Life Updates: Travel, Classes, ETC.
Greetings from Ireland! This semester my articles for The Pulse are going to look a little different. Instead of highlighting the work and talent of those in our local community, I am going to share my experiences of my study abroad in Ireland, specifically highlighting the wonderful aspects of St. Norbert College’s sister-school, University College Cork. I am excited to have the chance to recognize the opportunities provided by SNC, even across the globe.
As mentioned, I am attending University College Cork (UCC) which is located in County Cork, Ireland. It is located in the south-west of Ireland near the coast. At UCC I am taking four modules (courses): physics, statistics, introduction to Irish history for visiting students, and Iberian identities (Spanish). It has been neat to see the teaching structure here in Ireland as it is quite different from that of the United States. The first thing I noticed was that professors introduce themselves by first name- not doctor or professor. I also noticed that each class section has multiple professors that specialize in different topics, though they all are knowledgeable in every aspect of the course. Additionally, first year students (freshers) begin modules two weeks after everyone else begins. As explained by our study abroad advisor here at UCC, Ireland does not release university placement results, for lack of a better term, until a Friday in early September. Students book accommodations with multiple universities and upon receiving their scores, are then able to commit to a university. Students are given two weeks following the release to move and settle into their new home before modules begin. It surprised me to learn this as the college selection process in the United States seems to be much different from Ireland. Seeing that I am taking two first year modules, I have only had two classes the first two weeks of the term. I begin physics and statistics on Monday, September 26.
I am living in an apartment with five other students, two of which also attend SNC- Sophia Heimos ‘22 and Mary Mitchell ‘25. Our other roommates are from California, Massachusetts, and New York and it has been really fun getting to know them.
I have been able to do a bit of traveling since I arrived on September 6. The first weekend we were here, Sophia, Mary, our roommate from New York, and I went to Blarney, Ireland, most known for Blarney Castle & Gardens. Here, my friends and I toured the grounds of the gardens and climbed the Blarney Castle to kiss the infamous Blarney Stone, which is said to give the gift of eloquence. As stated in the brochure provided by Blarney Castle & Gardens, “for over 200 years, world statesmen, literary giants, and legends of the silver screen have joined the millions of pilgrims climbing the steps to kiss the Blarney Stone and gain the gift of eloquence. Its powers are unquestioned but its story still creates debate.” However, kissing the Blarney Stone is no easy task. After climbing to the top of the castle, you lay on your back and pull yourself up to kiss the stone with nothing but a few metal bars beneath you to protect you from a fall. As someone who is not a fan of heights, this was an experience though the view made it worth it.
Pamphlet provided by Blarney Castle
Blarney, Co. Cork, Ireland
Sophia Heimos ’22 and I also spent the day in Killarney, Ireland which is northwest of Cork. We were supposed to take the Ring of Kerry tour, a 6 hour day trip around the region showing some of the most gorgeous views, but our bus arrived late so we did not make the tour. Instead, we explored the town, visiting St. Mary’s Cathedral, Killarney House & Gardens, and Ross Castle. The views from the Killarney House grounds and from Ross Castle were some of the prettiest I have ever seen so, despite the rough start to the day, it turned out to be a great experience for Sophia and I as we got to explore parts of the city that we did not know existed. On the way home, while waiting at the bus station for our bus, Sophia and I met a woman from Cork whom we chatted with for an hour or so (our bus got canceled and we had to get on the next). She told us about her family in Cork and her relatives in Kinsale, how the bus from Kinsale to Cork is usually faster than the train, and how students shouldn’t walk across the lawn in the quad at UCC as it brings bad luck. It was so neat to get to see Ireland through a local’s eyes, and Sophia and I were very grateful to have had a buddy help us navigate the complicated bus situation.
The weekend after our visit to Killarney, I went to Kinsale, Ireland with Sophia, Mary, and our roommate from New York. Kinsale is south of Cork, being located on the coast of Ireland. Here, we explored the city by walking around, visiting local shops, and dining. I tried fish and chips for the first time at a restaurant called Dinos and it was some of the best fish I have ever tasted! The day of our visit, the weather was beautiful and the people were friendly which made for a very pleasant experience of Ireland’s southern coast.
Things I have noticed that are different/lessons I have learned:
- Sometimes all you can do in a situation is laugh at yourself.
- Public restrooms are generally very clean.
- Multiple professors teach one class. They are also called by their first names.
- The word bathroom is not used. Use “loo” or “wash closet” instead.
