Orientation Part 2: The Ceili and Tours

I haven’t had much time to post lately, so I’ll give you a brief rundown of the last few (and very fun) bits of orientation.

Friday evening was the Ceili, which was held in a hall of an old church in Belfast sometimes used for Queen’s social events.  Our meal was dark brown soda bread and hearty, delicious Irish stew, with potatoes, carrots, celery, kale and lamb for the meateaters.  Happily, there was lamb-free stew for vegetarians like me.  (I’m finding an abundance of veggie options in Belfast so far!)  Throughout our meal, we were serenaded by a fiddler, accordion player and pianist, whose music would later accompany the Irish traditional dancing.

After eating, we were encouraged to participate in the dancing, which is very similar to American square dancing, right down to the disparaging humor of the caller.  Each dance, he made promises such as, “As long as you know your left from your right, you can do this dance.” Of course, he carefully reminded us of this as we forgot the steps and stumbled around the hall.  It was a lot of fun, and a nice way to get to know more of the international students as we bonded in our ineptitude.

Saturday night, we met in front of the Queen’s Student Union for a ghost tour of Belfast.  We had a huge group that filled the sidewalk, but our two guides in ghastly face paint and lacy black garb diligently kept us together and projected so we could all (usually) hear.  Most of the stories were sad rather than scary.  One told of a minister’s son who died of plague in the early 1800s and whose ghost warned his father that grave robbers were pulling out his teeth.  Human teeth were highly prized in those days as they were often used as replacements for rotten ones, and grave robbery was frequent.  Of course, it was too late for the minister to project his son’s corpse by the time he took the ghost’s warning seriously.

I think the saddest story of all was about a seven-year-old boy who was killed during the Belfast blitz of 1941.  According to the story, his ghost can be seen running up and down Donegall Place where he once lived, trying to find his way home.

The ghost tour gave us a bit of Belfast history and some views of the city by nightfall, but the Belfast city bus tour Sunday afternoon provided a thorough overview in the (admittedly clouded over) daylight.  Our tour guide was hilarious.  In addition to the expected sights, like Belfast’s impressive City Hall, he pointed out the house of, “The most optimistic man in Belfast.  You see?  He’s got an outdoor swimming pool.”

Banter like this went on and on.  We reached the site of the new Titanic museum, which will open in March in commemoration of the 100th anniversary of the ship’s sinking.  The Titanic, as you may know, was built in Belfast.  “We always tell people, it was fine when it left Belfast,” our guide explained, “It was a Scottish captain and a Canadian iceberg what did her in.”

Inevitably, the tour also contained references to Belfast’s troubled past, some subtle, others not so much.  We passed the most bombed hotel in Europe, which has been rebuilt 37 times, as well as the Protestant and Catholic neighborhoods that are still surrounded by walls that open and close at certain times of day.  However, while The Troubles cannot yet be forgotten in Northern Ireland, they are definitely over.  The Good Friday Agreement of 1998 led to a fairly rapid decrease in violence here, and Belfast is a very safe city today.

The bus tour dropped us off in front of Victoria’s Square, Belfast’s main shopping centre, where I bought the cheapest Northern Irish mobile phone available and enjoyed chatting with the phone store employees.  One of the salesclerks has a degree in Politics from Queen’s (arguably the premier university of Northern Ireland), but is working in a phone store.

“Queen’s is a great school, but once you get out, it’s not so good,” he informed me.  Just as the current economic situation back home is creating an unfavorable job market, Northern Irish students are finding it difficult to obtain meaningful work upon graduating uni.  Hopefully that trend will turn around soon!

Now that I have convenient means of contacting people here, I feel much better settled already.  I have a “wee mobile number” to give out to the new friends I’m meeting, and I had my first day of class yesterday!  A post about my initial school experience is forthcoming.

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Orientation Part 1

Though I was a little late to the first session of orientation, there was no harm done.  We have been bombarded with useful information for most of yesterday and today, everything from Belfast culture and history to Queen’s course registration, to local public safety.  Tonight, we get to celebrate and relax after registering for classes.  There is a Ceili being put on for the international students, which is a traditional Irish meal with lots of music and dancing!  Should be fun, so expect a post tomorrow.

I met with my adviser in the English department yesterday afternoon and pre-registered for classes.  Unsurprisingly, she is a delightful and kind person.  A full course load here is three modules, what we would call courses in the US.  She recommended that I sign up for four modules and pick the three that suit me best, as we were unsure about my pre-requisites for a couple of the options.  I definitely did not meet the pre-req for one of the Drama courses I’m interested in, Applied Theatre, but I am currently enrolled in Shakespeare in Performance, a third-year drama module.  My adviser suggested that once I get to know my Shakespeare teacher, I might gauge whether or not I’d be suited for Applied Theatre.  Applied Theatre is akin to Theatre for Communities, which I’m interested in pursuing in graduate school.

