Spring Break…Part 2

Hi All! It has been a while… After Spring Break that has lasted for two weeks, with the five day the snowstorm break and the four day Easter Break, we spent a dashingly 9 days in school for the entire March…! My brain has definitely slowly recovering and shaken by the madness to be striked by the published timetable of final exams, the impending GRE and the essays. But we left off at Spring Break in the last post, so allow me to reminisce the good times…

I found myself back in the Sahara desert again, fearing of losing all my snapstreaks because of a lack of Internet, and not being able to take photos because of a dead camera. The desert really brings what is important back to you – it takes out the technology in your life, and gives you the brightest night sky that you have ever seen, freezes you to death in night and burns you to barbeque (perhaps since we did not stay that long). Now, my snapstreak somehow survived this whole trip, and the camels led us to a little hotel nearby, where there is wifi and electricity (so I secured the streaks and revived my camera). We got a huge breakfast of delicious yogurt, bread, crepes and pastries, and there has also been a lentil soup with some kind of beans that were really delicious, and we also got our long overdue shower that washed off 99% of the sand on us.

Driving not too awfully away from the desert
Annie looking over Mid-Atlas region. The green stuff shoud be a local golf resort
All the veils sold in different colors in a local souvenir shop

We had a local Moroccan barbeque for lunch (when Syaid announced this when we had dinner the day before, Weiheng got so excited and had to bring up every hour or so when we were in the car). It was also around 3PM when we finally got to eat, and we were all starving! We ended up ordering what is in this next picture, a pound of steak and a pound of lamb. (That place also serves camel meat I believe – I am praying for Michael Jackson and hope he’s not getting slaughtered) It also only took 245 dirhams to feed all six of us – probably around 5 dollars if we average it.

Guess what kind of food this is? (hint: Mark was dared to eat one of the organs on there, and then hated life for probably a hot minute by chugging down a huge loaf of bread and an entire can of beer, and said he was fine.)
Moroccan Barbeque that definitely lived up to the hype

We then embarked our journey to the mid-atlas region, where it is famous of producing argon oil used in a lot of our skin and shampoo products, fed some monkeys, passed through Al-Akhawayn University located in Ifrane (where it was heavily dominated by the French and has the nickname of “The Switzerland of Morocco”.

We loved feeding monkeys and taking pictures of each other

We finally arrived at Fes when it was around 7pm or so. It was really sad to see Syaid go and they have been great to us throughout the whole trip! But we were on our own in the old medina of Fes. The streets and alleies crisscross with each other – we definitely saw why even Google maps don’t really know how this place is structured. We booked an airbnb in what is probably a palace in the past for 80 euros and it looks dashingly amazing

“This is my palace” claims everybody
“Looking at this gorgeous palace that I own”
Blue gate at night

Due to limitations, we didn’t get to stay in Fes for too long, and we had to head to Chefchaouene, known as the blue city, in the early morning in the next day.

A cat in the Blue City

Chefchaouene, compared to Fes, lacks a deeper sense of historical accumulation. It is a town that developed because of this kinda “artificial blue” painted onto their city and the tourism effects that followed, and the town is very heavily populated with souvenir stores and kinda intentionally painted wall. Fes, on the other hand, had their development in the past in the Old Medina, and then there is also the New Medina that we passed through. I saw there is one of the shopping malls that looked really modern.

“the wall” that people take pictures at
Group pic! Both Yeng and I got some traditional clothing over there. Definitely trying to spread the purple pride there 🙂

After Chefchaouene, Casablanca was our last stop, where we got to see the Hassan II Mosque, passed by a local market and saw the cafe recreated from the film Casablanca. Hassan II is one of the largest Mosques in the world, and was definitely beautiful.

From there, we concluded our brief stops in Casablanca and our trip to Morocco, and got back to Ireland for St. Patty’s day. Because of a very late flight, I missed out on all the parades, but still caught the crowd in Dublin and had some ice cream! (Got to see everything on social media so eh).

Around the Temple Bar area on St. Patty’s day

On the following Wednesday we made a brief visit to Cork. We started off by walking to the English Market, and made our way to Cork City Gaol. The English Market is like the Milk Market that Charlotte and I visited in Limerick, except the English Market operates every day. There is also a second level with a coffee shop. It also looks like there is a larger seafood section and they even sell clam chowder! (Not sure about how that compares to the New England ones though)

English Market in Cork! It would really be great if Dublin have something like this regularly.

Cork City Gaol was also really interesting. There was an exhibition of examples of past prisoners kept here (including Constance Markievitz, one of the revolutionary nationalists in Ireland), and what their daily life is like. It definitely made me not want to go to jail in the future, but is sure interesting to see!

When everybody except Beven and Mason are excited to get into jail…
Oops… Still ended up being arrested and a mug shot is taken.

We ended the night with a trad session in An Spailpin Fanach, where Mason and I had our first sip of Jameson! The second day, we went on a trip down to Kilkenny and the Ring of Kerry, where the rule of being played by Irish weather is once again verified (whenever we travel it is rainy and foggy, and it gets all sunny when we decide to stay indoors). Still, the view is very gorgeous, and I could only imagine how good it would look on a sunny day!