- Parmesan cheese is hard to find. Ranch and alfredo sauce cannot be found.
- Cars can park on curbs and sidewalks.
- You have to pay 5 euro (~$5) per load of laundry at our apartment complex. Other places it is more expensive.
- Want hot water at night? You have to turn on “boost” on the water heater, which is only set to heat from 4-8 am. We did not figure this out for multiple nights and were taking cold showers!
Week of September 25 - October 2
This was my first full week of classes and I must say, it feels so late compared to when we start at SNC! It is an odd feeling to just be starting classes in October versus late August/early September. Class sizes are also very different from those at home. At SNC, my biggest lecture was around 30 or 35 people. Here, my physics lecture is 200+ people and my history lecture is around 100. The professors do an excellent job of keeping the lectures engaging and allowing time for questions, but it is a different atmosphere than what we are accustomed to at St. Norbert. Additionally, classes start late/end early here. Most classes start 5-10 minutes past the hour and finish 5 minutes early. There is no walking time allotted between classes which explains the late start and early finish, and professors do not mind if you walk into class 15-20 minutes late.
On Saturday, Mary Mitchell ‘25, our roommate from New York, and I went to Galway. The day started off rocky as we got on the wrong bus and ended up in Galway an hour and a half later than we were supposed to (it was ~4.5 hour bus ride). But, we got to Galway and were excited to explore the city. We visited the Galway Cathedral which had some of the prettiest architecture I have seen. It is a fairly modern building, but you would never guess because it honors the traditional style of Irish architecture. After exploring the Cathedral, we walked into the heart of the city where there are many shops, buskers, and pubs with live Irish music. We stopped into a few shops, but spent most of the day walking around and listening to the live music. We left our final stop at 7:15 so we could catch the last bus from Galway to Cork at 7:30, but the bus app took us to the wrong location, causing us to miss the bus. Thankfully a local man directed us in the correct direction to the bus station where, after some deliberation, we decided to take the last bus to Limerick (which is on the way back to Cork) to buy us some time to figure out what we were going to do. We eventually came to the conclusion that staying overnight in Limerick and taking a bus back in the morning would be more expensive than it would be to taxi back that night, so we ordered a taxi to make the 2 hour drive back to Cork bus station from Limerick. It was expensive, costing over 200 euro, and the bus station is (supposed to be) a 30 minute walk from our apartments. So, at 12 in the morning, Mary, our roommate, and I walked home in record time (~22 minutes) after what felt like the longest, most exhausting day ever. I was more tired from this trip than I was from the flight from the States to Ireland! It was an adventure and we learned one very important lesson: NEVER trust the bus app!
I also had a rocky experience with registration this week. I was notified by my statistics professor that I was not enrolled in the course and that my removal had been requested. I then received an email the next morning from the study abroad coordinator here at UCC saying that I cannot take the course because it is a year long sequence and that I must immediately find a replacement. However, we are in week 4 of classes so I have already missed 4 lecture periods! In moments of frustration like these, I remind myself that it is part of the adventure and there are many worse things that can happen. I am really learning how to see the positive side of things and how to go with the flow through these experiences.
Week of October 2 - October 9
This week was fairly normal as I have established a routine now. So far I enjoy my classes and my professors. We don’t receive much work outside of class which has been different, but it has been nice to take advantage of the free time to explore.
This weekend Sophia Heimos ‘22, Mary Mitchell ‘25, and I went to London! Sophia has friends that live in London so she flew out on Thursday to spend time with them, and Mary and I flew out Saturday night which was an adventure. First, we realized that we were flying into different London airports when we were at our gate waiting for our departure flight! We were not too concerned because we have the taxi and public transportation system down by now, so the plan was to meet at the inn we were staying at- The Compassess. The inn is located in Chelmsford, which is a little over an hour by car from London, in a very rural area of England. The landscape of the area reminded us of Wisconsin which was quite lovely. However, because the inn we stayed at is quite rural, we could not take a taxi or a bus into Chelmsford to get to the train station so we had to walk 7.2 miles (2.5 hours) through the English countryside! After a gorgeous walk (and many blisters later), we reached Chelmsford Station and got on the train to London. Once we arrived, we took the tube (underground subway) further into the city. Learning how to navigate the tube was a cool cultural experience for me because it is so different from anything we have in the United States. It was one of those moments where I truly appreciated the different approaches used by different countries to answer the same question of “how should people get around?” Just as hopping in your car to go to the grocery store is second nature to us, hopping on the tube seemed to be second nature to them.
