The Experience of a Lifetime

While reflecting back upon my time in Ireland, I can’t help but feel extremely fortunate and appreciative of my time abroad. Not only have I learned more about the Irish education system, as well as Irish history and culture, I have also learned more about myself as an individual and educator. As this was the second Irish study abroad experience I was able to attend, I spent most of my time focusing on details and aspects of the numerous planned experiences that I missed the first time, and made a point to truly immerse myself in Irish culture, while living in the moment. Over the course of the last two weeks, my life was again changed by my time spent with dedicated professional educators, teaching and working with a number of Irish students and teachers, visiting exciting, beautiful new places, and pushing myself outside of my comfort zone.

Although I had already experienced teaching in Irish schools, and also visited a number of the planned historical locations four years ago, I created an entirely new appreciation for these experiences. I prioritized focusing on certain aspects Irish history and culture that I missed during my first Irish experience in 2014, and now have a far greater understanding and admiration for the fact that the Irish are extremely proud of their history, honor their heritage, and celebrate their past. With this, I found myself even more interested in my own Irish heritage, as my great, great, great grandparents fled Ireland during the potato famine. As I later learned from our time at the Cobh Heritage Center, the “Great Famine” wrecked havoc on the Irish population, as nearly one million individuals lost their life due to starvation, and another one million fled the country in hopes of a new, and better life. In regards to Irish pride, I immediately think back to our tour guide at Holycross Abbey in County Tipperary. This man was so passionate and knowledgeable about the history and significance of the monastery, and I found myself so intrigued by every piece of information he shared about the 800-year-old architectural wonder that was built with rather limited resources by the monks that inhabited the religious structure; the ingenuity is astounding. I was so impressed by every medieval, man-made structure that we visited, and felt as though I was stepping back in time while touring through the beautiful fortresses. Even when visiting the numerous cities scattered throughout the country, the history and significance of each was equally fascinating and intriguing. For someone that loves history, I was in my glory. In terms of Irish culture, I am so appreciative of the Irish hospitality, I respect their desire to go above and beyond to take care of their loved ones and friends, and truly appreciate and admire the relaxed, laid back attitudes found throughout the country.

I sincerely hope that Frostburg State University and Mary Immaculate College continue their partnership for years to come, as the connections and friendships that have been created truly demonstrate a family-style bond, and I am so fortunate to have experienced this while in Ireland. I am still in awe by how gracious and hospitable each and every Irish individual was towards our group. We all felt so welcome, and at home throughout the entire two-week stay on the Emerald Isle, and I really enjoyed catching up with those that I met during my first trip four years ago. Prior to our departure date, each one played a significant role in the planning process of the trip, and welcomed us with open arms to Mary Immaculate campus, their homes, and/or schools when we finally arrived. For those that welcomed ten American students into their home, I am so thankful and appreciative of the wonderful food and hospitality. I will cherish every memory made for the rest of my life, and I hope that one day I will be able to host my Irish friends at my home to return the kind gesture.

When reflecting upon a favorite memory, I cannot simply think of just one, as the entire trip was wonderful, and I loved every minute abroad. Being more specific, however, I would say that the time spent in three Irish schools would be a chosen favorite, as education is my passion, and the Irish education system is certainly admirable. In regards to the schools, Peter, Aisling, and Sinead welcomed us with open arms, and went above and beyond to plan a school experience that was memorable for both FSU and Irish students. I commend Peter, as well as the other principals we worked with, for valuing the importance of allowing their students to be exposed to globalized education, and interacting with foreign individuals; this broadens the students’ perspectives, and is so beneficial to their learning. I enjoyed planning lessons and activities to complete in the classroom, and based on the reactions, engagement, as well as mature and impressive discussions, the students enjoyed the lesson as much as I enjoyed teaching. I was so impressed by two particular questions posed by the students involving Martin Luther King Jr. The questions were: “Do you think Martin Luther King Jr. would be happy with America if he were still alive today?” and, “Do you think Martin Luther King Jr. would change his speech if he were to give it today?” I was amazed, and so impressed by these questions, and I believe this demonstrates how insightful, thoughtful, and mature the sixth class students are in Ireland. Another favorite school memory would be at St. Conaire’s when several students presented myself, and two other FSU students with a card that read “We’ll miss you,” asked to take a picture with us, and also gave us a hug on our last day spent together; this meant the world to me, and confirmed the impact that our FSU group had on the Irish students. As I have been out of the classroom for almost two years in order to complete my Master’s degree, I realized just how much I miss teaching and being in the classroom, and my love and passion for education has only continued to grow with each passing day. I cannot wait to finally have my own classroom. In addition, while using children’s picture books as a primary component of the lessons taught, I have found a new passion for children’s literature, and I plan to incorporate the use of advanced children’s books into my secondary classroom, as based upon the curriculum; I am bursting with ideas.

As our group spent three days at St. Conaire’s, I learned a great deal about the Irish education system, and had an overall terrific teaching and school day experience that significantly differs from the norm in American schools. In regards to several differences between the Irish and America education system, Peter explained to us that the Catholic Church employs Irish teachers and administrators; however, all staff members are paid by the state of Ireland. With the separation of church and state in the United States, this would never occur. Also, the majority of the schools in Ireland are Catholic, although, children of diverse religious backgrounds are welcome. In addition, all students are required to wear uniforms, and must learn Gaelic, the traditional Irish language. The language and literacy curriculum in Ireland is far more advanced and efficient, as compared to the United States, and I wish that American students were required to learn a second language throughout the duration of their public schooling, rather than requiring a foreign language class only for several semesters during middle school, and for only two years at the high school level. In addition to language, one percent of all public spaces are to be used to recognize the arts, and I would love for American society to celebrate and recognize the talents and abilities of students and citizens. With this, I was so impressed by the student artwork displayed throughout the schools, particularly the artwork completed by sixth class students at St. Conaire’s that explained the founding of the school, as well as recognized the various countries represented by the students enrolled.