At Ring of Kerry


Kilkenny National Park

It was amazing to come out to breathe a little in nature before we have to get back to all the schoolwork! But life has definitely been good during the two week Spring Break. And there isn’t much of the semester left – cannot believe how fast time is flying by!

Spring Break Part 1!

Hey parents… sorry I haven’t been completely honest about my whereabouts for this past week. So here was the thing: I am not the greatest at trying to figure out where the future lies ahead for me (changing my major in the middle of sophomore year didn’t help, and then even with a fixed combination my mind is still floating around quite a bit), and this is definitely something that the parents did not greatly enjoy. When I threw the idea of going to Morocco to the parents, they did some research online and found this article about why girls shouldn’t really travel to Morocco. One reason after the other, this turned into a fight for 10 minutes with two very strong headed person who are both unwilling to be convinced by one another, with me crying and being accused of inconsiderate of their feelings of being worried about me (which definitely makes sense and I could relate to, but I also promised to keep in touch and all that, and plus I’m not travelling alone so I don’t see the point why my dad got so mad). But anyways, enough about this nonsense about why I did not tell them about this; important thing is that even I’m still young, dumb and broke, I’m alive and well.

But anyways… this spring break has been an absolute blast. Mohan’s visit continues as we move our ways to Galway on Thursday, going around the wild Atlantic way. Friday, we visited the Burren, and of course.. Cliffs of Moher (as how everyone just kinda needs to). The Burren is a National Park that captures the karst landscape incorporating pavements of glacier-era limesone, which is quite cool. Currently, because Ireland is making its probably third attempt to transition into Spring (and keeps failing), the colors of the landscape is looking a bit yellow-green-ish, but there are a lot of colors like red and brown as well which makes it more unique than the usual greenness that you would see in advertisement photos. I’m definitely hoping to go back there in the summer perhaps just to see how everything has a different kind of outlook in different seasons. And then there are the Cliffs: it was not till a while ago that I realized that one of my favorite bands from middle school, Westlife, is an Irish boy band, and they shot the music video of what’s perhaps their most famous song “My Love” at Cliffs of Moher. The scene of the Horcrux cave in Harry Potter and the Half-Blooded Prince and the music video of Maroon 5’s song “Runaway” was also shot around the roaring waters around the cliffs.

The Burren landscape with roaming animals
Cliffs of Moher: “Over seas to coast to coast, to find the place I love the most, where the fields are green, to see you once again, my love”. Ireland would be the place to be if you’re trying to find fields of green 🙂

We continued our adventures to Connemara National Park the next day. It was a pretty large park, and what is even more astonishing is that one family, the Kylemores, once owned an estate that contained most of Connemara National Park. Connemara is also one of the regions that speaks Irish (Gaelic) predominately, and at one point there was no English on any of the signs at all, which I thought is really interesting.

A blurred view of Kylemore Abbey
A view of Connemara National Park with the Irish black faced sheep (that my friends playfully call the “Irish piglets”

We also passed by two shooting places of Ed Sheeran’s Music Video Galway Girl during our trip. We first passed by O’Connell’s bar, which is the bar that Ed went into at the beginning of the video. Later, during our last night in Galway we went to O’Connor’s Famous Pub, where Ed shot some darts with Saoirse Ronan and pissed off two dudes. There was also a great trad session going on in there that started at 10.

At O’Connor’s Famous Pub; somehow Mohan and I weren’t able to find any dart boards

Our short Galway trip came into an end a lot sooner that I thought, and then it was soon the bittersweet goodbye at the airport till I see her again  in the summer/fall. It was definitely great to catch up with her though, and it was so much fun to see parts of Ireland!

We headed to the airport in the morning, where Mohan has to catch her early flight to Boston and with me catching my flight to Marrakesh and embarking my next journey with Weiheng, Yeng, Annie and Mark to Morocco for five days. This whole trip was really packed because we were trying to do a lot in a short amount of time, and we ended up spending a lot of time on the road. After two meals of McDonalds and several naps, we settled in our hotels at 12AM in the morning. Each of the cities in Morocco has their own specific color, but then a couple that stood out are Casablanca (white), Chefchaouene (blue) and Marrakesh (red).

Waking up to Marrakesh
Marrakesh Menara airport

The next morning, we hoped on a car into the Sahara desert and then Fes. We first drove throught the high atlas region in Morocco. Our driver, Said, were saying that those roads are like the snakes because of how the geographics of Morocco with mountains made it so we need to take a lot of twist and turns before we could get to where we are looking for. The landscape was honestly so different than anything else (the color palette that nature used!) that I’ve ever seen before and the weather was so beautiful.

Altitude 1460m; approximately 4790 feet
Mountain ridges in high atlas region
Blurry Sunset
Traditional Tajine dish with lamb meatballs and an egg; usually it would come with a pointy top lid as well.

