Tuesday, September 10, 2013

the luck of the irish

holy moly, you guys.

this first week back in europe has been so unbelievably wonderful; i am certain this blog will not come close to doing it justice. i’ve already gotten to see so much, and i’ve only been here for 6 days… yikes. in an effort to keep this blog from becoming a sort of daily log of actions, i’ll just focus on the particularly awesome bits of this last week!

my first day was absolute madness – i didn’t really sleep on the plane, so i arrived in dublin at 5:15am local time feeling very loopy. i knew that i needed to stay awake for the whole day in order to beat the jet lag, so i had a loooong day stretched out before me. meeting shane at the airport was surreal - it all kind of felt like a dream, especially with the soft morning light of the sunrise in conjunction with the after-effects of the sleeping pill! that first day was so full – we walked around the city for a long time and haunted trinity college for a few hours in the afternoon, where i finally got to spend some time looking at the book of kells exhibit. that evening, we went out to a port town called dĂșn laoghaire (pronounced ‘dunleary’) and watched the sunset over the harbor. it was a wonderful day, and wildly successful in keeping me engaged and awake until bedtime!

the next day was a similar walking tour kind of day, except i was on my own.. shane had to work from 12-8pm, so i spent most of the afternoon wandering around to various public buildings. i admired the national library (it’s gorgeous), the exterior of dublin castle and the gardens, and st. stephen’s green (kind of like central park, but way smaller) until it was time to go meet shane. we grabbed some snacks and hopped on a bus back home to county clare, in the west! we arrived in limerick around 11pm, where shane’s dad was there to pick us up and bring us home to drimeen.

being home in clare is lovely – every direction you look, it’s beautiful, green rolling hills and farmland. and it’s always nice to be in a home while you’re away traveling, as opposed to just finding a place to sleep. homes are so cozy. we took two long walks on friday: one a few kilometers down the road to the local graveyard, which was perched on top of a hill and absolutely stunning, and another to the top of the foothill behind shane’s house, just in time to lay in a big field and watch the sun slip behind the mountains. there is nothing more peaceful and refreshing, i swear. all in all, it was so nice to spend time with the family and the animals and recharge!

saturday felt kind of like christmas eve, as the entire country prepared for the all-ireland hurling final on sunday. shane’s home county (clare) was playing cork in the championship match, so everywhere we looked, there was yellow and blue bunting and signs saying “up the banner!” and “up clare!” – the atmosphere was positively contagious. everyone was coming up to dublin for the game, so our drive on the motorway was peppered with honks and waves, as fellow clare supporters drove by in their decorated cars. several friends came to stay with us in dublin and we all stayed up late, catching up and just generally goofing off until the wee hours of the morning.

sunday was all-ireland day, and consequently one of the coolest days i can remember. the all-ireland match is the championship for the national hurling competition. here, counties have amateur teams (organized by parish, and consisting of regular people. not paid, not professional.) and they compete against each other throughout the year, in an effort to make it to this final match and win the cup. the sport itself is unbelievably difficult and entertaining – so fast-paced and physical, with ridiculously challenging skills involved. but the best part about the all-ireland is the build-up and the atmosphere. imagine the most passionate college football game you can, and now quadruple the lifetime devotion and sense of pride felt by the supporters… it’s absolutely electric. and, because this country is the freaking greatest, my wonderful friends found me a ticket. so, i pretty much got to attend the most important event of the year in irish sports, and also the coolest sporting event i’ve ever seen, hands down. if you want to know how the match went, read this article. fantastic day.

yesterday was a slow day, since we were all so tired from the festivities of the day before. i spent the morning lounging, and then finally made my way to the glasnevin cemetery for a walk around. the cemetery itself was beautiful, in a sort of haunting way (pun intended). the highlight of my day for sure was getting to rendez-vous with the "old man irish friend" i made during my first visit to ireland, donnchadh o’riordan. he came all the way into dublin to have afternoon tea with me at the gresham hotel. we sat and talked for over two hours, and it was so lovely. he is such a kind spirit. shane came to meet him as well, so they got to chat for a while about folklore and the ireland of old. when he caught the tram back to the train station, shane and i walked around for a bit before grabbing dinner and heading home.

today has consisted almost entirely of preparing for my trip to scotland, which begins tomorrow!!! i’ll be flying to edinburgh tomorrow evening, where i will kick off my two-week exploration. i’ve been looking forward to visiting scotland for ages and ages – feels like a dream come true! but honestly, being here has been wonderful enough. i just love this place, and i truly could stay here. might have to start looking for a way to come here once i'm through in france! who knows.. :)

(if you’d like to see pictures from this first week in ireland, check out my facebook album here.)

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

now boarding

well, the day i’ve been waiting 5 months (2 years?) for has come, and i can hardly believe it. it feels like three weeks ago that i was graduating and telling people my post-grad plans were to move back to europe in the fall to teach english in southern france. some kind of sorcery fell upon me, because the last few months absolutely flew by! now, my “d-day” has arrived. leaving nashville this morning was hard – i said goodbye to my parents, my sister, my dog, my town, and my car (it’ll be sold when i get back!) all within 24 hours… talk about upheaval. but despite the tears at the airport, today is a day of excitement and anticipation. like i said in my previous post, i knew the moment i came home that my time in france wasn’t over – i just didn’t know what the next trip would entail. now, as i look into the next few months, i can tell you that this trip will be absolutely amazing. i have so many great friends to go visit, some more friends to meet for the first time, an awesome job, and all the opportunity in the world to travel and see new things. i joke that i’m really just going on vacation for a year… but that doesn’t feel too far from the truth! sidenote - i just heard my first irish accent in the terminal, and got butterflies of excitement. i can't believe i get to do this. 

