Experience on Erasmus: My Own Place

erasmus, Life Experiences, travel, Trier

I want to use this post to talk about moving into my own little place on my Erasmus and how I felt at the end of the year when I moved back to Ireland.

In Universitat Trier, Erasmus students were given the option of single apartments or sharing with another person. At the time, I wasn’t sure about living with a complete stranger, so I opted to stay in a single apartment.

The apartment block I was staying in, Kleeburger Weg was just a five-minute walk from the university campus. That was handy! My apartment was on the very top floor, apartment number 425. Not very good when you’re carrying big suitcases at the start of the year.

The view of the university from the window of my apartment.

On the first day, when I finally got all my possessions up the stairs, I opened the door to my home for the next year. I looked around. There was one large room, with a bed, a table, chair, and bookshelf. A tiny kitchen with a wardrobe in the corner and a little bathroom. That was my apartment.

I spent a moment looking around at all the bare walls, the empty bookshelf, and the sparse bed. Taking a deep breath, I began unpacking and decorating. I had brought two things that I thought would be important; blu-tack and a folder of pictures. There was a little bit of Anne Frank in me when I did that. When she arrived in her Secret Annexe in 1942, she had brought her collection of movie star portraits to decorate the walls of her room. I used my own pictures to decorate my walls.

One wall of my apartment, representing my favourite part of the Harry Potter story (Goblet of Fire)

I spent the majority of the day, tacking and sticking pictures onto each wall. Some of the walls had a certain theme; one wall was dedicated to Harry Potter, another had Yu-Gi-Oh pictures everywhere. I wanted to decorate the walls the way that I wanted to. It took a while for the decorating to be finished, but at last, I managed to get my last picture up on the wall.

The Yu-Gi-Oh! wall in my apartment

The walls above my bed were different. On a shopping day, I found a collection of wall stickers in the shape of butterflies. The butterflies had a different design and came in pink, purple, blue and yellow. I thought they looked really lovely and I have always had a weakness for butterflies so I decided to use them for decorating my room.

The butterfly wall in my apartment.

The final wall was a masterful collage of favorite pictures. I think I spent the most of my time decorating this wall, picking out all sorts of different pictures and putting them in exactly the right place. There was no select theme or anything like that, it was just a selection of my favorite pictures.

The collage wall in my apartment.

At last, my apartment was fully furnished. Now, I had to deal with the silence.

The silence was eerie. It made me nervous. Despite the brightly decorated walls and all my possessions around me, I felt nervous. The longer I spent in the silence, the more I didn’t like it.

Every day I lived in that apartment in Trier, I did whatever I could to fill the silence. In the morning, when I got up to have a shower or make myself some breakfast, there was always a video playing on my laptop. That Christmas, Mum bought me a little portable radio. Sometimes on Sunday evenings, I’d sit at the windowsill with a book and I’d read with the radio playing in the background. There was some form of noise in my apartment every night until I had to switch it off to go to sleep.

As the Erasmus year moved forward and I made new friends, I found myself hating it whenever I had to return to my apartment. The reason for it was, because I was returning alone. If I had been in a shared apartment, I’d have at least have had somebody else there. I could have become friends with my housemate if I’d have one. But I thought I’d be happy in a single apartment. That was where I was mistaken.

Living in an apartment in Trier taught me a few things. It taught me how to be independent and how to look after myself. I had to do my own cooking and clean after myself everyday. I had to throw out my own rubbish and do my laundry every week. I had to buy my own food and make sure everything was ready for the next day. There was no parent to look after me. I went home to Ireland with the knowledge that I was more than capable of looking after myself.

But another thing I learned is that I wasn’t happy living on my own. I thought I was happy in my own company, but I was wrong. The loneliness and eerie silence that I felt, made me spend as much time as possible out and about or with something in the background to fill the quiet. I realised that I was much happier to share a living space rather than having it all to myself.

It’s reflected on my living arrangements nowadays. I have my own room, in a house in Dublin. I have again decorated it to my own liking, but now I share the house with four other people. They started off as complete strangers but now, I’m happy to say that we’ve become really good friends. The girls in the house, and I spend as much time as we can, going out and having fun.

Part of my decor in my room in Dublin!

Maybe if things had been different when I was on Erasmus, I could have made friends with a housemate. But sometimes, things happen for a reason. I think I needed to fully experience living on my own, to understand what it was like.

Because now I know that I never want to do it again!

Eidhne In Paris (Or Just France In General)

France, Life Experiences, stories, travel

My story of traveling abroad for the first time since the coronavirus pandemic and what I learned about myself.

A View of the Eiffel Tower

Who could ever forget the start of the coronavirus pandemic of 2020? When it hit Ireland, I was just a couple of weeks away from my 24th birthday. I had plans to go out to a dance club with my friends but of course, that never happened. Instead, I spent the day with my family. They made my birthday as special as possible, even making a wonderful chocolate cake that tasted amazing. This occurred on my next birthday as well, as the virus showed no signs of going away.

