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By kennatim

When it comes to coursework at Dublin City University, the phrase “different from GW” is definitely an understatement. Final exams are pretty comparable to GW here, with normal planning but a focus on the individual: expecting outside research and inaccessible professors. The strangest part of exams to me is that many of them are taken in the basketball gym.

If you are lucky (or unlucky, depending on how you look at it) like I am, you have no exams. Instead, you suffer though a host of 3,000 word essays all due in the same two-week period. Although being a native speaker of English definitely puts me at an advantage over my foreign peers, jumping into third-level Irish classes in the Spring semester gives you no indication of the correct way to format, cite, write, research, and just about do anything the Irish way. And with the inaccessibility of professors, you are left guessing and praying that you get a passing grade.

The most difficult thing to get used to is the grading. 70 out of 100 is a very good grade, and 60 is decent. But you can also apparently get up to 100. This boggles my mind. If 70 is so good, what does it take to get a 100? These are the types of questions I will not miss upon my return to the states.

With some easier classes and some more difficult classes, there have been challenges in how independent the learning comparably can be. But by far, the biggest challenge has been getting accustomed to being, thinking, and acting like an Irish student in producing your work. I have approached this by spending a ton of time researching, writing, fact-checking, and doing just about everything I can think of, spending entire days in the DCU library. Now my time will be spent patiently awaiting my results, due out in the early summer. Pray for me.

By kennatim

As our study abroad experience winds down before we can even blink, my friends and I have already been discussing how much we will miss this sights, sounds, places, foods, and basically everything except school. This is much in part due to how fortunate I have been to travel a few weekends, the family I have met in Ireland, my great group of friends, but mostly due to how amazing my adopted city of Dublin truly is. Dublin has everything: a walkable inner city, a lovely coastline, beautiful suburbs, one of Europe’s largest inner city parks, and awesome attractions like the Guinness Storehouse, Christ Church Cathedral, and Kilmainham Jail. And with easy transportation to every corner of Ireland, and cheap flights going across Europe each day, it is really the place to be.

One of my favorite parts of the city has been the restaurants and pubs. Dublin is nothing without its good food and famous nightlife. The Irish often spend hours at a restaurant and even longer at the pub. There are three spots in particular that I really enjoyed.

  • Brasserie Sixty6 is a restaurant in the City Centre with outstanding food and a great atmosphere. It was something my cousin’s wife recommended for us while my parents were in town. While it was not a spot where I would come for an average meal with my friends, it was a great place to share with family. My two course meal ended with a huge burger and fries (or “chips,” a classic Irish accompaniment to just about every meal). But what really made this place one of my favorites was my first course: duck confit. The meat fell off the bone and the taste rivaled that of the same dish that I had in Paris, when my friend nudged me to try it and I was hooked. I think what really set this meal apart was that I was able to spend it with my family: my cousin and my Irish family, and my parents who came and visited for the week! And the icing on the cake (no pun intended) was that it was my mom’s birthday, and the staff wrote a message in chocolate on a plate with a dessert for her!
  • Skinflint was a tiny restaurant in an alley in the City Centre that I was dragged to by my foodie friends. I am really glad they brought me along. In the small, trendy dining room, with mason jars full of lemonade and personal pizzas all around, I was treated to a goat cheese pizza with red grape and pork meatballs in béchamel sauce. It is probably still my favorite meal in Dublin. It was so good that on the very first night my parents were in Dublin, I brought them there. As they say don’t fix what ain’t broke. I ordered the exact same meal. Luckily, it was buy one pizza, get one free Mondays, so on top of all that, I got to try something new and got a doggie bag to take home for the next day’s lunch!
  • No list of Dublin establishments would be complete without mention of a pub. The Palace Bar is my favorite. If you are looking for that authentic Dublin pub experience, avoid the tourists in Temple Bar because this is it. It has been operating since the early 1800s and the interior largely has remained unchanged.

I am excited to hopefully add to this list as I see what my final two weeks in Ireland have in store!