We spent our first night in the Sahara desert, where we had what is probably a variation of couscous (couscous has a base of crushed wheat while the dish that we had with had a chicken base) with a veggie stew of zuccini, carrots and eggplants on top, and we had some really amazing bread with tangerines. After that, we heard some Moroccan traditional percussion music and went to see the stars on a sand dune! We also went out of the desert the next morning riding on camels. It was quite the experience; it would be a smooth ride if you have learned to balance yourself in the right way, but would hurt your butt if not (you could definitely see where that is coming from).

I rode a camel called Michael Jackson. At the end, I decided never to ride camels again both because I almost fell when Michael Jackson was dropping me onto the ground and because I thought this was so cruel to all the Michael Jacksons out there…

Traditional drumming in the Sahara desert; the tourist made a circle, and I met a woman from Spain and her daughter; tried to practice some Spanish but I was simply too bad at it
Annie, Karen, Weiheng, Yeng and Mark; this is definitely a personality shot
Learning about photography as we go – I was never aware that my phone is capable of taking a picture like this; all it took was 80 seconds of a still exposure shot and sticking my phone into the sand
When the long exposure didn’t work so well but is still cool before the sunrise (and you could see Yeng’s ghost)
A successful selfie attempt
The leading man and a headshot of Michael Jackson

We were joking how we never left the Sahara desert because we still have sand in our shoes…. I also think that I am going to cut my Spring break adventures here because this blog is already getting way too long. But till next time 🙂

Snow Days, Dublin Tourists and Abbey Theater

Hi all! Little did I know, that the snow days in Ireland actually happened when I woke up to an email about two (then eventually 3, plus the weekend) days of school cancelled with 4 inches of snow outside of my window (Holy Cross students are like what…?) so I actually had time to work on some of this despite brief power and Wi-Fi shortage! It was something else. The snow days were really nice at first, given that I had a lot of work that I needed to do during those days, including applying to a ton of internships that is due at the end of February and my midterms and other forms of evaluation for my classes. I was able to sleep in for a bit, and one of the midterms that I was most worried about ended up being postponed.

But then things changed because I did not think that this snow is actually going to be this severe. On Wednesday (our first day of snow), I started to realize how transportation started to cut back, so I went into centra (our grocery shop on campus) and got some veggies (at the time they only had some salad greens left, not with a lot of other things) and some chicken having in mind that this along with the rice that I have and some leftover takeout will get me through Friday.  Things don’t always go as planned, as always, and I found myself trying to get more food in centra on Thursday, at the time the grocery shop is starting to run out of salad greens and chicken, and Friday, when there are absolutely no green veggies on the shelf, having only sausages left, and almost running out of regular pasta… And you know how grumpy I get when I am hungry. Feeling trapped in our residences and wanting to get out, our friend Mason had the idea of heading out of our rooms and taking snow pictures outside on Friday. And then, we ended up dancing to a song that is really popular in China as of the moment called “the seaweed song” in the snow and the wind (will dm a link if requested)! I also helped building my first ever snowman on Wednesday. Although we have a ton of snow in Worcester, I feel like so many people had grown up with snow around and just got so used to having snow around, and it wasn’t that big of a deal for them anymore. I did not grow up with snow at all, so it was actually quite exciting to have some snowball fights with my friends and to build the snowman!

Our snowman wearing a Irish souvenir hat, a red scarf, and eyes/buttons made from leaves
Swans on campus seems to have it together better than the Irish
One of the pics that didn’t make it to the gram
An okay-ish attempt when doing a close up

So snow days were fun-ish until we ran out of food and we had absolutely no means of transportation to get into the city since Dublin bus stopped operating. On Saturday the snow finally dwindled and Dublin bus was back up and running by noon. Mohan was supposed to fly in Friday night from Boston – up until now I still had no idea how she did it, with storms going on both at the Boston side and at the Dublin side – and she made it, only with sitting in the airplane for two more hours than she was supposed to. We ended up doing a fair bit of travel around Dublin and I felt like I was the tourist again from two months ago!

Mohan shaking hands with what is suposed to be a hand of Alfie Byrne’s at the Little Museum of Dublin

My friend Mark ended up tagging along with us for a bit, and somehow managed to convince Mohan to have half a pint of Guinness (for she’s not that into drinking) after we had some delicious Szechuan food! We also paid a visit to the Little Museum of Dublin (so this is the second tour that I went on in the museum but the tour was given by another guy Sam – giving him a shoutout here since I was too lazy to do it on their website – rather than Ronan, whom I had for the first time.), went to a cafe called Bewley’s on Grafton street (not the one that Ed Sheeran met someone at the side of the bar though), passed around the Dublin Castle, and headed to the Cobblestone to listen to some really great Irish Music (apologize in advance that I didn’t take any pictures, but I will definitely visit there soon in the future because they do give free lessons)!

