Monday, August 4, 2008

Lessons from Ireland ...

I'm back in the U.S. !!! After a crazy day of traveling (I almost missed my flight back to Indianapolis because my flight from Ireland to Newark was delayed), I finally arrived (luggage and all ... thank goodness) safe and sound. After dinner with the fam, I went to bed pretty early, since I had been traveling for 12+ hours and had been up since midnight U.S. Eastern standard time (boo jet lag!).

While there were times when I was frustrated during my trip (Sabrena and I totally feel into the mid-trip lull where you get frustrated with the culture shock and what not), and while I was excited to be back with my family and friends and be free from traveling the country on a bus and living out of a suitcase, within less than 24 hours of being back, I was missing Ireland already (Especially our 11:00 tea time, Sabrena ... haha !) Overall, it was a fantastic experience and a trip of a lifetime, and while it seemed to drag on a times when I was there because I was removed from the rest of the world, I realize now that it went by too fast (though I think my family, friends, and coworkers here think it didn't go by fast enough).

In addition to all my observations I've written in early posts, I've now had a little time to reflect on my experiences and thought I'd share a few lessons I picked up along the way.

The first is this: compared to Ireland (and, seemingly, the rest of the world), the U.S., from my experience, lacks in terms of having a knowledge of and respect for our nation's history. Everyone that I talked to in Ireland, no matter how old or what profession, could easily explain the history of and the purpose behind why Ireland does certain things the way they do, and they had a pride for who they are and where they come from while being able to honestly admit where improvements need to be made without seeming shameful. I remember making a comment to Sabrena that if this trip would have been reversed, I couldn't have possibly shared all of the same information with Irish visitors to my institution, and I don't think that many could have. Perhaps because the U.S. has been such a melting pot, we haven't kept track of the history of America, but rather of the individuals places we came from. Perhaps the importance of our history just isn't stressed enough - we learn what we need to about it to pass a test in school and then it is forgotten about. In Ireland, history is integrated into the modern times every day. The strangest experience that I had in Ireland was that I was repeatedly thanked by Irish people for being American because "America has done so much for Ireland." I didn't know how to react to this. I personally didn't feel like I had done anything for Ireland, and I wasn't quite sure what my country as a whole had done for Ireland either. I learned during my time there was individual people meant by this, but perhaps if I had known prior to my trip what interactions between Ireland and the U.S. entailed, I would have been able to react to this seemingly undeserved gratitude much better.

This brings my to my second lesson, which is to focus on the positive and not the negative. I feel like I've been reminded about this throughout my life, but Ireland has reminded me of it yet again. I constantly complain about the media in America for broadcasting only the "bad" news without every celebrating any of the "good." As Americans, I feel that many of us are often quick to focus on what is going wrong - with government, with education, with money, etc. - when we could be focusing on what's going right and trying to figure out how to make other things better. I'm sure Ireland has just as many problems as we Americans think we do, but I rarely heard them articulated, and when I did, they weren't presented as problems. Instead, the Irish kept a positive outlook and talked about "areas that needed enhancing," thus putting a much positive spin on issues of concern. At the institutions, they were quick to point out what they were doing right, how far they had come, and credit those who had offered support and growth rather than complaining about lack of funding, slow processes of change, etc. This positivity made for a much more enjoyable experience there.

Thirdly, I've learned that when it comes to a lot of things, there's no dichotomous "good" and "bad;" there's just "different." While the U.S. and Irish higher education systems have many similarities, they also have vaste differences; but this doesn't make one system better than the other, it just makes them difference. The Irish institutions are excelling in ways that the U.S. hasn't, such as with access to education, support for mature students and for students with disabilities, and the involvement of the Students' Union in the governance of the institutions. The U.S. is also excelling in ways that Irish ones haven't, such as with the first-year and sophomore experiences, the student judicial process, and residential education. By studying both systems, one can pick and choose the best of both worlds to enhance their own; I myself have brought back several ideas that may enhance the programs that I work with.

