Posted in Issues, Study Abroad

Saying Goodbye

It’s August. Summer study abroad programs are coming to an end. Students are packing up, returning home, and within a couple weeks will be headed back to their college campuses for the fall semester. But while thinking about going home, they’re also figuring out how to say goodbye.

I was very tired at the end of my summer program in Dublin, Ireland. It was without a doubt the busiest eight weeks of my life: attending class, doing coursework, going on program excursions, sightseeing around Dublin, and traveling every free weekend. That was just the physical side. Don’t forget the emotional roller coaster of meeting new people, pushing yourself beyond your comfort zone, and experiencing something new daily. A part of me was looking forward to the rest that would come with being home but I didn’t want to leave this amazing place and these awesome people I had befriended.

As the final week approached there was a sense of things winding down. My friends and I were all in agreement about how special the summer had been and what it had meant to us; we dared not speak a word of it ending. But you couldn’t ignore the sadness in the exchanges when you would run into someone else also doing their last minute shopping on Grafton Street to pick up gifts and purchase those items they’ve long had their eye on. And everywhere there’d be students with their cameras out snapping photos of their friends and sights around the city obsessively making sure they’d captured everything.

Inishmore, Aran Islands

Then came my friends and my last trip together. We headed west to Galway, the Aran Islands, and the Cliffs of Moher. Sure, there had been arguing and attitudes on other trips but there was a different tone this time. Everyone was on edge. We couldn’t decide what we wanted to do collectively. Plans changed numerous times all within the first few hours of arriving in Galway. Splitting up proved to be our best solution – a precursor to what would happen in less than a week.

We came back together that first evening to celebrate the 21st birthday of the girl who became my best friend (and still is). Tension was still in the air but we rallied and ended up having a great time. With our bad moods exorcised, we sailed to the Aran Islands a much more cohesive group. We realized how far we had stretched our comfort zones by how much we found we trusted each other. Our gaiety, lightness, and silliness returned amplified.

On the last leg of our trip we chose to hike the couple of hours from Doolin to the Cliffs of Moher along the coast rather than take the 20 minute bus ride. We just wanted more – more mishaps, more adventure, more laughter, more anything. And we got more. There was an incident with an electric fence shocking one of us as we crawled underneath. There was the discovery of someone’s fear of cows, which we had to walk amongst. And there was a moment of panic as we passed an ‘Extreme Danger’ sign as the land rose up higher, the path drew nearer to the edge, and the mud grew slipperier in the falling rain.

While waiting for the bus to take us from the Cliffs back to town, our conversations leaned towards the reflective and back to the beginning of the trip. We began to share our first impressions of each other unedited. This moved into sharing our favorite highlights from the summer. It was bittersweet to know we didn’t have much time to make more memories.

Back in Dublin, the last night arrived. The evening started with a party sponsored by the program. After drinks and dancing we said goodbye to the rest of our program. We headed to our favorite club and danced till the wee hours of the morning. Once back at the dorms we met in the boys’ kitchen for sustenance and some final rounds of our favorite card game of the summer – Hearts. We tried to stay up all night as everyone was leaving early in the morning. Unfortunately, we didn’t all quite make it.

Hugs and goodbyes took place in the kitchen. One girl passed out playing cards on which she’d taped her contact information – an homage to all our Hearts playing. She and I then talked in the hallway outside my dorm suite until I needed to get ready to meet my parents. They had come to Ireland a week prior to do some traveling of their own before we went as a family to Scotland and England.

Cliffs of Moher

I tried to close my eyes for a few minutes before leaving but the sound of suitcases being wheeled across the courtyard below my window as people left to meet their bus, train, or taxi kept me up. It was a somber moment when I did the same. I met up with two others who were also leaving at the same time. I walked them to their bus stop and then went to meet my parents on the nearby O’Connell Bridge.

