I’m still a pretty classy person!

The classes here at the University of Limerick are really really different from SUNY New Paltz. It’s mostly lecture based with class sizes of 100-200 students in a lecture hall. It’s definitely a culture adjustments as well because most of my classes back at New Paltz involve a LOT of discussion (especially since I’m a Sociology Major). However, the classes do seem easier than New Paltz because the lecturers (not professors) post ALL the notes and lecture slides up online. In addition, there’s also one assignment or exam for the class that make up the whole grade. The courses here are a lot less demanding. But because the courses here are lecture based, are easier, and are less demanding, they’re also more boring. I really miss having debates and discussions in class. Sometimes I find myself zoning out in lectures because I’m sitting in a big auditorium, listening to a monotone lecturer for two straight hours.

I am taking a variety of different courses though. Two sociology – Sociology of Love and its Dark Side, and Gender: Sociological Perspectives, a traditional Irish Music & Dance Course, and one psychology – Psychology of Social Issues. I’m learning Irish Step dancing in my Irish Music & Dance class, it’s quite hard. And there’s a LOT of hopping. We’re having a end of the semester performance for it, next week (I still don’t remember half of the steps!) In my Psychology class, we had to organize and participate in a 10K marathon. The goal was to increase exercise in our daily lives thereby, contributing to one’s mental health and happiness. In addition, we were also able to raise almost €5,000 for mental health awareness and suicide prevention. I have never taken a class such as this, and I’m glad I did!

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Plassey 10K Run

 

Ambivalence & Culture Shock…It’s Inevitable!

I am having a great time here so far. I’m seven weeks in and I am loving it. I’ll have to admit, I am getting slightly homesick here and there (mainly because I don’t know how to cook…and I don’t know what I’m doing in the kitchen 99.99% of the time) I have always been so fascinated by cultures and I’m really interested in learning about them. Although one of the primary languages here in Ireland is English, the dialect here is so different! I have caught myself saying: “chips”, “lad”, “brilliant!”, “no bother”, and “you’re grand”, and “cheers”.

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And the weather! It is practically summer over here! As a New York (City) native, I am so used to the cold…not to mention, it’s probably snowing as I am blogging right now! It’s usually cloudy and around 30-50 degrees Fahrenheit here. I was given the notion that it was suppose to rain a lot of here. If anything, it has been sunny more than it has rained. I think I only wore my rain boots once the whole time I have been here so far!! No complaints though, I am absolutely loving this weather. It really brings out Ireland’s natural beauty. The people are also really nice here as well. They’re very kind and show great hospitality. I remember one time, I was having dinner, and I tripped and fell on my way to the restroom. As soon as my body hit the floor, one of the employees came running towards my direction and made sure I was okay. And upon exiting, he asked if I was okay, and he seemed so worried!

 

As for food, I don’t think I’ll ever say this…but I think I am getting sick of potatoes! They literally have potatoes for every meal, and in many different variations. Mashed potatoes, french fries (chips), potato wedges, Shepard’s pie (which they make great here!), hashed browns, you name it! I haven’t had the chance to get a full Irish breakfast yet (it’s actually quite heavy!) but I did have small ones. Croissants and tea!

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Chocolate Croissant with Nutella spread, and tea!

Tea is probably the only thing I will never get sick of in Ireland. I absolutely love tea and it is my favorite hot beverage. They drink tea like water over here. It’s brilliant! (btw I am NOT a coffee person)

Welcome to the Emerald Isles!

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Because I had a night flight, I arrived in Ireland at 7am. I did not sleep at all, I was so anxious and excited. There was so many thoughts running through my head. Still to this day, I have no idea how I was able to even stay up for the whole flight especially since there was no wifi on the plane. When I got to Limerick, I toured around campus, unpacked, made myself at home…anything but sleep. I didn’t sleep for 48 hours and I didn’t have any caffeine at all. I was a zombie, I don’t know how I did it. I was just so excited.

Limerick is a beautiful place despite the constant cloudy weather. It’s so much different from New Paltz.

