds of children who learn Gaelic . And a fair share of foreigners come to Arranmore, building summer homes or permanent residences.

I’m not sure what it all means–that’s part of my story. I was another comer, another goer.

sign arranmore way

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Home in Dublin

Hello all!

I am pleased to report that I have once again landed in a climate where winter feels closer to springtime. I’ve had the lucky pleasure of multiple “pet” days as they call them here in Dublin where the sun is shining, the green grass is frost-less in the morning, and the showers are brief. Saturday’s stretch of cold and rain was the only damper on a week of lovely weather, and even that afforded me the excuse to sit on the couch and read Dublin native Roddy Doyle’s novels for the majority of the day.

Picture taken 2002 during Aidan and Rita's visit to Chicago. Rita top center, myself in pink.

Picture taken 2002 during Aidan and Rita’s visit to Chicago. Rita top center, myself in pink.

Ireland is my homeland in some senses—though only 25% of my blood runs green, I happily claim it as my heritage. The week I’ve had here with Aidan and Rita feels so close to normal that I almost forget I’m an ocean away from home!

As I sat back and thought about this week and all that had passed it became quite clear that though the sites were beautiful, the food top-flight, and the sport matches riveting, the real star of the show were the people I enjoyed these things with.

Cousins Mary, Aidan, myself, and Paddy in Kilkenny.

Cousins Mary, Aidan, myself, and Paddy in Kilkenny.

Aidan and Rita Gallagher: I must start by saying that it would give me a great headache to try to figure out just how many “cousins-removed” we are. Suffice it to say that when we call each other cousins, that’s not even the half of it. The fact that we’re even still in contact is wholly credited to Aidan and Rita and Aidan’s father who have done extensive research on the family genealogy.

Aidan and Rita on an evening walk at Howth.

Aidan and Rita on an evening walk at Howth.

Much of that research came from Aidan’s grandmother whose apparent photographic memory made her the unofficial expert on everything Arranmore (the island from which we descend). Here’s a brief story to illustrate this that Aidan shared with me last morning on our walk in Bushy Park:

Some time ago when Aidan was in California for a work-related trip, he met a man who was a spitting image of the Gallaghers from the distinctive nose and ears to his rounded shoulders. When Aidan asked if he had Irish connections, he vehemently and somewhat bitterly denied it. Aidan returned home and told Granny the story. It was with amusement that she told him that during the gold rush, a Gallagher went over to California and had done a bit of “cavorting”. Whether he claimed it or not, Aidan’s new acquaintance was most certainly Irish.

Rose Garden at Kilkenny Castle.

Rose Garden at Kilkenny Castle.

And as long as you claim it, you’re part of the family. “Megan the American from Chicago” is warmly welcomed by neighbors we stop to chat with on our daily walks, by the St. Pius the 10th parish members I meet in the pew and over coffee and biscuits, by folks who lived down the road 18 years ago and recognized Aidan and Rita during a meal at their local restaurant Howard’s Way, and by the various other locals.

Rita, Mary and I at Kilkenny Castle.

Rita, Mary and I at Kilkenny Castle.

The real treat, though, has been getting to spend more time with Aidan and Rita’s relations. It is common here to “call on” family members or friends. I’ve had the pleasure of meeting Josie, one of Rita’s cousins, as well as Aidan’s cousin Paddy and his wife Mary. On Friday we drove down to Kilkenny where Paddy and Mary gave us a tour of the city—highlights include the St. Cornice Cathedral and Kilkenny Castle. As we sat over clam chowder, brown bread, coffee and a delicious dessert I heard stories of Aidan and Paddy’s youth and tales from in-between. The yarns Aidan spins are loads of fun—remind me to tell you about the talking dog when I get home…

I’ll save my stories about visiting with their children and grandchildren for the next post—there’s just too many good things to say!

Walking into St. Canice Cathedral with cousins Paddy and Mary.

Walking into St. Canice Cathedral with cousins Paddy and Mary.

