Adventures in Ireland

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Nothin’ Like a Galway Girl

Yesterday was our very last school visit in this beautiful country of Ireland, and it was a great way to end our school experience. This one was Maeve’s school in the town of Dunmore in County Galway. It also happens to be where our very own Patrick Burke completed his student teaching, so this time, he accompanied us as well (and gave the kids permission of make fun of our accents).

Maeve, who I’m sure you already assumed is yet another former FSU GA, organized a stunning welcome for us, involving all of the students in classes 1-6. They sang songs and played tin whistles and fiddles and even showed us a traditional Irish dance. It was just phenomenal. One of the songs they sang was called “Galway Girl,” hence the title of this post. It was so catchy that I’m seriously considering downloading it on iTunes. The kids also sang “The Climb” for us and some of us cried, it was so lovely. What a welcome!

Afterward, we split into classrooms and I went to Junior Infants. Like I told the others on this trip, everyone has a niche. Junior infants is not mine. Not even close. But it was the only thing I had yet to see, so I’m glad I did it, even if it did solidify the fact that I never, ever, ever want to teach pre- K or kindergarten. In the infamous words of Taylor Swift, “Like, ever.”

After a short visit to the classrooms, Patrick took us all to his house for lunch. He and his family were amazingly hospitable. I still can’t get over how we’ve been treated to giant meals and multiple desserts and cups of tea and scones everywhere we’ve gone. It’s been truly amazing. American hospitality has nothing on the Irish! Thank you, Patrick and family!

After lunch, we toured Galway City, which I have to say is probably my favorite city that we’ve been to. It’s just the perfect size and not too crazy. Really, it was much more my pace than Dublin. It was really enjoyable.

And today, we got to sleep until 9! I’ve never been more excited to set an alarm for 9:00 in my life! At 10, we headed to the adorable little town of Adare, which was actually quite a bit like Frostburg – not too terribly much to do, but a cute, quiet little place.

And tonight is our very last night in Ireland. Dr. O, Dr. B, and Steve are treating, not only all of us students, but also all of the former Irish grad assistants to dinner, which we all really appreciate. I’m very excited to get to know everyone a bit more personally and to spend this last bit of time together. It’s really bittersweet. I feel like I’m ready to go home, but I’m not quite ready to leave, if that makes sense. I know this has been an experience that has changed me as a teacher and as a person and I am so appreciative of it. Sending so much love to everyone who got me here!

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Who knew one could learn so much about butter?

Yesterday, we had the privilege of joining yet another former grad assistant, Mairead, at her school, St. Mary’s Senior School. Elle and I were in a special needs classroom with 5 children who had a range of disabilities from Down syndrome to Autism Spectrum Disorder. From what I saw in my short time there, it was very, very similar to a special needs room in America. There was a teacher and a full time aid, which is typical in an American special needs classroom. Also, much of the work they did was similar as well. There were a lot of matching games and sentence makers, where words would stick to a Velcro mat to form sentences to make it easier for the students to communicate. They also had an iPad for each student, which is again typical for children with special needs.

The thing that most surprised me, however, was the lack of time the children get with specialized therapists – speech therapists, physical therapists, and occupational therapists. In America, children would see these people about one per week, depending on what is stated in their Individualized Education Plan (IEP). Here, because budget cuts have gotten so extensive, these children may see these professionals 4 to 5 times per school year. That’s crazy to me! They are able to get away with doing this because they train the teacher and aid to do the program with the children, so they still meet the requirements of the IEP. As If these people don’t have enough to deal with! And it’s not that the therapists don’t want to work with these children, it’s just that they have 100-120 children on their case load. That’s probably at least 3 times the number of kids that each therapist would work with in America. This is the first thing that I’ve heard in Ireland that I feel isn’t on par or above the US education system. I wish there was a way to fix it, but it always comes back to the budget, doesn’t it?