 

For example, there’s an ensuite kitchen in your apartment (no meal plans!) There’s no roommates, and you get your own bathroom. They provide pillows, blankets, a full size bed, a huge closet space. It’s massive! I currently live in a six bedroom apartment with two Irish students, two Americans, and my roommate from New Paltz, Joceline. When Joceline and I spoke to Sean and John (our two irish housemates) described our housing situations back at New Paltz, they were so shocked, “Wait!, How are you suppose to make toast?!, Fire hazard?, What?!”

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The Living Bridge, University of Limerick

After settling in, there was this three-day orientation for all the international students. I felt really, really welcomed. They gave us a beautiful tour of the campus, fed us their best food, and invited us to a concert (see youtube link above) Known for their traditional Irish music, this concert featured a group called, “Celtic Steps”, which consisted of someone playing the bodhrán (traditional Irish drum, similar to our version of the tambourine), the piano, accordion, fiddle (who is also on vocals), guitar/banjo, and four Irish step dancers (two male/two female). It was a stellar performance and I was so amazed by their talents! I wish I had the hand-eye coordination to do any of that!

 

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I am loving it here!

 

 

And so it begins…

Hey Readers! Due to technical difficulties, my blog was not published in time before my departure. So…some of my posts may be in past tense! However, thank you for following me and reading about my experiences! I hope you enjoy reading them as much as I enjoyed blogging about them! Cheers, Sandra xx


I remember about two weeks before my departure, I went on this frenzy and panic that everything was going go all wrong. I started imagining crazy scenarios where I was going to be kidnapped or lost in the middle of a mountain region with no electricity or contact with anyone. I remember having to call United Airlines almost everyday with some bizarre question about baggage or my flight, and to make sure everything was okay. I suppose the paranoia was normal, since I’ve never really left the country, and have never really been on my own. It’s a scary feeling…hell, it’s still scary. But even with all the paranoia, I still managed to pack 48 hours before my flight (which is no surprise because I always pack at the last minute.) Even a few hours before my flight, I was STILL packing.

From the 48 hours before my flight, and the 48 hours after my flight, I remember being in such shock. I don’t think it’s possible for anyone to really prepare themselves for an experience such as this. They say, studying abroad is an experience of a lifetime, and it truly is.

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Concluding Recap

Concluding Thoughts:

So first I would like to apologize for the major delay in this post. I
did not realize that when I got home there would be so much to do. I
will not get into the boring details of this past week in the United
States. Rather, I shall try to entertain and move you with my
description of my last week in Ireland.

When last we left off it was a
Friday and I was doing work. So as I believe I mentioned previously, the
next day was our trip to the Aran islands.

The Aran islands are
fascinating because of the history. They are one of the traditional
places in Ireland that speak the Irish language on a daily basis. They
moved to the islands to escape the British oppression during the
Cromwell period. Their primary industry was fishing until it turned to
tourism. We arose at the crack of dawn to meet our tour.

After riding
down a series of winding roads which made many people ill but did not
faze me at all, we reached the ferry. This ferry ride had to be one of
my favorite parts of the day. Lydia and I went all the way to the top
deck and let the water and wind rock us around like crazy. If you think
you are good at subway surfing try it on this ferry. On the lower deck
you will be successful, on the upper deck you will not. But as I stood
holding on to the railing for dear life, I withdrew into my thoughts. I
thought about the power of nature. How nice it can be to feel so small
and controlled by the elements in the best way.

When we reached the
island, we went for a snack. A very nice man at the Till gave me a free
chocolate bar. Then we took a walking tour around the island. If I am to
be completely honest I really did not want to do this. The last time I
went to one of the islands I took a hike. This time I really wanted to
explore the town center. Talk to the locals and such.

Unfortunately, I
did not get much of a chance to do this, however, Lydia, Hayley, and I
had a lovely time picking flowers. Killian our tour guide taught Hayley
how to make daisy chains and she taught me. I felt like a fairy child
walking around with a daisy necklace and flowers in my hair. I truly was
born the wrong decade…I am a hippie.

So then we ate lunch at the top
of a hill next to a castle. Can you believe it, a castle in Ireland?!

Anyway, then came the absolute best part of the day. I have always
wanted to swim in a body of water in another country. I mean, Jones
Beach really is awful. Well, I finally got my chance. As I plunged into
the icy cold north Atlantic, I really thought my chest, my whole body
was on fire. It was the best feeling ever.

