Calm before the storm

It’s 8 p.m. and after 2 days of calm and focused work leavened with approximately 10% chaos, all is in readiness at WIT for the students’ arrival tomorrow. I’ve been in full administrator mode: meetings, phone calls, paying for things, making spreadsheets, moving papers around, writing emails headlined “One more thing.”

View from my desk yesterday with my Bullet Journal in full effect.

But it’s not as if I haven’t seen the sun for 2 days. Yesterday started out warm and pretty, deteriorated into wind and drizzle, and got very gusty and chilly overnight. But today was bright and gorgeous!

Today I got the students’ ID cards, bus passes, and Heritage Cards. Got everything made into packets and placed into the students’ rooms. I think I got most of my steps for the day walking up and down the stairs and hallways of the dorms!

Everything in piles as delivered to me earlier today.

What was left after sorting and delivering everything–plus a celebratory pizza!

Students are arriving at the Atlanta airport as I watch the group chat to make sure everyone gets there and all is well. With any luck they’ll go through to their gate right around the time I plan to go to bed. While I’m sleeping, they’ll be flying. Tomorrow we leave on the buses by 7:00 a.m. to collect everybody from Dublin airport, and then the real fun begins!

Packing for Ireland

By popular demand (a.k.a. “2 people asked me”), I present my packing for the 2018 European Council Ireland study abroad program. I’ll be in Waterford, Ireland for 5 weeks (departing tomorrow) with day trips around the southeast of Ireland and weekend trips to Dublin and Kerry. 58 students and 7 faculty will be joining me for this fantastic learning experience. I am excited! And as many of my friends know, I am an enthusiast about travel logistics and thus pleased to have an opportunity to flex my packing skills in a specific and interesting situation.

Here are the parameters: we are based at Waterford Institute of Technology and staying in dorms there. I will have my own room and bathroom with pretty good storage for clothes but not many convenient places to put things in the bathroom. Irish summer weather ranges from warmish (mid-70s Fahrenheit/low 20s Celsius) to chilly with rain almost always possible. We will be in a tour bus about every other day and have only one occasion in five weeks that will call for a dressy outfit. WIT has laundry service (magical) for €8 per load. Ireland uses 220V electricity and the same enormous-looking plugs as the UK. I am flying Delta which allows one checked bag free of charge on international flights with a weight limit of 50 pounds, plus one carry-on and one “personal item.”

And here’s what I’m taking/how I’m arranging it. Click on the pictures to embiggen* them.

All you REALLY need on a trip: money and ID! (I am taking cards as well, obviously, just not showing them to the Internet.)

 

Carry-on toiletries. The little pink box is a contact lens case.

 

Electronics:
Tablet, camera, headphones, card reader, portable charger, watch (which I’ll wear), outlet adapters (Not pictured: my phone, because I used it to take the photos, and the chargers for the phone and watch, because I have to use them tonight).

It’s hard to photograph a fully loaded backpack! My tablet, some paperwork, one spare outfit, carry-on toiletries, passport, wallet, phone, and Duke ride in here. This backpack is my carry-on and my overnight bag for our Dublin and Kerry visits.

The backpack has a pocket for a portable charger with an integrated USB cable and port so I can place my charger inside the backpack, plug the cable in, and charge my phone with my backpack. Neat trick!

Front pocket: toothbrush, wipes, tissues, floss, deodorant, lens case, headphones, wallet, pen.

Outermost pocket: clear bag of carry-on liquids; passport

Pro tip: Don’t take your clear bag of liquids out of your carry-on unless the TSA agents are asking everyone to do so. As often as not, you won’t be asked, and that’s one less thing to fiddle with as you go through the security checkpoint.

Pro tip #2: If you travel more than a couple times a year, consider applying for TSA Pre-Check. You get to go through a dedicated security line without removing your shoes or taking your liquids and computer out of your bag.

My suitcase: 26″ x 18.5″ x 10″ (66cm x 47cm x 25cm). 5.5 lbs. (2.5kg) empty. It’s a Samsonite I got on clearance at Walmart and it has served me well.

Slippers are in my carry-on; black sneakers will be on my feet; the wingtips, running shoes, and flip-flops go in the suitcase.

I’m taking a total of 4 pants, 6 t-shirts/tank tops, 3 button-down shirts, 2 long-sleeve t-shirts.

As you can see, I have a defined color palette. I’d like to say that’s for convenience of mixing and matching clothes when traveling, but in fact I pretty much wear these colors all the time at home too.

Plus a small amount of workout clothes, 2 pullover sweaters, and my Waterford pullover.

