Living on Irish Time

UCC BIS PageHeaders I v1

Arriving to Cork, Ireland almost two weeks before the start of semester gave me plenty of time to tour the UCC campus.  On my first walk about the grounds—and every time since—I was captivated.  My flatmate expressed the same excitement after he toured the grounds.

“Everything is so old,” Austin said.  Then his girlfriend chimed in with a comment, the likes of which I’ve heard—and made—a lot over these past weeks.  UCC

“I feel like we’re going to school at Hogwarts!” she said over steaming tea.  Sami was quick to abandon the skinny vanilla lattes of her Minnesota home and dive head first into the tea-culture here. “We should all take Defense Against the Dark Arts, or Muggle Studies,” she said, sipping.

Now, as I am wont to do, along with that excitement came the strong and impossible-to-ignore need to plan out my entire semester’s schedule.  I think a lot of students who spend a semester, or year, abroad have this similar problem.  We’re planners, you see—we’ve planned this trip for over a year.  We’ve been on the ball, submitting forms for passports, housing, visas, plane tickets.  Hell, I’d been making lists of what to pack and researching international shipping and customs guidelines for months before I left.  I had been told before leaving Montana that I would not be allowed to register for classes until I arrived in Ireland.  All you planners out there can imagine the sweaty-palmed  frustration this caused in me.  What?!  You mean I can’t sit down with my Academic Advisor and force her to help me chart out the next two years of my life, including the parts impossible to find in a foreign school’s nonexistent catalog?!  THIS INJUSTICE CANNOT STAND!  Nevertheless, I somehow managed to quell my anxiety and wait until I arrived in Cork.

So, there I was, sipping tea with Sami and Austin, contemplating my coming classes at UCC School of Witchcraft and Wizardry; anticipation burning in me with the fury of a thousand suns—waiting, waiting, waiting to register.  To have control.

I went to Orientation, ready—so ready—to sign up for classes, only to find that the torture would continue.  You see, at UCC—as with many schools in Europe—there is no advance registration for international students.  WHAT?!  How can anyone possibly live like this?!anxiety-symptoms-cartoon

At UCC, apparently, you just start going to classes.  Then, after a week of going to all the classes you can possibly fit into your schedule, you choose which ones you’ll be taking for credit and only then do you register.  Anyone like me—obsessed with planning and knowing—can understand what a unique type of hell this is.  I’d be well into the fourth week of classes before I received confirmation of my registration and ability to gain credit from the International Studies Department.  This kind of vague daily operation feels something like what I imagine being covered in bees would be like—the unbearable knowledge that anaphylactic shock is surely seconds away.

When I expressed my frustration and growing unease to an Irish student at the campus pub, between my first set of classes, he laughed:

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Unknown-2“Relax man.  You’ll get your classes.  Have a pint and some music.”

And this isn’t a sentiment that comes solely from this single Irish student.  This is the way things are here.  When I’d searched for a place to live in Cork, back in September—a mere four months in advance—all the emails I received in response to my queries went something like, “Please contact us in December regarding January lets [let-rent].”

Even the traffic direction here expresses the pace at which Ireland operates.dead-slow

I asked people here, in order to confirm my feelings, if they have opinions about Americans being too fast or anxious.  The last gent I asked summed up perfectly what they’d all been telling me:

“Americans are good craic, man [craic-fun/enjoyment].  But you’re all in such a bloody hurry.  Bigger, faster, louder, yeah?  Ye all have a watch on your wrist, piping on about how busy you are, like its a point of pride.  That’s mental [mental-crazy].”

This, I think, will be one of the great lessons I learn while I’m here. There is no way Ireland will allow me to move at the frantic pace I’ve grown accustomed to.  There is an age, a history, to things here that seeps into everything, including the people.  This place has been weathered by a thousand years of Atlantic rain, imperial invaders, religion, war, famine—it’s not going anywhere.  Try to push it, and it will dig in its heels, the way it has for centuries, and push back, harder.  To worry then, that my college classes could somehow go anywhereseems a bit silly in hindsight.

images  university-college-cork

My flatmates and I were right to call this place magical.  But its not some storybook magic from Harry Potter that we’re immersed in.  It’s the magic that saturates a place as it patiently, and often stubbornly, trudges through hundreds and hundreds of years of plodding time, attempting in earnest to wear it away.  W. B. Yeats knew of it when he wrote that “the world is full of magic things, patiently waiting for our senses to grow sharper.”  In my case, the sense which needs sharpening is the more abstract sense that, with or without my frantic actions, things are going to be okay.  Time is an essential ingredient in the making of anything worth doing right.  This magical place, Ireland, didn’t grow into the wonder that it is in a few short weeks.

Nor will I.

 What I’m listening to—

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