Sometimes, when you
experience a physical sensation along with just going through life it
really makes you feel alive. I really enjoy feeling alive. Sometimes,
when I travel I really don’t feel like I am experiencing anything
special.

So what I can read about the history the tour guide tells us in
my pajamas at home. But when you can swim in the water or pick the
flowers of such a special place, you understand what traveling is all about.

Anyway, the rest of the day was relatively uneventful. A bird crapped
all over me and I got sunburned really badly. But apart from that there
is nothing too interesting to report.

Actually, that may be the most
eventful thing of the whole week. Sunday I did homework. For the rest of
the week, I went out with friends. My friend Sarah came up from Galway.
It was a good time.

It was really sad saying goodbye to everyone.
particularly the people who live in Ireland. Yes, especially you Triona.

Actually, I think I will talk about this for a minute. I was frustrated
that I needed so much help because I was there for such a short period of
time so I really couldn’t learn the place well enough to travel
independently, but if I had I might not have gotten to know Triona. So
maybe it’s not so bad.

Anyway, I figure because I was studying abroad
after all.

At the end of this post I will copy one of my assignments. If
you are incredibly bored by it just skip it I really don’t care. I loved
the class though. I would love to post my concluding thoughts about the
trip, but honestly, right now I am just not done processing everything.

So in a few more weeks I will do a final travel post about my true
concluding thoughts. Right now it just seems surreal.

Samantha Flax Human Rights

After the atrocities that occurred during the Second World War, the
nations of the world were determined to prevent such a tragedy from
taking place in the future. They created the United Nations as a means
to this end. In 1948, they wrote the universal declaration of human
rights. This monumental declaration was to serve as a guideline of
rights that every person in the world was entitled to. One of these
rights is written in article five, it states, “No one shall be subjected
to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.”
The trouble with the declaration of human rights, is that at the time
there was no way of actually enforcing them. While currently the United
Nations has made efforts to enforce this right there is still a long way
to go until freedom from torture is recognized around the world.

In December, 1984, members of the United Nations got together to have a
convention against torture and other cruel inhumane or degrading
treatment or punishment. This was because even with article five of the
Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and article seven of the
international covenant on civil and political rights, which both
emphasized the right to freedom from torture, there was still a great
deal of torture around the world. The convention sought to define what
constitutes torture, set parameters for laws for individual states, and
to find a reasonable method for helping to enforce these laws. The
following is a summary of the convention.

Article one discusses the definition of torture as a use of mental or
physical abuse used for coercion or intimidation. It also addresses the
extremely important question of liability, stating that using the excuse
that an authority member instructed the person to commit the crime is
not a valid defense. Articles two through sixteen discuss the provisions
that the states who sign the agreement should follow, from what should
be included in domestic laws to how these crimes should be prosecuted.
It states that all states must have laws that prohibit torture. It must
be considered state offense. States will aid each other in the
extradition process. Law enforcement and other public officials shall be
instructed in what constitutes unlawful behavior. Any victims of torture
should be protected and the defendants have a right to a fair trial.

These are only a few of the most important provisions of the agreement.
Articles eighteen through twenty-six discuss the formation of the committee
that will be organized in order to investigate crimes of torture in
individual states. It explains how the committee will work and the
rights it has. The committee can only make suggestions to a country that
it thinks is guilty of crimes against humanity. It cannot enforce these
suggestions legally. The committee will be formed of elected officials
and they are required to submit an annual report.

The last articles,
twenty-seven through thirty-three, settle any disputes regarding the
convention itself in regards to states individual rights, for example,
whether or not they choose to agree and whether they are required to
acknowledge the competence of the committee. All of these things are
optional. While this is just a summary of the details, it does clearly
demonstrate while well-intentioned, and definitely a step in the right
direction, it has no legal validity in terms of actual enforcement. This
is represented by the crimes against humanity in the United States.

The United States has several provisions in its constitution and other
laws that protect human rights. These rights include the fifth, eighth,
and fourteenth amendments to the Constitution. The eighth amendment is
perhaps the most important regarding torture because it specifically
bans cruel or unusual punishment. However, despite these laws and the
United States general compliance with the United Nations there is a
shocking amount of neglect on countless human rights violations, from
jailing homeless people and giving children life sentences. As well as
various war crimes such as the use of drones. Most disturbing is the
United States’ use of torture in places such as Guantanamo bay. Despite
a supposed ban on torture techniques there are countless reports of
torture especially in military prisons.

