Sunday, January 26, 2014

Week One of Ireland

Last Sunday, I hopped on an airplane by myself for the first time ever. No family, no friends, no familiar faces. I was navigating myself through the baggage claim and security system, as well as entertaining myself during a 5 hour layover in New Jersey and a 7 hour flight to Belfast, Ireland.

Prior to my flight, I was nervous and scared. It was my first time traveling alone and I'm pretty sure I checked to make sure I had my boarding pass and passport every 5 seconds. Those were just the nerves kicking in at that point. I was scared about doing something different and leaving behind my family and friends, all of the people who I feel the closest to. Those feelings started to disappear when I got on the plane because there was no going back at that point. I was on my way to study at the University of Ulster in Coleraine, Ireland, and that made me get excited about what the next couple of months would entail.

When I arrived at the Belfast International airport on Monday morning, I was tired. I had been traveling for quite some time and the time difference between here and back home certainly didn't make it any better (5 hours behind back home). I experienced immediate jetlag and wanted to go back to sleep, but it's recommended to avoid napping so you can fight off the jetlag and get adjusted to the time difference. I really wanted to stay awake during my train ride from Belfast to university to see the beautiful Ireland scenery, but I ended up cheating the jetlag system and taking a power nap.

power napping at its finest

After an hour or so, I arrived to campus. I carried my huge suitcase and duffle bag up the stairs to my flat, or apartment. I was surprised to see I was living in a single with my own bathroom and shower. This was the place I would be calling my home until the end of May. I took my time unpacking and sorting things out in my room (things that I'm still doing now), and I started getting ready for the dinner for all international students.

At the dinner, the university served us traditional Irish stew as a way to say C'ead Mile Failte (a thousand welcomes to you). It was great to get a taste of Irish food right away and get the opportunity to connect with other international students, but all I really wanted to do was go to sleep since I was so jetlagged.

Luckily, I adjusted to the time difference a lot better the second day of orientation and I was feeling a lot more energized. We had a heavy amount of lectures coming up for the rest of the week about basic information like health, safety, clubs, and careers. I was the most excited to hear about the clubs and the campus life. There are a lot of different sports and volunteer opportunities available. In February, there's this week called RAG week and the whole campus participates in it. This video below can probably do a lot better job of explaining what it is than I can do:

So of course orientation week was all about learning vital information about the campus, but it was also important to make connections with other international students and start exploring the area. Every Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday, there's a free bus that brings all students downtown. The downtown area has a ton of shopping to do! There's this place called Poundland, which is the equivalent of a dollar store and you can find some great things there. Since students are not on a meal plan, all students do their cooking in the flat kitchens. Right near Poundland is the local grocery store, Tesco, which is similar to a Walmart, and all of the food is fairly cheap there. The downtown area is only 20 minutes away from campus, so when the buses aren't running, it's not a bad walk back to campus (we walked back from there yesterday-- extra workout for us since we were all carrying our groceries, too!) 
downtown Coleraine
It probably wasn't the best idea to start blogging at 2am over here at this time, but I wanted to get out my first post before classes start tomorrow (or for me on Tuesday since I don't have Monday and Friday classes) and things get busier. The tiredness is starting to kick in, so here's the rest of week one told in pictures:
Giant's Causeway
group of us at Giant's Causeway
karaoking it up
Derry, Northern Ireland

University of Ulster Magee campus in Derry

Primark- the European Marshall's or TJ Maxx- everything you need at low prices!

inside of the Free Derry museum 

It's only week one and there's definitely a lot more to come-- so keep reading to hear more about everything!