I wake up around 8:45 am during the week and walk down the skinny, dark hallway past the three bedrooms that I share with my five roommates, into the entryway/living room/dining room/kitchen. Our apartment has one very large window that takes up our entire front wall and looks out over the harbor, displaying colorful buildings, towering research ships and foaming waves. On rainy days it is hard to see much more than the cars parked on our side of the street, but on nice days – which are getting more and more frequent here – the sun pours in and warms the entire room. The blinding sunlight can be as much of a wakeup as a cup of coffee.
After I have adjusted to light and have eaten a quick breakfast, I head out for class. There are two ways to walk to campus, and I alternate between them based on how nice it is outside and how late I wake up. The straightforward way to get there is to take a left from our doorstep and then another left down a narrow cobblestone street to the center of downtown Galway. This way takes me past the bustling Shop Street where there are sweater shops, pubs and endless street performers.
The other path is much more scenic and my favorite, especially on my way home from class. I take a right from my doorstep to follow the sidewalk along the River Corrib and over a few different footbridges. Swans glide down the calm part of the water on the right as the strong current on the left crashes toward the harbor. This path is usually deserted because it is out of the way, but it eventually meets up with the shorter path at a very busy bridge you need to cross to make it to campus. Cars continually steam by and there isn’t a crosswalk, which makes it extremely difficult for pedestrians to find an opening.
All of the National University of Ireland-Galway (NUIG) campus fits into one square mile – probably even less. It takes 15 minutes to walk there and maybe seven minutes to walk across it. NUIG has about 20,000 students and they all stay on campus between classes. This makes it look more like a high school than a university because they sit in their friend groups, in their designated hangout spaces, and just socialize until they have another class. For this reason it can be difficult to befriend Irish students because they have all been friends since elementary school and most go home on the weekends, but they are very friendly when you do strike up a conversation with them.
So far I have really enjoyed my classes. I am in two political science seminars: one on Northern Ireland and one on the Republic of Ireland. I’m also in a class called the History of Irish Philosophy and also an Irish Literature course. So I’m learning all about Ireland, which is exactly what I wanted to do while I was here. I’m still getting used to the laidback system of assessment, though. I wouldn’t say my classes are easy, but I don’t have any assignments and all of my classes are graded solely on a long final paper. This is both a blessing and a curse, but I find all of the topics very interesting so it is easy to stay engaged.
I finish class around four and stop by the grocery store, Dunnes, on my way home to pick up a couple of things to make for dinner. Sometimes I take extra detours if it’s nice out to just enjoy the many nooks and crannies of the city. I have traveled to some really cool places this semester, but I’m always very happy to return to Galway. The signature aroma of peat burning hits you as soon as you step off the bus, and that sweet, damp smell is already starting to feel like home.