Shannon: Expecting the Unexpected

When I began my Irish adventure in January, I had no idea what surprises were in store. When you go to a foreign country, possibilities seem endless and you may feel like your bank account has no limits. Sorry to crush your hopes and dreams, but you may not get to visit every place on your list. To help with this struggle, I recommend choosing a few places that you will definitely visit. Some may be spontaneous European adventures with international friends or if you’re a geek like me, historical sites may be more your cup of tea. Below, I have included a few of my travelling highlights, some may be familiar and some are gems that I never knew about before.

Location A: Butler’s (Irish) Chocolate Factory

We didn’t just get a tour of the factory, but we had chocolate samples and finished with a small cup of hot chocolate and decorating our own chocolate elephant. To say that I now have a Butler’s addiction would be an understatement (rip bank account). The cool thing about Butler’s is that with every drink you order, you can choose a free piece of gourmet chocolate!

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With my American friend, Eliza at the entrance of the Butler’s factory—I felt like a scientist
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Decorating my chocolate elephant, named Harold
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Mouth-wateringly good Crème Brulee hot chocolate

Location B: Malahide Castle

Situated further out in Dublin, this stunning family castle is accompanied by a luxurious garden and is definitely worth visiting. If you are careful, you may find the fairies and wild rabbits hiding among the trees. The family background involves mystery, drama, loss, and magic—I’m not going to give away any spoilers but one particularly well-known tale is The White Lady.

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On the garden/rear side of the castle. The architecture is stunning!
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I found this surprise in one area of the garden—it reminded me of the Maraes in New Zealand

Location C: Wicklow and Kilkenny

The scenery here stunned me and I felt like I was in the land of Tolkien. Fun fact: We were taken through the valley where scenes in Braveheart were filmed halfway through our trip – there’s a surprising fact for you.

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An ancient chapel in the Wicklow Mountains
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Admiring the beauty of the Wicklow Mountains and embracing the crazy winds at one of the lakes

Location D: Belfast and the Titanic Museum

I loved hearing the incredible buskers and learning more about the Titanic. While it was difficult to see the effects of the Titanic’s demise, it was incredible to see how much work went into its construction. I stood where the Titanic stood before it was launched which was crazy! The green squares in the middle are memorials with names of all of the victims of the tragedy and those who died during the Titanic’s construction, which I think is beautiful.

Overall, I had to budget for my trips but those that I invested in created wonderful memories that I know will last me for a lifetime. Have hope! You can still enjoy travelling on a budget by looking at what you should prioritise and what you can leave for future adventures.

Also, I just want to clarify that you don’t need to travel outside your host city to have fun when you’re studying abroad. Days when I have just wandered the streets of Dublin have been some of my highlights because you can always find something new to explore.

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The majestic city hall of Belfast
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The Titanic Museum in Belfast
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On the pier where the Titanic first stood in 1911

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Shannon: Trinity College – The Fulfilment of My University Dreams

When I was younger, I watched films about universities like Oxford, leading to my desire to go to one of those castle-like universities one day. As you will see from my photos, that dream has been fulfilled!

One of the many things that I love about Ireland is its warm and welcoming culture. This is encapsulated in the college campus, which is open to the public. You can often see tourists walking in to take photos of the stunning architecture and I have to admit, this was me when I first arrived.

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Inside the entrance of Trinity College – isn’t it stunning?

Trinity College was established in 1592 and designed to model other historic universities like Oxford and Cambridge. Legend has it that if you are walking underneath the Campanile (pronounced Cam-po-neel, pictured below) and the bell rings, you will fail your exams. So far, I have steered clear of it and you rarely see Trinity students underneath it. You might take the obligatory graduation photo in front of it to celebrate your academic success but no one wants to risk the possibility of this legend coming true.

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In the centre of this beautiful campus stands the Campanile – walk underneath it if you dare

When I walked into my first class at Trinity, I was nervous because I had no idea what to expect. I had questions running through my head such as:

What if my lecturers are terrible?

What if I hate my classes?

And the list goes on.

I am in the last semester of my Conjoint Bachelor of Arts/Bachelor of Music degree majoring in English, Chinese and Musicology (Music Education) and while that is quite a mouthful, I really enjoy studying these subjects. At Trinity, I am taking two Music courses (called modules here), one Education, and one Children’s Literature course and am honestly learning so much.