Specifically at St. Conaire’s, the overall morale and work-based relationships amongst the teachers is far better than what is found within a number of American schools. For example, teachers have tea in the staff lounge together in the morning, prior to the start of the school day, and have another ten to twenty minute tea break every morning around 11:00AM. During these breaks, as well as during lunch, teachers talk to one another, and seem to enjoy one another’s company; not a single student, or other faculty member is discussed. From only working in the school for a few days, strong staff relationships and respect, dedication, and work ethic are evident, as is the overall positive work environment. I commend Peter’s mentality of providing teachers with flexibility, as he expects flexibility in return, and I highly commend the Irish education system for allowing teachers to have significant amounts of autonomy, as teachers are well trusted and respected, experience limited accountability measures, and are not hindered by strict teaching guidelines and procedures. Also in regards to the staff, every other Friday, rotating groups of teachers sell baked goods within the staff lounge to raise money for the school, as well as other school-supported fundraisers. The school social committee actually planned a staff party with our group, and we all had a wonderful time playing numerous fun games, listening to the many stories told by the Irish storyteller, and enjoyed mingling with the staff. During our last day at the school, I was honored to be one of the selected FSU students to present Peter, the principal, with a Frostburg State University football jersey, as well as a school pennant as a “thank you” gift for allowing us work with the staff, and teach to the students. Our group wanted to leave a little piece of Frostburg in Ireland.

Although my favorite memories are from the schools, my favorite tourist memory would be a tie between experiencing true Irish culture by visiting a number of traditional Irish pubs, listening to traditional Irish music, and watching traditional Irish dancing, and visiting Cobh. As mentioned in a number of my blog posts, I enjoyed having a good meal with good company, while listening to traditional Irish music at every pub we visited, and even watching traditional Irish dancing at The Locke Bar. I admire how the Irish celebrate, recognize, and pride themselves in their traditional music and dance, which have been passed down through generations. The overall “pub atmosphere” was a great way to experience, and immerse myself into traditional Irish culture. As for visiting Cobh, I found myself in awe at the beauty of the location, as well as experienced chills when visiting the original pier, as well as Cobh Heritage Center, which are two possible locations that my ancestors could have been prior to departing Ireland for America during the potato famine. While standing at both locations, I could not help but think that Cobh would have been the last image of Ireland that my ancestors would have seen for the rest of their lives. Following this two-week experience, I feel a new sense of love and pride for my Irish heritage, and I hope to one day learn even more about my Irish ancestors.

In addition to favorite memories, our study abroad course provided us with several opportunities to attend a number of lectures from Mary Immaculate staff, as well as one Irish primary school teacher, and all are Frostburg State alumni. We also had the opportunity to meet with the president of the college, as well as the interim dean of the College of Education. Each presenter provided our group with a wealth of knowledge, and created a far better understanding of both Irish education and society. I truly appreciated the fact that the president, and interim dean, took time out of their day to welcome us, answer several questions, and further explain various aspects of Mary Immaculate College as a renowned teacher education college, as well as discuss more information about the Irish education system. The president even presented a number of similarities and differences between the American and Irish education systems.

Patrick Burke gave the first informative lecture, and based on his presentation, I now finally understand the impact of Brexit, as well as the differences between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. In terms of further information regarding the Irish education system, approximately 90 percent of Irish primary schools are owned and operated by the Catholic Church, and religious education occurs in every school, although, newer schools now teach certain aspects of all religions, which is a great example of recognizing, and appreciating diversity. Ireland is very accepting and celebratory of diversity, and I applaud the country for this. Patrick also mentioned that the schools are built upon trust among teachers and students, teachers and administrators, as well as the school and larger community, and I feel strongly that this should act as a model for the United States. Also along the lines of trust, changes made to the system as a whole, or to the curriculum, are very slow, and the consultation with teacher unions is required. Pay scales are also the same throughout the entire country, which provides a fair and equitable system nationwide, as based upon seniority.

The second lecture focused primarily on interactive literacy, and the importance of online safety in terms of searching for, and locating, relevant information. This was such a useful presentation given the current technological climate within the United States, and the amount of Internet use among contemporary students. In addition, Sinead reinforced the importance of understanding differing perspectives, experiences, and frame of mind among students, as well as the benefits of helping students make connections between their prior knowledge and new information using children’s books. This presentation certainly reinforced my desire to use children’s books in my secondary classroom, as compared to dense, informational text. The way in which the lecture was given was also so helpful for me as a future educator. I loved the interactions, how we were seated in a semi-circle during the lecture, and how the class discussion was conducted without any interjections from the “teacher.” With this concept, the students are required to think for themselves, and engage in critical thinking, rather than simply be given the answer, and I will use this model with my future students.

The third lecture discussed Irish-Medium Immersion Education. Aisling Beecher teaches junior infants at a primary school where the language spoken is Gaelic, yet most of the students come from an English speaking background; the number of these students attending Irish-medium schools has increased every year since 1993. As reiterated by research, and discussed by Aisling, there are a number of both cognitive and curricular benefits to Irish-Medium Immersion, including improved memory, creativity, comprehension, and communication skills, as well as increased academic success, bilingualism, and transferrable language skills. Just being in several Irish classrooms where students have been learning the native Gaelic language, the benefits are evident. Perhaps the only downfall to requiring all primary students to learn Irish is that all teachers must fluently speak the language, and the availability of resources that present the language is rather limited; currently, there is a shortage of primary school teachers in Ireland. Although there is a shortage, I commend the country for continuing to teach the native language, as well as recognize the importance and advantages of bilingualism, and maintaining an appreciation for Irish culture. Also in regards to language, Aisling explained the way in which she uses songs, as well as singing, to help her students with language acquisition. This is truly an ingenious way to teach a rather difficult language to young children, and indeed increases the likelihood of learning, as our group learned several Irish words and phrases from a song that Aisling created that used the familiar melody that we all knew. Our group was even able to sing this song with Aisling’s students when we visited her school.