In London, Mary and I visited Elizabeth Tower, which we know as Big Ben, Buckingham Palace, Hyde Park, the London Eye, and King’s Cross Station. Each lived up to my expectations, though I must say that Buckingham Palace was my favorite in terms of architecture and King’s Cross Station was my favorite in terms of personal bucket lists (I love Harry Potter). Mary says that her favorite site was also Buckingham Palace, but she too was impressed with everywhere we visited.
Mary and I met up with Sophia later Sunday afternoon. We did a bit more exploring before we got dinner and, afterwards, we walked around the train station and chatted. We left London at 10 pm and arrived at Stansted Airport around 11:30. However, security did not open until 2 am and our flight left at 6 am so we had time to kill. We needed to charge our phones so we searched for an outlet (which was much harder to find than one would expect) and ended up sitting on a cement walkway outside for 2 hours! Other than being cold and tired, we made the best of the situation and had fun conversations. We eventually made our way through security and to our gate and had a smooth flight home.
When thinking about this trip, one of the things that stands out to me is the difference in airport security. Normally customs officers require you to stop at a booth to state your reason for visiting, how long you will be there, and give them your passport. However, neither Sophia, Mary, or I- or anyone else on our flights- had to stop at customs to show our passports in England (we always have to in Ireland). It was also interesting to see that security closes. There were probably 300 people or so in the lobby of the airport- which anyone can walk in- that were waiting to go through security. This is very different from the process of flying within the United States and was one of the major differences that I have noticed so far.
Week of October 10 - October 17
Now that classes are in full swing things have been consistent. I do not have many assignments to do throughout the week so my workload has been fairly light. I recently switched into a Celtic civilisation course (instead of statistics) which is proving to be my favorite as the lecturer does an excellent job at keeping the material engaging and, through her, I am learning so much about the Celtic culture and how it applies to various contexts in Europe. As for my upcoming workload, it will be heavier this week due to a physics test that I have on Monday. It is an open-note, take-home test (*another difference that I have found – every assessment here is called either a quiz or a test, not exam) which is very different from the courses I have taken at St. Norbert (closed-note, in class) so I am curious to see how the new format will go.
As for this week’s travels, Mary Mitchell ‘25, our roommate John, our roommate Caitlin, and I went to Edinburgh, Scotland for the weekend! We explored the city on Saturday, walking to places such as the Edinburgh Castle, Dean Village, Circus Lane, Victoria Street, and the Grassmarket. I would say my favorite stop was Dean Village because it is quiet, quaint, and has beautiful architecture and nature. It is a nice area for walking, and we even had the chance to watch a dog play fetch with a stick in the Water of Leith! I am not a huge city person so it was refreshing to experience nature in that way again, especially getting to watch the dog play.
My second favorite place that we visited was the Grassmarket. Though today it is known for vendors selling food, jewelry, clothing, and other handmade items, it used to be a traditional place of public executions. We stopped at a pub called “The Last Drop” which is located near the Grassmarket. According to the history given in the menu,
“The Grassmarket was one of Edinburgh’s main market places, formed under the ordinance of King James III. Used as a gathering point for market traders and cattle drovers, the Grassmarket was traditionally a place of traverns, hostelries, and temporary lodgings, a fact still reflected in the use of the surrounding buildings.
Around 1660 The Grassmarket became a noted place for public executions, many of those executed were Covenanters, a Presbyterian Scottish movement that played an important part in the history of Scotland. The hangings continued on an almost daily basis until 4 February 1784, the last person being James Andrews, a robber. Last Drop is said to be a reference to the last drink taken by The Covenanters before they were hanged, but likely to be a rather more grim reference to their own last drop through the scaffold trapdoor… More innocently, the Last Drop is a reference to ales and spirits that are of such quality that they will be drunk to the last drop.”
There is now a memorial located where the gallows used to be, honoring the memory of those that were executed. Though this piece of history is grim, it was fascinating to learn how the history shaped the Grassmarket as it is known today.
On Sunday, Mary, Caitlin, and I visited the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art. There were many brilliant pieces in there, one of which was by Francisco de Goya whom I have learned about in my Spanish courses at SNC. Many of the pieces date back to as early as the 1400s but were in very good condition. It was a neat experience and, overall, Edinburgh is my favorite place thus far.
Week of October 18 - October 23
Warning: this article is about my visit to Auschwitz-Birkenau and may be difficult to read. It is sad and somewhat detailed, but I feel that it is important to talk about it honestly.