By the time my 26th birthday came around, it looked like the virus was finally beginning to ease off. I wanted to make sure that this birthday would be different. I wanted to do something so after thinking for a while, I decided that I would go traveling in France. It wasn’t my first time traveling in France, but there were places in the country that I’d never been to before. A certain Netflix show called Emily in Paris also fuelled my desire to go back. I decided to take the chance and go to another country for the first time in two years. I booked my flights, and accommodation and prepared to go.

Preparations for flights nowadays never run smoothly. There always has to be proof that you have received your COVID vaccination and have not contracted the virus within two weeks. I had to have all of this ready by the time I touched down on French soil. There’s always the worry that you may have forgotten an important document or have the wrong content. But thankfully, I got through the customs with no problems. Once I was out of there, I knew I was going to be okay.

Another thing that I was nervous about was that I was making the trip to France alone. It’s very rare for me to travel by myself. I traveled to Germany by myself but that wasn’t for a holiday, that was for Erasmus. That was a bit nerve-wracking, but in life, you sometimes have to take the risk and do things that you never thought you’d be able to do. I never thought that I’d take a solo trip to France, but that is exactly what I did. My mother told me that it was a true sign of strength and independence.

I was staying in France for four days. My plans were as such; have a look around, travel to Versailles, and then go down to a small part of the country called Arcachon. I’d never heard of it, but when I messaged a friend named Gina, who I had met when I went on Erasmus in Germany, she suggested that we meet there and spend time together there. We’d stayed in touch throughout the years and she’d moved to France to work as a teacher. When she heard that I was coming over, we both knew that we had to see each other. So we arranged to meet in Bordeaux and travel down and stay in Arcachon. I was so excited to see her again.

My little holiday began at 4am in the morning on 31st March, trying to stay awake with coffee at Dublin Airport. I needed to stay awake until I boarded the plane. I managed to doze for a little while before the plane touched down on French soil. I had booked myself a seat on the coach to central Paris. After arriving, I spent some time browsing the different shops, allowing myself to indulge in makeup and jewelry. As my birthday had just passed, I had the right to spoil myself.

When I checked into my little hotel, I took some time to freshen up before grabbing my camera and going for a walk. As already mentioned, a certain Netflix show encouraged me to return to Paris, and I decided to try and find a few of the places where the show was filmed. I was very lucky in the places I did find.

It was amazing; to think that in these little side streets that a show like Emily In Paris was filmed and shown all over the world. I know people have their own opinions on the show but I enjoyed watching it. I actually thought Lily Collins was perfect for the role. She’s grown on me; in fairness, she’s definitely not the worst actress I’ve ever watched. (I am naming nobody, but all I will say is that one actress I despise is extremely overrated and very bland and another is notorious for being a diva.)

Another unexpected treasure I found was the Parc de Luxembourg. It was quite cold, the winter weather hadn’t completely gone away but it was still alright to have a walk around the place. People were milling about, taking pictures, admiring the ponds, the statues that gazed out at the view and enjoying themselves. It’s places such as these that capture my imagination and allow me to create stories in my head. I don’t know what it is exactly, but I’m always finding something in statues and ponds that serve as ideas. As I clicked the shutter on my camera, my mind was whirling with different ideas.

Parc de Luxembourg

Eventually, as it started to get dark, I decided to call it a night and return to my hotel. The following day, I booked myself a ticket to visit the Palace of Versailles. My mother had been there herself, and she had warned me that she’d been disappointed with what she saw. I wanted to go anyway because of my fascination with the story of the last Queen of France, Marie Antoinette. She had commissioned a small secret garden that I was desperate to see, so I traveled to Versailles and see the Queen’s Hamlet.

The Palace of Versailles

It wasn’t too long a journey from Paris to Versailles, about half an hour on the tram. When I spotted the palace, I was in awe of how big it was. Only then did it hit me that this was a place where the kings and queens of France had lived for centuries until the French Revolution of the 18th century. When Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette and their family were forced to leave, they had to go out of the golden gates, leaving this palace behind. I don’t know if it was down to the cold or something else entirely, but I could feel a shiver down my spine as I entered through the gate.

The Hall of Mirrors

Many rooms were filled with thousands of portraits of the kings and queens of old. I really didn’t believe that France could have such a fixation with art but the Palace of Versailles showed this to me. France uses art to tell their history and the battles of the past.

I was able to see the bed quarters of Marie Antoinette – to know that a queen had slept in here, gave birth to her children here and used this room to prepare for her day. During the French Revolution, a mob broke into the palace with the intent on killing the queen. This room was destroyed in the process but has since been restored to represent the feminine and artistic personality of the last queen of France.