I could possibly write an entire book reflecting on my time in Ireland, as I had such a great experience, and learned a significant amount of information about the Irish education system. I even feel as though the confidence I have in myself as a teacher has only continued to grow as a result of my time working in the Irish schools. I will cherish the memories made for the rest of my life, and I hope to continue the friendships and connections made with each and every Irish individual that I either met, or worked with for a second time. Now that I have strengthened my own connections to past Irish graduate assistants, I plan to use these connections to provide my future students with the opportunity to experience globalized education, and interactions with those abroad. I am forever grateful to have been given the opportunity to travel to Ireland for a two-week study abroad experience for the second time with Frostburg State University. I plan to return to the Emerald Isle as soon as I can, and I hope to remain a part of the wonderful connection between Mary Immaculate College and Frostburg State University. Until next time!🇮🇪☘️

Several more images of cherished memories.



Home At Last

Thursday, January 18th, 2018

While writing this post, I found myself with mixed emotions. I really didn’t want to leave Ireland, and yet I had been looking forward to making it home safely. I’ve had such a great two weeks in a country that is near and dear to my heart, and I just wish I could have stayed a little while longer. As mentioned in previous posts, we needed one more picture to complete our Irish pub experience collection, and Dolan’s was the final location we needed to take a picture in front of. With that in mind, our bus was to pick us up at Courtbrack around 9:30AM, and at 8:45AM, Sara, Rachel, and I headed to the local Landis convenience store to meet up with James, Canyon, and Dr. B in order to head to Dolan’s. We certainly waited until the last minute to capture this image, and Dolan’s is about a 10 minute walk from our accommodation. Our group booked it to Dolan’s, Dr. B kindly took several pictures for us, and then we all power-walked back to Courtbrack to wait for our bus. I’m so glad that we managed to get every picture we needed.

As we were leaving Limerick on the bus, it began to rain quite heavily, and Tori spoke up and said this is a true Irish goodbye, and I couldn’t agree more with her. Fortunately though, the rain had stopped by the time our bus arrived at the airport. Looking back, we were truly blessed with relatively good weather over our two-week adventure. We only experienced one really cold day, and had limited rain, in relative terms; most of our days were actually sunny!

The rest of our travel day consisted of waiting in airports, walking through customs and security, and sitting for a number of hours on two different airplanes. Although the travel was long, the destination, and the experiences while there were well worth the wait. Fortunately for us though, our plane did depart a little early from London-Heathrow, which was really nice, and was much better than experiencing a layover, which has seemed to happen at some point on every Irish trip prior to this one.

We landed safely in the U.S. around 7:30PM. Although I have already mentioned this in a recent post, I am so thankful to have been given the opportunity to spend two weeks in Ireland with a wonderful group of people. I will continue to cherish these memories for the rest of my life, and Ireland will always be a “home away from home.” Also, I’d like to give a special thanks to those who have been reading my blog posts! I hope you all have enjoyed the updates, and can tell how much I enjoyed my time on the Emerald Isle. Please stayed tuned for my final reflection that will be posted within the upcoming days! Until next time.☘️🇮🇪

All Good Things Must Come to an End

Wednesday, January 17th, 2018

I still can’t believe that today was our last full day in Ireland. These last two weeks have flown by, and I’m still not completely ready to head home. However, I am looking forward to seeing loved ones, and am also ready to sleep in my own bed.

This morning did start out a little slow, and we were able to get several extra hours of sleep, which was super nice. After getting ready, I headed downstairs to wait for the bus to pick everyone up for our rather short trip to Adare. While waiting, I began to read several children’s books that our group brought with us, and are preparing to donate to the three Irish schools that we visited while in Ireland. I’m so glad that we’re donating the books to the schools, and I love knowing that a part of us will remain here in Ireland for as long as the books survive. Also in regards to the books, I truly believe that I have a new found love for children’s books, particularly those related to social studies topics. A new goal of mine is to incorporate various children’s books that are aligned with the curriculum into my secondary classroom, and I just can’t wait for the opportunity to do so.

Following about a 20 minute bus ride from Limerick, our group arrived in the small town of Adare. The town is comprised of thatched-roofed cottages, a Catholic Church, and several small businesses and restaurants. I definitely felt as though I was in a true small Irish village, as compared to the other cities we’ve visited, except for maybe the town of Cashel. We spent the day visiting several small shops and boutiques, and then ate lunch at Aunty Lena’s Pub. Many in our group tried the famous fish and chips entree, and I opted for the ham and Brie wrap after a being very indecisive, as I was hoping for the bangers and mash that I had at the same restaurant four years ago. Although I wasn’t able to get the entree I really wanted, the food was very good, and we were all happy with our choices. I have noticed though that many pub and restaurants are serving more “Americanized” food, rather than offering more traditional Irish cuisine, which is rather disappointing in some ways.

On our way back to Limerick, our bus driver so kindly stopped by the Unicorn Pub for several of us to get a picture in front of the restaurant in order to complete our desire to get group pictures outside of every pub we ate at while in Ireland. These photos will be great keepsakes, and will certainly bring back such good memories of our two week study abroad adventure. When we finally returned to Courtbrack, several us walked up to the Student Union store at Mary Immaculate College to purchase a t-shirt souvenir; I just couldn’t pass up the opportunity to get another meaningful keepsake to take home with me. I’m certainly going to miss the view of the campus, but I am thankful to have made great memories here, as well as know that I have several connections on campus that I hope to keep for the remainder of my life.