Anyway, in addition to the one Drama module, I’m taking a third year Creative Writing module in Drama, which fulfills my second genre at a 300 level requirement for my Creative Writing major.  Yay!  I’ll likely be working on a play or screenplay this semester.  I’m also enrolled for two literature classes, the Bible and Biblical Literature and Premodern Cultures of Performance.  I’ll have to omit one by February 10, but I’ll attend all four for the next two weeks…starting Monday!

Off to the Ceili!  I must have fun while I can before the homework arrives:)

Jetlag and Other Phenomena

Running through the London Heathrow Airport is an excellent temporary cure for jetlag.

I did have a quick nap on the one hour flight from London to Belfast.  But I was awake and alert again by the time we descended beneath the (very thick) cloud cover and, from my window seat, I got my first glimpse of Ireland.  It was absolutely beautiful: the  patchwork quilt of emerald fields and farmhouses stitched with hedges and roads that you tend to picture when you think of Ireland.  I even saw a few sheep in the fields: miniscule white dots.  I nearly cried because it was so gorgeous.  And truly, I was tired.

Once I got off the plane walked through a short corridor into the baggage claim, I was even more delighted to immediately see two people holding a very obvious “Queen’s University Belfast” sign.  Fiona and Emma, two third-year Queen’s students, greeted me cheerfully.  We chatted about courses and hometowns as the rest of the group showed up.  There were seven Queen’s study abroad students on the flight, six Americans and one French guy.  Happily, our bags showed up as well and we were soon on a bus driving on the left side of road, through the countryside and into the heart of Belfast.

We were dropped off in Elms Village, the main residential area for Queen’s students living on campus, where most of us were staying.  I checked into my room, which in my fatigue I was pleased to learn is on the ground floor of a building directly behind the Treehouse (student centre).  In my room were the kitchen and bedding packs I posted about earlier, as well as many other goodies, including snacks and discount cards!  I made my bed, unpacked, returned to the Treehouse to buy a few groceries with my 5 pound voucher, emailed home, and finally went to sleep at about 5 pm Belfast time.

Here’s where the jetlag really kicked in.  I slept until 8pm, woke up until around 10pm, and then fell asleep and did not wake up again until 9:19 am.

This was a serious problem, as Orientation began at 9 am that morning.  I dressed quickly and rushed to Elms Village reception to get directions to Orientation.

“Ah, it’s okay.  Ya just got in yesterday.  It’s a ten or fifteen minute walk, but you’ll get there okay.”  As I was quite sore from “sleeping” on the plane from Chicago to London and booking it through the airport, I decided not to run to the Peter Froggatt Centre.  I did walk briskly, aiming for the ten rather than fifteen minute walk, and ended up not being terribly late.  At least, everyone had the same forgiving attitude as the kind woman in reception: “Ah, it’s okay.  Ya just got in yesterday.  Don’t fret.”

I am extremely grateful for Northern Irish hospitality.

Still much more to share about orientation!  Unfortunately, I am not as tired as I was last night but I’m still jetlagged.  My body seems to think it’s nearly 11 pm when it is in fact nearly 4 am, and I keep waking up as if I’m wasting good daylight hours.  I am instead wasting good sleep hours by being stubbornly awake.  But I’ve set three alarms, so no oversleeping tomorrow!

My Long Journey

Waiting in Chicago.

Where to begin?  I had quite a smooth journey yesterday.  My layover in Chicago was endless, but I used the time well, people watching, writing in my journal, and familiarizing myself with my British coins.

Unfortunately, my layover in London was not nearly so cushy.  We had to circle the area a few times before landing, so it was five past eight by the time I got off the plane.  My flight to Belfast was at 9:30 am, and I didn’t yet have a boarding pass!  Needless to say, I was a bit nervous about missing my flight.

Luckily, the staff of London Heathrow are generally extremely friendly and helpful.  I spoke to an agent sitting at the desk near where you catch buses for various terminals (not sure what else to call it) and she said, “Don’t worry, you’ll get your boarding pass at the gate.  You’ll be fine!” Okay, great.  I got on the bus for Terminal 1, which hosts Aer Lingus, the airline transporting me to Belfast.

Once in Terminal 1, I breezed through customs.  The friendly, helpful customs agent said, “Are you studying here, then?” “Yes, I am!” I answered happily.  “May I see your college letter?” he asked politely in his delightful British accent.  “Yes, you may!” I handed him my magical, fairytale-granting letter from Queen’s, he stamped my passport, and I was good to go!  After having my picture made and going through security, I found my way to the Aer Lingus check-in desk.