After our visit to Mairead’s school, she was nice enough to treat us to lunch at the Central Perk Cafe, which YES, was indeed inspired my my favorite TV show, Friends. So that was very cool and the food was great! Cole slaw here is so much better than at home. For dinner that night, we headed to Aisling’s, where she and her parents had prepared a feast! It was really incredibly nice of of them and we had a wonderful time chatting and learning traditional Irish songs, since Aisling’s whole family is very musically talented. Her brother is studying to be a concert pianist for crying out loud. =)

I have to say thank you so much to Aisling and her family for having us. It is truly one of the best times I’ve had in Ireland. And also, I need to thank Aisling for planning our packed itinerary in Cork. Today, she even took the day off to accompany us to the Cork City Gaol (Jail) and the Butter Museum.

The jail was incredibly creepy and we heard that they give Halloween tours at night, which I don’t think I’d be able to handle if I’m being honest. And the butter museum was interesting as well. We learned about how butter became one of Ireland’s major exports. (See the title of this blog post)

Though our stay in Cork was fun and the hostel was certainly an experience, I must say it’s so good to be back at Courtbrack where I have my own room and the shower is endlessly hot. And stays on for as long as I want.

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Irish and English and French, oh my!

Today we had the pleasure of visiting 2 schools near Cork. The first was the school where Sinead, yesterday’s gracious host, teaches. Once again, we were welcomed with a lovely reception of tea and scones. Thank you again, Sinead! You really out did yourself!

At Sinead’s school, I was in a 4th class room with Elle, and this was the first real opportunity I had to teach to kids. I read “Bully” by Patricia Polacco, and let me just say, I’ve never had such a captive audience! The children were just silent the whole time. And afterward, we had a very intelligent discussion about what bullying means and what they would do in the character’s shoes. Then, I had them walk around the room and write one compliment or positive adjective on a paper for each of their classmates. I found it interesting how efficient they were because that’s a task during which they could have been easily distracted.

This activity, though, was absolutely perfect, as this class had been working on a bullying unit for the past two weeks. We had the absolute privilege of seeing a reader’s theatre that they had been working on that dealt with the same themes as the book. It really is an issue that is universal and happens all over the world. That was evident through the discussion we got to have with these students and their teacher. You can be across an ocean, but hurt feelings don’t go away.

After the bullying lesson, we played a game called Buzz. They taught us how to play using math facts and we taught them how to play using spelling words. It was just brilliant! Also, I’m bringing that expression back to the States, along with How lovely! And half-eleven (or 9 or 3 or whatever time it’s half past).

After we left Sinead, we headed over to Aisling’s school (she is the most recent Irish grad assistant besides Patrick). There, Elle, Courtney, and I visited 5th class. These kids were brilliant. And not in the Irish sense where everything is brilliant, but actually really smart. They not only spoke Irish all of the time in class (as does all of Aisling’s school) they are also learning French and their native language is, of course, English. It was very impressive. In addition, they were working on a project which they were going to send to a school competition. For the project, they studied the Potato Famine and the history of Irish workhouses. They all looked up different aspects of this online and put the compiled work into a book. They also got to go to a hospital and speak to a woman whose great aunt worked in a workhouse. Some kids even took the initiative to build a model of one!

Personally, I think the reason these kids were so successful is because their teacher gives them autonomy. She told us that the curriculum is very broad, so instead of narrowing it on her own or by her resources, she gives the students time to look up different aspects of a topic and choose what they would like to learn more about. It takes a bit more time than making this decision yourself, but the results are certainly worth it!

After school, we went to the Jameson distillery, where I became a certified whiskey taster. No, really! I have paper work and pictures to prove it.

Then we went to the Titanic Exoerience, which was very chilling. We sat in a lifeboat and watched a screen showing what it would be like to be in one for real. We also got a ticket with a name of and actual passenger and at the end, we got to see their fate. I died, but I was the only third class passenger to be brought to shore for burial. So that’s something.

Honestly, the coolest part of that whole experience was that it took place in The old White Star building where the last 123 passengers boarded the ship in Queenstown. We got to see the actually dock where they would have boarded ferries to take them to where the ship was anchored. We saw and old picture of passengers waiting to board while actually standing where they stood. You just can’t do that anywhere else in the world!

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I’ve got the gift!

