I’ll be Riding Shotgun

By: Maia Hamilton

Before writing this post, I decided to take a glance at my first post about Letterkenny. I found myself smiling as I read, sensing the nerves and excitement I had written about those 6 weeks ago. If you had told that girl where she would be at the end of the trip, I doubt she would have believed you. IMG_0102.JPG

Here I am, 6 weeks later, and I have never fallen more in love with a place than Ireland. I waved goodbye to the girls who worked at Florence. I visited The Brewery one last time to bother my friends, Ailish and Allison. I cried in Laiose’s arms on my final night, not ready to leave these new friends behind. In those six weeks, I became a part of the town. The others on the trip would often tease me, calling me Letterkenny’s “mascot”. In some ways, I believe that title was true.

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I found myself exploring every place the town had to offer, with my documentary partner, Blaize, by my side. Together we made Letterkenny home, whether we were hanging out at our friend Laiose’s house or hanging on the porch at McGinley’s. Every night, every place, has a story attached.

The six weeks I spent in Ireland were somewhat of a whirlwind, finding myself in an array of places (Of which I’m sure you’ve read about in other’s blog posts) but every moment I find myself thinking back to was the moments of downtime. Playing cards in the apartment, watching Love Island, dancing around to ABBA, rolling around in a grocery cart. These were the moments that stood out, that make me tear up as I write this. On this trip, I found new friends who never failed to make me laugh or listen to me when I was feeling down. Whether students or locals, I shared a true connection with so many people, I found it hard to leave.1000x750.jpeg.f4030bf9f1b24db2954ddcd7657e1d29.jpg

Throughout the trip, Blaize and I often heard a song called “Shotgun” by George Ezra. This song played everywhere we went, and we soon found ourselves constantly humming the tune. As I left tonight, “Shotgun” played in the taxi. George Ezra kept repeating how time flew by in the song and I found myself tearing up. How was it that in 6 very short weeks, I had found so many lifelong friends? Discovered places I’d never have dreamed of? Created stories that I could share with others someday?

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So as I sit on this bus, heading to my next adventure, I can’t describe this post as a final goodbye to Ireland. I truly believe this place is special and that my story does not end here. I know that I will see my ten new friends, very, very soon. I’m excited to hear one of Curtis’ stories or hear Emily’s giggle. 

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I’m thrilled to talk to Dani about movies and Ben about his hilarious dance moves.  I can’t wait to agree with Tanner on almost EVERYTHING and laugh at Katey Jo’s hilarious jokes. I’m especially ready to see Blaize again, who was truly my partner in crime on this trip. 

However, I wasn’t ready to leave the others. Those local friends I never would believe I’d grown so close to. Ailish, Allison, Megan, Laiose, Hayley, and so many more. Everyone has been such a special part of my journey.

As George Ezra says, “If you need me you know where I’ll be”. I’m hoping you’ll all find me someday soon.

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6 Weeks Later…

By: Tanner Bidish

It’s been so long. It’s been so so so so so sososososososssoso long! Do not underestimate how taxing six weeks can be. Six weeks of small apartments and heavy travel and only seeing the same 10 people every single day. It seems fine, but then something wild happens – like you run out of body wash – and it’s all downhill. beach day 3.jpg

It really has been an awful lot of fun though. Our first out of Letterkenny trip was to Tory Island, so we started our study abroad with raw Irish nature. It was stunning! Throughout the rest of our time, we made trips to the urban centers of the country (well, the two countries), as any self-respecting tourist would do. Dublin was dirty and expensive. Galway was beautiful, so it didn’t matter how expensive it was. Belfast was filled with rich history, and Derry was quaint and scenic. Even after all that travel, making a proper goodbye wouldn’t be possible without returning to that natural beauty.

beach day 2.jpgYesterday (our last Wednesday) a few of us made a trip out to Buncrana to fulfill our hopes and dreams. It was finally time for Beach Day. The sun was out, the breeze was gentle, the water was like 40 degrees …. Look – Beach Day was for lounging, not for swimming!