Fourthly, my experience on my study abroad trip only reiterated that student affairs is a small profession, and introduced the idea that it's a small world now that we are globalized. Bill, a Ph.D. student on my trip, happens to know 2 of the professionals who I used to work with in orientation at Purdue. Suzanne now works professionally with a woman who was a graduate assistant for the orientation program while I was at Purdue. Stephanie and I had met each other in Atlanta this spring where we happened to be assigned to the same volunteer spot at ACPA and then ended up going to Ireland together. Wes went to undergrad with some of my friends from high school. Colleen, who now works for an institution in Ireland, knows almost all of the people I work with currently and has sorority sisters from my hometown. I met a woman in the airport on my way home to used to work for a company that a company I interned for in undergrad outsources too, and knew my former supervisors. It seemed as though every day the world got smaller and smaller. At the end of the trip I appreciate that Pam reminded us "to take care of each other," as we would all be growing professionally together and may need to rely on one another sometime. I also appreciate that Tony said that our group gave him "hope for the future of student affairs;" it was nice to know that someone believed in us.

I know that I will continue to reflect on my trip as time progresses, and never forget about it for the rest of time. I hope that I get the chance to walk the streets of Galway, bike the Aran Islands (ok ... maybe not), peer over the Cliffs of Moher, and visit the other sites of Ireland again one day (perhaps with some of my family or friends that have ties there), and maybe even explore other countries too (Pam and Tony ... you may see me in Scotland!). Till then, it's back to the "real world." (Jenn ... we'll be at Moe's soon !)

Jesus had blonde hair?!

(Note: This post is for Thursday, July 31, 2008.)

Today we had our last institutional visit at Trinity College Dublin, the oldest college in Ireland. Trinity is set in the heart of Dublin, with the city sprawling around it. While none of the original buildings survive, many of the buildings date back to the 1700s, and those are breathtaking. It was a short day on campus. First we met several of the student services staff, all of whom were similar in position to those we had met on other campuses. We then took a tour of their new sports complex before taking a very educational tour of campus, led by a professor of philosophy who himself was a graduate of Trinity. (Interesting enough, this man lives on campus, as he is also part of the judicial board, and happens to live in the same room where a former professor was shot by students after they were shot at by him - the most rebellious event ever to occur on Trinity's campus). This man was extremely knowledgeable about Trinity's history, and had a sarcastic wit to him as he described various aspects of the campus buildings to us.

The tour ended with a trip to see the Book of Kells, often regarded as Ireland's finest national treasure and held on Trinity's campus. The Book of Kells is an extremely detailed and illustrated translation of the 4 gospels, created in the year 800. The book was separated into the 2 separate volumes and encased on Trinity's campus, allowing visitors to view the first pages of each gospel. A hall showcased large, illuminated reproductions of other pages, since visitors cannot flip through the actual books themselves. Something interesting that I immediately noticed was that all of the pictures of Jesus Christ (and similarly, other saints and disciples) depict him as a man with curly, blonde hair. This just happened to catch my eye because all pictures that I have ever seen as depictions of nearly anyone of importance from biblical times, particularly Jesus Christ, show them all as brunettes.

The tour ended in a BEAUTIFUL library (which an arched, wooden ceiling that I would like to have replicated in my home one day) where 2000 of the world's oldest books are stored. (Something interesting about Trinity ... it holds a copy of any copyrighted written work in the EU since the early 1800s.)

After our trip to Trinity, most of the group dispersed to do some shopping for the rest of the day. We then had our farewell dinner at the Purty Kitchen. Prior to dinner we all meet in the dance club in the upstairs area of the Purty Kitchen to fill out some evaluations, receive our group pictures, and end with some "icebreakers" where we all got to share our favorite memories from the trip. It was fun to recap everyone's experiences, and to hear from Pam and Tony how impressed they were with our group this year. Dinner was great - we had wonderful service and food, and got to listen to a very impressive musician play his guitar and sing throughout our time there. Sadly after dinner we said our goodbyes, and now Sabrena and I are packing to return home tomorrow. The end is bittersweet ... I'm excited to go home to see friends and family and get back to a "normal" routine, but I am sad about leaving this beautiful country and such great people at these institutions. It's definitely been the experience of a lifetime!