The Waterford pullover is a souvenir from my training visit to Waterford in 2016. I have worn it a ton both here and in Ireland, where it caused me to be mistaken for an Irish person last year at the Guinness Storehouse. The only other person I’ve seen wearing one was a 12-year-old girl.

Travel yoga mat (new experiment for this year) and additional toiletries. Celestial Seasonings tin full of OTC meds, because I am my mother’s daughter.

Dr. Laura Trenchcoat rides again. Orla Kiely (Irish designer!) cross-body bag.

All in! Contact lens solution is the only full-size toiletry item I take along instead of buying on-site. Camera in its padded bag is in top middle of the suitcase.

Special thanks to Vicki for the packing cubes! Anything you don’t see in the photo is already cubed up and tucked away. A lady doesn’t show her underwear on the Internet, after all.

Pro tip #3: Tucked away on the side are two washcloths. European lodgings generally don’t provide washcloths, so bring your own.

That’s everything except a couple of small items I have to use tonight, e.g., my eyeglasses, which will go in my carry-on. Oh, and I am taking a pashmina-type shawl/scarf and a neck pillow with a Velcro strap to attach to my backpack.

Moment of truth: 35 pounds (16kg).

I usually come in under 30 lbs. on the outbound trip, so 35 pounds is making me nervous! My exercise gear accounts for the additional weight. Hoping to run in the mornings and/or do a little yoga at night. If that doesn’t happen, I’ll leave those things out next year. My favorite part of packing is that there’s always another chance to perfect my system.

Tune in later this week for updates from the Emerald Isle!

*It’s a perfectly cromulent word.

Siena: In quale contrada posso trovare la mia valigia?

Facebook comments are suggesting that the actual star of this blog is my missing suitcase, so let me say up front that it is still at large as of this moment (9:50 p.m.) despite the text message I received last night stating that it would be delivered. I suppose it is the case that that message has not yet been proven wrong or inaccurate. Like Schroedinger’s Cat, my suitcase is in a state of quantum indeterminacy. In my ongoing search for the bright side I will note that I have finally learned how to turn on a towel warmer–because I am using it to dry the clothes I washed in the sink–so once again we are reminded that study abroad programs are packed with educational opportunities.

Despite this annoying development, today was an excellent day. We spent the morning with the co-owners of the Dante Alighieri Institute (the school that hosts and coordinates our program) planning out future offerings and recruitment strategies. The details of the meeting are probably of interest to no one but me, so I will just say that some very appealing plans are in the works for 2019 and beyond. The Institute has connections with the University of Siena and plans to tap faculty members from there to potentially teach for our program. That connection opens up opportunities for course offerings in a multitude of subjects, so we are figuring out how best to combine the talents of USG faculty, Dante Alighieri faculty, and University of Siena faculty. Students considering this program for spring 2019 should stay in touch with me: we hope to have courses selected by the end of April.

From the morning meeting we headed to lunch at another very good restaurant (I need to start writing these names down). I had a delicious traditional soup made of bread, white beans, and greens in a tomato broth, and then a plate of grilled vegetables.  (Me: “If I order both of these, will I have way too much food?” Luca: “No, you’ll be fine.” Me: *stuffed*) Finally, of course, we had coffee and although we had decided against desserts, Luca ordered a plate of biscotti that were so yummy. Would it have been bad manners to put extras in my pockets?

Yep, it’s a picture of my lunch.

The afternoon was spent learning more about the contrade that make up the central city of Siena. These 17 districts date back to the middle ages with ties to both the military–they trained and supplied troops–and the trade guilds as each contrada has a traditional occupation. Luca is a long-time resident and member of the Tower contrada and a true believer in the value of the contrada system, which seems to function as an extended family, neighborhood watch, home team, and miniature government all in one. Both the rivalries and the alliances between contrade date back centuries and are taken very seriously. Tower has two rivals (which is unusual), Wave and Goose. Wave seems to be acknowledged as a respected rival while Goose is regarded with contempt. Siena’s trademark event is the Palio, a terrifying horse race in which horses and jockeys representing the contrade compete–nominally for a silk banner depicting the Virgin Mary but in fact for something more like bragging rights. Strategizing about horse choices, knocking other riders off their horses, and making side deals to get a better position at the starting line are all part of the game. The Palio is taken so seriously that if a woman from one contrada is married to a man from another, she goes to stay with her parents during the Palio period. Each contrada has a museum where they display the palli they have won, the traditional costumes they wear in the Palio procession, and other treasures that belong to them. Tower also has a sort of clubhouse (café/snack bar/neighborhood hangout) and an absolutely extraordinary eighteenth-century chapel. It’s hard to recount it all because I can’t quite wrap my head around it. Sometimes it seems like the contrada system is all in good fun, sometimes it seems like a beautiful embodiment of civic pride, and sometimes it seems like blood sport. Having said yesterday that I still needed to learn a lot more about this system, I succeeded in learning a lot more today, and still feel like I don’t entirely grasp it all. Might be time to accept that I need more than 3 days to get my head around a complex element of a complex culture that has been around for at least 6 centuries.