It was a great day of soaking in sun and getting our ankles wet. We decided to leave when the tide started chasing us back to the rocks. It was no Tory Island, but the air was clean and the sky was big. It felt like we had made our peace with the Irish countryside and that we were ready to go back to Letterkenny and wrap up our projects. beach day.jpg

Study abroad has taught me a lot. Not only am I getting better at formatting scripts and doing documentary research, but I’ve learned a lot about what’s important to me. Belfast and Derry taught me about generational trauma and how taking healing seriously means giving our children equal opportunities. Galway taught me the importance of a good bike ride. The cliffs and beaches taught me to feel comfortable with being small. The lessons never stop. In Letterkenny, I learned that 10 euro to do your laundry is just not worth it always. Today I’m going to spend 3 euro instead on extra underwear, and I guess I’ll just clean my clothes when I get home. See you soon Dad!

 

Do You Have Any Ghost Stories?

By: Katey Jo Henry

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The weeks leading up to my trip to Ireland I asked all my coworkers, “Do you have any Ghost Stories?  My team and I were dead set on proving the existence of Ghosts in Northern Ireland.  As the weeks progressed our documentary topic shifted from ghosts, to religion, to storytelling in Northern Ireland.  I learned that when making a documentary its less about going in with such a rigid plan and rather letting the people in your documentaries decide what it’s going to be about.  Then you make connections between the stories of the people that you have decided to feature within your work and hopefully end up with something that makes a point.    I’ve learned a lot about storytelling, the process of making documentaries, and Ireland’s history.  I feel as though I will leave Ireland more knowledgeable about filmmaking than I had before. This trip has not been educational in an academic sense only, I  also learned more about myself and the people I went on this adventure with.  Parallel to our documentary the relationships I made with the people on my trip grew and changed over time.

kateyjo4       The concept that “everything happens for a reason” seems a bit cliché and naïve.  The universe flows in random and chaotic patterns, but I think me going on this trip this year did not happen by accident.  I considered going on this trip the summer in between my sophomore and junior year.  During that time, I was very lost in myself, my life, my place in this world.  I had relapsed hard into my eating disorder.  I ended up having to go to treatment all summer and work at the Discount Drug Mart.  Living with an eating disorder is so difficult- Every day is so hard.  Something most people don’t think about in a day, eating, consumes so much of my time and energy.  Every single day on this trip has been a challenge for me without my exercise routine and eating foods outside of my comfort zone. I have not been perfect on this trip.  I have given into old habits and have struggled a lot mentally. However, I had a moment the other day as I was getting ready to go out with my friends.  I ate ice cream, and had a great day at the beach with my friends.  I looked at myself in the mirror and I had to smile at myself because I am here. kateyjo2

I did it.  I survived.  I spent last year and last summer a sad girl, starving in her room.  This year I went to Ireland.  I was healthy enough to run around Tory Island.  I had enough energy to laugh so hard with my friends every day.  It’s hard for me to ever feel proud of myself but as these six weeks have begun to wrap up I realized that I am so proud of myself.  I never would have been able to go to Ireland last summer.  I was way too sick.  I spent all of last year working really hard to overcome my illness and all of my hard work paid off because I got to go to Ireland with Tanner, and I got to make some really amazing friends while I’ve been here.   I think I’m here with the people I’m supposed to be here with even though I’m a year late.

kateyjo3         I love Ireland.  I think it’s absolutely beautiful and I can get seafood whenever I want and I don’t have to worry about the quality.  The scenery is beautiful and there are sheep everywhere.  The thing I love more than Ireland is the silly goose times I’ve had with my friends here.  From Letterkenny to Dublin and everywhere in between I’ve had amazing experiences and created wonderful memories with people I genuinely love.

The Lettuce King

By: Emily Thompson

The university sends out a survey for students to take about their study abroad trips to see if it was worth it for the students. While filling out the survey I started to cry because I knew it meant the end of our program was near, and on our last day in Letterkenny I find myself feeling a variety of emotions.

IMG_2014.jpgI feel a little sad. Sad because I must leave such a beautiful place. Sad because I will no longer wake up with a view of the rolling hills. However, I am mostly sad because I must say goodbye, for now, to my newfound friends.

On our last days, I found myself thinking back to the beginning of the trip. We all became close very quickly, but I would not have felt comfortable enough to just walk into one of the other apartments when I wanted to talk to them. This is now a regular occurrence, and we even leave our doors open during the day.

