Dia duit, Sligeach!

While I am working hard to learn Irish, the poet and playwright whom I study did not. William Butler Yeats, Ireland’s greatest poet (i mo thuairim féin) never learned any Irish. He tried, or say he claims, but never got the hang of it. He also tried French, with little success. Yet, he is one of the reasons I am here in Gleann Cholm Cille. I want to put Yeats’ poetry into conversation with fíliocht as Gaeilge to see what their disparate visions of poetry and nation have to benefit from one another. Part of my practice, my journey towards learning Irish, has been to translate Yeats back into his native tongue. While I am not quite ready to share my middling translations here (I read a bit aloud in the pub aréir), I will share a view of Yeats’ favorite mountain, Ben Bulben, I stumbled upon while hiking a mountain that shields Gleann Cholm Cille from the east.

If you look far into the horizon, you will see a mountain range just past the bay. That is Sligo and Yeats’ Ben Bulben.

We had a poetry reading as Gaeilge a few nights ago; it was an amazing chance to hear the language in a new form. I have heard it in conversation, in instruction, in music, and now in poetry. Learning a new language is an opportunity to discover a world of literature that was previously closed off. Immediately after the reading, I got my hands on a few texts by recommended poets. Ansin, caithfidh mé fíliocht a léamh!



Cusco, Week 2

Hola a todos!

My second week in Cusco was definitely a success. I can feel my Spanish improving each and every day and although the progress is not as quick as I had anticipated and hoped, I can definitely feel a difference in my confidence and accuracy while speaking.

Although the six hours of class each day is still incredibly tiring, my teacher, Roy has been finding other ways to teach me that are a bit more exciting than sitting in a class all day. This week he took me around the city to explore some of the museums, markets, and even showed me his favorite bar (I will definitely be returning later).

Something else interesting happened this week. On Thursday there was a city-wide strike organized by transportation workers against the Peruvian government. The protest was against the rising price of gasoline. It was amazing to see the entire city come together to protest. From the morning until the afternoon, all the roads around the city were filled with people protesting and it was impossible for cars to drive around. It felt very different from the protests and strikes that I have witnessed in the US. The people of Cusco stood together against their government and it was remarkable to witness how much strength the city had when they stood united.

In the two weeks that I have been here I have had the chance to meet so many amazing people from Peru as well as other travelers from around the world. I have become friends with people from Canada, Brazil, China, India, the Netherlands, and the United Kingdom. Unfortunately, the problem with making friends abroad is that eventually you have to say goodbye. I was very sad this week to have to say farewell to some of my friends. Even though I only knew them for two weeks, exploring an unfamiliar city together definitely accelerated our friendships. I’ll be sad to see them go but many of them are off on another adventure and I’m excited to see where they all go next and happy to have had the privilege to meet them.

But I still have a lot to look forward to and my trip is less than halfway over. This weekend I’m going to Machu Picchu!

Siena, Italy: Week 1

After 24+ hours of traveling from San Diego California, to Los Angeles California, to Stockholm Sweden, I finally made it to Rome Italy. Once in Rome, I had to figure out how to navigate the airport train system to get to Roma Termini (the Grand Central Station of Rome). Roma Termini is in every way like every video you’ve seen of Grand Central Station, with the crazy hustle and bustle of thousands of people, just with added warnings to be aware of pick-pockets. No big deal right…

Once I arrived at Roma Termini I made my way to Siena. Ever so kindly, my sweet host Azzurra met me half way in Grosseto, and drove me the second half of the way Siena. This experience alone, traveling and navigating the public transportation system entirely by myself, in a language I can barely converse in, was so beautifully eye-opening. It was fun, scary, and a little stressful but I DID IT! Already my trip was beginning to be a life-changing event.

Once I was “home” with Azzurra I was acquainted with my room and a beautiful plate of pasta and tiramisu Azzurra prepared for me and took a very much needed nap. After recharging a bit Azzurra showed me around town and how to get to school in the mornings.