The Gift of the Gab, that is! That’s right, people. We went to the Blarney Stone today!! The hike up to the top of the castle was horrendous, but worth it seeing as kissing the Blarney Stone has been near to the top of my bucket list since I was, like, 10 and my grandfather did it. Cross that one off!

Before we got to Blarney, though, we had the pleasure of visiting Mitchelstown Caves, which are some of the largest in Europe, extending 200 feet underground and 3 kilometers (whatever that is in miles) deep. That hike was a bit treacherous as well, but I’m glad I did it. Our tour guide was really great and knew a ton. She told us about how the Cork Opera House holds a concert in the caves every summer because the acoustics are so lovely. IN the caves. How cool would that be?

After Blarney, we had lunch at Sinead’s (another former Irish GA) mom’s house. They were so, so welcoming and we really enjoyed ourselves! It was a much needed break from all the hustle and bustle and it was so nice to have a home cooked meal! And it’s not an easy undertaking to invite 15 people for lunch. So thank you to Sinead and Kay!!

Now, we’ve checked into Brù Hostel for three nights. Hostel living is… Interesting. But I think it’s something that I’m glad I’ve gotten to do while I’m still young enough to do it, you know what I mean? At least, I feel that way now. I haven’t actually slept here yet. =)

I have, however, showered. That was an experience in and of itself. The water comes on by push button. And goes off after one minute. No, really. Honest.

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Is this Heaven?

I’m not going to write too much today because I have my phone back and therefore I have pictures! I’ll just say that the Trinity College Library Long Room is what Heaven will look like for me. I am sure of this.

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See what I mean? Also, Trinity College is home to one of the oldest books in the world, The Book of Kells. So that was really cool to see. The detail that was put into it was incredible!

Needless to say, the library was my favorite part of the day. But it was far from the only part. Sit back, relax, and enjoy Dublin.

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A Double Rainbow Day

Let me start this post by saying that I seem to have left my phone on a bus, so I currently have no pictures. =( =( =( Fingers crossed that I will get it back tomorrow, as we are on the same bus tomorrow that we were on today. Okay, so on with it…#

Yesterday was our last day in St. Conaire’s. I had missed a day due to being super sick on Wednesday, but I’m so glad that I was able to get back for Thursday’s activities because they were great! We started the day out in classrooms as usual. I was in fifth class with Mr. O’Brien and I was astounded at the pace that they kept! It was one thing after another, but the kids didn’t seem overwhelmed or annoyed at all. They were genuinely engaged all morning. After our break at 11 for tea and scones (again, why do we not do that in America?!), the fifth and sixth classes performed their Chirstmas production of Oliver for us. They. Were. Incredible. These kids were so talented and you could tell how much work they put into the production. We were delighted that we got to see it!

Afterward, we had lunch and then a question and answer session with the Learning Support specialists, which are the equivalent of our special education teachers. It was really enlightening to see how inclusive Irish schools are toward special needs children. The most prevalent learning disability in Ireland in Down Syndrome, followed by Autism Specturm. In this particular school, though, Autism was the biggest group. Children with special needs are pulled out of the classroom by a learning support teacher, but not for more than an hour per day, which still allows them time to socialize with their peers. I found that to be a better system than the full inclusion that many are pushing for in America, but also more inclusive than the mainstreaming that you often find in American schools. It was a great balance of allowing time for these kids to be regular kids while also giving them the support they need. It seemed to work very well for them.

I have noticed this inclusiveness throughout the whole country. For example, while I was out sick, I got the chance to watch some television and saw that certain news programs are signed by a translator in addition to being spoken. I alos noticed that the information for my cold medicine is written on the box in Braille. So it seems that more groups are accomodated here than they are at home. The only case where this is not true is in the case of physical impairments which would cause someone to be in a wheelchair. Because a lot of the buildings are very old, there is very little wheel chair access. So that’s an area of need here.

At the end of our school day yesterday, we walked outside to see the most gorgeous double rainbow any of us had ever seen. It was so much more vibrant than the ones you would see at home. It was actually also the first double rainbow that I had ever seen. If you haven’t seen one, google it! The second rainbow’s colors are inverted. It’s so cool. What a perfect way to end our school day.

