Semester at Sea (SAS) offers us students such a unique experience: the opportunity to travel the world, on a ship, and get course credit. However, staying with a family in a country we visit is another very welcome opportunity while studying abroad.¬† That‚Äôs exactly what my two of my friends, Lindsay Giles and Matilda ‚ÄúTilly‚Äù Lumpkin, of the University of San Diego, and I did during our stop in Dublin, Ireland.
We hopped on a train heading an hour north to Abbeyshrule, a very small, country town whose downtown consists of about six shops. A community where everyone knows everyone, and green fields, cows, and sheep are nearly everywhere you look.
Our host, S√≠ona (pronounced SHAY-nah), invited us to stay at her home with her family after we spent the day in Dublin. Tilly had met S√≠ona while S√≠ona was in the U.S. during a¬†semester abroad at¬†Boston College. For my friends and I, the visit was a rare opportunity to get a peak into life in a traditional Irish family.
S√≠ona‚Äôs family, her mom, dad and two younger sisters, immediately welcomed us into their home. It was a warmth and hospitality I hadn't felt in a while and was greatly appreciated, especially after spending nearly a month on the ship.
S√≠ona‚Äôs mother prepared typical afternoon tea and pastries for us, giving us a quick lesson on the two main types of tea the Irish drink: Barry‚Äôs tea and Lyon‚Äôs tea. To the untrained teatotaller, there‚Äôs no difference between the two, but this family swore they tasted differently.
The time with S√≠ona and her family was eye-opening because of the similarities and differences between life in Ireland and life in the United States. A traditional Irish dinner of ham and cabbage with mashed potatoes actually reminded me of home, as I am half Irish. And, like my small towns, there are the customary quirky residents. We met the local daredevil of Abbeyshrule¬†an old man who crazily flies his plane far too low over the village.
What was new to us was the landscape, the different sports, the small, quaintness of the village. But, mostly, it was the hospitality. Every where we went, we were welcomed with open arms‚Äîto the local church, to her uncle‚Äôs 50th birthday party. We got a first-class tour of the town, were treated to homemade meals and stayed up late to talk and giggle and learn about politics, music, and everything in between. At S√≠ona‚Äôs uncle‚Äôs birthday party, we learned some Irish slang: ‚Äúwhat‚Äôs cracking‚Äù means ‚Äúwhat‚Äôs up‚Äù; ‚Äúthat‚Äôs savage‚Äù and ‚Äúclass‚Äù means that something is cool.
We gained a new appreciation for sports‚ÄîIrish style. Over dinner, the family discussed the big Gaelic, all-Ireland football match happening the next day between Dublin and Mayo. The match, they said, was equal to our Superbowl.
The family was rooting for Mayo, a countryside team that, legend has it, was cursed by a priest in 1951 for not stopping to show their respect for a funeral procession while on their way back from a match. ¬†The priest said the team wouldn‚Äôt win another championship until every player on that 1951 team had passed. To date, one player from that team is still alive and Mayo hasn‚Äôt won a championship since. Though supporters of Mayo, the family still believed that Dublin would win, given the curse. It turns out, they were right‚ÄîDublin won the match by one point.
Though short, our visit with S√≠ona and her family was truly savage. I learned a lot about Irish¬†family traditions and got a special perspective on Ireland in a way I wouldn‚Äôt have been able to on my own. It is the cultural immersion comparative learning that SAS is known for, but it happened in a way that I would never have anticipated.