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Unforgettable - a year studying in Ireland

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Sitting in front of one 
of Trinity's libraries
1987
I've been enjoying reading Irish Central's new Gaelic Girls series because I love their enthusiasm, their lack of cynicism and their wonder at all the things that are different and surprising and exciting for an American student coming to Ireland to study. I know what it's like because I did it myself (shhh) 25 years ago.

I'd been to Ireland before so it wasn't the scenery or old buildings that struck me, although they still did, but simple everyday things about life here, student life in particular.

Just as the Gaelic Girls I sampled the student "nightlife." I'd come from New York and we never went out before 11, but here all the pubs closed at 11. I quickly got used to the fact that students in Dublin went out a lot earlier than they did in New York.

If you want to any sort of function, a dance - "disco" - or a party in a function room or whatever, the night always ended with Frank Sinatra's New York, New York followed by the national anthem. Why? I don't know, but Frank was the cue to pack up, find your jacket or whatever and get ready to go. Then the lights would come on and the anthem would start and everyone would stand still. Many would sing. I always found that odd, but I liked it too. I have no idea if they still do that here now.

I lived in "flatland" in Dublin, which owed its name not to the topography, but to the prevalence of flats rented by 'impoverished students.' These flats were, without fail, dirty, dark, damp, and drafty. The flats were far worse than the student accommodation I'd experienced in the Bronx, but I was now a student in Dublin and I adapted.

I shared a flat with another American student. It was two rooms, but it was very small. The bedroom was an extension added to the house, built out of cardboard I suspect.

Our heater looked like this,
only less safe

(from Lightworks.net)
The flat was unheated other than a small electric bar heater we had. It could only heat one of the two rooms. One night I was studying late and had the heater. It was ice cold outside and basically the same in the bedroom. When I went in I noticed my friend was curled up in his bed in a strange position. I was afraid he was dead or dying. I decided to wake him to make sure he was all right and noticed that he was sleeping with his toes in his hands. How we laughed about that one.

My flatmate and I "went native" in order to save money. We learned to eat cheese and cole slaw sandwiches - often. We rented a TV. Who knew such things were possible? £2 per week. We later learned that we were supposed to have a license if we had a TV, but our ignorance was rewarded because no one ever came looking for the license we never bought.
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In order to get electricity we had to put 50 pence coins into the meter in our flat. Of course it always ran out at the worst possible moment.

Although we did go native somewhat, we didn't fully embrace Irish student traditions. For example, my flatmate and I showered daily. Most of the Irish guys we knew tried to keep that to a minimum. There were a couple of guys on our basketball team who eschewed the shower even after playing.

Yes, I played on Trinity College's basketball team. Heck, I was a starter, which was a shock because, believe me, when God made me he did not have basketball in mind. I was slight and not what you'd call tall and I was no great shakes at the game. In college in New York I played intramural basketball - B League. Didn't matter in Ireland, however, the B League intramural standard was good enough to start on Trinity's top team. Basketball was very much a minor sport here then.

I also had no internet, of course. I used to write and receive letters. What a concept, huh? I couldn't get American news or sports results for days, which was a real tribulation for me, although in an emergency I could get the scores from Sportsphone in New York (212-976-1313). It was free, too, thanks to the fact that Irish payphones didn't require payment until you wanted to speak.

Even 25 years from now the Gaelic Girls will remember their year studying in Ireland. They'll have all sorts of memories of the sights and sounds of their year here. Smells too and not just the unwashed 20-year-olds. Even today after living here for so many years when I smell a coal fire - a rarity these days - or I get a whiff of Guinness's I remember back to that year. It's like everything's new again.

The Gaelic Girls are just starting out on a great year.

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