Monday, June 17, 2013

                   I’m so sad that this experience has come to an end. I have met some many people and learned so much throughout my experience. Studying abroad really helped me to grow as a person. Learning to adapt to changes and differences between cultures teaches you what’s important and what’s not.  You take little things for granite when things are easy, but it makes you appreciate them when your environment changes. I also learned how to communicate more easily with people from different cultures. I didn’t really expect to have trouble with communicating since I studied and traveled to English speaking countries, however the combination of accents and differences in vocabulary can really be more challenging than you expect. It’s hard for them to understand you and it’s hard for you to understand them and it’s easy to get frustrated, but learning to communicate with others who are different than you benefits you in so many ways.  Being able to work at Cregg House allowed me to experience a different aspect of the Irish culture. Most tourists do not get a chance to experience this aspect of a country’s culture, but it allowed me to develop a better understanding of the Irish culture and broadened my perspective of employment and health care.  The Irish have a good balance of work with other aspects of their lives, and foster a less stressful work environment than we have in the United States.  I really appreciated that aspect of Cregg House; everyone was appreciated and all the employees looked out for each other. This is one of the many lessons I hope to remember when I’m back home.
                  The people I met during my time abroad and the connections I had with them was the greatest benefit of my experience. The employees at Cregg House, the service users I worked with, the taxi and bus drivers, the locals at the pubs, and my friends and professors that I shared this experience with were what shaped my trip abroad and the lessons I learned during my time here. To future travelers and study abroad students my advice would be to engage with the locals and ask them about their culture. Nothing can teach you about a culture and enhance your experience more than the people you talk to and the stories they share with you.  If given the opportunity to study abroad again I would take it in a heartbeat, there are so many other places that I want to travel to and explore that it would be hard to decide where to go next! 

Monday, June 10, 2013

A day in Galway!

Last weekend we spent a day in Galway, which was one of my favorite places that we visited. Galway is a little less than a 2-hour bus ride away from Sligo, and is known as a town rich in Irish culture. We were all very excited for our day in Galway because the Irish DJ we had befriended in Sligo was from Galway, and offered to show us around the city. When we first arrived in Galway we were all a little sleepy from the early morning drive so our first stop was a café. I had an Irish coffee and a croissant that was delicious and the perfect pick-me-up. After the café we walked down the busy shopping street in the center of the city. Street performers of all kinds were scattered throughout the street performing for the tourists.  At 11 we met Ryan, the DJ, and one of his friends in front of McDonalds, so he could show us around his hometown.
Since he knew of our interest in shopping he took us to some of the popular Irish stores that he thought we would like. I must say he had pretty good taste, all the stores he took us too we liked and we all made at least one purchase. Once we were shopped out, Ryan walked us down to the river. He pointed out the Spanish Arch and explained how the curve of the river by the church inspired the design of the claddagh ring. The claddagh ring is a traditional Irish ring that has a heart symbolizing love, a crown symbolizing loyalty, and two hands symbolizing friendship. If you wear the ring with the heart facing you it means that your heart is taken, but if you where the ring with the crown facing you it means that you are single.
The river was crowded with people who were there to watch a water polo match being played in the river, so we stopped and joined the crowd for a while. The game was a little different than the American form of water polo. Everyone was in kayaks and used their paddles to maneuver the ball, but the rules seemed to be the same. When the water polo game was over Ryan and his friend took us down to show us the beach. It seemed a bit cold for a beach day to me, but the sun was out so the beach was fairly busy with people. Across the street from the beach a futball game was being played. There were tons of spectators, so we walked over just in time to catch the very end of the game.
When the game ended we all agreed it was time for dinner, so Ryan led us down the street to a restaurant that he had worked in when he was younger. I enjoyed a tasty bowl of traditional Irish stew with a side of brown bread.  I don’t know how they do it, but I’ve never tasted any bread better than the bread they make in Ireland.  I expect to suffer from tea and bread withdrawals when I get home. After dinner it was time to head back to Sligo. Ryan and his friend led us back to the center of town and made sure we met back up with the rest of our group.  We were lucky to have locals be are tour guides around the city; we went places we probably would have never ventured to on our own.  I could have used another day to spend in Galway, but I guess I will just have to make my way back there some day. 

