European Council Ireland 2017: Where are we?

Catch-up blogging is the worst kind of blogging!  This program already has me moving at a brisk trot, and if I don’t write things up as I go along it all disintegrates into a blur of green hills, coastal plains, dorm rooms, buses, and potatoes. I think when I left off I promised to say something about our visit to Kilkenny. Great town for a day trip as you can start at one end of the Medieval Mile and sightsee, eat, and shop your way to the other. The two ends are St. Canice’s Cathedral and Kilkenny Castle; pick your flavor!

St. Canice’s–the “tomb” of an anchoress

 

The much-quartered coat of arms on this tomb makes me wish I were a lot better at heraldry!

Artsy focus pulling in action

Street view in Kilkenny

Street view in Kilkenny

Kilkenny Castle

Kilkenny Castle garden

European Council Ireland Study Abroad 2017: First Week

Apparently Sunday is Blogging Day for me on this program! We are through our first full week: classes Monday, a field trip to Woodstock Manor and Kilkenny on Tuesday, classes again Wednesday, then an extended excursion to the Ring of Kerry from Thursday morning to Saturday afternoon. It’s been a very busy but really great week! Admittedly, we have had the usual growing pains: someone’s Internet password didn’t work for a couple of days. One of the exterior doors to the dorm didn’t close and had to be fixed. A couple of students’ rooms didn’t have hot water. Someone got a cold. Oh wait–that last one was me. I was completely felled on Wednesday and didn’t even go over to the program office. Got through the Ring of Kerry on paracetamol (what the rest of the world calls acetaminophen i.e. Tylenol), stubbornness, and a little good luck. We are still having extraordinary weather: warmer than typical and almost no rain. Of course, on Friday when we went around the Ring it was grey and gloomy! Our bus driver Tony said that Murphy’s Law plays a major role in Ireland–no surprise that “Murphy” is an Irish name. The students were actually happy to have some “traditionally Irish” weather even though it seemed like a grim joke on our tour itinerary. Even I have to admit that visiting the Bog Village seemed much more real in a cold drizzle than it would have in warm sunshine! And my cold is on its way out, for which I thank my colleagues for their infinite generosity in picking up some of my workload over the past few days. So! On with the highlights.

The first week was focused on introducing students to Irish culture, history, and geography via a lot of short presentations and visits to various sites. On Monday, our fantastic guide/visit coordinator/all-around Ireland genius Jonathan gave an excellent lecture on Magdalen asylums inside one such former facility (it now belongs to Waterford Institute of Technology). You can see the chapel & Jonathan in action in this photo from my Instagram. The students were utterly engrossed and asked as many good questions as we had time for. In a way it was strange to start off with a focus on such a dark topic in Irish culture, but if anything, Americans often have a romanticized and Disneyfied view of the Irish and it was good to complicate that. Throughout the week I was struck again and again by the contrast between Ireland’s beauty and its brutality. Maybe you can’t have one without the other?

Tuesday we set out to visit Woodstock Manor, a now-ruined 18th-century manor house near Inistioge in Co. Kilkenny. The house was burned in 1922 during the Irish Civil War and the gardens became neglected. The grounds are now slowly being restored by the Kilkenny County Council and we got a tour from the head gardener.

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Our expert guide John

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The remains of Woodstock Manor

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The remains of Woodstock Manor

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Close-up of a Monkey Puzzle; they look like trees made of Hens & Chicks!

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The…Laurel Walk? Or Poplar Walk?

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Courtney sketches the scene

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The “conservatory”

The garden is full of exotic plants from all over the world including the Americas; it was common in Victorian times for landscape enthusiasts both to design elaborate gardens and to pay “plant hunters” to travel in search of specimens. Hence Woodstock’s unusually large collection of monkey puzzle trees, whose original specimens were brought back from Chile.

From Woodstock we went on to Kilkenny city. The centerpiece of Kilkenny is the “Medieval Mile” that runs from Kilkenny Castle at one end to St. Canice’s Cathedral at the other. It was a great chance to tour both buildings (I only toured the cathedral–I love cathedrals), climb the round tower at St. Canice’s, and, importantly, get some lunch! More on Kilkenny in my next post because WordPress is, once again, not being helpful at all!

 

European Council Ireland Study Abroad 2017: We’re here!

