Wednesday, April 29, 2015

My Life and Books

Anybody who knows me probably knows that books are a very important part of my life. I've been thinking about the different ways that books have played a role in my life recently, and how they relate to aspects of my life abroad (like how I'm trying to place less value in material things and how frustrating being an undergraduate at Trinity college can be!) So, here are a few stories.

-When I'm home, I'm somewhat of a book hoarder. I usually only buy books that I have already read or are from an author or series I know I like. (If I want to just find random books to read I usually go to the public library). Now that I'm away from home and I can only bring back what will fit in my suitcase, this attitude has changed somewhat. I've been buying most books with the intention of reading them and then getting rid of them. I particularly like a bookstore that I found over here called Hodges and Figgis, they have a section where everything is 99 cents!

Such a magical place
I think this has been good for me. Sometimes I tend to put too much value in owning something simply for the sake of owning it. In general going to college and studying abroad has given me a different attitude about all my "stuff", and how much of it is actually necessary.

I fully intend to get rid of most of these before I leave Ireland,
but it just doesn't feel like home without a shelf full of books.

-Historically, my usual genres have been fiction and fantasy. However, I have found myself changing more in this regard lately. A lot more biographies and non-fictions have been finding their way onto my radar, mostly with positive results.

I read this book recently, its the true story
of two men trying to find the deepest cave
on earth. I highly recommend it!
In the same vein, I recently started listening more to audio books. I was convinced for many years that I didn't like audio books. I didn't like the voices, I didn't like how slow they moved, I didn't like how it was so much harder to reread a sentence or paragraph. I have been realizing that audio books can have their own place though, such as during road trips when I tend to get a bit car sick and while doing laundry or other activities. They will never replace physical books for me, but its just another way that my literary horizons have been expanding. (I feel like such an adult, actually enjoying non-fiction books and listening to books while I fold my laundry?)

-The library at Trinity is huge, but as an undergraduate taking advantage of its resources can be frustrating. For one thing, we are not allowed to check out a majority of the books (they have this agreement with publishing companies in the UK which means they acquire a lot of books, but one of the conditions is that undergrads can't check them out). Even when I do find books that I am allowed to check out, I am only able to have 4 out at a time. It couldn't be more different than the Wellesley library! It has made for some very long days in the library doing research. This is one of the reasons why Trinity has made me grateful that I go to an exclusively undergrad college at home. There aren't any students at Wellesley that have more privileges than I do.

This is the "Old Library" at Trinity.
Unfortunately we don't actually study in here
anymore, our actual libraries are rather less

-Soon after I arrived in Ireland, I remembered the fact that the first Harry Potter book was published under at different title in the UK, so I thought it would be fun to buy a copy here. (It is called "The Sorcerer's Stone" in America, originally it was published as "The Philosopher's Stone".) It was really interesting to read it in its original edition, it made me want to re-read the American version and see how different they are. There are a few UK spellings that I was familiar with, but a few really surprised me. (For example, did you know that "pajamas" in the US is spelled "pyjamas" here?) Just another cultural experience I'm trying to soak up before I go back home!

As of tomorrow I only have 3 weeks left here, which is crazy. More to come soon!

Friday, April 10, 2015

Semester Update

Before I get started, I have one small piece of information to share: I updated the tabs across the top of the page and added one called "My Life in Pictures". It is by no means comprehensive, but if you're interested in seeing a little bit more about me, and especially about Boston and Ireland, you might find the pictures interesting.

Classes officially ended last Thursday, over a week ago. Since then I have literally had no obligations. This has led to a nice, if somewhat disorienting schedule. The weather has been beautiful, so I've been spending as much time outside as possible. Especially in the last couple days though, I've been having trouble figuring out what to do with myself! It has been a great time to relax, but it also means that I've been getting basically nothing productive done (example: I've been free for over a week and am just now getting around to writing this blog post).

Speaking of the end of classes, I'm still having a lot of trouble wrapping my head around the semester schedule here. At home at Wellesley, we usually have just a few days to study followed by a single week of exams. Here at Trinity, we have three weeks off to study followed by four weeks of exams.