We spent about three hours at Courtbrack packing, getting some rest, and relaxing after a busy two weeks. We all eventually decided to eat dinner at The Locke Bar, as this is one of our favorite restaurant/pub that we visited while staying in Limerick, and I couldn’t think of a better way to end the trip than with more good food, live Irish music, and traditional Irish dancing. I admire how passionate and talented many Irish musicians and dancers are, and I love how much respect is given to these talented individuals. Although I have mentioned this in previous posts, I’m truly going to miss the Irish culture. I just wish I could freeze time in order to stay in Ireland for a little while longer, but I’m sure everyone would like to have a little more time to do certain things they love every now and then. I have had such a great time, and this trip has been just as memorable, wonderful, and life-changing as my first study broad trip to Ireland, and I am forever thankful for the experiences this opportunity has provided me with. When I reflect upon this specific two-week experience in terms of the differences from four years ago, I now have a much better understanding and appreciation for Irish culture, heritage, and history, as I made a point to immerse myself in every presentable opportunity to do so, and I truly lived in the moment, rather than focused more on being a typical tourist and taking a million pictures without taking in the world around me. With this, I made a promise to myself that I’m going to live more in the moment, and I’m never miss out on worthy opportunities that presents themselves. I know in my heart that this won’t be my last trip to Ireland, but rather the second of many more throughout my lifetime.

Stayed tuned for a final post from the Emerald Isle.🇮🇪☘️

Some pictures from today!

Last Day of School Already?

Tuesday, January 16th, 2018

As I mentioned in yesterday’s post, our hotel accommodations were wonderful. I slept better here than I have in any other accommodation thus far, and therefore, I feel even more prepared for today’s adventures. We even had a complimentary breakfast overlooking the harbor and cathedral, and fortunately, the weather was great, and therefore, I was spoiled with a breathtaking view while eating porridge, pear yogurt, and fruit, while also drinking some hot tea. I’m sure a number of people don’t like porridge, but I found that I actually do, particularly when it’s made with real oats, and I have never heard of pear yogurt prior to this trip, but that was also very good.

At promptly 9:30AM, we headed down to the Cobh Heritage Center, which is actually located in the original building that immigrants would have been required to proceed through prior to boarding a ship that would carry them to their new destination. Similar to the experience I mentioned yesterday at the Titanic Experience, I ended up with goosebumps while standing in the entryway of the museum while thinking about the fact that my Irish ancestors could have stood in the exact same spot where I was standing while waiting to begin the long journey to America for a new life, and to escape the potato famine that wrecked havoc on the country during the mid-nineteenth century. I have a hard time imagining how difficult it must have been making the decision to completely alter ones’ life by moving to an entirely new country without really knowing the ultimate outcome; the journey and success of life afterward truly rested in the hands of God. The Heritage Center displayed a number of stories, experiences, and artifacts of Irish immigrants, and I found the stories to be so intriguing. I just can’t imagine leaving my home country, boarding a “coffin ship,” and living in filth and sickness with very little food and water for weeks at a time prior to more modern vessels being built to make the journey somewhat easier for passengers.

Following our departure from the hotel, we headed to Aisling’s school, which is located in a brand new building; the school has been opened for two years at this point. I love the bright colors used within the building, the overall layout and design, as well as the many large windows that allow for significant amounts of natural light to be allowed into each classroom; these elements truly influence the learning environment. As we entered the school, we were kindly greeted by the principal, Aisling, and several sixth class students that played traditional Irish instruments as a welcome; we later learned that the instruments, which were a type of drum, were made from wood, metal, and sheepskin. The students did a fabulous job playing, and I will never forget their performance. While we waited for the choir to set up in the school library, we visited Aisling’s junior infants class, and were given the chance to greet the students with the Gaelic phrases taught to us. The students were so excited that we were there, and some could hardly contain their emotions. They were so cute! Several even volunteered to share more Irish words with us, as this school is an entirely Gaelic-speaking school. After about ten minutes, we were led to the library to hear the school choir perform several songs for us, which included songs from the movie Matilda, Beauty and the Beast, traditional Irish music, as well as a song about the school that was performed during the grand opening two years ago. The students are so talented and did a wonderful job! After the performance, we had a small question and answer session with the students about America. Surprisingly, so many questions involved the current political climate. Needless to say, we avoided anything at all controversial or opinionated.

After a nice lunch and tea with the staff, which was also so kindly provided by the school, we headed to our classrooms. For our last day, Caitlyn and I were again with the sixth class students. We were greeted by a warm welcome when we arrived, and were informed by the teacher that the students had been researching Martin Luther King Jr. prior to our arrival. I was so impressed by the information they had discovered, some of which I was even unaware of. After discussing the life of Dr. King, and reading Martin’s Big Words, I conducted a question and answer session with the students, and I was astounded by their insightful and thoughtful questions; the students in Ireland are so mature for their age, and it’s refreshing, and equally impressive. As several examples, a student asked whether I think Dr. King would be happy with American society and culture today if he were still alive, and the second question asked whether I think Dr. King would change his “I Have a Dream” speech if he was going to read it again today for thousands of people. These were great questions! I answered and discussed each question with the students, but also posed the questions back to them with the intentions of discussing their thoughts and opinions as well. We continued this type conversation for well over our time limit, but when a good discussion is underway, I find it so hard to stop in the middle, if only I can get by with a few more minutes.