The chambers of Marie Antoinette

There was also the Hall of Mirrors, a monument to Louis XIV. There are 357 mirrors (I’m not joking!) all down the hallway and it was here that the Treaty of Versailles was signed in 1919, which put an end to the First World War. People were milling about, taking pictures, and admiring the glittering chandeliers hanging from the ceiling.

Being attacked by sleet showers in the Garden of Versailles!

I will be upfront and honest when I say that I can understand why Mum was disappointed in her visit to Versailles. With the size of the palace, you would expect quite a lot to be on display, but that was not the case. Don’t get me wrong, I was really happy with what I did see in the palace, but I feel that I could have seen more.

The weather didn’t help things either though, I will admit that. The whole time that I was in Versailles, I was constantly being attacked by sleet showers! It was freezing and I didn’t have the right type of protective clothing from the cold! I was determined though that I was going to see the Petit Trianon, rain or shine. As far as the gardens and the Petit Trianon were concerned, I was captivated by their beauty and was amazed at knowing that Marie Antoinette spent her days here before the French Revolution. But admittedly, I came at the wrong time of the year to see its full beauty. Maybe if it hadn’t been so cold and the weather had been better, it would have been different.

When I found the Queen’s Hamlet, I had a good walk around, staring up at all the little buildings. During her time as queen, Marie Antoinette had this little village created under her instruction. She wanted nothing more than to live a peaceful life in this little hidden village, having fun. As happy as I was to finally have an opportunity to see a queen’s lost dream, again I came at the wrong time of the year. The lakes had been completely drained for renovations and it was really, really cold! Still, I’m really glad that I managed to see this little hidden Versailles. Marie Antoinette is long dead but this hamlet is a reminder of the life that she desired had she never been a queen.

Marie Antoinette’s Beloved Petit Trianon

Another thing I didn’t expect about Versailles was how big the grounds actually were. Versailles is a very easy place to get lost; it took me ages to find my way out of the grounds. By the time I found my way out, at last, it was near 6 in the evening. I was freezing, and tired and my phone was on its last 5% of battery. But I wasn’t finished with Paris just yet.

After giving my phone a much-needed charge, I decided to challenge the cold weather further and view some more of the sights of Paris. From reading Google Maps, I discovered that there was a very famous landmark only a ten-minute walk away from my hotel; Notre Dame. Obviously, due to the terrible fire in 2019, the cathedral is closed to the public, but I didn’t get the chance to go there on my first visit so I decided to go now.

The Cathedral of Notre Dame.

Had there not been a fire, I would have loved to have taken a tour of Notre Dame and see the interior. If you’re familiar with the famous Victor Hugo classic, it would been interesting to learn about the background of the hunchback. But given the circumstances, I’m happy to have at least seen the exterior of this beautiful cathedral. I’m grateful that not all of its beauty was lost in the horrific event. And when renovations are finally finished and it can reopen… I’ll be back.

When I returned to the hotel, I packed up everything because in the morning, I had to get up and get the train to Bordeaux, where I would finally get to see Gina.

As I previously mentioned, Gina and I first met each other on Erasmus in Germany in 2016. She came from a farm in England, I came from a small town in Ireland. We connected right away and we have stayed friends ever since. I went back to Ireland at the end of my Erasmus, knowing that I’d made a wonderful, caring friend in Gina.

We met up again three years ago for our friend Emily’s wedding in Carlisle, and later, I went to visit her in her new hometown of Agen. When I told her that I was coming to France again, she suggested going to a place called Arcachon. I instantly agreed to this idea.

Up until Gina mentioned it, I had never heard of Arcachon. It is a seaside resort on the south of Bordeaux and is the home of the largest sand dunes in Europe, the Dune du Pilat. Before I traveled to France, Gina and I video-called and made plans of what we were going to do. She had done some research and said that you could hire bicycles and cycle to the dunes. When I heard about this, I thought to myself ‘Could we really do this?’ But then I decided that you only live once and sometimes, you have to try new things. Besides, we’d tried bouldering in Germany before, what was to stop us from cycling in France? We decided to go for it.

I was really excited to see Gina; I could feel myself buzzing while I waited for her to arrive at Bordeaux. When I finally saw her…it was like no time had passed since we last saw each other. I didn’t realize how much I had missed her until we ran into each other’s arms. When we settled on the train to go to Arcachon, the two of us caught up with each other’s lives. It was so easy for us to do that, that’s the type of friendship that we have. She also surprised me with a little gift of butterfly earrings for my birthday; she really didn’t have to do that but I was so touched. I, in turn, gave her a gift of an Irish friendship fairy, which she loved.

It didn’t take too long for us to arrive in Arcachon. We were both a little taken aback by how picturesque the town was. It was so amazingly clean, it felt a little too good to be true. The tourist office that we visited didn’t even look like a tourist office. You were almost scared to touch anything for fear of breaking something.

The town of Arcachon.