"To live is to change, and to be perfect is to change often." - John Newman

(Note: This post is for Wednesday, July 20, 2008.)

This morning we were up bright and early and off to University College Dublin (UCD) (not DCU ... ohmigosh, all these schools are confusing!), where the great and wonderful Colleen was our host for the day. (Jenn ... she is great!). I had heard a lot about Colleen through several of my coworkers who have met her at various FYE and IFYE conferences over the years, and I had been using much of her work for my research paper for this class, so I was excited to meet her. Little did I know that we would have so much in common! Turns out that Collen is from Lafayette, IN (I went to undergrad in West Lafayette, IN), and went to undergrad at Butler where she had several sorority sisters from my hometown of Seymour (which many people from Indiana have never heard about unless, like Colleen said, they know of John Mellencamp).

While in appearance UCD is not my favorite campus, it is my favorite in terms of the people that work there, and how much I am able to relate to what they do there. UCD, I would say, of all the schools we've been to, is right up there with UCC in being the most closely aligned with what we do in the States in terms of student affairs. The morning started off with a talk from Marie Murray of Counseling, who seemed to be a phenomenal woman. She gave us an introduction into UCD students, and, I think, a lot of insight into the field of student affairs (despite that she, and the majority of her colleagues, do not have a background in student affairs). I particularly liked that she started off saying, "Students direct my work;" a point which she reiterated on several occassions. She quoted John Newman (founder of UCD, and author of Idea of a University) in saying, "To live is to change, and to be perfect is to change often;" sort of driving home that there's always room for improvement and change in the work that we do, and that students should guide both. Coming from a counseling standpoint, she really opened our eyes to the questions that we must consider when dealing with students' transitions into and through college. Though seemingly common sense, I was intrigued when she discussed that too often we forget to ask students the right questions, or to ask for their input or opinion; which is so true. Marie combats this by always ending her sessions by asking, "Are there questions that I should have asked you that I didn't ask, and are there questions I asked that I shouldn't have," which is a small trick that I think any student affairs professional could use when meeting with students. Marie, like the other counselors we have met with here, reiterated issues for UCD students surrounding alcohol use, mental health, and suicide, and discussed much that most of the students who come to see her come to discuss a variety of relationship issues. When discussing these issues Marie said, "Only those who can feel have the ability to love intensely and to be hurt intensely," as she discussed how mental health issues, including suicidal thought, can taint the "feel factor" of students, which I found interesting. I also found in interesting, and quite coincidental, that Marie discussed issues of parents of 1st generation students (though UCD, like other Irish institutions, typically don't pay any attention to parents), when she said that 1st generation parents struggle with balancing being happy for their students because they want the best for them and dealing with losing their students to something they could never have (and interesting point for those of us who are interested in working with parents and/or 1st generation students). Finally, when asked about her perceptions on faculty involvement in students' lives and their cooperation with student affairs, Marie echoed something that was often discussed in my classes this past year when we talked about bridging student affairs and academic affairs; she stated, "Academics [faculty] want students to succeed, but as the pressures on them increase [processes for tenure, publication, research, etc.], it's more difficult to help students with issues they don't understand [such as mental health issues, transitional issues, etc.]." She (and later Colleen as well), also commented on how academics don't always understand the impact they have on students, and that it's our duty, as student affairs professionals, to remind them of the great impact they can have on their students.

We then had a lecture by Fr. John McNerny of Chaplaincy on Newman's Vision of a University, which for being written in the 1800s is remarkably representative of what we as student affairs professionals hope for our campuses and our students today. (I look foward to hopefully finding the time to read his book). I was admittedly surprised as Fr. McNerny discussed Newman's foward thinking on integrating learning inside the classroom with learning outside the classroom, and empowering students to spread that learning to the greater society for the good of the whole community. Perhaps of U.S. student affairs professionals read his vision they would have a "new" spark from some "old" ideas on how to accomplish what we are trying to accomplish with our students.