We went straight from St. Conaire’s to Bunratty Castle, which was gorgeous. The stairways, though, were very VERY narrow. Like, almost terrifyingly narrow. But the climbs were worth it to see the rooms in this castle. One of the rooms was like a Great Hall were they would have held feasts and we had the chance to sit in a throne. It felt like Hogwarts. I would post my pictures if my phone wasn’t on a bus. I’m not dwelling on it. Sorry.

Anyway, we did some shopping near bunratty and then went back to Courtbrack to change our clothes and eat dinner. After another dinner at Scott’s Bar (I had missed it the past 2 nights because I was sick), we headed back toward Bunratty. I know that seems redndant, but we had a good reason to go back. St. Conaire’s principal (and former Children’s Literature Centre GA) Peter Walsh, hosted a gathering for us and all of his staff at the oldest functioning pub in Ireland, Durty Nelly’s. It was brilliant, as the Irish would say. We listened to traditional Irish music and talked about Grey’s Anatomy with some of the teachers we had worked with all week (they’re a season behind here!), and then we sang songs and laughed until half eleven (that means 11:30). It was a truly great time. I genuinely hope some of the teachers can make it out to Frostburg sometime. I’d love to keep in touch with them.

Today, Courtney, Elle, Yasi, Dr. B, and I got up early again to head to a secondary school with another former GA, Catherine O’Donnell. We weren’t really sure what to expect, but I don’t think any of us were expecting to enter an all-girls Catholic school taught entirely in Irish (try hearing a few Our Fathers in the Irish language – NOT easy). It was phenomenal to see. Catherine was so welcoming and it was such a joy to watch her teach. She really enthralled those girls! She even gave us a school tour and showed us where the girls often gather to watch the boys at the school across the street (can’t really blame them; it is an all-grils school after all). We were only there for the morning, though, because we had to get on a bus by 12:30 to head to the Cliffs of Moher, which were BEAUTIFUL. We had such a perfect day to go! It was sunny and not too windy and it didn’t even rain! I’d show you my pictures but…

Moving on then. After the cliffs, our bus driver took us around the Burren, which is a very rural area, but it’s a big tourist attraction because the landscape is so fascinating. It’s filled with rocks and giant stones, but it’s also a lot of farm land, so you may see a cow or a sheep that’s just hanging out on top of a big rock. It’s also right on the coastline, and at points, we felt like the bus might actually fall off the road and down the cliffs into the water. How thrilling!

Seriously, though, I think that when Americans think of Ireland, they think of the landscapes you see in the Burren. Very green, lots of sheep. It felt like we were in a movie or something because that’s the only place I’ve ever seens a landscape like this one.

Tomorrow, we have to get up super early to head to Dublin, which I’m sure will be an adventure. And hopefully I’ll have my phone back. =)

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Do you know Honey Boo Boo?

That’s right. American television has corrupted even Irish children. This was the first question I was asked today at St. Conaire, the primary school we’ll be visiting until Thursday. They also asked me if I knew a number of other famous people until I explained to them that most American shows and movies are filmed in California, which is a six hour flight from where I live. Though, I think they were equally impressed that I have played in snow as they would have been if I had been friends with famous people.

But let me backtrack to yesterday for a minute. Yesterday, we got to tour Limerick city, including the Hunt Museum, King John’s castle, and St. Mary’s Cathedral (which was built in 1168!). In the Hunt Museum, we saw an original Picasso painting, which was something I thought I would never get to see in my life. We also saw a number of other artifacts dating back to 2500 BC. My favorite was a ring that John Hunt, the collector of all the artifacts for whom the museum is named, bought for his wife, Gertrude. The first letter of each stone spelled dearest – diamond, emerald, amethyst, ruby, emerald, sapphire, tourmaline. How cute is that? In St. Mary’s Cathedral, we saw the lepers’ squint, which is literally a hole in the wall where people with leprosy would gather to watch the service and take communion. There was also a gorgeous organ covered in mosaic tile. Did I mention St. Mary’s Cathedral was built in 1168? It’s easily the oldest building I’ve ever been in considering Europeans didn’t even discover America until over 300 years later. It was really incredible to bear witness to all that history!

