Rainbows in Limavady

As we get further in December, it’s been raining more here, but the temperature has stayed pretty consistent, around 50 or so. However, when I saw sunshine approaching on the weather forecast I knew I had to squeeze in one more outdoor excursion.

Some friends and I headed to Limavady, to walk in Roe Park. It was a beautiful nature trail along the Roe River, and the day was perfect with blue skies. I was also glad for some time with the friends I’ve made here, as people are starting to head home after classes end. I’ll miss the people I’ve met here most of all, as I think people are what make any experience worthwhile.

Limavady itself was a cute little town, all decorated for Christmas. Another thing I will miss about Ireland is all the cute small businesses, from the little shops to the unique cafes. After we walked in the park, we stopped in town to grab a tea and a pastry before making our way back home to Coleraine.Limavady 2 Limavady 3 Limavady 4 Limavady 5 Limavady

And a Happy New Year!

Merry Christmas from Belfast!Belfast Christmas market Belfast City Hall Christmas lights in Belfast Christmas tree

The Christmas markets are open all over Europe, so I had to take a train trip down to Belfast to experience it for myself. It was just as beautiful as I expected, with lots of stands selling homemade wares and of course it was all lit up for Christmas! I did lots of eating, as everything smelled too amazing not to try. My favorite was a baked apple from a German stand, with cinnamon and butter. I also had a hot cider, as it was pretty chilly, although nothing like the snow on the ground back home.

Even City Hall got into the spirit with tons of decorations in an already beautiful building. I loved the giant Christmas tree right in the main entrance. If I wasn’t in a festive mood before, I sure am now!

And most of all, I am so glad I got to share this experience with my brother. My Christmas present from my parents was sending my younger brother Jeremy out for a week-long visit. I loved showing him where I’ve been living these past couple of months, and sharing these memories with him. Best of all, I know I’ll be seeing him again very soon for Christmas Day.

The Lion, the Witch, and Jon Snow

This weekend I had the literary adventure of a lifetime hiking the Mourne Mountains, reaching the top of Slieve Donner, the highest peak in Northern Ireland.  I’m not much of a hiker, so I expect I will be spending this entire next week recovering from this experience, but despite the pain in my calves and my knees, I can say without a doubt, this was worth it.

The Mourne Mountains are famed for having inspired C.S. Lewis to write his depiction of Narnia, and I can definitely see how he could have been so inspired. There is something so ancient feeling and magical about these mountains, it feels as if a giant could be around the next rocky corner.

Near the Mourne Mountains is Tollymore Forest Park, with a beautiful hiking trail along the River Lagan. This is also the filming location for woods scenes of Winterfell in Game of Thrones, so I was especially excited to see some spots of memorable scenes. It was an incredibly perfect time to visit, as the leaves were turning and the weather was cool, and I think this little adventure will be one I remember for the rest of my life.

Mourne Mountains

Mourne Mountains

Tollymore Forest Park

Tollymore Forest Park

Oh… You mean I have to go to class?

Classes have started here, which is an interesting change. At first, it seemed as though this was just the vacation of a lifetime, but sitting in the classroom reminded me of why I came here in the first place. The classes I’m taking are Adaptation and Historical Fiction, Modernist Literature, and Writing and Publishing. If you’re a nerd like me, this sounds very, very exciting.

I have to say, even though I have been through the routine of starting a new semester eight times now (Oh that makes me feel old), I was pretty nervous for the first day of classes here. I had no idea what to expect.

Part of me thought when I came to class, the rest of my Irish classmates would think it was super interesting that I was American. I thought they would be thrilled by my accent, and ask me lots of questions about the grand ole U.S. of A. And then, I would politely turn the attention back to the teacher. This was not the case. In fact, no one even mentioned my American-ness, if they noticed at all. My first foray as a lone international student in a sea of native Irish was actually extremely normal; to the point where it verged on… boring. It was just a normal syllabus week.

The major difference that I can see is the work expected outside of class. My classes meet once a week, and the rest of the week, the students are expected to read, write, and explore their subjects on their own time. This self-direction is nice in a lot of ways, but also potentially makes it easier to not keep up with my studies.

This was also the first time I have only taken 3 classes in a semester, which gives me a lot of downtime, and lots of time to focus on being a student, without a job or any extracurricular activities. Beyond, you know, exploring Ireland.

50 shades of green

Even the sidewalks are green

Campus 3

Northwest has stiff competition for ‘Prettiest Campus’.

Talking Politics in Portstewart

The view from my backyard here at University of Ulster

The view from my backyard at University of Ulster

This Friday concludes my first week as an exchange student in Northern Ireland. Reflecting on the week, I already feel as if I have experienced so much, as if I have been here for much longer than just one week. Today is also the first day that jet lag finally caught up to me and I slept until late in the afternoon, completely exhausted from all the new things.

I think the most unexpected aspect of my time here so far has been the other international students sharing this experience with me. Not only am I being exposed to Irish culture for the first time, but the home cultures of students from all across the globe. My housemates include three girls from Spain, one girl from France, and one other American girl.

The wonderful diversity of perspectives was more apparent than ever as I spent last night in an Irish pub, a live band performing “Galway Girl” in the background, as I talked politics with two guys from Malta and three Spanish girls. We touched on topics ranging from gun control, religion, health care, and feminism, and I felt wonder struck by the discourse unlike any I’ve experienced in my life.

I am learning that my study abroad experience, just as in my life, the people are what matter most. I feel incredibly fortunate to have met so many wonderful, warm, lovely people here.