Collen then utilized her presentation from IFYE this year on "What's Unique About the Irish First Year Experience," to discuss with us the transitional issued of first year Irish students. While I had already seen and utilized this presentation, I still found her talk interesting, and was particularly intrigued by a few key points she made. Firstly, she explained to us that unlike the United States, in Ireland it is much more prestigious to attend a "public" unversity [i.e. one funded by the "state (country)]. This is because students can attend these institutions free (while have access to greater services), whereas they would have to pay for a private institution. This was interesting, as in the U.S. the concept of "prestige" tends to equate to money ... the more money, the higher the prestige. It is still odd to me that, as Colleen said, "undeclared students to not exist." While I understand it now, it's still hard for me to fathom being admitted into higher education soley based on the the score of a test, and while the advantages and disadvantages of the system have been explained to us at each school here, I respected that Colleen put explained it in terms of retention (which we could all understand), saying that as demand for majors fall, LC points fall, which means bringing in weaker students into programs, which in turn brings on a major retention issue when students can't succeed in their coursework.

We then had a student services fair, during which I spent the time talking to Jenny, who oversees that New ERA program, an access program for students who are low-income, first-generation students who come from disadvantaged schools (and often communities) and whose parents are not of a professional class. Having worked with POA at Purdue and TRiO at USC, I was interested in hearing about the services that UCD provides for these students, and impressed with what they have to offer. I was particularly impressed that services are not only offered to students who enroll in UCD, but that the New ERA program also targets students in primary and secondary education in order to get them interested in and prepare them for college. (While some TRiO programs in the U.S. interact with high school students a bit, it is rare to see colleges taking an active stance to start working with students from elementary school foward to ensure their academic success.)

It was also interesting to learn of an interact with several Student Advisors at UCD, a position which doesn't exist at other institutions in Ireland. While these people are what we in the states might refer to as academic advisors, many of them also take on a variety of other student services jobs that may be a single position at institutions in the states, such as orientation, retention and tutoring, etc.

In the afternoon we were given a campus tour by a great student who I learned was from Nigeria, went to undergrad in Russia (where he had to do all his exams orally in Russian) and wa now attending graduate school in Ireland for mechanical engineering. Once our tour was over, several of us went to check out the bookstore where an employee gave Sabrena some scones that had fallen on the floor and told her she could feed them to the swans outside, so several of us headed out there. The swan that I was feeding sure liked me when I had the scone, but the second it was gone, the swan decided that I was a tasty treat too and attemped to eat my foot three times (apparently it was still hungry).

Tonight we went to dinner at the Oval Pub, which was the worst dining experience we've had in Ireland. The manager and the wait staff were rude, the food wasn't great, and we were charge 3.10 euro for a very small bottled water. As others headed out for the night, Lorraine and I headed back to the hotel. I had a great time hanging out in her room with her talking about school and work (she gave me some inspiration about pursuing a Ph.D. ... maybe I will do it someday). Tomorrow we're off to Trinity - our last institutional visit before we go home. It's a short one, so Sabrena and I are looking foward to doing some souveneir shopping afterward. :-)

The craic was mighty !

(Note: This post is for Tuesday, July 29, 2008.)

Today we left our beautiful hotel in Cork, bound for the last leg of our trip in Dublin. Luckily the trip from Cork to Dublin was one of the smoothest (despite longest) we've had, as we got to travel some roads that were less than a year old and not quite so hilly as those we've been traveling. Since we spent all morning traveling, we didn't have much time to to sightsee once we got to Dublin, so a group of us quickly dropped off our belongings and headed to the Guinness Storehouse for a tour (and a free Guinness).

Upon entering the Guinness Storehouse you see embedded in the flooring a copy of the lease for the building which when signed was to last for 9000 years! While Guinness has been certainly surviving since then, it's crazy to think that they still have 8000+ years to go on their lease! The Storehouse is also designed as the largest pint glass in the world - it would take 4,000,000+ pints of Guiness to actually fill it. After exploring the Storehouse (including the history of Guiness and how it is made), we ended at the velocity bar, which is the highest point in Dublin, where we got a free pint and a 360-degree view of the city (luckily it was sunny while we were up there, so we could see pretty far!). I also finally discovered what people are talking about or what shirts means when they say "the craic was mighty." Apparently "craic" or "crack" in Ireland, Scotland, and Northern England means "fun or lighthearted mischief, often in the context of drinking or music." In Ireland when people ask, "What's the crack?" or "How's the crack?" it doesn't refer to drugs as it does in the U.S., but rather, "How are you?" or "How have you been?"