The weather is nice in Tower contrada!

Outside the Tower Contrada museum

A stone from the original Tower Contrada chapel

The Tower crest inlaid in the chapel floor

The Tower chapel as it exists today

Ceremonial outfits for Palio processions

This is the outfit Luca gets to wear

We ended the day with the Georgia Southern students in cooking class back at the Dante Alighieri Institute. Their program includes a certain number of these cooking classes in which they learn to make a traditional Italian meal and then, of course, they get to eat it! Tonight we learned to make

  • pizza: dough from scratch and 4 different combinations of toppings–we had the pizza as a starter
  • baked whole sea bass: stuffed with chopped herbs and lemon zest, baked, then filleted
  • grilled vegetables to go with the fish
  • tiramisu: egg yolks mixed with mascarpone and then folded into merengue; that mixture is layered with espresso-dipped ladyfingers.

It was all very good–the chefs gave us a lot of help, of course, but none of the work was too complicated except maybe filleting the fish. And even that would become easy with practice. The students have all said they don’t cook very much but I’m hoping they’ll at least take the skills and the memories home and try it all out again later. I am definitely going to make tiramisu again as soon as I have the chance.

And so back to the hotel to confront the continued absence of my suitcase. Tomorrow is another day; my colleagues have reassured me that they really like my black sweater; washing your jeans too often is bad for them anyway. (. . . right?)

On the Road (or Plane) Again: Semester in Siena visit coming up

I’m excited to be posting again after a very long silence! Last June I had to bail out on blogging altogether due to mysterious posting problems that seem to be solved now. It’s a good time to have a functioning travel blog as I am setting off for Siena, Italy on Monday (12 March) to visit the Semester in Siena program that Middle Georgia State University is now offering in cooperation with Georgia Southern University and the Dante Alighieri Institute in Siena. This program is a major expansion of our international offerings and a great opportunity for students to immerse themselves in Italian culture for an entire semester. I can’t wait to learn more about it, experience some of the highlights firsthand, and share it with everybody. Hoping to do lots of photos and/or video, blogging, and social media posts during my trip, which will include 2 days on my own in Florence (sounds better in Italian: Firenze) before I return to the States on Sunday 18 March. This will be my first trip on my freshly renewed passport, I have my packing list ready to swing into action this weekend, and I’ve been working diligently on my Italian, learning sentences I probably will not use (e.g. “Vorrei dare una festa” and “La camera non mi piace”) plus some I will (“Sono vegetariana” and “Quanto costa un cappucino?”). I think I am almost ready!

If you’re a member of the Middle Georgia State University community, please make sure you’re following the Office of International Programs on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram as I’ll be posting there as well as here as much as I can.

Stay tuned!

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.

And so it begins

Home from Paris on Saturday; faculty convocation Monday; department meetings yesterday; finalizing syllabi today. The new semester is taking shape and so is the consolidated institution. First day of fall classes is Monday, August 19–see my “Teaching” page to find out what I’m doing this semester.

I’m also eagerly awaiting the arrival of page proofs for my book The Matrimonial Trap: Eighteenth-Century Women Writers Redefine Marriage (part of Bucknell University Press’s Transits series). After proofing and indexing, the book will go into production and is expected in November.

And believe it or not, we are already rolling on Study Abroad promotion for Summer 2014. Take a look!

45 days to Paris!

Just finished updating the syllabus and reading list for my Study Abroad class titled “Dangerous Liaisons: Anglophone Cultures and France.” I am excited about teaching this class and “British Lit. I: Brit. Lit. Goes to Paris.” Study Abroad faculty and students will meet this Saturday at Georgia College and State University in Milledgeville, GA for orientation and our first class meetings. It will be great to meet the students with whom I’ll be sharing this adventure. I’ve already met my fellow faculty members a few times and they are fantastic–experts in their fields and excellent people besides.  Between now and our departure date of June 30 I’ll be preparing my teaching materials while my students start working on their assignments.  I am so eager to see the connections they make and how the classes develop.

If you are one of my Study Abroad students, don’t forget to check out the page on this site for your class (see links in the sidebar) and download the readings as needed.  We’ll go over assignment requirements in detail on Saturday.  See you soon!