Courses at Trinity College are similar to Auckland University as you also have lectures and tutorials. The main difference is that the lecture hours are significantly reduced so I only have classes from Monday to Wednesday which is a nice change. However, since Trinity is focused on research, the coursework and assignments are geared toward that with the expectation of students keeping up with multiple course readings and engaging in discussions.

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This is the Berkeley Library, one of three inter-connected libraries at Trinity College

I was delighted to discover that as a Trinity student, I have free entry in to see the ‘Old Library’ and the Book of Kells, an ancient Irish text of the four Gospels.

I don’t even have the words to describe how exciting this was because when you walk into the long room and see the shelves of books, you can feel the sense of history as you take in the beautiful architecture, smell of old books and manoeuvre your way through the crowds of tourists. Something that is pretty cool is that they turn the pages of the Book of Kells every few weeks so you can go in several times and see different pages each time.

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Inside the entrance of the long hall – I thought I was dreaming!
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One of the stunning staircases – only librarians can use it
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Another picture of those beautiful shelves of books!
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A bust of William Shakespeare, 1 of 38 busts in the Library
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Copy of the Book of Kells in the Long Room – no photos allowed in the exhibition but you can see the exquisite detail

Despite my initial fears, I am really enjoying studying here. Apart from study, I got involved in the social aspect of Trinity by joining Christian Union (a Christian group at Trinity). By attending their events/meetings and being open to having lunch with classmates, this has helped me to adjust and enjoy the exchange experience more.

Fun fact: There are two languages spoken in Ireland; English and Irish (Gaeilge) and you can see both everywhere on street signs and public transport.

Thanks for reading!

Feicfidh mé ar ball thú (See you soon)

Shannon

Shannon: Finding My Feet

Hello again!

I’ve been in Dublin for almost 2 months now which is crazy but I am absolutely loving it. When I first arrived, I was nervous because I didn’t know anyone and envisioned myself alone in my room, friendless (maybe that was a bit dramatic). However, I managed to find a church close to my accommodation. This helped me so much because:

  1. Everyone here is so welcoming and friendly
  2. Knowing locals in Dublin means that I have insider tips for what I should do!
  3. Walking to church helps me to exercise (it takes 30 mins) and the walk goes through Rathmines shops, a picturesque area of cute little shops and cafes as well as stunning Georgian architecture
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I can’t get over how stunning these houses are!!
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The coloured doors are also a highlight of my walk

One of the lovely ladies from my church showed me St Stephens Green, a park near Trinity College. I enjoy learning about the history of places so it’s awesome that there are memorials for the Irish potato famine around the park.

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The centre of the park
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Inside St Stephens Green Shopping Centre
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I also found a Disney store nearby (three storeys high!!)

One of the highlights of my time here so far has definitely been going for strolls around the streets near Trinity. It doesn’t cost anything and there are often buskers playing live music throughout the day. I have had to ask for directions a few times and had no problems, apart from one instance where a kind passer-by didn’t understand what I was asking because of my New Zealand accent.

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Grafton Street, one of the main areas for busking
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Entrance to the National Gallery of Archaeology

I haven’t gone crazy with travel but I enjoyed a recent visit to the National Gallery of Archaeology (it is one of four National Gallery museums in Dublin). This was great because:

  1. It was free!
  2. I didn’t want to just enjoy the sights and experiences, but I also wanted to learn more about Irish culture and history.

One of the most important things that I’ve realised so far is that I need to be open to meeting people and exploring new places as this has enriched my experience. Although, it’s important not to exhaust yourself to the point where you are too tired to enjoy travelling as I learned the hard way.

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George’s St Arcade, an area of little shops and cafes near Trinity College
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Gems from an Irish fudge shop inside George’s St Arcade, literally enriching my life

Out of everything that I have done so far, finding a community that I relate to has helped me to adjust in Dublin. Honestly, I can’t recommend this aspect of travelling enough because it can be tempting to just get caught up in travelling rather than also forming friendships with like-minded people. While there is also an element of exploring (and enjoying) new places, enjoyment can be found in the small things also.

I hope that this blog post has been encouraging and look forward to sharing more about what life in Dublin is like!

Until next time,

Shannon