Grave of my great-great grandfather's gravesite in the village of Cloonfush
Grave of my great-great grandfather's gravesite in the village of Cloonfush

One of the main reasons behind my decision to study in Ireland was my family background. Although I never had any contact with my Irish relatives prior to this trip, they have made my semester so much better. As I have mentioned in previous blog entries, my cousin Joe has taken me on trips exploring much of Ireland. A few weekends back I got the surreal experience of visiting the village of my ancestors.

My program of 34 Americans here at DCU was scheduled for a bus trip exploring the West of Ireland. It was a great time where we got to experience everything from the eclectic Galway City to the barren but beautiful Achill Island. At the end of the excursion, Joe met me to explore a bit more of Connemara and go on our way to Tuam, Co. Galway, about 40 minutes outside of the city.

Tuam is a small village that only recently has been connected easily to Galway City and henceforth Dublin with the advent of EU money funding new roads in Ireland. As we were about to enter the town, Joe made a quick left onto a long, narrow road. There was not much to this area except a few old houses, some new houses, a lot of land, and a couple sheds. As Joe’s brother Maurice told me later that night, even though the family home was no longer standing, this village known as Cloonfush is “where is all began.”

At the very end of the road, there was an old cemetery. We searched the graves until we found the grave of my great-great-grandfather of Cloonfush in the picture shown. Being in the footsteps of my ancestors and seeing this cemetery was unreal and an experience I will never forget.

We then carried on to Tuam, where I was shuttled around to a few houses to meet cousins, aunts, etc. Pictures were taken, stories were told, family trees were drawn and analyzed, and of course there was plenty of tea. That night I then had the pleasure of enjoying a couple pints with my distant cousins at a local pub. I spent the night at my grandmother’s first cousin’s house. Although we had to leave early the next morning, I was so fortunate to get such a grand welcome into Cloonfush, Tuam, and the whole west of Ireland. “Where it all began.”

By kennatim

Looking back, the biggest shock when I arrived in Ireland was how American I realized I was. I have been fortunate enough to travel overseas prior to this trip, but to become a resident of another country was not an easy task. The change forced me to realize how much I relied and focused on American culture and way of life. I hunted for Oreos in numerous supermarkets, wore my backwards hats, and overly embraced my foreignness. Now my room here at DCU is filled with an American flag, an American flag towel, American flag backpack, American flag flip flops, and an American flag duvet cover with a matching American flag pillowcase.

While I have continued to embrace my home culture and individualism, I have slowly embraced a more European way of life and made sure to try new things. At the very minimum, I have evolved from my over-the-top American flag shopping spree. Throughout our time in Ireland and our travels to other cities, we have frequently used the adjective “euro.” My wardrobe is now a little more “euro” after buying a couple pieces of clothing at a local store. I am a little more euro in that I can now look the right way when crossing a street. I say “sorry” instead of excuse me, which is an easy way for Irish to spot foreigners.

When I was in Brussels, I visited European Parliament, and on nights out I made friends from Austria to Egypt. In Scotland we visited a local food market and I made sure to try as many local fares as I could (but I could not bring myself to eat haggis.) In Paris, I became an expert on the sprawling Paris metro system. This time I was a bit more adventurous when I tried roasted duck and absolutely loved it. We drank wine and ate croissants and crepes in every corner of the city.

I am so glad I have been evolving into someone more comfortable with a culture, attitude, and home that is not my own. It has been great to get to mainland Europe as well to compare/contrast not just the U.S. and Ireland, but the U.S., Ireland, Scotland, France, Belgium, etc. I have a few trips left and about a month in Dublin. I will be leaving behind so much but come back a person with a better level of cultural understanding. The transition back might not be easy but I will make it through. Even if that means covering everything in my room with an Irish flag.


By kennatim

The first time I heard the phrase “your man” was in a phone conversation with my Irish cousin. He was referring to my good friend Luke whom he had met at a Gaelic football game when we had first met as well. I was intrigued by the phrase, mostly because of the distinctly Irish pronunciation: “Yer maan Luke.”