After leaving our bags at the hotel, Gina and I went to the hire station to collect the bicycles. Up until that point, I couldn’t remember the last time I had ridden a bike and I was a little nervous about going on the road. Taking the helmets offered was certainly a great idea!

Myself and Gina exhilarated over our amazing bike ride to La Dune du Pilat

We took off down the road. Once I got used to the feeling, I found it to be amazing. We cycled past bright green trees, the sparkling blue ocean, and the little hills all around. The wind was blowing through my hair, everything passing by so fast, I felt alive, I felt free.

At last, we arrived at La Dune du Pilat; I knew they were the biggest sand dunes in Europe, but I didn’t anticipate how big they actually were! I’m certainly grateful that a staircase was provided for those who wanted to climb up there. Gina and I admittedly wore the wrong type of footwear for climbing though because by the time we were all finished at the dunes, our shoes were completely full of sand! Had it not been for the staircase, the two of us would have struggled even more!

The slope of the dunes, it was amazing how smooth the sand was.

Gina and I climbed up and up and up. We didn’t give up until we got right to the very top of La Dune du Pilat. We were lucky to be blessed with such a beautiful day. It was amazing to see the green forest on one side and the blue ocean on the other. The view was just breathtaking.

The view at the top of La Dune du Pilat.

It was quite a windy day to be up there, we faced the danger of being blown away but we stayed up there, watching braver people than we were, actually sledding down the dunes! Gina and I were stunned that people were brave enough to do that, considering the size of the dunes. We weren’t brave enough to try!

Getting windswept!

The two of us began the journey back to the hiring centre to return our bikes before the place closed. Gina and I managed to get back down the dunes without tumbling down the way; once we had emptied our shoes of sand, we got our bikes and took off. They say that the way back is the easier part; that is ridiculous. By the time we returned to the hiring centre, our muscles were screaming, our throats were parched and I’m sure that our backsides were bruised from the bumping that we took! My shins also took a bit of a bang when I lost control and crashed into a bush on the way. It made for a good laugh though! I have to say though, all the physical pain that we felt at the end of it all, was worth it. It was such an amazing experience to cycle all the way to largest sand dunes in Europe. It was something I never expected to do and I’m really glad to have done it.

We weren’t quite ready to go back to the hotel. You know what we decided to do? We went to a little supermarket, bought little cubes of cheese and Magnum ice creams and ate them all on the beach! Of all the things to snack on, we chose cheese cubes and ice cream! It must be remembered that the weather was freezing; we stayed on the beach for a little while until it became way too cold for us to handle. It was time to go back to the hotel and rest a little bit before going out for dinner in the evening.

The view of the beach in Arcachon

After a brief rest and freshening up, the two of us went for a walk around the town, trying to find a good place to eat. Eventually, we found a lovely little restaurant that accommodated my allergies really well. I enjoyed a wonderful meal of roast duck with green vegetables while Gina had paella. And we both had to indulge in a lovely glass of French rosé! We caught up even further with our lives and talked about our plans for the future as we enjoyed our dinner.

When we finished dinner, we had a little exploration of the place. At the time we were in Arcachon, there was a live art exhibition, with statues all over the town. What we didn’t expect was for them to light up at night. I’ll be covering the exhibition in a new article, which I’ll explain further at the end of this piece.

The Certificate Postcards confirmed that we had climbed to the top of La Dune du Pilat.

The following morning, myself and Gina enjoyed a buffet breakfast at the hotel before having one last walk around the town. A little tourist shop offered certificate-style postcards confirming that one had climbed to the top of La Dune du Pilat! It was a cute little souvenir and we bought one each, as well as other little trinkets to bring home with us.

Home…at the end of that day, we had to go home. I felt so sad saying goodbye to Gina at the Bordeaux train station. We were going our separate ways once again; she would be returning to Agen, and I’d be heading back to Paris to get the plane home to Dublin. I had such a wonderful time in Arcachon with Gina and having to say goodbye was really hard. She said that next year, she hoped to come over to Ireland; I will be there and I’ll be showing her all around. It will be great.

Returning to Paris and getting the coach to the airport, I couldn’t help but think about the last few days. I learned a couple of things about myself. One thing I learned from my visit to Versailles, is that sometimes things don’t turn out the way that you expected. Sometimes, things may not live up to the expectations that you have. And that’s okay. Disappointment is always a lingering aspect of our lives.

Another thing I learned about myself is that I am more happier doing things with people than on my own. In the past, I was happy in my own company, thinking that I didn’t need anybody. But as I got older, and I made friends, I realized that wasn’t the case. The more time I spent with others, the more I realized that being with others made me happier.

There is an interesting quote that I found from a wilderness explorer that I find very appropriate.

Happiness Only Real When Shared.

