Tuesday, September 24, 2013

She Sits With Her Possessions

She sits with her possessions in every
preposition like "about, among, atop, on, in..."
her future as good as the what's in.

The only other driver in her life
a bit more stock of that expense
until the next blighted sight
of something more intense.

What glee does she gain of friendly greetings
when her once greatest gift
is now downcast and glued
to the shiny new thing
she first saw on a screen.

Week Two - Political Radicalism Or Blindly Following the Leader?

Yesterday marked the first day of modules in my semester abroad in Northern Ireland. I was expecting that my module entitled "Writing the North: Literature of the Troubles" may entail some discussion on political ideals and opinions. What I was not expecting walking into my Contemporary British Fiction class was seeing a slide show of politically racy photographs of issues in the UK on which our lecturer had no problem forcefully stating his opinion. Though I agreed with him on a few points, some of the discussion was too open for me, even for someone like myself who may not have correct - or even sufficient an amount of - information on some of the topics which to me were foreign (like, say, the policies instated by Margaret Thatcher, as well as her death). That was good and well as the other local NI students didn't seem to be too offended by the lecturer's stances.

However, what most made me fidget in my seat was when he pulled up a slide of the burning of the twin towers during 9/11. He started getting into discussion about the United States, bringing up his opinion on religion and violence. This also is well and good; perhaps the point of his entire lesson plan was to show what in the world shouldn't mix. However, next he spoke of George Bush Jr. and Sr., saying he'd celebrate in America the day they died, the way he did in Belfast upon the death of Margaret Thatcher.

I never really expected I'd be grateful for the fact that our teachers in America are not allowed to speak of their religion or views. I anticipated coming across a few debates on the division of Northern Ireland/Ireland/UK and the confusing hybrid that the Troubles has issued on the island since '69, but never had I thought the issue would blatantly resonate in my coursework (as the same undertone of political unrest laced the lecture in my earlier Modern Irish History class).

On a more positive note, it's definitely refreshing to be in a society which wholly engages itself in knowledge of its rights and the policies its governor has placed on it. Truthfully, many of my peers at home don't care about America's current political situation. Maybe they've heard of Syria and know America is planning on doing something about them, but generally the knowledge of the U.S.'s governance is blissfully ignored in the minds of American students.

Though I disagreed with my lecturer's political radicalism, at least it made me want to be a more informed citizen of the United States. No matter what society one lives in, no one should blindly follow his or her leader.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

More Than the American Way

It has been completely refreshing getting to mix with the local Northern Irish at the Christian Union activities on campus. No way would I have said a week ago when I arrived that I would come to be this comfortable here; but, alas, here I am, saying exactly that! The people in CU are so "keen" to get to know me - not just to have a listen to my accent, but to understand how the culture here differs from mine at home. In numerous ways this has been a stress-reliever for me, as well as the best way I know I may learn to lead a life that is not hindered from only knowing the American way. By finally having something utterly foreign to compare to my life in Missouri, I'm finding it easier to spot the things that are more efficient and healthy between the two ways. Because I have a few specific topics of conversation in mind from chats with several locals of Northern Ireland in the CU, I will list what I found to be either healthier or more efficiently done here as opposed to America:

Healthier here:
- LONG conversations that usually center on (quite generally speaking) the basis of differences in observations. It is very seldom that I hear small talk before a long exchange. (This may be due to the fact that the weather is often windy, freezing, and rainy, being on the northern coast of the island, and so the Northern Irish may have given up at this point on the pretense of setting up good spirits with small talk about the weather).

- Tea/coffee time before breakfast, lunch, and dinner. I know how important it is to have a drink before eating a big meal, but often in the U.S. we are accustomed to plunging into our large portions with little or nothing to drink beforehand. I've learned very quickly here that allotting myself to enjoy a "wee" bit of coffee or tea time before eating not only fills me up a bit, but also largely helps regulate my digestion.

- A bit of sweets whenever the hell they feel like it. When they have their wee bit of chocolate whenever they feel like it, they're much less likely to binge and make a whole meal out of it as we would after a "shoddy" diet.

More efficient:
- Carpooling to events is commonplace. Not only is it the thing to do, but students my age here in NI do not mind - nor do they complain or ask for recompense - to pile in anyone in need of a "lift" to wherever they need to go. (And trust me, I know students my age at home, and they would never give in to carpooling every day with friends - much less strangers - without some sort of payback).