The rest of the week was phenomenal! I started class on the following Monday and since my first day here I feel like I have learned so much. My Italian classes at Notre Dame were essential to learning the grammatical side of the Italian language, but I can already feel the difference that conversation has made on my language learning experience. For example, there is a Russian man in my language learning class who is about 45 years old and has been in Siena for about 2 months and speaks Italian as if he were born and raised here (mind you he had no knowledge of the language prior to his studies at Dante Alighieri in Siena). However, when we played a grammar game that had to do with choosing the correct preposition for a given phrase, he was very inconsistent while I on the other hand (thanks to my brilliant professors at Notre Dame) had no trouble identifying which preposition was needed for each phrase (okay not every phrase but hey no one is perfect). Language learning for 5+ hours a day and Italian conversation for like 13 hours a day was at-first extremely exhausting. My brain wasn’t used to this much Italian in one day especially when every interaction must have all of your intense focus and concentration to understand and articulate correctly. However, with repetition, patience and my knowledge of Italian grammar rules, I feel like in just a few short weeks I too can sound like “una vera italiana”.

Aside from language learning I was able to do a little bit of sight-seeing. Siena in itself is a beautiful city to explore, and within the museums are even more treasures to be discovered (at a price of course). Saturday night Azzurra took me to an awesome restaurant in Firenze for dinner and we did some sight-seeing at night, which was incredible, and I most certainly want to return to explore during the day.

Lastly the FOOD is amazing. I have probably gone up two pant sizes in just a week from all the tasty food Italians love to eat. Oh well, I can worry about my health later. Haha. That’s all for now. I’ll be back with more enlightening experiences soon.

Ní raibh sé thar mholadh beirte!

Dia daoibh! If you understood my title, don’t believe it! A million people praising wouldn’t be enough to equal what Gleann Cholm Cille deserves. One of the primary ambitions for this trip was to learn the turn of phrase that permeates poetry into the quotidian in Irish language. My title is so far my favorite example. Ní raibh sé thar mholadh beirte. Loosely, this means it wasn’t great, but literally, it means something is not above the praise of two people. For example: Bhí mé ag ceolchoirm aréir, ach ní raibh sé thar mholadh beirte! I went to a concert last night, but it wasn’t great (or more than two people there would not praise it). I could conjugate verbs from home, but hearing the language as it is spoken and learning the colloquial phrases would be impossible without direct exposed contact to speakers. Bím an t-ádh orm!

Speaking of lucky, I was able to take a swim in the ocean today. Was it cold? Bhí sé fuar, ach ní ro-fhuar. I needed it though. After struggling through learning a few Irish dance steps (which I will provide no video evidence of), I needed to cool off.

Slán go foill!

The Bavarian Style

I’ve heard Bavaria described as the Texas of Germany, and having been here three weeks, I believe it. The atmosphere here is incredibly different from that of a city like Berlin, where traditional German garb would be seen as out of touch kitschy. Here there’s a shop to buy a dirndl, traditional feminine German attire, and lederhosen, traditional masculine German attire, around every corner.

Advertisement for Dirndl and Lederhosen
Advertisement for two Dirdnls
Two Mannequins Wearing Dirndls outside a German Store

Not only are there more stores for this attire than one would know what to do with, but the people here actually wear these clothes. You can ride the subway alongside women wearing dirndls and groups of men wearing lederhosen any time of day.

Dirndl for a Baby Girl
Lederhosen for a Baby Boy

It seems that many jobs, such as waitressing at a traditional German restaurants, would require wearing a dirndl as a uniform. And yet more often than not, it seems that dirndls and lederhosen are worn for the fun of it. They aren’t looked down upon, in fact, quite the contrary: Thomas Müller, one of the star players on FC Bayern (Bayern’s soccer team, and perhaps Germany’s best team), wore a lederhosen to the Meisterfeier at Marienplatz (where the team presented the trophy to the fans).

In fact, a visit to the museum at Allianz Arena, where FC Bayern plays, revealed that the soccer team has a rich history of fashion. When the Bavarian players were made fun of for their lederhosen and traditional garb, they did not shy away from the clothing but embraced it as a part of their Bavarian identity, saying “Mia san mia” or “We are who we are.”