Christopher McCandless, August 1992

You only experience true happiness when you are with the people that you love and care for. From my trip to France, I realized that this was true. I enjoyed my days visiting Paris and Versailles, but it wasn’t until I met with Gina and we spent time together in Arcachon, that I was really happy and truly enjoyed my holiday.

It was late at night, that I finally touched down on Irish soil again. I returned home, exhausted but exhilarated. My first time abroad since the pandemic and I thoroughly enjoyed myself.

I’m not quite talking about France yet though. There is a theme that I noticed all over the country that I used as part of a college project. But that is a story for another time.

Jusqu’à la prochaine fois!

Experience on Erasmus – Career Development Module

erasmus, travel, Trier

My Erasmus year brought many different classes and modules. I was taking Media Studies classes, German language classes, and a class in German history and literature. At the start of the year, I didn’t realize that I was signing up for classes under two different courses at the university. You could choose classes as long as they added up to 60 credits for the full academic year. The compulsory Erasmus German language classes added up to about 15 or 20 credits, so we had to sign up for classes to add up the rest. Unintentionally, I signed up for one class in the German Studies course and the rest was in Media Studies. Thankfully though, I didn’t get penalized for it and I was allowed to continue studying in the classes that I’d chosen.

However, I must tell you that my home university, DCU offered Erasmus students the opportunity to undertake a Career Development Module. The module would see us speak with people who worked in our chosen area of study and allow us to get a perspective on possible future careers. It would help us decide the path we wanted to go down on after we graduated. I was all up for it.

While working on this module was a little bit annoying in the fact that it took so long to finish, I have to admit that I am glad that I did choose to work on it. The module gave me a chance to look deeper into the different options with regard to careers in the media industry. I know that I would love to work in television and broadcasting in the future, but I also know that it’s important to look at all the possibilities.

As part of my Career Development module, I had to interview three people who work in different professions in the media industry. The three industries that I chose were communications, education, and broadcasting. It took quite a while to find three people in these professions. Think I must have emailed at least twenty different people all over Ireland and Germany. At last, I received a response from Vera Tellmann, the Head of Communications in die Deutsche Welle. We conducted an interview by phone about a week after she agreed to take part. Vera Tellmann was lovely to talk to and gave me an insight into the world of communication. She spoke about the years that she worked in journalism and public relations in England and Germany before moving to Die Deutsche Welle. 

I also interviewed one of my Media lecturers in the university, Annette Deeken. Although (to be perfectly truthful), working in education is the last thing that I want to do, I thought that I should still look into it because you never know. This interview was easier to organize because I was able to talk to her face-to-face. I must admit, from my interview with Annette Deeken, I found that the education side of media had more depth than I thought. In all honesty, I assumed that education was just teaching to kids who couldn’t be bothered to listen most of the time. But from what I discovered was that education involves research, asking questions, and understanding what you are teaching.

The final person I interviewed was someone suggested by my mum – Irish radio broadcaster, Ian Dempsey on Today FM! This interview was done by email due to (unfortunate) problems with the phone connection. Ian Dempsey was really kind in his emails and answered every question that I sent to him. I grew up listening to Ian Dempsey, every morning on the way to school. Mum absolutely loves him! I’m glad that she gave me the suggestion of interviewing Ian Dempsey. He actually said to me that he’ll be watching out for me in the media!

The one downside to working on the career development module was that most of it had to be written in German! Not fun, especially as it took me forever to write out my notes into an essay and then translate it all into German! By 22nd May, the day of submission, I was nearly tearing my hair out with frustration, wondering how on earth I would finish this. But, I am relieved to say that I did get my career development module finished and submitted back to DCU just in time.

Looking back at the interviews that I did and the amount of time that I took to get it done, I have to say that I’m really glad that I decided to do the Career Development module. It gave me a better insight into the different career options in the world of media and all the choices that I have in the future. Before I sign off for now, I got an email from DCU, with the results of my submission – and I’m happy to say that I passed! 

Experience on Erasmus: Sharing Cultures – Teaching Irish Classes

erasmus, travel, Trier

My mum has worked as a teacher long before I was born. For years, she has worked at the local primary school in Monaghan, my hometown. I had her as my teacher for my second-last year of primary school and I consider it the worst year of my school life. Okay, that’s a bit of an exaggeration; it’s the second-worst, after the Leaving Cert. After years of watching my mother plan lessons and correct copies nearly every night, I made a vow to myself: no matter what happened, I would never ever EVER enter the world of education when it came to choosing my career. No. Way. 

At the start of the Erasmus year, during the orientation, the International Centre in the university was asking for volunteers to teach language classes. My friend, Jasmine suggested that I should volunteer to teach Irish classes. Not really thinking much of it, I decided to do it, just to see what they thought. Well, the Centre was thrilled as they had never had an Irish class in Trier before. So they arranged a day, a time and a place where I could teach the class and I began my first lesson.