All the goodbyes felt hasty. None reflected the gratitude, sadness, and elation I felt. I was glad my parents got to meet these people. In some way this made my summer real. Outsiders had witnessed our bond and were given a glimpse at how I felt about these people and this place.This helped the saying goodbye process – a little bit.

As I would be studying abroad the following school year, I wasn’t sure when or if I’d see any of these fantastic people again (we were all UW students). I wanted them to have something that would remind us all of the great summer we seven strangers shared together. With my mother’s help, I made everyone a collage of photos of our time in Ireland. For me, this was how I was able to say goodbye properly.

Posted in Travel

Signs, Signs, Everywhere Are Signs

Be them street signs, signs on a building, or informative markers, here are a few of the signs that played a role in my travels abroad.

Dublin, Ireland

(Photo: Benedicto16)

The above sign was the first I encountered in Ireland that, probably shockingly, threw me for a loop, but also helped formulate a bond. It was my first night in Dublin and a group of six or seven of us were in a pub just off Grafton Street. One girl, Lisa, and I were looking at the jukebox when another girl in our group came over to ask us if we knew where the bathrooms were. Neither of us had any idea but I remembered seeing a guy head through the door that had this sign above it and go up some steps. So I said to the girl, “I think that sign means the bathrooms are through that door and upstairs.” She hit me with a look that questioned my intelligence and sobriety and, before moving on, replied, “I think that means Exit.” My brief embarrassment quickly vanished as both Lisa and I fell into hysterics. She and I became fast friends after that.

Siena, Italy

The sign to the right is an unconventional, handmade one from Siena, Italy. I arrived the day after the Palio di Siena horse race. This day the winning contrada, or district, was celebrating its victory by parading through the streets waving flags of their contrada (Torre or Tower), beating drums, and blowing whistles. I encountered the large group when they made their way to the Piazza del Campo, the site of the race. This gentleman is being helpful to the tourists by wearing a sign indicating which way to the fountain and which way to the Duomo, two of the city’s main attractions. Either that or he was just tired of being asked for directions. I never quite figured out where he needed to be standing in the city for the arrows on the sign to be accurate.

Antwerp, Belgium

One sign that was no trouble to understand was this one below, which was on the side of a restaurant in Antwerp, Belgium. Alas, I did not go in to see if the proclamation was indeed true, though I had little doubt it was telling the truth.

Also in Antwerp was the sign for the hostel my friends and I stayed in. The sign was telling us more with its rust than we originally suspected.

Upon arrival we dropped off what we didn’t want to carry for the day. When we returned to our room later in the evening, we found much of the floor, bedding, and walls to be damp from the rain. We gals muddled through laying out wet clothes to dry for the next day and sleeping on top of our towels. It wasn’t until weeks later that I realized the damp, rusty-signed hostel had given me a parting gift of scabies on my hand. Not surprisingly, I do not recommend this hostel, and, according to some of the reviews on-line, other people do not recommend it either.

Doolin to the Cliffs of Moher, County Clare, Ireland

On our way to the Cliffs of Moher, my friends and I decided to take in the views along the ocean as we walked from Doolin to the main cliff-viewing area at O’Brien’s Tower. This was about three miles of gorgeous scenery. As the terrain rose we came across the sign below that we took as a simple warning as the path we were on was well worn. Walking between the property fence and the edge did produce some heart palpitations as the space was quite narrow making me think twice about disregarding the sign.

Here’s how high we were prior to reaching the ‘Extreme Danger’ sign.

Before we made it to O’Brien’s Tower to see the full view of the breathtaking cliffs, we had one more hurdle to climb – a gate with barbed wire – next to which was a sign telling us in three languages not to take the very path we had just taken. Oops.

Drumnadrochit, Scotland and Cornwall, England

Last, here are some of the street signs that caught my attention for their humorous specificity, imagery and drawn figures. The first was found in Drumnadrochit, Scotland and the latter two were found in Cornwall, England.