For an international student such as myself this is kind of nice, because it means that I have lots of free time before the end of the semester to travel! (More on that in a minute.) However, from an academic point of view it bothers me. I realize that exams are more important here and that more time to study makes sense because of that, but I would rather just get them over with. My two main exams aren't until the final week of exam period, so I have 6 weeks total between the end of classes and those two exams. I feel like by the time I get around to studying I will have forgotten everything! I feel weird complaining about extra time off, but it kind of stinks that while I'm travelling and enjoying my time off exams are still hanging over my head.

Some of the different-ness of the academic schedule here comes from the fact that at home, virtually all classes last just one semester and finals take place at the end of both fall and spring semesters. Here, there are only exams in the spring, which means that there are a lot of full year classes. This has led to a few problems with being here for only the spring; a few of my classes were technically year-long classes that I joined in the middle. Generally Trinity is pretty good about making this work, but it has still caused some frustrations. Take my Latin class, for instance. There were two different versions of the course that you could register for, one with an exam and one without. The course without an exam is designed for single semester students such as myself. However, the department didn't communicate with us about what was expected to make up for the exam, and therefore the last week of classes a friend and I discovered that we were supposed to have been doing an independent study all semester alongside our normal classwork. Oops. (They honestly didn't tell us anything about this). They changed things around so we are taking a final exam after all, which I suppose is the best way it could have worked out. I was assuming that I was done with that class though, so it was frustrating to learn that in fact I need to study for an exam which will be worth 80% of my final grade.

Anyway, I really didn't mean for this whole post to turn into complaining. Sometimes it's so much easier to talk about the negatives of a situation. Despite how it might sound, I have really been having a great week. The weather has been spectacular, definitely the warmest weather we've had the whole time I've been in Ireland. Luckily this warmth has coincided with our break, so I've been taking advantage of my freedom to spend as much time outside as possible.

I've also been checking items of my list of things I want to accomplish and see while I'm in Ireland. On Wednesday a friend and I went on a bus tour of the Hill of Tara and Newgrange. The Hill of Tara is an ancient location where the High Kings of Ireland ruled from, and Newgrange is a Stone Age passage tomb that predates both Stonehenge and the Pyramids in Egypt. In all my pictures Tara basically looks like some insignificant grassy mounds, but it has a lot of history, and the view from the hill is incredible. Apparently on a clear day you can see nearly 3/4 of Ireland.

The Hill of Tara (click to see the picture larger)
Waiting to go into the 5000 year old tomb
It was an awesome trip, we even stopped at a farm for lunch and I got to hold a baby chick and pet some lambs.
baby lambs at the farm

Yesterday a couple friends and I visited an old church in Dublin (originally founded in 1095 A.D.) that has a crypt underneath. We were brought down to see (and even touch) some of the mummies. The most interesting part to me was the fact that it is technically still an active burial site (several important families in Dublin still retain the legal right to have remains placed in the crypt) so they aren't allowed to light most of the rooms full of coffins or open any of the ones that have remained closed and intact. Unfortunately we weren't allowed to take any pictures down there, so you'll have to leave it up to your imagination. Or just google St. Michan's church, that works too.

The rest of my time here will basically be full of travelling and studying for exams. Next week I embark on a short trip to England (Bristol and Bath mostly), then the following week I go to Paris. I will do my best to share more details about these trips later! My only currently scheduled exams don't happen until the 18th and 19th of May, so in theory I will have plenty of time left to study after I get back from travelling. I will also have a Latin exam sometime in May though, and I am hoping to work out a trip to Scotland as well. I return to the US on May 21. Despite how much time it currently feels like I have left, I know it will come way too quickly! I will only have a couple of days between my last exam and going back home, so I have the feeling that I will be very exhausted from studying and packing and saying my goodbyes and such. But, I really don't want to think about all that yet.

I'm so excited for all my travels the next two weeks, I've been trying to make the most of my down time before we embark on our adventures. It's been great to just have some time to relax and recuperate!