Blurry pic of baby and her first half pint of Guinness!
After Guinness picture, featuring a huge ton of leftover Szechuan food

Oh how I wished that I could’ve gone to Cork with Mohan but I had classes, and my theater class was going to a play in the Abbey Theater. The play was called “The Unmanageable Sisters”, which is an adoption by Deirdre Kinahan on a play originally written by a Canadian author, Michel Tremblay. A large side to the adoption is that it was made really Irish, and it was really hard to imagine that it is not originally written in that way! It was a really interesting play in so many aspects, because it really was a hilarious play with many twists. The audience was laughing at jokes a lot! And this play only has women in it – which is really uncommon in Irish theater apparently, but I think it might not be only an Irish theater thing. It was also really relatable to nowaday Irish society issues such as how people are coping with the aftermath with the changes in how church power controls the society and about repealing the 8th (which makes abortion illegal in Ireland unless a pregnancy has grave consequences on the mother. It took its place in the Irish constitution at a time when the nation was heavily regulated by Catholicism) mostly. But overall it was a great experience – we got the cheapest tickets but then ended up sitting on some of the best seats because the show wasn’t entirely sold out, and I will definitely recommend going to see a play when you’re in Ireland.

A picture of the set in the Abbey Theater of the play The Unmanageable Sisters by Colin Richmond

I went into Burgh Quay to get my Irish Residence Permit (irp) a while ago, and I finally received my card today (the mailing process is also delayed in the storm). I also went into an appointment for my re-entry visa and it went really well, that I could leave Ireland to travel to a couple of places (I’m definitely hoping to travel in Berlin and Barcelona, and then maybe Iceland and the UK? I just don’t yet, there are so many possibilities)! The weather was also extremely nice today compared to the blizzard that we just had, so Mohan and I decided to walk around Dun Laoghaire for a bit. I’m definitely looking forward to being the traveller and explore this extremely diverse continent. But now, gotta spend the night with Mohan and try to get some work done before we head into spring break!

Dun Laoghaire today

Chinese New Year, Galantis, and Malahide Castle

Yes, I disappeared for two weeks…Sorry. But Happy belated Chinese New Year! Yes, it is only two days after Valentine’s day this year so I probably could’ve said it in the last post..but there you go. Work has most definitely started to pile up more since I have registered for a GRE exam in May, getting back to working on my summer project for the April H-CLEF (Holy Cross Laptop Ensemble Federation) concert, while also balancing impending mid-term exams, internship deadlines and piano practice before spring break. Apart from the daily grind that I carry with me from Holy Cross, I am also finally getting my GNIB card, which means that I will be able to get out of Ireland and travel around Europe finally (not that Ireland isn’t great, but I am also looking forward to travelling around Europe since it is my first time in Europe)! I’m also really excited for my friend, Mohan, to visit Ireland during Spring Break (her visa request just got approved and I am super excited about seeing her for the first time since our finals, showing her around Dublin and exploring Galway together before she heads back).

Anywho… Here at UCD, Chinese New Year is done really differently, just because of how much larger of a Chinese population that they have here. I can’t give you an accurate description about how large the population actually is, but definitely big enough to host a campus-wide event. The day before New Year’s, there was a livestream of the National Spring Gala in China, and there was a massive amount of Chinese food with performances from students playing traditional keyboard instruments. The entry fee was two euros, but you actually get a red packet of an euro plus the ton of free food! At Holy Cross, it was great in that we had a more intimate atmosphere to celebrate New Year’s since the Chinese student population base is pretty small (we usually just cook dinner together in a basement with a kitchen) and I really miss all of my friends as of now, but it definitely feels more “authentic” when everybody around us is celebrating it (even my Irish friends were like Happy Lunar New Year!). Even though my urges to celebrate Chinese New Year has kind of dimmed since I haven’t been celebrating it back home for so long, this definitely brought back good memories.

Chinese New Year Wall! Photo creds to Chinese Students & Scholar Association.
Set-up of Chinese New Year activities in Astra Hall: Look at the gift bags and the food! Photo creds to my friend Di.

The Confucius institute of Ireland hosted a similar Spring Gala show on Friday. They hired a group from Zhengzhou, China to perform a wild range of arts from music, dances and even Kungfu! I don’t think I have seen Kungfu performed live ever before, so that was definitely really cool to see what those people coming from Shaolin Temple are capable of doing. It was really impressive how the two hosts were so fluently and naturally changing back and forth in Chinese and English as well.

Spring Festival Gala Ireland
People were dressed up in the lion dance costume
The Dublin night sky that day was particularly pretty as well.

My friends and I kept the weekend pretty low-key celebration wise. We had a little get-together night for Chinese New Year Eve and ordered a ton of food, and then visited a bunch of museums for free on Saturday, and did a hot pot dinner later that night (it was definitely not as hard as I expected it to be!) that turned out to be delicious.

Part of our dinner for New Year’s Eve. Big shoutout to the people serving UCD students with this excellent takeout service!
Homemade hotpot. Set up and the cookery might be a bit complicated, but definitely was worth it and a lot cheaper than going to the 19 euro all-you-can-eat (not that that’s a bad deal though!)