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I feel a little worried. Worried about my final projects, and if they are what I want them to be. Worried about getting to the airport in time on Sunday.

However, these worries quickly go away when I’m around the others. We can all talk about the things that worry us and help each other see it won’t be too bad. It is also quite easy to forget any worries when Ben and Katey Jo are shoving heads of lettuce in their mouths to compete for the IMG_3148.jpgtitle of “The Lettuce King”.

But mostly I feel excited. Excited to go into a new school year with new friends. Excited because I have more confidence and independence after this trip. Excited to share my new stories with everyone I love back home. And mostly excited to someday travel the whole world.

I have already thought about coming back to Ireland and have started planning my next trip abroad.

If anyone from the University reads these, this trip is beyond worth it, and Katey Jo is the Lettuce King.

Closing Thoughts on Ireland

ed1By: Ed Kelly

Well, it’s finally the end of our study abroad program. I’d say overall this is one of the most enriching experiences I’ve had. There was an adjustment period and there was some difficulty and stress along the way but at the end of the day I got to live in another country for a month in a continent I’d never been too and that’s amazing. Despite all the stress, this was 100% worth it and I’m actually proud of myself for doing it. Sometimes I was exhausted, sometimes I messed up the schedule and sometimes I had to eat fast food. However, I also went to tons of cool places, met fun Irish people, ate some of the best food I’ve ever had, and made friends with the other students. The actual classes for Ireland were not super intensive, being more similar to graduate classes than general college courses. A lot of the movies we watched for class were really interesting and I did enjoy meeting new people and getting interviews for my documentary project. The people at BreakOUT were really nice and supportive of our project and we were greeted by a group of them with tea and preceded to get 6 separate interviews in just one day.

ed2Of the trips that we took, I had a great time at every single one of them.  Belfast was a very interesting city with a deep history that you can almost feel when you visit. Tori Island is just one of those places unlike any other, with its remote old world feeling. It is very cut off from the rest of Ireland and has more natural beauty than any place I’ve been since Yellowstone. Dublin was a really fun city too, I love that we visited the capitol during Pride because the city just felt really alive the entire time we were there.

ed3However, of all the trips we took I’d have to say my favorite is Galway. Galway is just a beautiful city, both for the city itself and the people that live there. The city felt like the best coastal city in all of Ireland because you could really feel the coast when you were there, which might be due to the fact that a river majestically flows through the city in several waterfalls, and if that wasn’t pretty enough the water is also populated with actual Swans!

ed4The city layout it really fun and exciting as well with tons of narrow brick roads containing colorful little shops and musician and some really friendly people. This place also had the best food choices of the entire trip. At one point, I and some of the other students entered into a really interesting little shop that sells nothing but pure sheep’s wool clothes made right there in Ireland and it was really cute. I’m very glad we got to spend 4 nights there; It honestly deserved it more than any other city on the trip. Overall this trip is an experience I wouldn’t trade, and I really do mean it when I say I will treasure it always.

Diving into Irish Film

By: Delaney Murray

It’s been really fantastic to get to delve completely into filmmaking these last few weeks, both as a creator and as an observer.

film 1The Galway Film Fleadh was where we got to fit in most of our film watching and was a great example of the Irish film industry as a whole. My personal favorite film was actually a collection – “Irish Talent: New Shorts Two” which was a festival collection of documentary shorts. It showed a fantastic, wide spectrum of topics and filmmaking styles, all made by Irish filmmakers and largely centering around Irish people. It ranged from a film that was part love story, part commentary on how we communicate (“Smithy & Dickie”) to heartbreaking stories about the cruelty of Ireland’s mother and baby homes (“Mother and Baby”) to the journey of a political party campaigning in the months leading up to the 1998 Good Friday Agreement (“Hope – The Story of Yes”). Each of these short films were incredibly impactful on their own, and together showed such a rich expanse of Irish culture and history.
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The next day, we had the opportunity to see a film that also showed how unique and wide-reaching Ireland and its people are. “Town of Strangers” followed the film’s director, Treasa O’Brien, as she traveled around the small Western town of Gort, attempting to cast different town citizens into a film. The film had an incredibly unique cast – from a teenage traveler to a local artist who had isolated himself from his family in another town to an immigrant woman from Afghanistan. Each of the characters was so different in terms of age, race, personality, and how they saw themselves and their future, but they all lived in and loved the community of Gort. It was a great community snapshot that truly showed how unique this country can be, and also reminded me a lot of the community and uniqueness of Athens.