Now most Americans writing about Irish slang would immediately be drawn to the word “craic.” Craic is a word that means fun that can be used in a variety of different contexts: “What’s the craic”= “What’s up,” “Any craic last night?”= “Did you have fun,” etc. Based upon the pronunciation bearing striking similarity to an illegal drug, it is a tough phrase for foreigners to get used to.

To me, “Yer man” embodies Irish culture in a way that “craic” does not. My cousin Joe has been kind enough to take me on a couple trips exploring Ireland. We went up to the North, exploring the still-divided city of Derry and stopping at small towns along the way. A week later we took the long drive south to the Dingle Peninsula and a portion of the Ring of Kerry. This beautiful area of spectacular scenery was only made better by a beautiful day and some of the freshest fish and chips consumed steps away from the boats that had caught it.

Spending time with Joe was when I heard the phrase used the most. But I have heard it plenty from my Irish roommates, in classes, and just about everywhere in everyday life. Why it so peculiarly reflects Irish culture is it’s use. Similar to the American phrase “your boy,” it describes good friends. But it is also used very frequently with a sarcastic tone. For example, I once heard someone mention “Yer man Graham Dwyer.” Graham Dwyer is a former architect that was recently convicted of a brutal and sadistic murder in a case that consumed Ireland. Once in the mall, I witnessed a man, most likely just very drunk, lying in the middle of the hall right as the police arrived. I went, did my shopping, and when I returned to get a new SIM card and leave, he was still there. When I asked the phone kiosk employee what had happened and why he had been laying there for over 30 minutes, he explained that he was not sure what “yer man” was up to.

Irish people are very laid back, somewhat sarcastic, and have a very tongue in cheek tone to their conversations. They approach serious topics with a level of humor to make them easier to swallow. It is a set of attitudes that I am very fond of. “Yer man” embodies of the many reasons I am so happy I chose Dublin to study abroad.

Protesters blocking traffic

One of the most pressing issues in Ireland and one I do not fully understand is a proposal for water charges. From my understanding, the Irish government is proposing water charges for water use in homes across Ireland, a by-amount charge they do not currently receive, as it is viewed as a public resource. There has been a huge backlash from many citizens, either politically or fundamentally opposed to the idea, or who simply do not want to pay for water.

It seemed like an incredibly interesting debate at first. I have witnessed large protest marches and many people simply standing in the middle of busy downtown intersections, with honking cars for miles, with a sign saying “no water charges.” At some point recently though, these protests went from intriguing to comical to me.   After hearing the government’s justifications, it just makes sense. Citizens in just about every Western country pays for water, and the charges could also be seen as potentially eco-friendly. But if it is hurting someone’s wallet, you know there will be some backlash.

I was actually fortunate enough to experience this debate firsthand. My cousin set me up with a visit to the Irish Parliament in Dublin city centre, called the House of Oireachtas, which consists of the Dail, or House, and Seanad, or Senate. There I was met by a member of the staff of my cousin’s TD, Derek Keating. I was given a guided tour of their House and Senate, which was a lot smaller and more intimate. We had a cup of tea at one of two bars inside of the building. I even got to sit in on a committee hearing regarding coverage on the national television station, RTE.

The coolest part of the visit, however, was sitting in on the Dail for Leader’s Questions. This is a procedure where a representative from each opposition party is given the opportunity to publicly ask the Prime Minister two questions. I got to witness the two main Irish political figures I was familiar with duke it out with words: Enda Kenny, Prime Minister, and Gerry Adams, the leader of Sinn Fein with strong IRA ties and a reputation stemming from “The Troubles” of the late 20th Century. They were debating about, what else, Irish water. Adams did make some interesting points against the measure but he did not change my mind.

The visit to the Dail was interesting and gave me a better understanding of numerous issues in Ireland including the water argument. The day was topped off when I met the opposition leader, Michael Martin, on my way out of the building. My cousin told me that there is a good chance he will be the next Taoiseach, or Prime Minister. I will spend my final weeks here enjoying my water, but I would not be upset if I have to start paying for it!