As we finished up in the classroom, two students walked Caitlyn and I back down to the library in order to meet with the rest of our FSU group. While on our way, we saw snow outside of the window! Ireland hardly ever receives snow, and I found it to be so ironic that it was snowing while we were visiting an Irish school. We must have brought some with us! The children were ecstatic when they first realized it was snowing. I wish I still became that excited when I see snow at home, but I guess after so many years of it, the excitement essentially fades away, and is replaced by the desire to be somewhere on a beach with plenty of sunshine and heat.

We departed the school around 3:00PM, and arrived back in Limerick around 5:00PM. Canyon, Dr. B, and I had a great discussion about my future plans as a secondary social studies teacher during the first part of the journey; I have so many ideas, and were provided with even more. I just can’t wait to finally have my own classroom, especially after teaching the last several days. After about 45 minutes into the ride, however, I tried to stay awake as long as I could, but I just couldn’t fight the exhaustion, and soon was fast asleep. When we finally arrived at Courtbrack, we had a great group discussion about our experiences over the last few days. The main topics included the amount of trust, independence, and autonomy granted to Irish teachers, which is wonderful, as compared to the American system of accountability and evaluations, and how the literacy and language curriculum utilized within the irish education system is far more efficient and advanced, as compared to the United States. I just find it to be so unfortunate that the only language required to be taught from grades K-12 is English in American schools, as compared to the requirement of English and Gaelic in Irish schools. In Ireland as well, there seems to be a much greater and efficient emphasis placed on reading and writing, as each class I visited spent a significant amount of time focused on reading and writing in both Gaelic and English. Not that this truly goes along with the schools, but we all agree that in Ireland, the days begin much slower, meaning that most stores do not open until around 8:00AM, and no one is really in a rush to get from place to place in the mornings. I guess this has a lot to do with the fact that there are not many commuters here, as most people live close to their jobs and either walk, or bike to work. I am going to miss the relaxed feelings that are evident throughout numerous aspects of Irish culture, as well as the levels of trust.

Tonight we decided to eat at Dolan’s one last time before the end of trip; this pub has been a prominent aspect of our Irish experience, and we couldn’t pass up the opportunity to visit one last time. With this in mind, I ordered the traditional Irish stew that was made with fresh lamb. This may sound odd to some, but I really like lamb, and have been waiting to try this stew for awhile. It was delicious! Again, I haven’t had a bad meal yet. I think it’s safe to say that we spent a great night together, and both the food and company were enjoyable. There was, however, a local Irish man that did not approve of we Americans in “his” pub. I guess a confrontation like this was bound to happen at some point, but we all ignored him and kept about our business. Tonight must have been a night of odd occurrences due to the fact that as we were about to walk out the door, it began snowing again! The frigid wind even picked up, and the snow was blowing everywhere. Fortunately for us, Steve brought the rental car with him to dinner, and so kindly shuttled each of us back to Courtbrack. Not much longer after we safely made it back though, Canyon insisted on a group of us going to the local SuperMac’s, which is basically the Irish version of McDonald’s, for a heated muffin with ice cream. I have no idea who would want ice cream on a cold and miserable night, but the circumstances didn’t seem to phase a number of our group. I love ice cream, but it was just too cold for me. Although, I did decide to walk over with the group, and while there, we again began telling hilarious stories that involved our experiences with students. I swear, some instances that occur just can’t be made up, and young students certainly don’t have a filter, which is often why some stories are just so funny.

I still can’t believe that tomorrow is already our last full day here in Ireland. Where has the time gone? Two weeks sounds like a long time, but I’m convinced that I should stay for the entire semester. Fortunately, we will be spending time in the quaint, traditional Irish village of Adare for several hours tomorrow. I’m looking forward to going back and seeing the beautiful thatched roofed houses, eating some bangers and mash, and taking lots of pictures during my last full day on the Emerald Isle. Stayed tuned to hear more about my final adventures!🇮🇪

Beautiful Views & Happy Schools

Monday, January 15th, 2018

Despite having a late night, we woke up early to get breakfast at a local cafe rather than opting to eat toast and cereal that were provided by the hostel. Around 7:30AM we took a stroll down the street to find something to eat; I certainly can’t start the day without breakfast. After walking about a block, and re-tracing several of our steps, Dr. O, Sara, and I settled for some hot tea and pastries at “Cork Coffee Roasters;” we were eventually joined by Rachel as well. I’m really going to miss going out for tea, aa well as having tea with essentially every meal. I’m normally a coffee drinker at home, but a nice cup of hot Irish tea just can’t be beat.

After checking out of the hostel, our bus driver picked us up and took us to the primary school where Sinead previously worked for several years prior to being hired at Mary Immaculate this past fall. When we arrived, a number of students were out in the schoolyard playing games and getting some exercise. They were all made well aware that we Americans would be visiting the school today, and as soon as several spotted us, most became really excited, and began frantically waving to us. I love this type of greeting, and I get even more excited and happy to be at the school under such circumstances; the students’ enthusiasm is contagious. Once inside, we were immediately greeted by an administrator, and then met in the teacher’s lounge to be informed of our room assignments. Sinead so kindly walked each of us around to our assigned classes, and discussed various aspects of the school along the way. Caitlyn and I were again with sixth class, and shared both Martin Luther King Jr. books we had presented at St. Conaire’s, as well as completed the follow-up discrimination activity. We had about a half hour to teach to two separate classes, and we ended up running five or so minutes over our time limit due the great discussions and conversations that occurred as as result of Martin Luther King Jr., The Civil Rights Movement, discrimination, as well as segregation. I was also surprised at the rather impressive background knowledge these students already had about Dr. King. I was equally impressed by their compassion for others, their belief in equality, and their ideas for peace through love and nonviolence, rather than hate. The students even mentioned current events that have appeared in news coverage involving the United States, including the Black Lives Matter movement, protests against police brutality, as well as various other political protests. Prior to leaving the school, we had tea and scones with the principal. She was very welcoming, and explained how strongly she feels about providing students with new experiences and perspectives, as well as altering daily routines in order to provide a more diverse and dynamic educational experience, especially in terms of having foreign visitors spend time sharing facts and traditions about other countries. I whole-heartedly agree with this perspective, and I hope to provide similar experiences and opportunities for my future students as either a teacher, or in an administrative role.

