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One thing that most people expect when traveling is the experiencing “culture shock.” I don’t know exactly what I was expecting, but Northern Ireland has been quite an interesting study in that respect. Now, maybe there are parts of Ireland that are astonishingly “other” from what I’m used to- I believe, for instance, there are certain towns and islands that, according to various travel sights’ claims, are “a step into the past;” so far, however, in Northern Ireland, Ireland in general, really, there isn’t so much of a “shock” as much as there is a feeling of “I had never realized that was how it was there,” that hits you in the midst of going about your days.

There are some obvious differences that are noticeable right off, like the wonderful accent of the Irish, using “wee” where Americans would use “small,” and parking lots are referred to as car parks; most things, though, I’ve just been picking up little by little, the longer I spend time here. Some words, for instance, are different, most often as building or street names, or when referring to the Irish government systems, because they use the original Irish language of Gaelic; funnily enough, though, the Irish students seem to have as much difficulty pronouncing those words as the foreign students do. Then there are some truly wonderful differences, such as the vast array of various chocolates, the majority of which I’ve never even heard of- peanut butter Kit Kats are one of my new favorite things. Meanwhile, fries are called chips and chips are called crisps, and fish sticks are called fish fingers.

This is one of the things about studying abroad that I am really loving. It’s a different form of learning; not academic, but rather growing and gaining understanding of another culture, just by picking up these little- sorry, “wee”- differences. It’s much subtler than if I’d gone to any number of other countries, but even so it gives me the feeling that I’m getting this beautifully different understanding of the world. Here, I feel like there is an endless supply of things to discover, like there’s no end to the mystery of the Emerald Isle. There are many magnificent sights to see and there are tantalizingly lilting voices, the things that everyone expects to see when they come here, but there are so many little details until you spend some time. It’s almost like meeting a new person, noticing their appearance and personality first; but then as you get to know them, you learn their little ticks and quirks, and that’s what makes them more, what sets them apart in your mind and your heart. It’s an experience not quite like any other- getting to know a culture.

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So, despite that I've been doing lots of sightseeing and traveling, and even though it often doesn't feel that way, I am, in fact, in Northern Ireland to study; that's what my visa says, anyway, so it must be true. So far, that part of life here has been, in itself, quite a different experience.

First, structurally, it's quite different from America, which isn't very easy to get used to. Each class has two hours of lecture and one hour of seminar  basically discussion of what we've been learning - throughout the week. Then the grading is primarily based on one 2,500 word paper and a final exam; I'm admittedly a little intimidated by that prospect. The credits are different, too, and so because of the way they transfer, I only take three classes. It's very strange for someone who's used to 18 and 19 credit semesters.

The content of the classes is really interesting to me, too. I'm taking an Irish government and politics class, Irish literature and society, and "Invented Traditions in Britain and Ireland." Despite being a history major and having taken many European history classes, there is so much that I've never learned about this country's history; there is just so much of Ireland's fascinating and tumultuous past that isn't covered in any of the classes I've taken in America. There are a lot of "basics" I've needed to look up outside of class, too, things that everyone here would already know, similar to how Americans just generally know things like who George Washington was; it's so interesting to me to see that aspect of another country, even if it does leave me feeling slightly confused occasionally during class.

I feel like I'm learning now, and I'm going to learn so much more. I'm being exposed to a view of the world unlike any that I've heard or studied before, because these people have such a different history and culture, and so therefore different ideas about things. Though I am absolutely loving seeing Ireland as a tourist, I'm also really excited that I get to experience it from an academic standpoint as well.

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b2ap3_thumbnail_resized.jpgThe first week here in Ireland, I and all of the other international students had lots of things to do. We had meetings to go to, classes to schedule, activities planned for us and shopping to complete. Meanwhile, we were all getting settled into our new home and conquering jet lag. 

However, after all of that, we were rewarded with the real reason we all really came to Ireland- a little bit of traveling.  Everywhere we've been has been incredible. There are artifacts in museums from B.C. that are really well preserved because of the boggy landscape of Ireland! There are artifacts from the 1600s and before, and it boggles my brain that the ones from the 1800s aren't as big of a deal here, when that would be the pinnacle of most American museums. 

Derry/Londonderry has a wall running through it that dates back to the sixteenth century! We visited a castle- a castle! And we were allowed to walk around and through it, to touch it and to take pictures. It was absolutely gorgeous and thrilled me through and through.  The history here is so well preserved and tangible and it's really easily accessible to the public, all of which has my little history-major-heart dancing. 

However, as stupendous as the history is, it manages to pale in comparison to the land itself.  One of our most amazing trips was to the Causeway; it's a place that is so strange, unique and beautiful, unlike anything I have ever seen before. The cliffs of the Irish coastline, too, are absolutely breathtaking; they are something that you could just stare at forever and never tire of their allure. 

The inland is full of rolling hills and mountains, and the colors on a sunny day- or, you know, sunny 20 minute spurts- don't really seem real. They seem like something that someone photo shopped to make more vibrant. This country sometimes seems unreal; it takes my breath away.

 That's the point, I guess.  The manmade things are wonderful, and I really can't get enough of the towns and their histories. But the things that aren't man made, the things that God etched onto the world for our pleasure, are infinitely more magnificent. These things that He made are an incredible reminder of how man can do amazing things, but even then God is so much more powerful and awe-inspiring. It's slightly terrifying, actually, but at the same time an amazing comfort. 


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