By kennatim

image1 (2)A couple weeks ago I traveled to Paris to visit my friend Lars, who is studying at the American University of Paris. It was actually to be my second time in the city, as I went with a student group in 2005 when I was 11 years old. 10 years later, I found myself touching down once again, this time alone on a crowded Ryanair flight.

I unfortunately don’t remember much about my first trip, but I do remember a general feeling of unease about the city itself. I had an amazing weekend, but traveling around full of déjà vu moments made me understand why preteen Tim was not in love with Paris. The city is remarkably enormous, and the average Parisian seems to spend most of their time on the metro. There was also less of an understanding and less patience by the locals for tourists and foreigners. This culture, the type where no one says “excuse me” when you bump into each other, contrasted US culture in many, many ways. It sort of made me appreciate where I came from. It definitely made me realize how big our world is and how, even in the Internet Age when many US customs have been adopted around the world, there are still many places where your social mores get thrown out the window for native ones.

Aside from my small gripes, the city was beautiful. I got to take in all the sites: Notre Dame, Sacre Coeur, Champs Elysees, the Louvre, the Arc de Triomphe, and I even took an awesome photo on the top of the Eiffel Tower to replicate one I took ten years prior. I would be walking down the street and suddenly think, “Wow, I remember this. Our tour bus was parked right there.” The weather made Dublin look like the Arctic Circle, and I would not have been anywhere without my incredible tour guide and, more importantly, translator, Lars. I tried some delicious duck, ate too many baguettes and croissants to count, and even got to check out some 50,000 Euro watches at the Louis Vuitton store.

It really takes the experience of a contrasting culture and set of attitudes to realize that your own culture is not simply the norm. My amazing weekend in Paris proved this to me. Shout out to Lars for putting me up and showing me this large and beautiful city!

By kennatim

IMG_6515While I can appreciate a good work of art, I am not much of an art museum person and would not exactly call myself an art aficionado. Rather, my most exciting experience involving art has been witnessing the giant politically charged murals in the cities of Northern Ireland this past week. The tension is still very much in the air, after hot conflict known as “The Troubles” occurred all throughout the area between Catholic unionists and Protestant loyalists from the 1960s to the 1990s. The violence, bombings, and riots tore the area apart, and neighborhoods are still visibly divided.

Last week I went for a 2-day, 1-night trip to Belfast with each member of my CIEE Dublin program. It was incredibly interesting to tour the City Centre, neighborhoods which had experienced so much violence, and even the dry dock where the Titanic was built. What made it even better was that I got to take it in with 32 friends. The most interesting section to me was the murals and the memorials surrounding the Catholic and Protestant neighborhoods where violence took place. They were colorful and diverse in nature: involving memorials for murdered children, hatred towards the other side, people picking up arms, commemorating a bombing, international figures like Nelson Mandela and Martin Luther King Jr., support for Palestine, and general intimidation and territory-marking in what could essentially be considered a turf war.

We spoke in hushed tones during our tour, as the city is still vibrant and the effects still lasting. I could not get over how well done artistically many of the murals were, but also the differences in rhetoric between Catholic and Protestant neighborhood murals. While a Protestant mural might reference a heinous crime by a “republican murder gang,” a Catholic mural referencing the same event might commemorate the “heroic IRA freedom fighters.”

The only thing that could come close in tension to Belfast was Derry. I found Derry (called “Londonderry” by loyalists) to be even edgier, as it was a majority Catholic city in Protestant Northern Ireland. Therefore, the majority that felt repressed by the minority (where the famous “Bloody Sunday” took place) was very active in their speech and action against the British and loyalists. There was no shortage of fiery murals here as well. Included in this post is a picture I took with a pro-British mural, an obvious reference to British dominance and destruction of Catholics in Derry, taken in one of the small Protestant neighborhoods. There were murals of children approaching tanks, men ready for war, of more international peace leaders, etc. Some black & white and some in vivid color, some the size of entire buildings, and some accompanying a memorial garden.