Now a crash course in the goings on: Most days involve a walk (or a jog if I’m feeling ambitious) through Bushy Park, lots of coffee and tea (as well as these lovely little marzipan treats), listening to the news on the radio, and usually evening sport—we’ve been watching the Heineken cup for rugby as well as some soccer and American football. Some favorite outings were a walk along the pier in Dublin bay in Dun Laoghaire and a Sunday drive to the summit at Howth with a walk along the ridge as we watched the sunset paint the sea pink and gray and turquoise.

Early evening walk on the pier at Dun Laoghaire

Early evening walk on the pier at Dun Laoghaire

Today was spent at Trinity College in Dublin where I revisited the Book of Kells and Long Hall—there one of the security guards Benny and I struck up conversation. Half an hour later he was taking down books from the shelf- a 15th century Bible written in Aramaic whose pages he let me touch nearly brought me to tears. A former professional singer whose career took him all around the world, Benny was full of stories and encouragement—he sent me off with a few passes to the museum so that I could return in the next couple weeks to say hello. When Benny left, another jaw-dropped, awe-struck student and I traded turns taking pictures of each other in the beautiful library. A Netherlands native studying in Belfast, Merjink (I have no idea how to spell his name actually) and I finished the exhibit together and walked around the beautiful campus trading stories of home and time abroad. He was bravely taking Dublin on solo and after an hour or so we parted ways with a final “See you in Belfast!?” and a good chuckle knowing our brief partnership had reached its end.

At Long Hall, Trinity College Dublin. Photo credit to the gent from the Netherlands.

At Long Hall, Trinity College Dublin. Photo credit to the gent from the Netherlands.

After catching the 1 pm mass and shooting the breeze with a Rhode Island native in his fourth year at Trinity and the local chaplain, I made my way up the road to the National Library where the friendly front desk worker let me surrender my tea to him for the duration of my stay. After exploring the W.B. Yeats exhibit and wandering through the book filled rooms wherever the doors were unlocked, I made my way back to that friendly security guard, retrieved my tea, and went on my way as he quipped “Why are all you Chicagoans so nice?” Hear that? The Windy City, home of the nicest visitors in the Midwest. Who woulda thunk it.

Northwestern Ireland where Arranmore Island is located.

Northwestern Ireland where Arranmore Island is located.

The excitement today is that we’re off to Arranmore, the island where my Irish ancestors descended from. And by “we’re off” I mean at any minute. So for now, no pictures, but upon my return to Dublin I’ll add them, fear not.

‘Til then

Brussels, Bruges, and Paris

It has been a rapid and invigorating week! What incredible places!

As Dora Ostdiek said, there are good people everywhere. Among those I met in my first day of travels to Brussels were two Ireland natives who now work in Brussels for the European Union in various capacities, a couple American students, Matt and Paul both doing study abroad, and Katie, an American living and teaching in Paris.

Upon arrival in Brussels, my two newfound Irish pals overheard a girl talking about the Model European Union at the baggage claim. They promptly introduced themselves to her and then her (Elise) to me. By a stroke of luck, she too had met two people on the plane who worked in relation to the European Union. The four of us split a cab (a much swifter and hassle free trip than my planned train to taxi route) and Elise and I got to enjoy Roland’s narration of the city as we drove through it. Roland lived up to Irish hospitality and footed the bill for the cab—welcome to Brussels!

The Grand Place--building where Marx wrote Das Capital

The Grand Place–building where Marx wrote Das Capital. The Belgians are proud to be the first country to “excommunicate him”

The highlight of the following day included a three hour walking tour with fellow Drake students led by the Belgium native, nationalist, and enthusiast: Senna. Despite questionable re-writes of history, we got to see most of city center and hear colorful stories to accompany the various buildings and sites. Salwa (a fellow Drake student) and I drooled every time we passed a waffle stand and eventually broke down and split one, and then restrained ourselves until the evening when we got another. In a landmark (not really) first of my life I helped remove stitches from newfound Ozzie friend Tom’s arm at the hostel/hotel.

The Royal Palace--the flag and the guards mean the King is there (all explained by Senna our trusty tour-guide)

The Royal Palace–the flag and the guards mean the King is there (all explained by Senna our trusty tour-guide)

With our delegation finally in one place, we ventured out together Wednesday—a “free day”. We stuck out like sore thumbs as in broken French we navigated the tram system to the Atomium, a gigantic metallic structure modeled like—you guessed it— an atom. Sans agenda we got to explore the more removed parts of the city; with this group of crazy kids it wasn’t too hard to have a good time. The “ritzy” part of the conference began with an inaugural feast at the city’s Hilton, where we unashamedly went back for thirds on dessert.