Naturally, for the class, I had to teach my pupils the basics of the Irish language; how to greet someone, how to say who you are, where you live, etc. But I also wanted to teach them a little bit about Ireland itself. 

When most people think about Ireland, they think about leprechauns, lucky charms and drunken idiots. Ireland is so much more than that. We are the home of amazing legends and poets (Oscar Wilde, Seamus Heaney), beautiful music (The Corrs, Celtic Thunder), and literature (Brendan Behan, James Joyce). I wanted to show my pupils that during my classes as well.

Preparing my classes definitely took a lot of time. Every week, I had to choose what kind of vocabulary and verbs the class would learn and what topic about Ireland I would cover. Not to mention, looking up all the right information and adding it all into a presentation. It took a lot of time and there were some weeks where I just wanted to give up but I have to admit, the end result was worth it.

I held my Irish classes every Monday from 4-6pm. I had an average of six to seven people in my classes per week – for a language class being taught in the university for the first time, that wasn’t too bad. Every class, we would start with the Irish language and basic vocabulary and grammar. I tried not to make it too difficult – grammar is hard in any language! Basically, I taught my class how to greet one another, how to talk about their families, how to count in Irish, days of the week, months of the year – simple things that were, in my opinion, easy to remember. In one class, I gave them the task of matching some words with their Irish counterpart. I split them into groups and everyone got all but one right! If that doesn’t count as a great achievement, I don’t know what does!

After teaching a bit of the Irish language for one hour I would move on to Ireland in general. Every week, there would be a different theme. One week, I did Irish Myths and Legends  – stories about the Children of Lír, Chúchulainn, Fionn, and the Fianna, those sorts of things. Another week, I talked about Irish music and traditional Irish instruments and dancing, playing a few samples of each one. The week before the Christmas holidays, I talked about the traditions of Christmas in Ireland. 

I also decided to show them a few Irish television programs. I know I’ve already said that Ireland is more than the stereotype – but that doesn’t stop us from making fun of that stereotype! I showed them programs like Killinaskuly and Father Ted… and of course the legendary Mrs. Brown! Irish films were also looked at and I showed them ‘Circle of Friends’ – a simple but very touching film based on a book by author Maeve Binchy.

Two weeks before I was due to fly back home for good, I decided to host one last Irish language class. With everything that had to be done, including packing, cleaning my apartment for the next tenant, I just knew that I wouldn’t have the time to prepare for another class so I was firm with my decision to end my Irish class. 

It was actually with a heavy heart that I taught my final class. The theme was ‘Plans for the Future’ which I considered appropriate. We did a simple Irish conversation about plans and watched some Irish television programs. I ended the class by talking a little about Dublin City university and what I planned to do when I returned home to Ireland. And then, it was 6pm and time to end the class. I thanked everybody for taking the time to take part in my class and I hoped that they enjoyed them. The class then thanked and applauded me before leaving. I packed up everything and closed the door of the classroom for the last time. 

I have to admit that my opinion about teaching has changed thanks to my experience teaching Irish on my Erasmus year. While I still say that it is stressful and very time-demanding, it is also good fun teaching to others and sharing out all sorts of knowledge with them. Maybe in the future – it is a possibility – I could teach media to students in universities- I’m not saying that it’s definitely going to happen, but you never know!

Beauté Cachée – Visiting Nancy, France

France, Life Experiences, travel

The reality of being an Erasmus student was more harsh than I ever imagined! In the space of just two weeks in November 2016, I had SIX presentations to do and an essay to write! Not fun, huh? At least, I didn’t have to have them all done at once (thank Christ!)! On a lighter subject, in this post I’m going to write about my trip at the time – in this case, the city of Nancy, France.

Elina Luukkanen, Georgina Pearce and Eidhne Gallagher posing by the fountain of Nancy. (Credit: Emily Whiffen)

This day-trip took place, just a week after my trip to Amsterdam. At least with this trip, it wasn’t that long a bus journey – we left at half past eight and arrived by eleven. We were dropped in the Place Stanislas where the traditional tour was going to take place. But before it did, we had a good look-around at our surroundings.

I have to say this; Nancy may be an old enough city, but it’s still beautiful. It wasn’t raining that Saturday thankfully, though very cold. As we waited for the tour to start, I snapped many pictures of the golden fountains that hundreds of years ago, had wine instead of water (wish it still did!), the statue of the Duke of Lorraine that made Nancy the city that it is. I’m a history addict, what can I say?

The tour finally began and we were taken through the streets. We saw the Notre Dame Cathedral that from the front, stood proud but from the side, it was easy to see that it was falling apart. Sadly, they ran out of money before the restorations could be completed. It’s kind of like what happened in Monaghan, my home town in Ireland many years ago. In the shopping centre car park, they has started to build new business association buildings, but then the recession happened and the money vanished. So the car park was left as a gaping hole covered by wooden walls for nearly six years until two or three years back when the original car park was restored. So the Monaghan council wasted €1 million turning the shopping centre car park, into another car park. Very, very stupid.