“Uh oh, that flight is closed,” said the agent, “I can’t give you a boarding pass.  You should go quickly to customer service and see if they can get you in.  It’s all the way down the end, at Gate 77.”

At this point, it was 8:48 am, and I was thinking “Umm okaaay…OH NO, WHAT DO I DO?!”  I was also running toward Gate 77, but not feeling encouraged by the digital signs that said something like, “Please allow 20 MINUTES to walk to Gates 76-84.”

For your future reference, it only takes about six minutes running, and I was soon talking to the Aer Lingus customer service agent, otherwise known as My New Best Friend Forever.  She said she could put me on the flight if they had put my checked bag on the plane already.

“Hello, I have a lady here who needs to get on the flight to Belfast.  She landed an hour ago.  Passenger White.  Yes, do you have her bag?” she said into the phone.  They did not yet have it.  “Let’s wait five minutes,” she recommended kindly.  In that five minutes, she called the Belfast flight gate to notify them I was coming, checked me into the flight and printed my boarding pass.  Then she called back.

“Yes, it’s me again.  Have you got Passenger White’s bag?  Oh, beautiful. Thank you very much.”  She hung up and smiled at me.  “They’ve got it!  Here is your boarding pass.  They are still boarding, and it’s just at Gate 78.  Right over that way,” she pointed me in the right direction, “It’s a five minute walk.”

“Thank you so much!  I really appreciate your help!” I exclaimed as I hurried off to Gate 78.  I ran down the corridor, turned right and ran down another.  “Belfast?” asked an agent, opening a glass door for me as though she already knew.  “Yes! Thank you!” I breathed.  On the other side of the door, a man held out his hands to indicate that I did not actually need to run, but I continued to do so until I reached the gate.

“I was telling you to slow down, not to run faster!” the man chuckled, “You should run the marathon next week!”

“Haha, I don’t think so!” I panted, “I’m studying abroad, so I just want to make sure I get there!”

“Well, you can go on,” he said, grinning and waving me to the left.  Another gate agent checked my ticket and passport and I walked down the corridor and onto…the flight to Belfast!  A red-haired flight attendant clad in bright green uniform (really!) greeted me, in a beautiful Irish accent, “Mornin.  How you doing?”

I was doing SO WELL.  I was almost there!

More about my welcome to Belfast and start of Queen’s orientation in the next post!

On my way to Belfast!

I Made It!

I’m here in my small, quaint dorm at Queen’s University Belfast!  The trip was fairly smooth, and everyone I’ve met so far in Northern Ireland has been friendly and warm.  Speaking of warmth, it’s not terribly cold today!  It is raining, but that’s to be expected.

It’s close to 10 pm here in Belfast and I have a busy day of orientation tomorrow, so I’m going to sleep now.  I’ve been awake for about 30 of the past 36 hours.  But never fear!  I’m happy and well, and once I’m better rested, I will post in detail about my journey!

A Weighty Matter

The image above shows the baggage allowances for the British Airways flights that will carry me from Charlotte to Chicago to London to Belfast this coming Tuesday/Wednesday.

While of course I cannot take flammable liquids or solids, toxic substances, explosives, etc, whatever innocent items I DO choose to pack must fit into one 35.5 in x 29.5 in x 16 in x bag that weighs less than 51 pounds.

As I have referred to myself as “Princess” in the title and username of this blog, it would be fair for you to assume that packing fewer than 51 pounds worth of clothes is difficult for me.  But it’s actually going quite well!  My wardrobe is fairly simple, I’ve carefully selected a single pair of pumps (out of several stunning candidates), and I will not be packing a hairdryer or curling iron (I rarely use these items).

Nonetheless, I’m slightly nervous about the weight issue, simply because there is a price for breaking the rule:

The cost of excess.

$60 for an overweight bag.  More than the $49.95 I decided not to pay for adorable lavender corduroy jeggings at Anthropologie this week.  I don’t need lavender pants as much as I need fifty bucks, which translates into slightly more than twenty-five pounds sterling, the currency of Northern Ireland.

So I’ll be weighing the questionable items on my kitchen scale.  I recently weighed three spoons belonging to my Agnes Scott roommate, spoons that I borrowed and inadvertently kept over Christmas.  She will be studying in Coleraine, Northern Ireland this semester (her travel blog in the link: http://adventuresinulster.wordpress.com/), so I’m considering returning them to her across the pond.

Just so you know, Kathryn, they weigh an ounce each.