Sunday, June 2, 2013

During our stay in Sligo we work Monday thru Thursday at our placements. I wake up around 8:00 on these mornings and meet Sarah outside the apartment at 9:10.  Our bus to Cregg house picks us up at 9:20, well that’s when its scheduled to arrive but we have discovered the Irish run on a more flexible schedule. Our bus driver, Vinny, keeps the bus lively and always gets a good American joke in for us. Vinny usually drops us off at Cregg House at 9:45 and I make my way to the Dochas room. The service users slowly arrive until 10:00 and start on their “work.”   Most of the service users greet everyone with a hug when they arrive. While the service users start their work I make my rounds around the room to see if anyone needs help and chat with them while they work. At 10:30 we have a tea break, I help make and pass out everyone’s tea and coffee, and then have a cup of tea myself with the rest of the staff.  Then the service users either go back to the room to continue their work or they may go for a bus spin or a walk around the property.  Some mornings I go with a service user to their physical therapy session and on Thursdays I go to hydrotherapy at the pool with some of the service users.
At noon the service users go to lunch and they all take another cup of tea with their lunch. I help at lunch by cutting food, getting utensils or napkins, or just by interacting with the service users while they eat. At 1:00 I have my lunch break with Sarah, usually followed by a cup of tea or coffee for myself.  We eat in the cafeteria, and in Ireland lunch is their big meal of the day. They always have mash potatoes and cabbage, and a couple of options for the main dish. The food is always delicious and I usually clean my plate.  Sarah and I share stories from our morning and make plans for after work over our lunch and then head back to our rooms. The activity in the afternoon is always different; cookery, bingo, or bowling in the recreation room are common activities. The afternoon activity is always followed by yet another tea break.  I already find myself craving the tea breaks; I’m not sure what I’m going to do without them when I go home. After tea the service users who live at Cregg House take a bus back to their houses.  I wait with the other service users and help clean up the room until Vinny comes to take Sarah and I back to the apartment at 4:00.
Our afternoons always vary, some evenings we have group activities planned to explore different attractions around Sligo. One afternoon we hiked Knocknarea, the mountain that is said to have Queen Mauve’s tomb at the top, and another afternoon we went to Strandhill one of the beaches in Sligo and enjoyed the famous seaweed baths at Voya salon. If an activity isn’t planned for us we usually walk into town and shop at some of our favorite stores and grab a drink in a pub or café. Most of the cafes and pubs have Wi-Fi, so we can check in with friends and family back home. Some nights we stay in the pubs longer than others, and sometimes we stay out to enjoy the nightlife with the students in Sligo. We pack our days full of activities, but we like it that way. We can sleep when we are back in America.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

        I can’t believe I have already been in Ireland for nine days!
The time is flying by.  Sligo is a beautiful town on the northern coast of Ireland, full of culture and history. Sligo is not a tourist hub, but is mostly filled with locals and students who attend the Institute of Technology. Staying in a town such as Sligo gives us a chance to experience the culture of a true Irish town.  After our first day of sight seeing and being in Ireland, it was apparent that Ireland is filled with cultural pride. The Irish are proud of their history and heritage and are extremely willing to share it with others. The Irish culture also seems more relaxed and less dependent on work and time than the American culture, which has been a very nice change.  Tea breaks and relaxing at the pub have become an everyday staple for me during the past week.
          During our programs orientation we visited the different locations that we were are being placed during our time in Sligo. Each location works with people with disabilities.  At all the placements we visited the attitudes of the staff amazed me. Everyone truly cared about
their job and the people they cared for.   While many of the staff had
been working with this population of people for many years no one seemed hardened or jaded, but were still extremely passionate about the work the were doing.
         I am working at Cregg House, a center that works with a wide range of disabilities and provides a number of services. Some of the service users live at the facility and others live in town and come during the day. I am based in the Dochas room, which is a Gaelic word for “hope.” The majority of women in this room have low verbal or communication skills, but can participate in activities and basic tasks.
Something that stood out to me at Cregg House was the variety therapeutic techniques and approaches the staff uses. The service users partake in music and art activities that have therapeutic benefits during the day. Physical therapy, occupational therapy, and speech language therapy are also offered to the service users.  Hydrotherapy is also used by the mobility and therapeutic program in the center’s pool.  During my first week I was able to participate in a hydrotherapy session, which was an approach that I had not previously observed before.  Another program offered at Cregg House that stood out to me was their advocacy program, which meets weekly and encourages the service users to speak up for themselves and makes sure they are knowledgeable of their rights. This is a very important aspect of a facility for people with disabilities, but has been forgotten by many. The advocacy program is taken seriously by both the staff and service users and ensures that the service users have a voice and are not taken advantage of.  Cregg House is an amazing facility and I am so excited for my experience there. I am learning so much from my placement already and I am really looking forward to returning tomorrow.

Friday, May 17, 2013

On my way!

The traveling has commenced! A 9:10 am departure from my house and a 9:10 am arrival time in Ireland tomorrow makes for exactly 19 hours of traveling ahead. I am currently on the road to the Orlando International Airport to catch my 5:17 p.m. flight to New York where I will meet up with my fellow travelers and continue to Ireland.  Being the only Floridian of the group, and never having met any of the other students in person has me slightly anxious. Hopefully the sun and warm weather will follow me there, and they’ll appreciate my southern influence. In my typical fashion I completed packing my suitcase a little before 8:00 am this morning, was being coerced out the door by my mother at 9:00 am, and have double checked that I have my passport and debit card multiple times already.  I can’t pinpoint exactly what else is adding to the butterflies in my stomach, but I’m pretty sure they won’t completely settle until I’ve made it to Ireland.
I cannot wait to immerse myself in the Irish culture and learn from the people I meet and the experiences ahead. I chose to study abroad because I believe that you learn the most when you learn from people who are different than you.  Learning from people of different backgrounds and cultures allows you to broaden your knowledge and incorporate multiple perspectives into your own education. I hope this experience will give me a better understanding of the health care for people with disabilities on an international level. Through the organization I will be working with and the people I meet I know I will learn so much, and I know this experience will follow me to grad school and throughout my career as an occupational therapist.
My overall goal for of this trip is to take full advantage of the experience have been given.  This is an amazing opportunity to learn and do things that I might not ever have the chance to do again.  I want to engage myself in the Irish culture and become more than just a tourist during my time there.  I am overwhelmed with excitement about the opportunities to come in the next few weeks. Let the adventures begin….