Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Travel Tales from Ireland

By: Kevin Marthinsen, Humber's Study Abroad Student

It’s scary to think that I am only two weeks away from the half way mark in my semester here in Ireland. I’m starting to feel the squeeze in weekends available for me to travel (it would be impolite for me to not take advantage of those RyanAir deals).

After a month of living overseas, it’s interesting to think about the things you miss about back home. Let’s start with something basic, 24hr grocery stores. If you’re someone like me who likes to do their grocery shopping at night, forget about it—24hr anything doesn’t exist here. KD, Hockey Night in Canada, roads with a diameter of more than 8 ft. and the TTC are also on that list. OK, now I know I have probably shocked a lot of you with that last one, but let me explain. Although the TTC is slow, unreliable and it assumes that we will stand there and wait like cattle, obedient cattle—after living in Waterford, you learn that there are in fact places in the world that make the TTC look like a godsend.

This brings me to my next observation of the Irish “culture.” In Ireland, there are two types of time: Standard time and Irish time. Let me explain the two. Standard time is how most people in the world would go about the hours in the day. If you are to say to someone you will meet them at 7 o’clock, it is presumed that you will arrive at 7 o’clock, or to some degree of variance.  In Ireland, if you have an appointment for 7 o’clock, you should assume that the appointment is at ANY hour after 7 o’clock to the discretion of the person whom you are meeting. You must also take into consideration that the appointment is most likely cancelled without you being aware. The same can be said for the buses that operate throughout Waterford. If the timetable says the bus arrives every 15 minutes, then you might as well multiply that number by five and then find the square root, and that is what time the bus will arrive.  

WIT is certainly a college that helps incoming students appreciate the services available back at their home university. Not to say I’m not enjoying my time here—because I am—but allow me to paint you a picture. To begin, let’s quickly talk about the registration process for classes. Think back to a movie in which the story revolves around a high school football team. At the end of the football try-outs, a piece of paper is pinned up in the hallway with all the names of the students who have made the team. Now try to imagine in your head all those who have tried out for the football team gathering around this sheet of paper at once in a disorderly manner. This process is exactly how course registration happens at WIT. Multiple pieces of paper with timetables of all the modules offered are pinned up on a board along a narrow hallway (and I stress the word ‘narrow’). Now imagine hundreds of students trying to push their way through the mob in order to copy down when and where their courses are. Here comes the best part—after you find all the courses you need and their respective time and location, the university changes it the next day, and this process repeats itself for an entire week. That is how course registration is done—a frantic mob of lunatics who lose all sense of sanity in hopes to enroll in the courses they need. In addition to this insane practice of course registration, international students like myself are not guaranteed enrollment in the courses we’ve requested prior to arriving. Before registering for a course, we must ask permission from the professor before class. Oh the humanity...

Now despite my small rant on the “unique” practices that are the Irish education system, I am enjoying the school, despite the differences I find between WIT and Humber College.

Moving on…

Over the last three weeks I have gone on three different trips around Ireland. The first was to the Cliffs of Moher, Ring of Kerry and Cork; the second, hiking the Comeragh Mountains; and the third, a day trip to Northern Ireland to visit Giants Causeway and the city of Belfast. My trip to the Cliffs of Moher ended up being a bust because of the poor visibility due to the fog. In hopes to salvage some of the trip, I decided I would try and see the Ring of Kerry all in the same day. After travelling for three hours down to Killarney, and driving 1/8th of the Ring, it wasn’t until I pulled over for gas that I learned from the gas attendant that the Ring of Kerry wasn’t a landmark of sorts that you could drive too and see all at once, but in fact a road that runs along the coast in the county of Kerry. Perhaps this is something I should have known before hand, and I hope I am not the only person who has made this mistake. After learning this vital piece of information about the non-existent landmark I had hoped to see, I realized it would be impossible to travel around the Ring of Kerry before dark. Two failed excursions later, I drove to Cork in desperate need of a Guinness.

My trip to Giants Causeway was spectacular. The coastal causeway route is stunning. We travelled on the nicest day I’ve seen in Ireland since I arrived. Before the trip I was able to spend a night in Dublin—the first time I’ve explored the city since my arrival. In the evening, I tried to find a pub that wasn’t located in the touristy part of town, but rather a small pub on a side street where I could mix and mingle with some of the locals. After finding a pub that fit this criteria, I was on my way inside before I was stopped by a man who tugged me on the shoulder and said, “Welcome to hell.” Following this statement he began to laugh in a raspy and hysterical manner. I didn’t understand what he meant by this comment. I didn’t think too much of it and figured he was just some crazy old man outside a pub who deliriously with drink spouting random jargon. It wasn’t until I walked into the pub that I realized he wasn’t lying; this had to be the worst pub in Ireland. Everyone in the pub had in some way completely lost their wits. Moreover, everyone in the pub was between the ages of 50 and 80 years old. You had one man screaming at the jukebox over his distaste for a song requested by the man before him; meanwhile, another man was berating me with his loathing for the British. Another gentleman approached us and spoke of his time in prison in northern Africa, which quickly lead to a story about how he once jumped out of his second floor window, naked, with a shotgun, in an attempted to apprehend a Ukrainian mobster who had come to his front door. If that wasn’t enough, you then had an old Asian man off to the side screaming at the Asian bartender in what appeared to be an argument about an unpaid Guinness and the undefined rules about smoking in the pub. “Welcome to hell”… I should have taken him seriously.

October is an exciting month for me. At the end of the month there is a midterm break at WIT and during this time I will be travelling around Europe. My first stop is Edinburgh. From there I go to Aberdeen for a couple days to visit friends (and current Humber students) studying there. I then make my way down to London for Halloween and Rome a few days later.

Until next time, ciao.

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