Following our time at the school, we departed for Cobh, which was about 25 minutes away. We arrived at Bella Vista Hotel for the night, and the accommodation was absolutely beautiful, and is apparently roughly 200 years old, and was previously owned by a doctor for Napoleon Bonaparte, which is a really interesting fact. Myself and three other roommates had fresh flowers in our room, a beautiful view of the harbor and cathedral, and were even met with some chocolates. Given that we have been traveling non-stop throughout the trip, we had about an hour and a half to relax in our rooms before walking down to the Titanic Experience, which is essentially an interactive Titanic museum that is located within the actual “check-in” building for passengers, with the actual deck where passengers would have departed in order to meet the grand ship at the entrance of the harbor.

Although the Titanic Experience was the next item on our itinerary, we walked down the steep and narrow streets of Cobh, and through the picturesque homes that scattered the hillside. Cobh (pronounced “cove”) is absolutely beautiful, and I would love to visit here during the summer months. As we later found out, a vast number of cruise ships arrive every summer, and the landscape even portrays a quaint port town. One of the most prominent features in Cobh is St. Colman’s Cathedral. This Catholic Church is absolutely stunning, and probably the most beautiful church I’ve ever been to. The amount of detail in every aspect of the church, the stained glass windows, and just the overall architecture was unbelievable. Speaking of architecture, in regards to nearly every man-made structure we have visited in Ireland thus far, I am so impressed by the intricate details that are included, which also demonstrates Irish heritage and culture. As a side note in regards to the weather, when we arrived in Cobh, and lasting until we entered the cathedral, the weather was beautiful with clear, sunny skies. By the time we left the cathedral, about 10 minutes after entering, clouds had moved in and it began to rain, with be sun and clear skies now off into the distance. This instance demonstrates the bizarre Irish weather that everyone here knows, and is accustomed to. The sudden changes are almost funny in a sense, and one must certainly always carry an umbrella at all times, despite what a weather app predicts. The short walk down to the Titanic Experience was thankfully dry, as the weather changed yet again.

My interest in the ill-fated Titanic has been strong throughout my entire life, and to be at the pier where the last Irish passengers, as well as the last boarding passengers in general, would have been picked up by a tinder boat to be transported out to the actual ship gave me goosebumps. These goosebumps were also connected to the fact that my ancestors could have also stood on this exact pier, and witnessed the exact same view of Ireland for the last time before departing for a new life in America. In regards to the Titanic, as I looked at the pre-departure photographs, I couldn’t help but think about the feelings of excitement these individuals would have experienced knowing they were about to board the most magnificent ship in the world at the time for her maiden voyage. However, these individuals had absolutely no idea or inclination of the horrendous tragedy that would occur en route to America. With this, I really like that the museum gives every visitor a copy of a passenger ticket, which also includes a real passenger’s name. At the very end of the exhibit, each visitor finds out whether or not the passenger on their “ticket” survives, as well as some background information on the life of the specific passenger. In regards to my “ticket,” I was a 22 year old third class passenger who died the night of the sinking, although, my body was recovered and sent back to my family for a proper burial; this was a moving experience.

Given that we were all pretty hungry after finishing our tour through the museum, Sinead arranged for us to eat dinner at a restaurant that overlooked the water. We had another great meal here, and I think it’s safe to say that I had one of the best salmon dishes I’ve had in my entire life. The food in Ireland is so fresh, and I believe this has a lot to do with why their food tastes so much better than typical American food served at home. After dinner, since we finished up a little earlier than usual, several of us went to a pub and watched part of a soccer game, and then went back to the hotel and met up with Dr. O and Steve at the hotel restaurant/commons area. We relaxed by the fire, and talked about a number of things for about 45 minutes. I’m really going to miss all of us spending time together and discussing all things Education, as well as sharing stories about our individual lives. Given that we were all pretty tired at this point, we headed to bed.

Tomorrow we’ll be visiting the last Irish school of the trip, and I’ll again be teaching about Martin Luther King Jr. I just don’t want our time in the schools to come to an end. We will also be visiting the Cobh Heritage Center prior to departing for the school, and I hope to find out more information about my Irish ancestors who fled Ireland for America during the potato famine. Stayed tuned for tomorrow’s adventures!🇮🇪☘️

Some pictures from today!

Cork City

Sunday, January 14th, 2018

Today was the first day we ventured to a new location with the intentions of staying overnight at a hostel. We arrived in County Cork around 9:45AM, and our first stop was the Blarney Castle. Although the morning was foggy, and there was a slight rain, I found the scene at the castle to be picturesque, and really had an Irish feel to it. The only downfall at the castle was the amount of scaffolding around, and within, the structure for restoration purposes, but I still loved taking a step back in time while journeying up the narrow, spiral staircase to reach the top of the castle, which is where the famous Blarney Stone is located. I feel bad for admitting this, but I actually didn’t fully kiss the stone, despite the possibility of having bad luck and lacking eloquence for not kissing it. Each of us dressed in Frostburg attire today for the specific purpose of taking a group photo representing the university at the Irish castle. Several photos were taken, and I hope they will eventually appear on the FSU website at some point in the near future.