Georgina Pearce, Elina Luukkanen and Emily Whiffen, laughing in the park. Credit: Eidhne Gallagher

Once the tour finished and we had a spot of lunch, myself and my friends decided to go on our own tour around the place. We visited a local park and took several hundred pictures of ourselves, messing around the trees and kicking through the leaves. One thing that we didn’t expect to see though, was a peacock! Apparently, there was a wildlife centre nearby and it must have escaped. It didn’t open its wings for us, but oh well!

There was an amusement park set up as well and we decided to have a walk through there as well! No, we didn’t go on any rides, we were a bit too big for what was on offer! But we did enjoy some mulled wine and candyfloss! I had a sticky face and very sticky fingers afterwards, but you only live once!

One of my friends, Gina had arranged to meet a French girl that afternoon, so we went back to the statue of the Duke of Lorraine to meet her. There was a wedding group there, the photographer fussing around, telling the bride and groom to pose like this, like that. I don’t know how the poor bride managed to stay so composed in such freezing cold weather, but kudos to her!

Elina Luukkanen, Eidhne Gallagher and Emily Whiffen enjoying mulled wine and candyfloss in a Nancy amusement park. Credit: Georgina Pearce

Gina’s French friend, Emmeline arrived and she greeted us in the traditional French fashion- a hug and a kiss on each cheek! She brought us through the streets to a shopping centre where my friend, Emily could indulge in one of her favourite hobbies… smelling and testing perfumes! While she did, I visited a Kiko store; you can’t go wrong with a bit of Kiko makeup!

Afterwards, Emmeline led us to a waffle store where everyone could buy…you guessed it… waffles! Unlucky for me, due to my annoying allergies (and the fact that I’d already had a huge candyfloss) I ruled out getting any more food. So I spent a bit of time, browsing the market stalls, you never know what you can find in them! 

At half five, we had to go back to the Place Stanislas so we could get the bus back to Trier. We said farewell to Emmeline and made our way back. Unlike Amsterdam, Nancy didn’t have their Christmas lights on yet, but even so, still beautiful! It was just after six by the time we were on the bus, going home. Another great trip, I have to say! I wasn’t sure where I would be going next, but that will be covered in another post…

Behind the Bookcase: Visiting the Anne Frank House

Amsterdam, Anne Frank, Life Experiences, stories, travel

I’ll never forget when I received my history book in third class. It was nothing extravagant, just a simple children’s history book about famous people and events. I was flicking through the book without much interest, when my eyes noticed a name that I had never heard of before.

Anne Frank.

Anne Frank posing for her school photograph, 1941. (Credit: Anne Frank House)

To this day, I do not remember what caused me to become so interested in this girl. We studied her story in school, but we were only taught the bare minimum. I needed to know more. I began to search for books about Anne, watched movies about her and of course, read the most famous book of all; her diary. As a matter of fact, I read Anne’s diary so much, that my copy fell apart and I had to buy another one!

Anne Frank has become symbolic for all the Jewish children who tragically lost their lives during the Holocaust. In 1942, she and her family went into hiding behind a bookcase in her father’s office which would become known as ‘The Secret Annexe’. While in hiding, she would go on to write her famous diary, hoping one day, it could be published. They stayed in hiding for just over two years, before they were finally discovered by the Nazis in 1944. Anne would ultimately die in Bergen-Belsen concentration camp in February or March 1945. She didn’t even live to see her sixteenth birthday.

As I’ve told you many times, I’m split in two. One side contains my exuberant cheerfulness, my flippancy, my joy in life and, above all, my ability to appreciate the lighter side of things. By that I mean not finding anything wrong with flirtations, a kiss, an embrace, an off-color joke. This side of me is usually lying in wait to ambush the other one, which is much purer, deeper and finer. ….

Anne Frank, 1 August 1944 – 3 days after this entry, the people hiding in the Secret Annexe were discovered

It was Otto Frank, Anne’s father (and only survivor of the group), who would push for his daughter’s diary to be published. It would go on to become one of the most widely read books in the world. For the rest of his life, Otto Frank dedicated his life to promoting his daughter’s work and to teach about intolerance and discrimation in society.

For years, I begged my parents to take me to Amsterdam, so I could visit 263 Prinsengracht where Anne and her family had stayed for those two years. After multiple disappointments and ending up in the same boring villa in Lanzarote every year, I realized that I would have to take myself to Amsterdam when the time came.

That chance finally came in 2016, when I had just settled into my Erasmus year in a small town in Germany. Just over a month in, a friend said that there was a company promoting day trips to Amsterdam for €60. Pretty expensive, but for a day trip to a city that I had wanted to go to for years, I was willing to pay for it!