as for right now, i’m hanging out in chicago, enjoying the best kind of people-watching there is (airport!) and trying to get my mind in order. thanks to everyone who has called, texted, facebooked, tweeted, and instagrammed (you get the idea) over the last few days to wish me well – your kind words just add to my excitement, knowing that i have such a wonderful support group at home. i’ll do my best to keep in touch once i get to europe – if you’d like to get in touch with me, leave a comment and i’ll send you my info!

in the next 28 days, i’ll be moving around a lot. a week in ireland, two weeks in scotland, another few days back in dublin, and then on to france! this time next month, i’ll hopefully be posting from my new apartment. :)

three cheers for the wanderyear… next stop, dublin! x

Sunday, September 1, 2013


it’s funny how time works.. one second, you’re a freshman in college ; another moment, you’re leaving for a semester abroad ; one more, and you’ve been back for two years and just graduated. it would take a novel for me to honestly express how the last two years of my life have gone, but here’s the short version of how i came to be where i am.

when i came home from europe on july 13th, 2011, i was elated to be back with my loved ones. i had a joyful reunion with my parents, sister, and dog (he was probably the most excited). i finally got to actually be in a relationship with my boyfriend – we’d been apart for almost 7 of the 9 months we’d been dating at the time. i had stories upon stories to tell, and the world seemed so big and full of opportunities.

i started school that fall without really knowing how i’d react. my time abroad had an indescribable effect on me, and i already felt that i’d miss it desperately. however, i was excited to see my friends and professors and to get back into the swing of american university life. classes started in august, i mysteriously decided to join the new sorority on campus (an entirely different story), and the days passed quickly. but as september waned, things started to get tough.

if i could go back and have a conversation with myself during the months before my departure, i would say this: culture shock is hard, but re-culture shock is exponentially worse. i had been warned about the challenges of culture shock – the initial elation, the inevitable slump of homesickness and frustration, and the eventual balancing act that becomes everyday life as an expat. i went through all of those phases when i got to france – excitement for the first few weeks, a couple tough adjustment weeks, and then several months of relative normalcy. however, coming back home proved much more difficult… the timeline of my re-culture shock dragged on and on. the elation lasted long enough to fool me into thinking i would have no problems readjusting. but after two months, the sweetness of being home gave way to the bitter reality of having no dreams left.

i know how melodramatic that sounds, but it’s the honest truth. i had been dreaming of living in france for what seems like forever. i had spent my entire life, or at least what i could consciously remember of it, striving for that goal. i have had a passion for all things french since i was a little girl – it started with beauty and the beast, but it translated into me starting my french education at age 12, landing a job at the public library at age 15, continuing my librarian career until i graduated college, traveling to france multiple times on school trips and vacations… i even got a fleur-de-lis tattoo when i was 18. all that to say, it was my life’s dream. and i accomplished it! i am so blessed – some people never even come close to achieving their dreams that way. but i am a goal-oriented human; i need something to work towards, or i lose my focus, my drive. so, in september, when it finally hit me that my purpose was no longer there, i panicked. i had a genuine quarter-life crisis. i questioned everything, even my desire to stay in school. and coming from a grade-A nerd, that was a big deal. there are a few people in my life to whom i am forever indebted for carrying me through that semester. but at the end of it, as 2011 was drawing to a close, i finally settled down enough to take stock of my life and my priorities. i decided that, as crazy as 2011 had been – highest highs and lowest lows – i was going to take a deep breath and let it go.

2012 was going to be a new year and i needed to find my balance again. i took a couple classes that changed my life – particularly, i had a world literature class that focused on exilic literature, addressing questions about home, exile, and memory. that course was a god-send; it was therapy. i had time to endlessly reflect about what was happening in my heart, and through our readings and papers, i had time to heal a little bit.

at that point, i still wasn’t thinking far enough in the future to know when i would get back to france. i knew i had to go back, but i couldn’t tell what that trip would be – a permanent move? a couple weeks of backpacking? it wasn’t until the summer that the wheels of fate got turning again. change has always been something that unnerves me – suddenly, plans become irrelevant, and i do love a good plan. but when it became clear last summer that my plans were not the ones that mattered, i stopped trying to be in control.

on a whim, i decided that i might as well apply for the fulbright teaching assistantship in france. what could it hurt? i went through the application process, wrote my personal statement and statement of purpose, sent it off in mid-october, and settled in to wait. around january, i got the email saying i’d been recommended by the fulbright commission for the teaching assistant program in france (henceforth, TAPIF). this program is basically the french ministry of education’s version of the fulbright – english speakers from all over the world go to france to act as supplementary teachers for underprivileged school throughout the country. getting a recommendation from the fulbright commission is a big deal, because it pushes your name to the top of the applicant list. so, i applied for that in mid-january and waited some more. finally, on april 2nd, i got the email that i’d been accepted. i was in target with my best friend, and got a call from my mom, telling me to check my emails. i read the message on her phone, and started crying right there in the clothing section. i was going back to france!!!

that’s basically the rough outline of how i came to be where i am right now. as this post has grown long enough, i’ll cut myself off and write a separate one about the TAPIF program and my placement details. suffice to say, i am beyond excited and anxious about this next chapter, and i am endlessly grateful for the experiences that brought me to this moment. i had such a strong feeling when i came home two years ago that my time in france wasn’t over… and i was right. cheers to that!