We then spent about an hour shopping at Woolen Mills, which was a large shopping center near the castle. The store primarily sold Irish wool sweaters, scarves, dresses, and hats. I love the looks of each item, and they are so warm and comfy. I ended up buying a really pretty wool scarf, which was more in my price range, but seems to be all the rage in Ireland, as I often see women wearing the beautiful scarfs around the various towns and cities we have visited. One of my goals on this trip is to only buy souvenirs that are practical, and remind me of specific events that occurred while studying abroad on the Emerald Isle; so far, I’ve succeeded.

When our brief shopping spree ended, we boarded the bus, and headed to Sinead’s house for a delicious lunch. Somehow, our miraculous bus driver manage to back our giant bus up into her driveway to drop us off at the front door, almost literally. I thought for sure he was going to destroy either of the stone posts positioned at the entrance, but he succeeded. When we finally made it inside, Sinead, her mom, and her brother were so welcoming, and made us all feel right at home. When traveling abroad, it’s so nice to have a home-cooked meal, and relax in a nice home with a cozy fire going every now and then. As mentioned in previous posts, the Irish hospitality is so wonderful. We even began a short documentary on the sinking of the Lusitania, as the city of Cork played a significant role in the tragic events. The film followed a particular family throughout their journey to America, and then back to Ireland, which the return journey was on the ill-fated ship. Unfortunately with our schedule, we weren’t able to complete the documentary as lunch had to served a little early so that we wouldn’t miss our bus back to the city. Lunch was so delicious, and the dessert was just as good; we had lasagna, salad, a type of broccoli salad, and fresh baked bread. For dessert, we had apple crumble and some homemade whipped cream. I felt so at home while at Sinead’s, and I loved sitting in her sunroom overlooking the Irish countryside. As our time came to a close, we took a group photo, and were then on our way to check into the Bru Hostel in downtown Cork.

Staying in a hostel is quite a different experience, as these type of overnight accommodations are not very popular in the United States. I do find it interesting that people, mostly younger individuals in their twenties, from all over the world stay in these accommodations. Fortunately, having a large group, we split up into several different rooms, but were together at least. From my understanding, when an individual checks into a hostel, he or she is assigned a room and bed number, and with this assignment, you can be placed into a room with anyone else with an extra bed that is also staying in the accommodation; essentially, one can be roomed with a total stranger. Also, renting a bath towel costs two euros, and one must “pay” a deposit of either an identification card, or ten euros prior to receiving a room key; when the items are returned to reception, the traveler is reimbursed. I would never stay in such a place on my own, but nevertheless, staying in a European hostel is certainly an experience of its own.

After venturing out, walking around downtown Cork, and purchasing several more souvenir items, we headed back to the hostel to freshen up for dinner at Aisling’s home with her family. Compared to other cities throughout Ireland that we have visited, the city of Cork reminds me of Dublin, but a little smaller. This city is certainly an urban center. Also noticeable is a slightly different Irish accent/dialect among the locals here as compared to Limerick, Galway, and Dublin. I even noticed this during the graduate assistant reunion on Saturday when speaking to the Irish attendees, as each are from a number of different regions throughout Ireland.

As we only have the large tour bus during the day, Aisling, her fiancé, and both of her parents kindly shuttled our large group to their home. Upon arriving to their beautiful home, each of us were greeted by, and formally introduced to Aisling’s parents, her fiancé’s parents, as well as her brother’s girlfriend. We essentially had a melting pot of individuals there, which was a really neat experience; Joe’s family is from England, Amy is from Spain, Aisling and her family are Irish, and there were 13 Americans in attendance. Again, the hospitality was incredible! We had a delicious dinner that consisted of Irish stew, chicken curry and rice, and veggie quiche. For dessert, we had homemade pavlova and fresh fruit. We each had a great time chatting together. Once we finished our dessert, Aisling and her mom invited us into the living room area, and played a number of traditional Irish songs. The two of them are so talented. Aisling rotated playing either the violin or flute, while her mother played the piano and sang; I wish I had half of their musical talents and abilities. All of us sang along to the melodies, and really had a great time. Our group even had the chance to sing the melody of Irish greetings that Aisling taught us during her lecture presentation at Mary Immaculate last week; she was impressed at how well we all remembered the Irish words and sayings. We sat in the living room listening to the tunes for about an hour. These are some of the best memories that I have while in Ireland, especially due to the wonderful opportunities that we have been given in terms of actually having meals, and being together in Irish homes. I also feel so welcomed and at home no matter where we go, as our Irish friends go above and beyond to make our visit here even more memorable, and I am so thankful for their generosity.

We arrived back at the hostel a little before midnight, however, the late night was well worth it. My roommates and I quickly went to bed in order to get some sleep before our next day in a school. Tomorrow we will be teaching at Sinead’s school! Our trip has been going so well, and I’m rather sad to think that we only have about three days left here. Stayed tuned for more of my Irish experience!☘️🇮🇪

Some pictures from today!

Touring Through Tipperary

Saturday, January 13th, 2018

Being that schools are closed on the weekends, we departed Limerick, and headed to County Tipperary to explore the Rock of Cashel, Holy Cross Abbey monastery, and then finished the excursion with a delicious lunch at the current graduate assistant’s house. Later on in the evening, we attended the Irish graduate assistant reunion dinner party at a local restaurant, which was a lot of fun for all of us in attendance. Needless to say, another great day is in the books.