I learned that there is a concert by Galantis on around Friday or so, but didn’t make up my mind to go until later on Sunday when there was only seats from the upper area left. But the impromptu adventure turned out to be great – I ended up going with two UCD students who are also studying abroad here, meeting two Spanish girls (one of them is doing an exchange semester in Trinity. I also tried to practice my rusty Spanish just a little bit but failed to understand all of the questions that they are asking – apologizing to my two poor Spanish professors) and having a great time! I wasn’t super familiar with their music, but it felt great to dance along. Their openers Pat Lok and DJ CID gave great performances as well. You really didn’t have to know their music in order to enjoy (and I didn’t know a ton of their music!).

Galantis with their Irish flag! (They also held out a #seafoxnation flag and a Dublin flag)

“Dublin friends.. you really think I will let you go that easily? … Would you RUNAWAY with me?”.. It was truly great even despite the run to the 145 bus immediately after the concert.

During the week, I received an email from Meghan working in Holy Cross communcations about filming a video for Holy Cross admissions aiming for accepted students. This definitely came at a great timing since I have came to realize a lot about what I appreciate about Holy Cross since my time away, and has been a bit homesick! I ended up filming the video in front of Malahide castle, where we visited on Saturday. Parts of Malahide castle was preserved from the 12th century, so it was definitely really cool to see the remnants. We didn’t end up spending the couple euros of entry fee but we took a pretty nice tour outside of the castle and around the gardens. The funny thing is that a really famous actor in China, Daniel Wu (吴彦祖) is filming the TV series “Into the Badlands” in Ireland, and a couple days ago he took a photo with his daughter at the exact gate next to Malahide castle (My friend even claimed that she ran into him in person!).

Photo of Daniel Wu with his daughter
Photo of Karen’s decent-ish attempt to walk like Daniel Wu and adding filters and all that. Photo creds to Mason
Pretending that we are the owners of the castle. Mason has become the default human selfie stick for the group now.

Later that day, we went around the Malahide beach a bit. It was a sunny day so the view was super pretty, but it was also freezing! We have been getting emails about weather warnings just because the temperature might get lower than 30 degrees Farenheit for a couple of days, and there is going to be snow and hail. A bunch of my friends who goes to school in more Southern regions relatively expressed a range of emotions from concern to excitement of seeing snow, but I guess Holy Cross has trained me well with the snow days happening only when you get six inches of snow and when it’s 15 degrees Farenheit out.

Malahide coastal walk view

Anyways, that sums up the second half of Feburary! It is crazy to think that we are doing things for Class of 2022, and it is only half a month away from them knowing if they are accepted to college or not. On another note though, I am definitely looking forward to my future adventures in and out of Ireland, but…just after I’m done with the papers and midterms! Next week is going to be a bit of a whirlwind, so I’ll probably blog again after Spring Break. See you then 🙂

HC Outing, The Script, Phoenix Park and Dun Laoghaire

Happy Valentine’s Day, everyone! Love is in the air… (or is it? We shall find out). Despite all that, It’s really hard to believe that it has been a month already since my arrival to Ireland! Studying abroad is definitely an experience beyond amazing and exciting for me so far. Besides a change in pedagogy and getting lost (yet again for another not once, but twice on Friday), it has just been so refreshing to be away from campus for a while and see things from a new perspective. My classes have been going well, and work is definitely starting to pile up, but it is also a fun time when trying to find study groups and get to know new people through this process!

I do miss HC from time to time though, and an outing with Holy Cross students studying in Dublin came just in time on Thursday for a good reminisce (Kudos to Fiona for organizing every outing!). We all headed to Pho Viet for dinner, and then went to see a play called “Look Back in Anger”.  Although I check campus Emails pretty regularly, it feels very nice to be updated and discuss things going on with those peeps!

With HC Students studying abroad in UCD!

There has definitely been some very cool things going on in UCD, and one of the activities from the societies that I have joined is a Q&A session with the band The Script organized by the Law Society. I have listened to music sang by the Script since high school, and their songs really served to help me with a difficult time of transition. They also had a lot of inspirational words to say about making a career out of music (which is something that I personally considers and struggle with), and they were just really humble and humorous too! It was a great time, and the line for the session was also insane (it filled up half of a lecture hall).

The Script in Q&A Session by Law Soc

As for the weekend, a couple of friends of mine decided to head to phoenix park on Saturday. That was really well needed after a long winded week of internship deadlines and all the work that I had. There are several attractions in Phoenix Park including Papal Cross, a deer Sanctuary, the Dublin Zoo and the Wellington Monument. Due to our time constraint and just how huge the park itself is (it’s one of the largest recreational spaces in Europe), we only got to visit Papal’s Cross and the deer Sancturary, and we passed through the US Ambassador’s Residence, and I already walked 18,000 steps that day!

The Cross, the cross, always the cross!
Deer sanctuary in Phoenix Park
Conversing with a deer here…
Picnic in Phoenix Park w/ my friends, some of them were also a part of the Glendalough trip! Kudos to Mason for being the human selfie stick.