It’s 8:30 on Sunday; I’ve been in Waterford for just under a week; the students arrived on Friday; I am finally getting a chance to update my blog. The week was busy with preparations for the students’ arrival: the closer the day gets, the more specific the questions become until we have detailed itineraries for the first few days of the program, with times and places for every departure, arrival, meal, and meeting. Thursday night I was going to bed as the students and faculty were checking in for the flight, so I stalked them on GroupMe until everyone arrived at the airport. I got a little bit of sleep before meeting up with my colleague Jonathan and our intrepid bus driver Tony to head to the airport. Everyone was very tired when they arrived, of course, but we got them through passport control and back to Waterford Institute of Technology where we are based–plus or minus a nap on the bus. Luckily for the students they did not have to stay awake for too terribly long the first day. They had lunch, an orientation session, a tour of the campus, a visit to Tesco (grocery store), and then dinner, and that was the end of the official day. How many of them went to bed right after dinner? The world may never know. We were all impressed at how well the students did despite their fatigue and the overall disorientation of being in a new place.

The GroupMe has been bubbling with small but interesting questions that they have mostly answered for each other: “How do you turn on the air conditioning?” (I quote from the WIT welcome guide: “You are in Ireland now; you don’t need air con.) “Where are we meeting for lunch?” Some hours later:  “Where are we meeting for dinner?” “How do you turn on the heat?” Yesterday morning: “Does anyone have a belt I can borrow?” And since arrival: “Can someone let me back into my room?” The knack of keeping hold of a key card takes a little time to develop.

For the first full day of the program–yesterday–we started with an early breakfast (“Where are we meeting for breakfast?”) and a series of tours in Waterford: the Bishop’s Palace, Waterford Crystal, and a walking tour by a fantastic local guide named Jack Burtchaell. I took half the student group into the Waterford Crystal Visitors’ Centre for their first tour (highlight: Waterford considered me a “tour leader” and gave me a voucher for a free coffee & pastry). Last year on my training visit I did not go to Waterford Crystal so this was my first time there. It was impressive to learn about the level of expertise and craftsmanship that the glassblowers and cutters have to have. Becoming a cutter requires an eight-year training process; a cutter learning to cut a new design gets to see the pattern drawn onto the glass base only twice before he’s expected to know and cut it from memory. A cutter completing the first stage of the apprenticeship has to cut a “training bowl” that showcases all the different kinds of cuts. He (or she; Waterford has one woman apprentice right now) gets 3 blank bowls–two for practice and the final one that’s submitted for evaluation and then returned to him as a commemoration if he passes. Here’s what the training bowl looks like:

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Scariest final exam ever!

Most Waterford crystal is now produced in eastern Europe. The closing of the huge factory near the WIT campus was a major loss to the local economy. Our bus driver Tony is a former blower and people have told me that practically every family in Waterford has former employees in it. The visitors’ center does still produce some crystal, though, and seeing the production process was incredible:

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Shaping a glass blank after it was blown

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Preliminary shaping of the hot glass before blowing

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Cooled glass blanks have the rough edges from the blowing process filed off.

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A cutter at work on a gorgeous vase design

From the Waterford Crystal tour we went to Jack Burtchaell’s walking tour, which was so much fun. Jack is so knowledgeable and so funny; it was a great introduction for the students to Irish history but also to the Irish sense of humor.

 
Posting this as it’s now lunchtime Monday. WordPress has been giving me fits! More to come . . . hopefully.

Waterford training visit 2016: Travel & arrival day

I’m away from home on the 4th of July–again! This year I’m in Waterford, Ireland visiting the European Council study abroad program here in preparation for taking over as program director in 2017. I arrived yesterday after leaving Georgia on Saturday evening. The trip went smoothly yet some unusual things happened: on my flight, there was a medical emergency (the passenger was fine, thank goodness) and I got to hear the flight attendants ask over the intercom if a doctor was on board. I thought that only happened in the movies! We flew from Atlanta to Waterford on an Airbus A330, which was spectacular. Huge and powerful. Then by bus from Dublin to Waterford and a short cab ride to Waterford Institute of Technology where the program is housed. Ireland is beautiful and green and bucolic and Waterford is unexpectedly gorgeous. The sky was bright blue yesterday afternoon and the current program director took advantage by showing me all around the city center, where there are good museums and sights to explore as well as (of course) shops and pubs. The program classes are held in the Travel & Leisure building; I haven’t been in yet but it looks very cool and modern from the outside. Everyone is housed in a set of suite-style dorms called College Fields. I have a room with private bath in a 4-room suite that has its own full kitchen/living room, as do all the students. The kitchens are stocked with pots and pans and dishes so that’s extremely handy!

Today I am going to breakfast with the group and then will probably go back to the city center to visit the Medieval Museum and the Bishop’s . . . er . . . House? Palace? I should have taken notes. The director has recommended that I take a bus out to Tramore, a seaside town, in the afternoon. And somewhere along the line it appears that I will have to buy a charging cord for my laptop. Mine has either demised in transit or really does not like 220 voltage. Stay tuned.