As mentioned, our day began with a tour of the Rock of Cashel, and what a beautiful and interesting place. Prior to doing any research, I had the misconception that this was a unique rock formation that was formed thousands of years ago, similar to the Burren, but I was wrong. This structure was actually built atop a rock mound in the 12th Century to house the kings of Munster, and was later given to the Catholic Church. Legend has it that the devil actually formed the rock base. Whether the legend is true or not, the structure sits well above the rest of the town, and we could see the beautiful Irish countryside for miles. The medieval architecture was beautiful, and the history behind the structure was just so interesting. Actually, Queen Elizabeth II visited this site in 2011, which was a huge milestone for both Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland due to the fact that the Rock is part of the Catholic Church, and the Queen, whose religious affiliation is with the Church of England, made a point to visit this structure, which was viewed as political milestone between the United Kingdom and Ireland. As mentioned in an earlier blog post, tensions between the two counties stem from religious beliefs. As a rather odd addition, I couldn’t help but notice the vast number of graves within, as well as around the structure, as well as the numerous crows and pigeons that inhabited the ruins and were constantly flying around; these creatures enhanced the eery feelings among all of us. Even after leaving, I was so impressed by the fact that individuals living hundreds of years ago were able to build such fascinating and large structures given the extremely limited amount of tools available at the time. Overall, I would say visiting the Rock was well worth the commute, and is a place that I would certainly recommend others to visit. As Eileen later explained, many tourists unfortunately overlook the wonders located within the interior of the country, as the famous destinations along the Irish coasts attract more visitors.

Upon leaving the Rock, we walked through the quaint nearby town of Cashel. There were even more old, abandon stone structures scattered among modern homes and buildings. One structure had actually been restored, and converted into a hotel. We stopped by a small cafe for some hot tea and a scone, which was perfect on this cold January day. We then headed over to a small boutique, which sold a number of Irish clothes and jewelry. I will say, I really like Irish fashion, particularly the women’s professional attire. As Dr. Ornstein and I were discussing, the trends are very classic, and can be dressed up, or worn more casually. Many of the styles and trends at home are unflattering, and can hardly be described as professional. If I had more room in my suitcase, and had a full-time job, I would splurge on some new, trendy items.

After a rather short bus ride, we arrived at Holy Cross Abbey, which is an 800-year-old Catholic monastery in County Tipperary. Our exceptional tour guide was a local man that was so knowledgeable and passionate about the history of the monastery, as well as the local town of Thurles; this was a great experience, and the best tour I have ever been a part of. Like a number of old stone structures, the Church was in ruins from the 18th Century until the 1970s, until restoration work began to bring the church back to life; regular Mass, as well as a number of wedding ceremonies still occur on a routine basis. I was in awe throughout the entire tour, and was equally impressed by the restoration work that successfully utilized original techniques and practices to bring the medieval structure back to life. As explained to us, the monks relied on the natural resources found around them to survive, and the structure was primarily carved from limestone found within County Tipperary. Despite the sheer brilliance and precision of the monks, I can’t begin to imagine how challenging the creation, and building of something such as this would have been, given the materials available at the time. Equally as impressive is the fact that the structure has survived for roughly 800 years. Our guide even made a joke that the structure was built to last for 1,000 years, and therefore, there are 200 more years of touring through the monastery prior for the need to really start worrying about stability and safety. In terms of interesting medieval architectural items discussed during our tour, I found some to be quite interesting, of which include an archway above a door can be used to whisper from one side to the other for confessional purposes (it actually worked!); the intricate carvings that represent both good and evil; the relic that dates back to Jesus Christ; medieval paintings; and just the overall descriptions of how the structure was built by the monks, including the arched ceilings. In terms of additional fast discussed, I was also surprised at the long hours of work that each monk would complete each day, how dandelions grow throughout the year and were a useful composite, as well as how the monks were only allowed to have a fire going from November to Easter Sunday, regardless of the weather before or after these months. Prior to this tour, I also did not realize the amount of silence and prayer that were required of the monks. On a more personal note while in the church, I was the only one selected to ring one of the church bells, which was a neat experience given the history of the momentary; that same bell could have been rung for hundreds of years. The Abbey is such a large and dear part of the local community, and this fact was evident just listening to the tour guide, who happened to be a retired “Garda” or policeman. With this, in relation to the tour, and another characteristic of the Irish people that I am so fond of is the pride and knowledge of Irish heritage and history. Almost every Irish person that I have encountered on this trip, as well as the last, has been so knowledgeable and willing to share information about Irish history. This is certainly unlike the United States, as people at home are constantly looking to change or alter the future rather than embrace and celebrate the past. I just wish I knew more about my Irish heritage, however, I am determined to one day find out!

As soon as we finished the tour, we then were invited back to Eileen’s, the current Irish graduate assistant, house for tea. However, when we arrived, there was a delicious meal prepared for us which consisted of lasagna, a salad, potato wedges, coleslaw, hot tea, and several desserts. Every one of us had a great time, and really enjoyed a good home cooked meal. Each and every one of the Irish graduate assistants have treated all of us so well, and are so hospitable and kind. They each go above and beyond to make sure our group is taken care of, welcome us into their homes, and treat us as family rather than strangers. I just hope that each one knows how much I truly appreciate their thoughtfulness and exceptional hospitality. I have certainly taken note of this, and hope to provide the same experience to my future guests.

After leaving Eileen’s, we headed back to Courtbrack to freshen up for the dinner party with most of the past Irish graduate assistants. The food was delicious, and we all enjoyed mingling with one another. It was so nice to catch up with the former GAs. Perhaps the most meaningful aspect of the night was the clear sense of family and pride that radiates between Dr. Ornstein, Dr. Bingman, and all of the previous and current Irish GAs. The friendships and bonds created are clearly evident, as is the power of the professional relationship between Frostburg State University and Mary Immaculate College, and I am so glad to be part of something so wonderful. I hope the relationships and programs continue well into the future.

I truly am so thankful to be a part of such a great study abroad experience, and to know that I’ll have an Irish connection for the rest of my life. Experiences such as these are life-changing, and ones that I will cherish for the remainder of my life. Tomorrow we are off to Cork, and will be visiting several other homes of previous graduate assistants. I’m looking forward to seeing everyone again, as well as being back in a school on Monday. Stayed tuned!☘️🇮🇪