- Albeit sometimes inconvenient, this year in April the U.K. mandated that supermarkets not provide patrons with the free plastic bags of which we are so familiar in American shopping. Here, you must pay at cheapest 5p for individual plastic bags, or bring from your home your own reusable bags. (Just thinking of all the eternal waste prevented so far makes me so happy!)

- Drying racks and clothing lines; I've seen both these methods of drying around the campus and what I've seen from the buses and trains since I've arrived here. They both work, they save money, energy, and they make the clothes smell fresher than they would have from a dryer. (Also, clothing lines are adorable.)

Get with the program, America!

Hopefully tomorrow, with more sleep and when it is not 2:40 am, I will be able to give some credit to America for a few things done healthier or more efficiently.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

That Midwestern American Girl

Upon coming to Northern Ireland, I have found it very easy to have slipped into this persona of what seems to be expected of a Midwestern American girl. I thought I would be simply categorized as one of the international students from America, but it turns out that I am one of the very few who is not from a New England state or a big, internationally known city. And maybe it doesn't help that I love country music and have said "you all" a few times, but I feel like I'm from the cast of Little House on the Prairie next to the Germans, the French, the Irish, and the big city American international students. But I sure feel as though I miss the open Missouri land, the big cars, and my "hick" group of friends back home. I keep finding myself thinking about going back home to the Midwest and finally truly being content with where my immediate family has chosen to settle. I can't believe I'm saying this, but I miss Missouri, and if I don't in my life find the opportunity to move away, for once that doesn't seem like a bad prospect at all. If I act and dress and speak as a Midwestern American girl does, for once I will no longer see it a persona, but rather a blessed trait from which I may take pride.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Northern Ireland - Week One

In the midst of all that is foreign to me here in Northern Ireland, I have no choice but to adapt in the two week's time I have been allotted before classes begin. Much of it has been familiar in the universal scheme of campus and dorm life, but there are other things of which I am utterly perplexed.

#1: Transportation
I have never had to live this long without my own car. I don't know if I could ever get used to long-term public transportation and the complex process that is familiarizing oneself with the train and bus schedules, as the Europeans seem to have mastered it like a science.

#2: Weather
I never know how to plan what to wear here. There's a saying here I heard from one of the cabbies: "If you don't like the current weather, wait 20 minutes." They have been known to see "all four seasons in one day!" in the fall, which hasn't seemed so improbable so far today. I woke to a calm drizzle in the late morning, sat breakfast with a forceful downpour pounding the windows in the kitchen (at our kitchen/flat), and as I type right now the sun is shining but the wind seems to be uprooting the trees outside my second floor bedroom window.

#3: Dress at the Clubs
I can proudly say that I have not seen a full episode of Jersey Shore, but I have watched plenty of parodies to know that what I have seen here at the local Kelly's nightclub (the biggest and most popular night club in Northern Ireland) makes many Jersey clubs look moderately conservative. A fellow American international student with whom I went to the nightclub on our second night in Northern Ireland sat alone for a short time while a few of us went to dance. Upon our return, she told us that an Irish boy came to sit next to her and blatantly stated, "Right, I am going to stick my tongue down your throat right now." Actually, this is a pretty good representation for the actions of most of the people at the club. It was common to see a guy literally going from girl to girl until he could get lucky. Every half hour you could see another person being escorted out as he or she was spewing. There was a large designated area for smoking. Hidden corners in the club were used for passionate snogging. Exceptionally drunk girls wearing little more than bras and panties taking pictures with the security guards (who only seemed to be there to prevent break outs of fighting). The TV show Skins seemed so far-fetched before Kelly's.

#4: (Lack of) Diversity
The most diversity I have seen since exiting the airport at Belfast has been among our group of international students. I have only since seen white people with few mixed races interspersed. Not that this observation particularly perplexes me, but it's definitely something that continually reminds me I'm not at home.

#5: No TV
Here, you have to have a permit to watch TV. I have not looked much farther into this strange phenomenon, but it's hard to become used to not being able to unwind after a long day of culture shock by kicking back and watching an episode of Friends (or insert name of any other all-American show).

For now I have only been able to interact with other international students. I have met some very nice people from Germany, France and Spain. I was surprised by the number of German students - there are much more of them than there are Americans. Our Irish roommates should be moving in today, and classes will be starting here in a week. As other strange encounters arise I will be sure to record them here on my blog. So far on all other counts, I am acclimating well and can't wait to begin classes!