After the Guinness tour, we headed to St. Patrick's Cathedral, but were disappointed when we found out there was a service in progress and we therefore couldn't go inside. We got some pretty pictures of the outside though! As we were all hungry by this point, we all stopped by a pub on the way back to the hotel, where some of us has the biggest pieces of fish we've ever seen and the best chips we've had on the trip (I swear, we're becoming experts on french fries we've eaten so many!).

Now we're back at the hotel, and I am so exhausted I can barely keep my eyes open and it's raining outside, so no sense in going out. Tomorrow we have a LONG day at UCD, so I'll suppose I'll head to bed early tonight.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Today I learned about whiskey and sex ... oh yeah, and Irish higher education too!

Today was our 3rd of 5 institutional visits during our time here in Ireland. After breakfast we headed down the road a short distance to University College Cork, where we were greeted by the sweetest host we've had so far in the most amazing student center I've ever seen! UCC in general is the most beautiful campus we have seen here thus far. I personally was impressed with the way they have blended modern architecture in with the old. Everything seems to fit together here, whereas on the other campuses we've visited, newer buildings seem to stick out like a sore thumb among the historical buildings.

After a tour of the student center, we settled in a conference room to listen to presentations about UCC's student services. We were greeted by the new Vice President for the Student Experience who has only been in place since February. For all of my USC HESA folks, this man's position sounds very similar to DP's position, with the added bonus of having a VP for Teaching and Learning (which sounds like an academically focused AVP position) to help him out. It was interesting to hear him and his colleagues (who I noticed were all male ... at the other schools the student services employees have been predominately female) discuss how much more integrated and cooperative student services had become with the addition of his position.

After hearing presentations on students services in general at UCC and the individual aspects of student health, chaplaincy, counselling and development, and accommodation (housing), it was apparent that UCC is the most closely aligned with U.S. student affairs out of all the schools we've visited thus far. I appreciated that UCC not only demonstrated that they do well, but also were honest in where their student services are lacking and where they hope to grow. A few aspects of their programs and a few of their concerns about their students particularly caught my attention:

1. I immediately noticed that UCC draws far more international students (nearly 3000) than NUIG and GMIT.

2. I found it interesting that all of UCC's students are full-time students except for a handful of continuing education students. I appreciate that they recognize that this causes a lack of flexibility for students, and that they are looking to add part-time programs.

3. I thought it was impressive that UCC was the Irish University of the Year twice in the last 5 years. They also have a ranking of 286 on the THES. Check out how your institution falls on the world rankings! (Boilermakers, we're tied with U. Pittsburgh for 77th in the world!) ... Trinity College Dublin (which I'll visit later this week) is 53rd. Impressive!

4. I found it interesting that there is currently no assessment of student services (or any aspect of the student experience at UCC) currently, but that they are working toward implementing survey systems to improve what UCC can offer.

5. Like those of us who work in higher education in the U.S., the Irish institutions are seeing an increasing amount of students who are dealing with mental health issues which have become common to the millennial generation.

6. The Irish culture in general has an issue with suicide (hence mention in an earlier post of people throwing themselves off the Cliffs of Moher), particularly among young males (i.e. those in higher education). While UCC has had no completed suicides in the last 6 years (which is extremely RARE), they OFTEN deal with suicidal students.

7. The Students' Union (like Student Government in the U.S.) used to get a LOT of funding from alcohol companies to sponsor programming on campus (particularly from Murphys). However, the SU recently formulated and passed a new alcohol policy banning any form of association with alcohol sponsorship or advertisement on campus. I thought this was a bold move (since it forced them to lose about $20,000 euro, or $30,000 dollars in sponsorship money) to assist in the alcohol problem on Irish campuses. (However, the campus does still have a campus bar, which is pretty amazing, I might add.)