The government uses national
security as a justification for strict actions, but the United Nations
has still accused the United States of several crimes against humanity
especially torture. The United Nations said that changing interrogation
techniques is not enough. One of the most controversial topics regarding
torture is the use of the death penalty in several American states. A
question that is asked by many people particularly in the United Nations
is how is death not cruel and unusual punishment? The answer is usually
something about how these people are killed humanely. For example, they
are killed painlessly and they get a last meal of their choice. Also, a
sick person cannot be killed. However, this still constitutes a
violation of the right to freedom from torture.

There are several steps that can be taken in order to significantly
decrease the amount of torture going on. Hopefully these measures can
eventually lead to the eradication of torture. Firstly, and most simply,
the public must be made aware of the government’s actions regarding
these heinous crimes in individual states and on a global level. Once
the citizens are made aware of what is happening they can petition their
governments to solve the problem. The main reason torture is able to
continue in America in particular, is that most citizens are not aware
of the magnitude of the problem, or they are told it is necessary for
national security. Next, there is a more complex solution. While the
United Nations is a wonderful organization regarding diplomacy and
negotiation, it holds little to no power when it comes to actually
enforcing its ideals and acts. If the UN could actually prosecute crimes
against humanity instead of just making suggestions, it would be much
more effective. This would be difficult because countries would feel
that they are losing their right to sovereignty, however, human safety
should come before self-determination when it comes to human rights.
This could be enforced through an international court of justice.
Instead of the articles from the convention against torture being
suggestions they should be requirements for at the very least anyone
that signs on. Ideally, it would apply regardless of a signature but at
the current time this is virtually impossible. Torture can be decreased,
but it will take hard work and cooperation.

Sources

Accountability for Torture | Amnesty International USA
www.amnestyusa.org > Our Work > Issues > TortureResult details
U.N. slams U.S. for torture, NSA spying | Al Jazeera America
america.aljazeera.com/articles/2014/3/27/us-human-rights-reportun.htmlResult
details

Torture – HREA
www.hrea.org/learn/guides/torture.htmlResult details

UN Convention Against Torture – Human Rights Web
www.hrweb.org/legal/cat.htmlResult details

The universal declaration of human rights
www.un.orgt

Long Post

First, I would like to apologize for the long time since my last post. Especially because it was not a happy one. But now, if you indulge me we shall review the past nearly two weeks.

Last time I posted I was in a terrible mood and feeling bad about myself and the world in general. That changed that night a bit when I climbed an abandoned tower. Full discretion here, I climbed the dangerous abandoned tower to prove I could. Much of my life has been devoted to me proving I am not just the blind girl. Sometimes, when I mess up such as not learning an area as quickly as I thought I would, or needing help with something, I start to think people are right. Then I remembered that I came here and that is pretty impressive. So I climbed the tower. And you know what? It was really fun adrenaline rushes can be rather exciting. So after my trip to the top I came back to my room to mull things over.

The next day I went to Galway. It was a pretty fun day. My friend Lydia, does the most beautiful descriptions of landscapes. (leading to more blind guilt but whatever enough on that) We went to a wishing tree and a beautiful garden. We got to go to Galway city which was great because it is probably my favorite city in Ireland. The next three days were thrilling because I had classes!!! yayyy!

Actually I have learned a lot in my class despite the fact that I have more work than most of the other classes.

Last Friday we got up at an ungodly hour to go to Dublin. Surprisingly, being that I am not a sports fan I loved Croke Park. What I love most about the concept of Irish sports is that the players are not superstars who get paid billions of dollars. The guy who scored the winning goal in 2011 game was a high school science teacher. That is so wonderful to me. That people love the culture and tradition of a sport so much they will spend rather than receive money to play it.

I am not a traditionalist. I think nationalism is a disgusting form of religion but there is something so beautiful about a complex culture that people love. I am sure it is flawed but the ideals of Ireland are, from the outside, almost as beautiful as the countryside.