After all of our touring, we were able to go into some shops. We went to a store called Penney’s, which is very popular here. Before you ask, no, it’s not the same as JC Penney, but it is kind of similar. Only cheaper. We also went to O’Mahoney, which is a Limerick-based book store. Then we ate at Scott’s bar (again – we have meal vouchers) and that brings me back to today.

We arrived at St. Conaire at the beginning of the school day and had a meeting with the principal, Peter Walsh, to discuss basically how the school is run. Then we divided up into different classrooms. I was in 4th class, which is the equivalent of 5th grade in America. I was asked lots of questions, which I really enjoyed answering and then at 11:00, we had a school wide break. I was later informed that during this break, the 6th class students (7th grade) went down to the junior infants’ classroom (pre-K) to keep an eye on them so that the teachers could enjoy the break as well. Apparently, no one could understand why we were baffled by this, as parents don’t sue teachers here, like they would at home. This break really made the kids (and the teachers) less antsy and more able to pay attention. It’s really something we should consider doing in America.

After break, we had almost 2 more hours of class and then we went to lunch, during which the students ate in their classrooms because there is no such thing as a school cafeteria. The whole school also ate lunch at the same time, which I found to be very nice because it gives the teachers a common time to discuss things. After lunch, we were given an impromptu performance by the choir, which is the 4th best in the country. They performed the cup song for us, which many of you know is one of my favorites. They also did Somewhere Only We Know, which is another song that I adore. I think its cool that they get to sing modern songs and not just songs that were written solely for children’s choirs like we have in America.

After school, one of the other teachers noticed that I’m a bit under the weather and insisted on driving me to the pharmacy (Irish people are so nice!). The pharmacy itself was an experience because they do things much differently here. All of the medications were behind the counter and you tell the pharmacist (or chemist, as they’re called) what your symptoms are and he finds you the right medication. Then he actually takes the time to explain what you’re taking. It’s so much less frustrating than standing in an aisle at Walmart reading boxes until you find meds that might work.

When we got back to Mary I, we had our first lecture, which was about literacy and students with low socioeconomic status. I found it fascinating that even though we’re across an ocean, the major literacy problems are still the same. We still question what’s wrong with the kids rather than what’s wrong with our teaching. The government still makes decisions about education based on the economy. Same story, different country. But it was nice to hear a new perspective on things.

I can’t wait to return to school tomorrow to see what else they have in store for us. I’ve already learned so much!

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Patrick, is there a certain side that people walk on here?

Nope. You know how in the US, people generally go the mall or the store or wherever and they walk on the right side? Apparently, that’s not a thing here. There is no social norm for which side of a walkway to stay toward. So the result of that is pretty chaotic. We went to a mall briefly today and people were just walking every which way. It was actually very disorienting, especially when added to the fact that the majority of the stores were unfamiliar, all of the people spoke in thick Irish accents, and we had no idea where we were going. Plus there was a grocery store and a pharmacy and a butcher shop. In the mall. So if you want to get a nice new sweater and also a slab of meat, you’re in luck.

Another major culture shock – traffic circles. Or roundabouts, as they’re called here. Obviously, I was aware that the Irish drive on the other side of the road and that their steering wheels are on the opposite side of the vehicle, but nothing drives that point home quite like pulling up to a roundabout and entering TO THE LEFT. It was so, so counterintuitive to me as an American that it was actually pretty terrifying. I’m not sure 2 weeks is a long enough period of time to get used to that.

Other things I’ve learned today:

The right lane is the passing lane on a multi lane highway
People park wherever they want – namely, the sidewalks
A liquor store is called an off license (or an offie, apparently)
Lasagna is often paired with French fries for dinner
Iced tea doesn’t exist here
Hallways and bathrooms are very narrow
Central heating is not popular
Euros are significantly more logical than US dollars and cents

**sidenote to friends and family who may be reading this – Patrick is a grad assistant from Ireland who graduated from MIC, where we’re staying and now works in the Children’s Literature Centre at FSU while he earns a master’s. He has been inundated with questions since long before we even got here and I’m sure he will continue to be each time we see him during our trip.

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