8. UCC has created CALM (Computer-Aided Lifestyle Management) and higher someone on a 3 year term to provide e-counseling for students, bringing technology into the student counseling realm for the campus. Innovative for them considering the lack of technology they expressed!

9. While approximately 9700 (59%) of students request on campus housing, UCC has limited accommodations, like most Irish schools, with only 780 beds. YIKES!

10. UCC recently appointed a coordinator of first-year experience (YAY!). They are also wanting to appoint a PASS (Peer Assisted Student Services) coordinator soon to increasing their peer mentoring efforts. (Hmmm ... wonder if I could get them to hold off a year so I could come work here?!)

After hearing about student services, we had a professor of Irish culture lecture to us about "matching and marriage customs" in Ireland. (Reed, it totally reminded me of the marriage e-mail you forwarded to the U101/NRC crew!) So interesting! Some definite similarities to the history of marriage in the U.S., but some great differences as well.

We then went on a campus tour. Like I said before, UCC is beautiful. The church has beautiful, extremely ornate stained glass windows and tiled pictures of the astrology signs in the floor. The original campus building is also HUGE and well-kept, and contains a great deal of preserved history.

So, speaking of sex education. We have learned during our time here that the Irish are much more open to talking about the taboo topics that we avoid in the U.S., one being sex. While premarital sex is obviously still looked down upon by the church, the country has grown with the times and realized that education is best. Sabrena was particularly amused by posters in the bathroom on campus today. One stated "Be careful, it only takes one sperm." Another showed pictures of a bed and of a wooden floor and said, "It doesn't matter where you do it," before explaining the risks of unsafe sex. There were several sexual education posters and advertisements around campus that definitely caught our attention today. Considering the head of student health talked about the rise in STIs in recent years in Ireland, I'd say they are appropriate.

After our visit at UCC we all headed to the Jameson Heritage Center in Midleton, where we learned all about how Jameson whiskey is made and several of our group members got to become certified whiskey tasters. (I, personally, did not try my free glass of Jameson.) (Duff ... I thought of you lots today ... Midleton and whiskey!) We then spent some time around Cork before heading on a ridiculous journey to dinner (it was much farther away than anticipated, in the middle of nowhere, and we got a little lost). However, it was great, and we had some great laughs on the way home.

Tomorrow we're off to Dublin where we'll spend the remainder of our trip. It's been so much fun so far, and I'm excited to see the big city and the other 2 schools. I miss everyone greatly, and am looking forward to seeing some of you Friday. (And no, Mom, a banshee or little person has not kidnapped me yet; I'm alive and well. Though I did see a Leprechaun Crossing, and Sabrena and I did have a haunted hotel room in Limerick.)

I have internet access at UCD in Dublin, so I'll post more from there if not before. Till then, goodnight !

P.S. Leanne ... Siemens is in Cork! I think you should go back to work for them, and we'll move here together. What do you think? :-)

I kissed the Blarney Stone ! :-)

(Note: This post is for Sunday, July 27, 2008.)

After a great breakfast this morning at the Killarney Plaza hotel, we were Cork-bound. Killarney has a huge national park, so on the way to Cork, we stopped several times along the way to see the sites. These included Ladies' View (an open area for viewing the mountains), Torc Waterfall, and the Muckross House, which is an architecturally beautiful mansion that overlooks a breathtaking view (and is part of the McCarthy family, Ev!). We then stopped at Molls Gap, which was an area that also overlooked the mountains, and happened to have the Avoca at Molls Gap shop. (I took pics for you, Ev.)

Just before arriving in Cork we stopped to visit Blarney Castle and to kiss the Blarney Stone. We toured the castle, which included crawling through a dungeon and climbing a LOT of tightly spiraled and narrow stairs to reach the top of the castle where we were lowered upside down by an elderly gentleman to kiss the Blarney Stone (let's home it brings me the gift of eloquence so I do well on my research paper for this class and the rest of the HESA program!). I got a picture ... I'll upload it when I get back!