At the Atomium

At the Atomium

Included in the conference were visits to the EU Council building and the Parlemenatarium. There and throughout the week, SUNY brought in several speakers for us. Sitting in the official press room at the council building listening to presentations from the secretariat, and walking through the Parliament’s history at the museum had a feeling akin to being in D.C. The sense of prestige (i.e. multiple security checkpoints and “official” badges) emanated from the massive buildings and the speakers themselves. It’s certainly an institution of which these people were very proud. Coming from the states where the idea of American citizenship and culture are widely accepted, it was interesting to see how the European Union was attempting to create a similar sort of identity despite the challenges of 28 different cultures, more than 20 different languages, and the persistence of multiple currencies. Imagine if tomorrow an organization sprung up trying to unite Mexico, the U.S. and Canada into a North American Union with a single currency—maybe the Northo? From that perspective it becomes quite clear why the EU still has limited power.

EU Buildings

EU Buildings

These limitations and the rather precarious balance between member state sovereignty and EU power became quite clear as the actual simulation began on Friday. Myself and another Drake student were members of the COREPER (a French acronym that means the council of permanent representatives). Our agenda, set by the Greek presidency (the presidency rotates on a 6 month cycle) dealt with immigration reform. Our first day in simulation was spent discussing border controls and criminal punishment for human trafficking. How fun, right? Quickly myself and Hannah, in addition to the delegates from Austria, Slovenia, and Denmark executed a bloodless and un-resisted coup (not really sure if you can even call it a coup then) of the council. The effects of the previous night’s libations seemed to have left most of the other delegates in a bit of a stupor, so our little group enjoyed lively debate and resolution formation. The next day’s debates on asylum proved equally controversial but the others seemed to have woken up and we managed to pass through two resolutions; at the end of the conference all the coreper resolutions were passed by the heads of government. In other words—success.

The crew.

The crew.

I couldn’t have picked a better crew to start my international travels. Whatever we were, “boring” was never an option. We took on the city and its multitude of challenges, for example the “janky” wi-fi and various other questionable moments with gusto, humor, and camaraderie. Particular star moments include the morning wake-ups with One Direction, the nightly walks to the Grand Place for waffles and frites, the unforgettable “party bus” that hit that poor woman’s car not once, twice, but six times, all things “Bruggey,” eating way too much nacho cheese, enjoying “Zelfies” (a new version of the selfie dedicated to Dr. Zeff), seeing the King and all his horses at the palace, and of course taking on the great city of Paris. Though I am ready to put my walking boots to rest for a bit, I would go back to our affectionately coined “ratchet” city with those lively comrades on any given day.

The Gran Place

The Grand Place

The two days following the conference we enjoyed day trips, first to Bruges in Brussels and then to Paris.

The canals in Bruges

The canals in Bruges

Bruges was in its hey-day a renowned trade city due to its network of canals. Today, its commerce resides mostly in tourism. The combination of romantic canals, magnificent architecture, multiple cadres of swans, several UNESCO world heritage sites including a beautiful monastery, and the frequently scrubbed cobblestone streets made just stepping into the city feel like traveling back in time.