That day trip began at 6am in the morning when the bus began the long trek from Trier to Amsterdam. Me and my friend managed to doze for a while, while the bus bumped along the road. It was nearly 12pm by the time we finally reached the cobbled streets of Amsterdam. We had booked our tickets for the Anne Frank House in advance, so we’d escape the queues.

Now, I’ll admit, it was a challenge to find the right street. I’m grateful to the citizens of Amsterdam, who were very friendly and did their best to help us find our way. Once I saw the street sign that read ‘Prinsingracht’, I knew that we were finally going in the right direction.

As we managed to skip the queue, my friend and I were able to enter the museum. The tour began in the workhouse, where the company would produce spices everyday. I remember reading how the people in hiding had to remain quiet as mice when the men were working. Many have wondered if one of the workmen became suspicious and found out, which resulted in the arrest. Nobody knows… and we probably never will.

The tour continued into the offices, where Miep Gies (the woman who ultimately rescued Anne’s diary after the arrest) and Bep Voskuijl worked as secretaries. They, along with Victor Kugler and Johannes Kleimann would assist the people in hiding, bringing in food, entertainment and news from the outside world. There was a copy of Cinema & Theater on display – Anne Frank loved the movies and Victor Kugler would regularly bring her this magazine to catch up on what was happening in the dramatic arts.

My heart missed a beat when we turned a corner and saw the bookcase. There it stood, half-open, waiting for us to come inside. Slowly we climbed up the steps – steeper than I imagined, it made me think about how the helpers managed to bring food to the people in hiding everyday. The first room we entered was the bedroom of Otto, Edith and Margot Frank. How three people managed to cram themselves into this tiny room every single night was amazing. On the wall, was a Charles Dickens book – Anne would write in her diary about how her father would learn English through reading Dickens. On the wall were lines and numbers, where he would measure his daughters’ heights for two whole years. It would be used as evidence when the Nazis asked how long they had spent hiding when they were finally arrested in 1944.

Tears filled my eyes when we entered the room next door. I had seen photos in the past, seen it in the movies, but it was the first time I had really seen Anne Frank’s bedroom. All over the walls were her beloved pictures of movie stars, that she pasted to make the room look brighter. I could imagine her frustration in having to share this room with the grumpy dentist, Fritz Pfeffer. While there isn’t any furniture in the annexe anymore, it was easy to picture the little table where Anne would write her diary.

Climbing up the stairs, brought us to the kitchen, which also acted as the bedroom for Hermann and Auguste van Pels, another family who went into hiding with the Franks and Pfeffer. Everyday, the eight people would gather into the kitchen for breakfast, lunch, dinner, for games and for entertainment. Despite their differences, I’m sure that coming together, brought the eight people a little bit of comfort. Next to the kitchen was the tiny bedroom belonging to Peter van Pels, the only son of Hermann and Auguste. It was interesting to read in Anne’s diary how she and Peter didn’t get on at first, but gradually began to fall in love.

It was sad to see Peter’s bicycle hanging on the wall, along with a game he received for his sixteenth birthday. One wonders how often Peter wished he could just leave the hiding place and ride off on his bicycle.

Peter’s bedroom also had a ladder that led to the attic. We didn’t use the ladder, but the next part of the tour was up to the attic where he and Anne would often escape to talk. The attic has been converted to a large room talking about what happened after the arrest. Hannah Pick-Goslar, a close friend of Anne’s and a survivor of Bergen-Belsen, was on video, talking about meeting Anne during their time imprisoned. She has said that if Anne had known that her father was still alive, maybe she could have had the strength to survive.

There was a large book open, with names of all the people who died in the Holocaust. Right at the top was name: Frank, Anneleise. Reading that reminded me of a book where two teenagers also visited the Anne Frank House.

The book was turned to the page with Anne Frank’s name, but what got me about it was the fact that right beneath her name, there were four Aron Franks. Four. Four Aron Franks without museums, without historical markers and without anyone to mourn them.

John Green, The Fault In Our Stars

Anne Frank’s story was only one that came out of the Holocaust. She was just one of the six millions Jews who died at the hands of the Nazis. Although she is probably one of the most well-known victims, it is important to remember those whose names that we do not know.

The final part of the tour brought us to the famous diary itself. Protected in a glass case, we saw Anne’s precious diary, opened to a page that showed a photo of Otto Frank. Nobody will really know the heartbreak that he endured after he learned that his wife and daughters were dead, but how he found the strength to bring Anne’s diary to worldwide attention. All across the room, copies of Anne’s diary were displayed in multiple languages, showing that her story has been shown all over the world.

I was numb when we left the Anne Frank house. I thought I knew it all about Anne Frank, but visiting the place where she spent two years hiding away from the Nazis, made me realise that there was a lot more to learn. To be honest, nobody really understands the story of Anne Frank until they themselves, climb up the stairs that were hidden behind a bookcase.