This week, Mary Mitchell ‘25, our roommate John, and I traveled to Krakow, Poland to visit Auschwitz-Birkenau. While the visit was solemn and difficult to see, it was an important, impactful experience. As our guide described, the most inhumane parts of history need to be discussed and remembered so that we may prevent them from happening again, and so that we remember the victims of the tragedy. In fact, the tour guide’s grandmother was deported to a concentration camp near Auschwitz-Birkenau for hiding individuals that were wanted by the Nazis. Her personal connection to the history of the area not only emphasized the impact of events such as the Holocaust, but also highlighted the bravery and hope that many people held despite the atrocities they suffered. People like her grandmother displayed extraordinary acts of bravery and humanity which I think is important to bring attention to.
The experience was different from what I was expecting. The first thing I made note of was how touristy the camp was. It felt as if most people treated the site as a tourist attraction rather than as a memorial or historical site. More specifically, people were talking and laughing at inappropriate moments, taking pictures in areas they were not allowed to, and one man even posed in front of the electrified fence used to keep prisoners trapped. However, I do recognize that people display emotions in different ways and that my interpretation of their reactions may be wrong.
I also noticed immediately that there was an eerie feeling no matter where we were. Walking through the camps, it felt like you could sense the masses that labored, suffered, and died right where you were standing. There were many times during the tour where Mary and I both stopped and looked at each other with the realization that the Nazis once stood here with innocent victims suffering at their hands. It was very strange to stand in a place we have been taught about from a very young age, finally getting a glimpse of how truly inhumane it was.
Though the entire experience was impactful, there were particular sites that hit me harder than others. The first display that brought tears to my eyes was a room filled with women’s hair. I did not know this but, before cremation, women with long hair were scalped and their hair was bagged. As we walked through this display, I realized that each ponytail belonged to a woman with a unique story. There were so many ponytails in this room but yet it wasn’t even a fraction of how many there actually are. These were the first moments I processed just how many victims there were. It is difficult to imagine just how many people the Nazis had murdered until you see it in person.
Similar to the ponytails, the displays containing prescription glasses, shoes (especially baby shoes), and clothes were very difficult to see. Again, they made me realize just how many victims there were (though these displays were just a tiny fraction). The luggage display was particularly difficult because, upon being told they were being deported, many people painted their names and addresses onto their luggage because they believed that they would be able to keep their possessions and/or return home. Each name we read on these suitcases was a prisoner at Auschwitz-Birkenau, each person with their own life. Seeing it all stacked in one place made me feel how the victims were treated as a herd, not as people. Though all the displays were done respectfully, there is something about seeing the mountains of personal items stacked on top of each other that makes you see how people were treated as disposable objects and nothing else.
The last part that I will discuss is the emotion associated with some of the different buildings we walked through. The first building that truly impacted me was the basement where the first experimental gas chamber was created. Experimental procedures, mostly on women, were performed here and the first victim to die via gas poison was killed in this basement. Additionally, the basement contained standing cells and dark cells, which are defined as:
Standing cell: cells that were 1 square yard, just large enough for four people to stand in but not large enough to move, let alone sit. There was a small portion alloted for air (about 2 inches) so that prisoners would not suffocate. The purpose of these cells was to inflict the least comfortable environment for prisoners prior to death by starvation.
Dark cell: cells that were larger in size but without air flow and completely dark. The purpose of these cells was to inflict the least comfortable environment for prisoners prior to death by suffocation.
We also walked through the gas chamber and crematorium in Auschwitz (Birkenau was the primary location for the gas chambers and crematoriums but the Nazis destroyed them shortly before liberation). It was incredibly sad, for lack of better words, to walk through there knowing that people were murdered in the same spot we stood when all they wanted was a clean shower.
Though this experience was difficult and remains difficult to talk about, it was incredibly important. As George Santayana is quoted saying: “those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” If we do not acknowledge the inhumane acts committed by the Nazis, we risk repeating them. Furthermore, ignoring what happened would be a disgrace to the 1.1 million innocent people that were murdered and the countless more that survived and suffered the impact of the Holocaust for the rest of their lives. In all, visiting Auschwitz-Birkenau is an opportunity that I am glad to have had. It gave me the chance to honor the memory of the victims, and provided a new perspective on how fortunate we (Americans) are to live in a society that recognizes each person’s humanity no matter what religion, sexuality, nationality, or beliefs you hold.