Inside Notre Dame

Inside Notre Dame

Then Tuesday with a measure of trepidation about the trip into Paris, we (Mary-Kate, Drew, Salwa, Dr. Zeff and I) boarded the Thalys (high-speed train).  My first glimpse of the city when we emerged from the metro station stop in the city put my worries to rest. Where I had imagined we would emerge onto a packed, somewhat dirty, and potentially unfriendly scene, instead we were met with a quiet, open, and welcoming view. It was after all a Monday morning in the middle of January at about 10 am. In other words, a low volume of tourists. The buildings were breathtaking; it seemed that everywhere I looked there was a building whose stones were laid before our constitution was even written. Arriving at the Notre Dame my heart seemed to just jump out of my chest for a bit. The sheer size of it, the thought that people had spent so many years building it, and that they believed it was worth that time and investment—We have great reason to be thankful to our ancestors! We are so quick to say we’ve come so far, and in many ways we have, but gazing up at those rose windows it seems quite clear to me that they had some very important things figured out, some of which we seem to have left behind in the name of our great progress.  And then the visit to the Louvre: standing in front of the Raft of the Medusa, Liberty Leading the People, The Mona Lisa, the Odalisque and so many other paintings that in my mind had previously only resided on art history textbook pages was a “dream come true.” Walking along the Seine as a squall lifted, seeing a rainbow arch across the river, and standing underneath the Eiffel Tower with my three trusty travel companions capped off a banner final day.

Tour Eiffel

Tour Eiffel

Three outstanding cities, ten fantastic travelers, eight jam-packed, unforgettable days.

And now it’s on to Dublin, the homeland! Gracious, absolutely lovely relatives Aidan and Rita welcome me into their home. Whatever the weeks ahead may hold, I’ve been placed in the best of company.

‘Til next time!

D-Day: Departure Day

            It is currently 4 am Rockford, IL time but here in Terminal 2 in Dublin Ireland’s Airport it’s 10:30 am and I am just sittin here waiting for my gate number to be announced so that I can mosey on down and pray that the Airport Free Wi-Fi service works down there. Apparently the wi-fi is just another casualty of the same weather that’s been wreaking havoc back home. Luckily, my flight from O’Hare in Chicago didn’t have any layovers on the East Coast otherwise I’d likely be grounded until Wednesday.

            I can tell I’m in Europe because I just saw a fourteen year old boy walk past with a Harry Styles haircut (nothing against 1D). That and the fact that the coffee shop I’m sitting at is named “Butler’s Chocolate Café: Purveryors of Happiness.” The juxtaposition with the American imported Burger King is, needless to say, humorous.

I’ve never been averse to asking for a bit of assistance—directions, which aisle the peanut butter is in, etc. But my predominant “do it myself” mindset will be soon re-ordered, particularly when I get off the plane in Brussels, Belgium where guess what!? They speak French!!! And guess what else!? I don’t speak French. Luckily Brussels is an international city so I should be able to Fren-glish/mime my way to the train station, the taxi stand, and the hotel.

I never met my great-grandmother, Dora Ostdiek, but one of her oft used phrases has been passed down in my family: “God is in his heaven, and there are good people everywhere.” Even absent the theology, it seems particularly apt at this juncture. The admirable qualities of self-sufficiency and self-reliance that are cornerstones of my American identity are nonetheless insufficient, for example when trying to communicate in a foreign language. Fixed on doing things myself, I miss opportunity to be the helped, not just the helper. And I’m going to need plenty of help.

My grandmother (this is quote your elders day) said something quite similar just a couple months ago—when I told her that my trip was confirmed and that I was leaving the country she gushed about the opportunities, the way it broadens the mind. And then at the end she added (I’ll paraphrase) “But at the end of the day, we’re all very much the same. Just ordinary people, trying to live our ordinary lives. You go to Europe and on the surface it looks and feels so different—different homes, different foods. But we’re all just humans, We’re all just people. Trying to do a bit of work, to have people we love and to love them, to have some tiny pleasures.” Maybe I hang onto these words now because they offer a bit of comfort, and they make me feel less alone in an airport terminal filled with thousands of passengers just trying to live their ordinary lives.

——

            Let’s back up just a bit. You might recall from earlier posts that I’m spending the semester in Prague. Why in the world then would I be going to Brussels? As it turns out, my semester in the Czech Republic doesn’t begin until early February. But the Model European Simulation begins in Brussels tomorrow the 7th of January and goes until the 14th. Quite serendipitously, a few months ago I set up a meeting with Dr. Zeff, a Drake professor, for advice about living in Prague since she worked for transportation services there. Instead of leaving her office with the names of a few good restaurants, I left with an invitation to travel with her and a delegation of Drake students to attend the MEU (Model European Union). I’d say that meeting was a success. Dad and Mom had to do a little convincing as I hemmed and hawed over the pros and cons, but a few days later I was sending in my forms and looking at flights for early January.