Lunch was a ridiculous experience because it was at this painfully fake American style place. Although, the Charlie Chaplain bathroom sign and rails made from motorcycle parts were pretty awesome.

For the weekend I went to stay in Galway with my lovely friend Sarah and her amazing family. I mean, her parents are amazing chefs. Especially the pavlova! I truly had a grand time. We went shopping and I danced like never before.

On Sunday I cycled 25 miles. I’d never do that at home. As I cycled around Galway Bay I felt so at peace. I felt the beauty of the place and the surreal fact hit me once again about what a wonderful trip this is and how much I love this country.

This week was filled with stress about class punctuated by a really fun excursion to the west of Ireland where once again I went to the flying boat museum. I took a picture with a statue of Richard Harris…This is a big deal people…He is the real Dumbledore. Then I got to learn some traditional dancing.

On the bus ride home we blasted music and sang our hearts out. This must have been terrible for the people sitting beside me because I am quite tone deaf but I enjoyed myself.

I have one week left in Ireland. I am going to the Aran Islands again tomorrow which I am incredibly excited for.

So I want everyone to know I am having an amazing time even with all the homework.

Milk Markets and Castles

So here is an update on what I have been doing since my last post. After my lamentations on Thursday about not having anywhere to go I was invited out to dinner with my lovely friend from New Paltz Lydia. It is really fortunate we came together because she is naturally more outgoing than I am so she has been instrumental in me actually doing things. Anyway, we went to dinner with some friends and then went for a lovely walk down to the bank of the Shannon river. It was so beautiful. Yesterday I had an intense day of classes. My law class is amazing. We did so much Irish history yesterday it made me so happy. That’s what I love most about traveling I think, it awakens the history nerd inside of me. Last night i actually went out in to the city with friends. You have no idea what a big deal this is for me. I am a lay in bed and watch SVU or read a book on Friday night kind of lass. I am so glad I went because I had a wonderful time.

Today we had a planned excursion. We went to this wonderful farmer’s market in the city of Limerick. They call it a milk market here. It was so grand. There was traditional music, free samples, and lots of very lovely people. It felt kind of old-fashioned to me. After the market we walked around the city and I found a birthday gift for my New Paltz roommate, which I am sure is a fascinating point for all my readers.

Then we went to Bunratty Castle. First, we had an amazing lunch at the castle hotel. I love food so much. I keep gorging myself it is seriously a problem. If it weren’t for all the walking I’ve been doing, (for those of you who are not aware Europeans do a lot more walking than most Americans because they are not as lazy) I would be afraid of gaining the Limerick fifteen.

So then we got to go into a castle. An actual castle that was build hundreds of years ago. It was an Irish castle built of stone. Most of the castles in Ireland had been built by the Vikings and were made of wood but the Irish burned them down. (hey give the Irish a break! If someone invaded your country and did lots of rape and pillaging you would burn down their castle too) Anyway, as I sat with my hands on a table that was built over five hundred years ago, my mind drifted to all the soldiers who had sat there before me. To them, it had not been extraordinary. It was just their life. We know the history of what happened, but really we can never know what most of those people felt and thought. How many children did they have? Did they enjoy the meals they ate at that wooden table? The table was slanted on a slight uneven incline and I thought it was very symbolic of how we see the world. From our own tilted perspectives made biased by nostalgia.

We learned that the staircases spiraled to the right as a safety measure. We learned that women could not be in the great hall while the men made big decisions. They could only listen through a window. The tour guide made a joke about how now it is opposite, that the women are now in charge. I chuckled but I could not help wondering…Why is that funny? If I get upset when women are made to be inferior why should it be funny when the same is done to men?

Perhaps the most fascinating artifact to me was the Irish fertility stone. It was a small stone in the wall of the castle. Tradition says it helps women have children. Despite my skeptic nature I found myself running my fingers over the stone, which was a picture of a woman giving birth. As I made a personal wish I thought about what it means to be a woman. I appreciated that stone because a lot of portrayals of women make them sex objects. This symbol is a much better representation of one of the central aspects of being a woman. I also thought about how lucky I am. So many women who worry about fertility will never get a chance to touch that stone. Whether it helps me in the future or not, or if it helps the others I wished for, it is still a reminder to me of what a lucky woman I am. I was born in to a wealthy country in a time where women can go to college.