I found Derry to be more interesting than Belfast, mostly because I was given a tour by my distant cousin from Galway, Joe McDonagh, who grew up hearing about new violence occurring in Northern Ireland on the news just about every other day. He gave firsthand insight of the importance of the sites, and helped me to understand how different the environment was less than twenty years ago. I also recently found out that a distant cousin of mine was an MP in English Parliament who fought for the rights of Catholics in Northern Ireland, named Bernadette Devlin.

My two escapes to the North were eye opening. We as young Americans can have such an American-focused view towards the world that we do not realize how much emotion and conflict can consume a country we consider to be well civilized and modern. The many murals in Derry and Belfast helped to give me this insight. I hope it is not the last time I visit the North, and I hope the next time I do, it will be continuing its journey to a peaceful society as it has been for the past two decades.

By kennatim

The academic culture here at Dublin City University is remarkably different than at GW. What the difference boils down to is an emphasis on independence. Long texts are simply assigned at the beginning of the semester for reading over the course. There is not much class time during the week and when there is, classes are often near empty. There are no pop quizzes, no assigned readings, minimal presentations, and very infrequent class discussion.

I can handle all of that, but my least favorite new academic component is that the professors here are much less approachable than at home. Fortunately, our staff here at my program, CIEE have been wonderful at bridging that gap.

What the entire semester comes down to is that final paper or final exam. That gives me the chills just writing it. But it seems Irish students are less competitive when it comes to grades. That must be why they can actually withstand eight semesters of waiting for four months to see if you actually understand the material or not. The system has its pros: helping students to become independent, allowing them to explore parts of a subject they might be interested in rather than making certain sections compulsory, and really drawing a line between the go-getters and the slackers. I personally enjoy my American experience, with a more in-depth, hands-on approach. The classes I have done the best in include very active professors and courses that involve frequent quizzing and testing to keep you on your toes. I never thought I would say that I wish I had more tests and quizzes, but they say studying in Europe is all about finding your true self, so here we stand.

While I cannot say I have really enjoyed the differences between Irish and American college education, I have chalked it up as a “cultural learning experience.” It will definitely help me in my approach to unconventional learning in the future. And it has definitely led me to truly appreciate how lucky I am to attend such an amazing university with a system I am so familiar with.

By kennatim

Yes, Belgium. Although I am studying in Dublin, this weekend I visited my cousin and awesome tour guide Megan who lives in Brussels. I have loved every second of my Irish experience, but Brussels has exceeded my expectations outright. Here are my top five spots in Brussels.

Honorable Mention: Maison Antoine is steps away from my cousin's apartment. French fries originated in Belgium and no one does them better. This place is to Belgium as Pat's Cheesesteaks is to Philadelphia.

5. The view from the Military Museum-our first stop in Brussels after the airport was this giant structure in a park that looked interesting. Turned out part of the building was a very interesting military museum. For the extra curious, there was a corner door that lead to some stairs. At the top was one of the most amazing views I have seen of our new city we were set to explore. It also helped that we had a beautiful sunny afternoon, which in Ireland happens as frequently as finding a leprechaun.

4. Musical Instrument Museum- a very interesting musical audio tour exploring the world of instruments. Only two euro for students for an extensive museum! The view at the cafe at the top is also grand. A nice Belgian beer with a view goes quite well with a day full of music!

3. Grand Place- the city square full of tourists with selfie sticks. Very neat to walk around, but what was even better was the walkable streets surrounding this area, the same area you might have seen on postcards from Brussels.

2. Delirium- right at the end of the alleyway near Grand Place is a bar that once set a Guiness World Record for over 2,000 beers offered. With 3 floors and a large Belgian beer selection, the best part of one of Europe's most popular bars is the wide variety of clientele: from older Belgians to international students and everything in between.

1. Random yellow waffle truck- I've heard good things about Belgian waffles. But I never expected an authentic Belgian waffle to be this good. My cousin instructed me to find a truck, as trucks make them fresh, and eat it plain like a true Belgian would. With a gooey inside and crispy outside, consuming the waffle was an otherworldly experience. I don't think I will ever be able to eat an Eggo again.