For those of you wondering what a MEU simulation looks like, I have to confess that I’m not quite sure what to expect. This is my first such venture, but from the descriptions I’ve received from fellow classmates and Dr. Zeff I’ve got a bit of an idea. College students from mostly New York and European universities gather in Brussels where the European Union Council is headquartered. The different councils address actual issues that the European Union are facing at the present moment, and try to pass resolutions that would address those issues. My particular council will be dealing primarily with the issues of immigration and asylum. Myself and another Drake student will be acting as representatives from Poland (I don’t think my quarter Polish blood will offer any advantage unfortunately).

After the simulation and a couple of day trips, I’ll be back to Dublin for a stay with gracious relatives Aidan and Rita Gallagher. As Dora Ostdiek said, there are good people everywhere.

As they say here in Dublin, Slainte! (Cheers!)

 

 

Academy Awards of (Almost) Getting Megan to Europe

Who knew this blog would be such a great procrastination tool!? Instead of packing, I thought I’d create a brief “Academy Awards of almost getting Megan to Europe” (The Academy Awards of getting Megan to Europe will be distributed pending my actual touchdown–hopefully not a “hard” landing).

First, to Jen in the Study Abroad department: you’re pretty fantastic. I credit my choice of Prague to you. Thank you for going through all those program books, and putting up with all my questions. Additionally, thanks to Lori at the AIFS office for reminding me to “not panic yet” and to the ECES and AIFS representatives for all the information they have provided about the important points of living in a foreign country (including how to deal with peanut butter withdrawals).

The Academy Award for superb customer service goes to the ladies at the Post Office on Forest Ave in Des Moines–it was no small feat to figure out how all those express envelopes needed to be addressed and packaged. Honorable mention goes to Eugene, Jenny, Mia, and Angela from the U.S. State Department who walked me through the process of obtaining a duplicate passport (very glad that didn’t happen thanks to Hana and the immigration police in the Czech Republic who got my Visa to me in time for my departure)

The Award for exceptional notary services of course goes to Ms. Gloria Lawless in the SLC office–I apologize for the inordinate number of times I showed up at your desk with “just one more” form needing your stamp and signiature.

The Award for moral support, shoulder to cry on, words of affirmation goes to Megan, Michelle, Katie, and my PLLs. Y’all rock.

For the tiny book I carry with me (and carry all of you) I send thanks to Auntie Col and my dear family and friends.

Big brother David wins the “Teaching me how to let go and live it up” award. I’m sure your “opportunity, not obstacle” mantra will come in handy quite frequently.

And *drumroll* the Award for just plain bad-assness goes to Mr. and Mrs. Mike and Patty Schneider. Thanks in particular to Dad for the extra push(es) and life-saving spreadsheets and to Mom for being such a packing guru and compassionate woman.

That’s all folks!

Oh hey

Hello my dear avid readers,

I’m sure you’re absolutely elated at the current moment about the prospect of this blog. I would like to add that I also am glad that I have managed to come thus far in the blog-creation process without frying my computer, chucking it out the window, or doing some other heretofore unmentioned but equally violent act of rebellion against all things technology.

So for those of you who are still unsure what the purpose of this blog is, here’s what’s up:

I’m going to Prague to study for a semester at Charles University!!!!! Woo!!!!  Wait, where’s Prague? What even is that? A type of tomato sauce?

Don’t worry, like you a few short months ago I also was mistaking Prague for Prego. And now I am three days away from leaving; on a high note I can pronounce the city name and have a better knowledge of the place and culture thanks to Rick Steves.

Instead of giving you the entire rundown of the size, population, weather, location, topography, history, price of cigarettes, etc. (all of which you can find on Wikipedia) I’ll give you a few things to chew on.

1. Prague is in the Czech Republic, formerly Czechoslovakia in Central/Eastern Europe.

2. The city is ancient and beautiful (so I’ve been told) since it was preserved from the destruction of the second world war.

3. The language spoken is Czech. No I do not speak Czech.

4. There’s castles!

5. Apparently beer is cheaper than water.

 

Stay tuned as I venture out into the big bad world of foreign study!!!