We ended up having hotpot on the “Asian street” (Parnell Street – really close to the O’Connell Street area, and has great Vietnamese and Chinese food. They also have Indian, Japanese and Korean but I haven’t tried that yet) in Dublin after this long-winded day. On Sunday, three of us also planned a last minute, impromptu trip to Dun Laoghaire (pronounced Dun Leery and I had no idea till we planned the visit!). It was a very sunny day so the pictures are all gorgeous but it was also freezing (it was probably around 35 degrees, and with 20mph wind there that day). But then this happened…

Teddy’s Ice Cream – 99 reasons to smile! Well.. why not 🙂
And we wanted to smile!
Despite the wind was literally like that..
That view though!

And that would be a wrap for last week! For this week that is already well underway (#rip that I didn’t get to finish this on Monday or Tuesday), we have Chinese New Year coming up, and I am planning to see the Spring Gala in Dublin (which should be similar to the Gala that they do throughout China). There is going to be a lot of great food too. I am definitely still hoping to go to a hurling game as it didn’t happen last week. The actor Patrick J. Adams is also visiting UCD (and I am on season 4 for watching Suits, which is a show that he stars in) on this Thursday so that is something that I look forward to as well. Alright, getting back to coding!

Freshers Day, Settling In, and Limerick

I am definitely slowly sinking in to the daily differences that’s slowly becoming like familiarities in UCD. ife has been more exciting than ever though, and looking at the calender I realize that I have just a little bit left more than three months left in the semester – “Jaysus”!

This past week, UCD organized Freshers Day (which is similar to the co-corricular extravaganza at Holy Cross in mid-September), which gives the new coming student plenty of chances to see what UCD offers in terms of socities and clubs. I ended up splashing 20 euros or so (because joining each club costs 2 euros and it is a typical Karen thing to do to overcommit) and ended up joining the Musical, Drama, Spanish, Jazz, International Student and Law Socities and CSSA(Chinese Students and Scholars Association). The societies do present an impressive amount of activities though, including various debates to a vocal group to discussions with the Script and with the author for 13 reasons why, and I feel like I will at least try to go to 2-3 kinds of activities every week or so.

A picture of all the membership cards from all the societies that I joined during Freshers Day!

Classes wise, it has definitely started to feel more “real” since the last weeks. I am starting my tutorials/practicals (which are like TA hours and labs) this week, the reflection journals that I am writing after each music class is being graded now, I am reading a play for each theater class, etc. I also was working on applying to continue working for Gateways Orientation and a whole bunch of internship applications, and I’m also looking into my options for summer research (and refining my work from last summer). I also try to practice piano for at least two hours a day – Phew! It is definitely a lot of work, but fun work too.

For those of you reading after 10pm who doesn’t wanna shove down a midnight snack, skip this part because there are gonna be a lot of delicious pictures! For those of you who don’t know, I am obsessed with literally all kinds of food (and takes a lot of pictures of them!). Aside from the daily grinds of being a student, it was very fun to be tagged along to an impromptu trip to Limerick. On Thursday night, I was getting dinner with Charlotte (mentioned in the last blog) when I was asking her if she had anything planned for the weekend and she mentioned her plans for Limerick or Cork, and she invited me to tag along – it just so happened that all my classes on Fridays are tutorials and none of them had started last Friday. I have never really researched into either Limerick or Cork before – but all the more reasons to head on the trip!

When deciding between Limerick and Cork, it looked like Cork was raining for a more substantial amount of time – Limerick it was then! We booked an airbnb when we met up first thing next morning, and took the next bus to Limerick. The ride was about three hours – wasn’t too bad for crossing half of the country!

St. John’s Cathedral in Limerick, close to where Charlotte and I stayed. Still can’t seem to find a proper way to take pictures of large tall architecture..

Limerick is a very charming smaller town, and Charlotte got her inspiration for visiting from one of her favorite authors Frank McCourt. There was plenty to see over there, including several museums such as the Hunt Museum and the Limerick Gallery of Art, King John’s Castle, Adare Castle, etc. When we got there, we didn’t really had any plans in terms of what we are doing for the night, so we just went for a venue with free Irish live music, which turned out to be The Still House for us. When the two of us sat down and we both showed signs of our not-Irish-accents, we were approached by some Irish men asking if 9-11 was a government conspiracy (quite the interesting atmosphere); on the one hand it was very nice to have friendly people around (and that they don’t feel there are any strangers to themselves but the tourists), but it was also borderline scary for a bit. We then headed to the Glen Tavern because there wasn’t any food in The Still House, and there the famished two found the place to be.

Traditional Irish Lamb Stew at the Glen Tavern with Ruby Irish Red Ale. Charlotte is pescatarian and she got fish and chips. Yum!
Lots of Guinness ads

The next morning, Limerick has its Milk Market, which is like an a lot larger and diverse farmer’s market compared to the farmer’s market around Birchtree’s Bakery. They sell everything from everyday groceries to flowers, clothes, vinyl records. Ohh, and they make a good French raclette too.

Look at that cheese drizzling down to the raclette. Yummmm.
The Site for the Milk Market (in and out of the boundaries).
Milk Market Symbol
Irish kids playing “Let her go” in the Milk Market
Cheese selection

After the visit to the Milk Market and picking up an issue of NatGeo from 1975(Which is not that much younger than my parents’ generation!), we headed to the Hunt Museum, which holds a number of personal collection from the family of the Hunt Family along with some temporary exhibitions and college student work. Later, we also went to King John’s Castle (but only after it was closed since we spent a significant amount of the day in the Hunt Museum).