We arrived at Cork just before dinner time, not too excited to arrive at the Jurys Inn since we'd had such a poor experience at the one in Limerick. However, turns out we were at the wrong hotel. We were actually staying at the Jurys Cork (which is owned separately from the Jurys Inn ... point WELL made by the employees); and Bob's comment of, "Wow this is a lot sexier than the other one," pretty much sums up that this one was MUCH better than the we expected. Moder, with a 4 star rating, this hotel is BEAUTIFUL. It's architecture is gorgeous, and there are the most comfortable, plush couches all over the place. One is plum colored and so comfy; I'd love to steal if for my apartment! As an added bonus, the room is brown and orange ... perfect for me! :-) We also have a shower and bath tube - best bathroom thus far!

Sabrena and I met up with Pam and Tony (our professors), Lorraine (another student) and David (our bus driver) to go to dinner. We ended up at Murphy's, which turned out to be the perfect choice - we had so much fun and great food! First off, we were mesmerized by the fact that all the tables had their own Guinness and Carlsberg taps in the center of them, allowing you to poor your own pints! For all you Irish beer lovers out there, this could get you in some serious trouble! Sabrena, Tony, and David decided to try it out, and David impressed us all by being able to make a shamrock in the foam on his Guiness. We had Irish beef hamburgers and chips of course (so good!), and were stuffed by the end of dinner. Conversation was great. It was nice to be able to talk to David about Ireland, and he had some funny stories to share with us. The best comment of the night definitely came from him. We were talking about festivals and David said, "You all are lucky because we're right in the middle of the Irish beer festival." Surprises and intrigued, we all looked at him and said, "Really?!" in unison, to which he responded, "Yeah, it starts January 1st and ends December 31st!" My stomach hurt from laughing so hard!

After dinner we walked around town for a bit to take pictures of the Cathedral, which in Tony's words was "very Harry Potterish." Sabrena and I then came back here, where we are clearly catching up on journals. Actually, I think Sabrena is uploading pics to Facebook ... check those out!

Fish 'n Chips, Hen Parties, & Dancing to "Irish Music"

(Note: This post is for Saturday, July 26, 2008.)

After not the greatest experience in Limerick, I was happy to be moving on to Killarney today. We were greeted this morning by David, our bus driver for the rest of the trip.

Those who planned our itinerary sent us on a roundabout way to Killarney so that we could see some of the countryside and experience a ride on a larger ferry across the Shannon River. We stopped in Listowel along the way for a toilet break and stretch, and then made it to Killarney in time for lunch. Hungry (since our breakfast at Jurys Inn was disappointing), several of the ladies (Sabrena, Jill, Nicole, Jen, Suzanne, Lorrianne, and me) headed to O'Meara's Pub & Restaurant for some potato and leek soup and some brown bread.

Sabrena and I then ended up adventuring on our own for the day. We first got some great ice cream at Murphy's before checking out the city. After walking through the local carnival, spending some time in the Killarney National Park, and checking out the downtown area, we found a local diner where we had some of the greatest fish 'n chips I've ever had, followed by some yummy desserts! We then headed back to the hotel to relax for a bit before meeting up with others for the night, and were entertained by two shows on TV - one like America's Funniest Home Videos and a karaoke show. They had us rolling with laughter!

Since no one ever showed back up at the hotel (which, by the way, is BEAUTIFUL), Sabrena and I decided we'd have a night out on our own. We started off at the piano bar in our hotel, where we enjoyed a pint of Harp while listening to a couple play some Irish "country" music. We then found a local pub with a younger crowd and tried out some Bulmer's. Within a few minutes (as our bus driver had warned would happen) we saw 2 hen parties (bachelorette parties) and 2 Irish guys (John and Noel - who were actually from Galway) had befriended us. After chatting with them for awhile (and listening to an interesting mix of music including Pour Some Sugar on Me and Nine to Five), we told the guys to take us to listen to some Irish music. Instead they led us to another bar with a dance floor and "better American dance music" (according to them), which interestingly enough included ABBA, Michael Jackson, Madonna, and Kid Rock (yeah, the Irish have no concept of genre). We ended the night before our dance partners got too intoxicated, and Sabrena got John's number (even if she didn't want it) and we both got kisses on the cheek (because that's all we gave them ... haha) before heading home.