film 5film 3A few weeks from the Fleadh, we also got to meet with the documentary director Paul Duane in Dublin. While we were there, we were able to watch his latest film, “While You Live, Shine” – which was actually largely set in Greece and the US. I really enjoyed Paul’s filmmaking, but more so, I thought his insights on filmmaking were particularly interesting. He told us that Ireland has national programs in place to fund documentaries made by independent filmmaker, a sharp contrast from the US, where it’s hard to imagine just a government program existing.
But aside from cultural and funding differences, much of his insight into making films remained applicable to a filmmaker from any country: always search for new ideas, try hard to find an intriguing cast, and sometimes, you just have to get lucky with the shots and stories you manage to record.

Documentary, Documentary

By: Dani Wasserman

Before I left for Ireland, a friend of mine who travels often said to me something to the effect of “Going overseas will change your life, man, in some way” He was right, but I’m completely sure he could not have possibly imagined anything even remotely close to what I experienced in Letterkenny.

We came to make documentaries, and in doing so to learn and form a deeper understanding of the filmmaking process, and to find some sense of purpose in the audiovisual documentation of true events. My group’s documentary began as a wide-eyed innocent attempt to find ghosts and paranormal activity in Ireland, and instead, during our stay, we uncovered the deep and rich history of storytelling within Irish culture. We interviewed some brilliant, knowledgeable folks, each of whom was bursting with character, and all the while we were documenting. Not just our project, but ourselves, as we made it.

danu3One of my collaborators, Katey Jo, came to Ireland with a small camcorder in hand and popped it on just about as soon as we were all in Letterkenny, and began to settle into our six-week home. What the camera saw at first were eleven strangers, folks from different crowds, different cities, and in some cases different states. We were younger then. So naive.

As time went on we bonded, we traveled all over this little green island, we got lost together, we found our way together, we cooked together, we ate together, we even shared the same dental floss (okay that last one isn’t true, but the point is we’re close now!)danu1.png

As the trip progressed, our project shifted, and so did we. And so the footage we kept shooting of ourselves reflected it. We started to realize we could make shorts, sketches, and pretty much whatever we wanted with eleven young healthy creative folks. We even came up with a name for ourselves as Garbagestack productions.

The amount of dead birds we came across on this trip is horrific and astounding, in total our group encountered at least eight (maybe nine) individual dead birds in our tenure in Ireland. I wonder if it was this record-breaking heat wave that did them in. Maybe that’s just the circle of life, maybe it’s humanity’s impact on the environment. I guess I’ll never really know.

Ireland is an amazing place, with such a rich history, and such a resilient culture and people with a strong tie to their collective identity. We’ve all found our own group identity while here and if we’ve documented anything, we’ve documented the formation, and the evolution of that identity.

danu2.pngWhen we started this trip, what you see on the footage, is like eleven different condiments, Maybe Ben was the mustard, maybe Katey Jo was the mayo, maybe Tanner was the sour cream, all I really know is that Curtis was definitely the Guinness™ Steak Sauce. But my point is we were all distinct, and content to be in our own little bottles, but over the course of this trip Ireland and the places we traveled, and classes we took, and films we saw, took those bottles and squeezed the separate condiments all out into one pot, and then took that pot and heated it nice and slow on an electric stove, stirring gently so as not to burn the bottom, and then when it started to bubble and smell rancid, took it off the burner, and dipped one cracker in it and said “oh god this seems like it would be awful but the flavors actually mix really well.” Maybe even something like “I know we can’t keep eating this, but damn if it isn’t so much more than I thought it would be, damn if these distinct condiments didn’t add up to more than just the sum of their parts and at the very least one hell of a story.”

But hey, it’s not a perfect metaphor.

 
Special thanks to Frederick, Dermot, and everyone at Garbagestack Productions.