King John’s Castle in the sunset; picture taken from the other side of River Shannon
Pretense of Cliffs of Moher realness here?

Because of the short nature of our weekends, we headed back to Dublin later on Saturday. We definitely didn’t see all that we wanted to see during the weekend, but we already have plans to getting back over to the West Coast (travelling isn’t hard at all – 3 hours and you are on the other half of the country!).

A note to the Airbnb host, Claire, who treated Charlotte and I like her two granddaughters and provided us with all her warm water, tea, bread and love!

And that’s a wrap for my journey in Ireland for last week! For this coming week, a bunch of Holy Cross students in Dublin are going to get dinner together and I am super psyched to get to know all the HC people that I haven’t got a chance to know! I am also planning to see a hurling game this Saturday with my friend Mark (also mentioned in the last blog) as a possibility. Stay tuned!

Into the woods, it’s time to go, and so I must begin my journey…

… And who can tell, what’s on the journey?

Okay, to be frank and honest (great coffee/hot chocolate brand too)… I got lost here a lot. On my way to my classes, to my piano lessons, to the bus station, not once, not twice, but…I will save myself from the trouble of counting.

Aside from getting lost, I would say my study abroad experience is really great so far, but also in an overwhelming way (with the weather, impending internship deadlines, and most of all, how big the school is and how that sorta changes everything)! That comes into play in academics (when my smallest class has around 20-30 people and my biggest class probably has 200+) pretty significantly, and is definitely something that I am not quite used to since the biggest class that I have ever taken is around 50 people, max. But this also makes whoever I end up hanging out and becoming friends with all the more valuable and interesting!

In terms of classes, I have always wanted to do a lot more classes outside of my major. Sadly, because of the restraints of being a double major and starting the Computer Science major late (and also I want to take as much electives as I can in the major), I don’t get a lot of chances to take non-major classes. Fortunately, we are allowed to take 6 classes here in UCD (because every 3 classes meets for the same amount of time every week as every 2 classes in Holy Cross does).

And this semester, I have eventually decided that I will take three Computer Science classes (Operating Systems, Graphics and Ethics), a class about Post-Truth, Politics and Music, Statistics, and also a class about contemporary Irish theater. All of those classes turned out to have really fun contents, but my favorites so far are probably the Ethics and Music classes, because, somehow, they utilizes philosophy that would be otherwise be a lot more “inaccessible” by relating deeper concepts to things that I am familiar with through social phenomenon and knowledge that I learned about another expertise.

I have also started piano lessons in the Royal Irish Academy of Music (located next to Trinity College), and the first lesson went really well, but I am also very much challenged by another level of expectation. I am very excited to learn another piano sonata from Beethoven, while also continuing my work on Mozart and Chopin from last semester (some attempt here to get a senior recital repertoire together).

Despite the constantly gloomy weather there are a couple of highlights in the weather here. On, I am also trying to pick up photography as a hobby again (because of better pictures for this blog, and… just, why not? I am not sure about why I lost it in the first place).

Double Rainbow on second day of classes!
Sunset by Merville Residences

Other than classes, one of the highlights of this week is a trip to Glendalough. The view was absolutely gorgeous despite the rain and the wind (which almost blew my hat off), and it was definitely intriguing to look at what is left from thousands of years ago (in terms of the monastery and the gradual changes in the tombstones that they have in that big field of graveyard…)

In Glendalough with my friend Charlotte from Baylor University!
Glendalough continued
With a group of friends (Oliver, Mason, Peiwen and Weijing) coming from Chinese Universities (Fudan, Nankai and Zhongnan Universities) and Charlotte taking an accordingly 5-staged-auto-beautifying-photoshopped selfie inside of what used to be the Priest’s House (Also, the people in the back!)

After the trip, ESN (Erasmus Student Network, who is responsible for organizing the trip to Glendalough) also lead a group of people to the River Bar in Dublin, where a salsa class was held that night. Personally, I am not much of a dancer, but I had a ton of fun posing my horrible dance moves, watching people learning salsa dancing and pretending that I speak fluent Spanish (with an international student from Chile who is in the same Drama class as me)!

When you attempt to take a selfie in the dark and puts the flash on but still can’t capture everything… My whole face was in this picture because I was shorter than my friends Jake, Mark and Charlotte 🙂

Overall, still in shock that I have been here for two weeks, but still moving. Going to bed!

First Week!

Themes: Green, green, green everywhere; walking for 15,000 steps each day; Apologizing for the quality of pictures (but y’all get the gist) – next time, I will try to bring my camera; beautiful, beautiful places; birds everywhere; bagpipe; radical weather changes (I am used to carrying my winter hat, scarf, gloves, and an umbrella to wherever I go now).

Ireland is even “greener” than I imagined it would be, and we spent around this past week getting acquainted to the campus and to the city. The campus is rather huge compared to Holy Cross, but it is compacted in a way that I could get to everywhere in around 20 minutes. In a way, I could get my step counts every day when walking back and forth to my computer science and piano practices!