I am in an even smaller percentage who is lucky enough to travel the world. The people who lived in that castle would have never gotten that opportunity.

Wow…Just…Wow

Note: I apologize. This is not my best writing. I am still exhausted.

So after a crazy night of connecting flights and running like a nut through airports I arrived in Limerick. The past day and a half have been a blur of new people and information. I don’t know right now if I can write a deep philosophical piece about what happened because everything was so overwhelming, so I will just give a timeline of what happened and then at the end maybe I’ll develop some thoughts. Fortunately, another student from New Paltz was on my flight which was nice and she’s pretty cool.

We arrived in Shannon at around 630AM. People from the university came to bring us to the village on campus we are staying in called Cappa Villa. I have a room and bathroom to myself and I share a kitchen with some other New Paltz girls. (that was surprising) The disappointing part is no free wifi in my room…tragic! So I went with a lovely girl named Triona who is a Limerick student who works in the international office to meet an orientation and mobility instructor. For those of you who don’t know I am blind so the only annoying thing here is with the way the campus is set up it is very difficult for me to learn to get from place to place independently which is upsetting to me because I like to give a good impression of blind people but as Triona said I came across the world myself, so needing a little help really doesn’t make me look bad at all. I’ve realized that everyone needs help in different ways so if I can’t explore independently that’s ok. I’ll just make sure to go on all the group trips.

Anyway, that was a complete tangent sorry.

So then I had to take a taxi to a store because someone bought me the wrong adapter plug…(thanks Dad) Let me just say, sitting in the passenger seat of a car when you are from America is a terrifying experience…even when your blind…you still know everything is opposite. So then I hung out with my suite mates for a while and took a quick nap. Then we left for a brief orientation and a filling dinner. Unfortunately we almost went to the wrong orientation so that was fun.

Today, after a great night of sleep where I think I pretty much beat the jet lag, we went to a morning of orientation. I was happy because I got to eat lunch with some Irish students at the university who work for the International office. Then I hung out with some people I met on the program. If i have one complaint it is that all of the students on the program are from America. Don’t get me wrong there great and I’m sure I’ll make lovely friends, but I really hoped to meet Irish students. It’s all about new experiences and Americans are not new to me…No offense if fellow students are reading this. That is why I liked having lunch with the students from Limerick. It’s a blind perk that i was assigned an Irish student to show me around. I get to talk to a local more than other people!

After hanging outside on the lawn after lunch, the weather has been surprisingly beautiful, I went to my first class session. An aside about the countryside. Sighted people won’t understand this, but I can just tell how beautiful it is here… and as my friend Lydia said to me when we arrived, “Description update: everything is green.”

My first class was great. I am taking a 3 credit law class. It seems like it will be fascinating and challenging without being overwhelming.

A couple points of interest. Ireland isn’t super different from America. They have TV and hot water…even though sometimes you have to turn it on manually. It’s little things in the language that make it clear it’s different. For example, crack means fun and press means cabinet.

Well, that is it for now, I hope that wasn’t to much rambling. I will post more soon.

Time to be honest

So I do not want this post to worry or upset anyone in any way. I really am okay. It’s just that I wish I was a healthier person. I do not want to get too personal here, but today kind of sucks. When I first got here I was on a high. It has been so fun and exciting, but I think I’m coming down off this high. Everyone involved in the study abroad process warned us this might happen. I am not posting this to get sympathy, I just want other students who study abroad to know this feeling is experienced by a lot of people and they are not alone.

Studying in another country is a truly amazing experience.

For the most part I have really enjoyed it so far, but it is like anything else in life, it will not be perfect. Today is not good but I have lots of exciting plans for the next few weeks and I know a few days from now I will be confused why I was so miserable today.

I am going to do more traveling tomorrow, so everyone look forward to another of my philosophical rants tomorrow on Tuesday.

Better

I am feeling much better. I have nice friends and the other night I climbed a very dangerous tower and I’m going to Galway to see a friend this weekend! Also, I get to go to the Aaron islands. in two weeks. I’m sorry I can’t give much more of an update right now but I’m exhausted. In a few days I will post more about my recent activities.