I was one of the lucky ones to get on-campus housing this semester instead of commuting from the city centre to UCD every day. Our room happened to be very international and fun – one of my roommates is from St. Louis in the US, one is from Cologne, Germany, and one is from Sydney, Australia. The rooms are kind of like what you get with Figge and Williams – four students share a common area (of couches and stuff) and a kitchen, two bathrooms, and each of us got our own bedroom. It is located on one side of campus, which means that if I need to go to the sports centre on the other side of campus I would need to walk for around 20 minutes (which is quite a workout itself in the wind and the rain). It is very nice that we do have “centra”, which is a mini grocery store, right next to Merville, and the bus terminal for the bus going into the city centre is very close to Merville as well.

Merville Residences, where I will be callling “home” for the next four months!

Another thing that Ireland struck me is that there are a lot of birds around this area! There are seagulls, pigeons, ducks and swans inhabiting the three lakes in UCD (yes, there are three lakes on this campus).

The Upper Lake in UCD
A swan in the Upper Lake of UCD (or is it a goose? I can’t tell)

In terms of visiting Dublin city, UCD Orientation has organized a little walking tour for us. It was rainy and windy (typical), but two of the highlights were visiting “The Little Museum of Dublin”, which collection is funded by public donation, and the National History Museum. I was practically given a crash course of 20th century Dublin history during the tour in the Little Museum of Dublin (which, was quite sad, but also fascinating!). Besides from artifacts from the more historic side of Dublin City, they also had a little collection of U2, and a current collection of fashion radicals of Dublin, etc. It was free to visit the National History Museum, and there were a great exhibition of different animal specimens (which was quite interesting to me as I have taken biology for a year), but it was a shame that I was not allowed to take pictures over there.

U2 exhibition in Little Museum of Dublin
Wall of fame
Around the Temple Bar area at 6PM on a Sunday
Walking tour with fellow UCD students

Classes just started today as well, and it has been a little bit crazy to witness the big “theater” lecture halls here. I have not taken a class that has more than 50 people (and that’s Intro Biology that I was talking about) in Holy Cross, but I am definitely adjusting strategies with bigger lectures, and trying to actively engage with professors despite that I am in a huge lecture hall.

Lecture in UCD; I am positioned in the back 1/3 of the lecture hall

That is probably enough said about the week! I definitely feel that it is weird that I am not at Holy Cross, and there has been a lot of differences between HC and UCD (good differences!), but it is definitely so worth it! Now, I will get to cooking dinner (we did not come with a meal plan, so I am hoping that I don’t live off from sandwiches and my cooking will get to improve!), and more about UCD soon!

It’s Happening!

I was beyond excited to finally lay eyes on my Irish visa the day that I was leaving the United States after fall semester was over. It was a whole process – submitting my application in a panic when I finally got my acceptance letter, worrying about how it would not be ready in 8 weeks – or 12 weeks – as I leave the United States for home for a month (would it still not be ready on the day of my flight? Because that would be disastrous); the materials not getting into the Consulate because I missed out on an apartment number and forgot to put “Irish Consulate of Boston” – again because I was panicking – then realizing that I did not have a score from an English proficiency Exam that they ask for and having no guarantee if the visa will be approved, if they will take an affidavit letter and a transcript from Holy Cross because I ran out of time to submit the score for the exam – and finally submitting all the materials and having no idea that now, the time that I have is down to 6 weeks, if the visa will be ready.

Some kind of miracle happened with their processing speed of the visa though – probably thanking to study abroad over at HC and UCD helping me out – and it was ready in 2 weeks! The whole visa situation, did took a toll on me, since it wasn’t particularly easy going through this whole process during a semester that was both socially and academically challenging for me. After being sure that I secured my GPA above what is needed for studying abroad and the visa approval, I finally was able, and daring enough, to feel excitement and all the other emotions. Until then, study abroad didn’t feel like something that is happening, something that is new and exciting with my life.

But I am so happy it is happening. It was incredibly hard to say bye to all my friends at Holy Cross, the ones that I just had the opportunity to meet, the ones I’m getting to know better, the seniors and everybody else. But then, I was able to view my roommates on SISweb, the STAR for UCD, and was also able to contact the Royal Irish Conservatory for piano lessons! I don’t know if my roommates will be exactly the kind of people whom you stay up with and chat with all night, and I’m not sure what kind of personality and expectations will my piano teacher have – In fact, I am not sure all the things that are happening – what if it is like another whole culture shock? Will I adjust like how I adjusted to HC or would be just be a whole new experience? There are so many other little bittersweet emotions and I won’t bore you with the gory little details!

But anyways, I’m looking forward to the departure, on January 14th, from Shenzhen (located next to Hongkong), China, having a transit in Frankfurt, Germany, then to Dublin, Ireland. My name is Karen Xu and I’m studying abroad in University College Dublin in Dublin. Welcome to my blog, and I can’t wait to share lots of stories (tears or laughter, or other things) with you!