Display at FC Bayern Erlebnis World

Traditional clothing isn’t something to look down on in Bavaria, but rather it’s something to be celebrated. Let the rest of Germany say what it will, but Bavaria is proud of their cultural identity and this piece of their history – they do not run from the past, like so much of Germany might appear to do. Dirndls would be embarrassing in the North if worn in earnest. But here in the south, traditional clothing so far from being a joke that you can wear them to church and not appear to be wearing a costume!

Bavaria has a very strong Catholic identity. Most all shops are closed on Sundays. On the Monday after Pentecost, school and work was closed, and on Corpus Christi, the whole city shut down. There was a large mass going on outside of the city Rathaus on Corpus Christi morning, and such a large group of people came that the crowd was gathered even where there was zero visibility, and you could only hear the mass. It appeared that many groups had made pilgrimages to come to this mass, and of these groups, many wore traditional German clothing. Even on an ordinary Sunday, large groups of people wear dirndls or lederhosen to church, at Asam Kirche, for example, where I saw a procession of people dressed traditionally exiting the church.

Asam Kirche

I find this contrast between Berlin and Bavaria to be intriguing. Even within the German culture there is great variation and an abundance of perspectives. While this can be observed through religious roots (Historically Catholic of Protestant) or regional dialect (Bairisch in Bavaria), the most readily noticeable difference in Bavaria is the attitude taken to traditional German clothing.

Typical Bavarian Cookies

Fáilte Romhat!

After a long 48 hours of sitting on buses, waiting for buses, and dashing through airports, I have arrived in what feels like the very edge of Europe, Gleann Cholm Cille.

Everyone has been extremely friendly and accommodating. I am sharing a room with another student and sharing the house with three others, all from America. Our host, Cait, speaks to us primarily in Irish, but takes pity from time to time and explains in English. This is, at the moment, an unfortunate necessity for me. The Northern accent here coupled with the dialect variant (my professor is from Connemara) has made me feel ill prepared for this trip, but I am sure that I will acquire the means for deciphering both with prolonged exposure. I am off to my first class today, but before that I took a little detour.

To quote Synge, I was “seeing nothing but the mists rolling down the bog, and the mists again, and they rolling up the bog.”

But when it cleared, bhí sé álainn!

This gleann is full of so many wonders: beautiful beaches, cliffs, mountains, ruins, wildlife, and friendly people. More on the people after I attend class though.

Slán go fóill.

Complaints, hein?

How time flies. My time in Tours is reaching the midpoint, yet I still feel I have only just arrived from Charles de Gaulle last night. In my two previous posts, I seemed to have the false impression that my life here is all last-minute adventures and sudden epiphanies of Francophone culture. But really, my daily routine, consisting of morning classes and dinners with my host family, is what I’ve fallen in love with. As cliche as it sounds, I’ve certainly experienced moments of “C’est la vie.” Just two days ago, I was standing in front of the formage section at Monoprix for twenty minutes, simply observing the 400 varieties of French cheese.


Although my second weekend was spent in Tours, it was anything but peaceful. On Saturday, I’ve decided to faire du vélo, or go biking, a popular family pastime here in the Loire Valley. The bike trail along la Loire is magnificent, all trees and bushes and birds along the flowing water. Thought I as I hummed and proceeded towards the Villandry castle on my €10/half day hybrid bike. Of course, good things don’t last, after a few casual (wrong) turns, I found myself on a highway– the “bike trail” under my front wheel incidentally narrowing. I decided life was more important than a 16th century castle and turned back, confronting the stares of stunned car drivers. On Sunday I thrived– morning markets, VitiLoire (annual wine festival with over 400 booths for tasting) and mother’s day.


I miss my old classroom

Every four weeks, students get resorted into a different class with different teachers, according to their levels of French. On Monday, the first day of the new sequence, around one hundred students arrived from the United States, mercilessly upturning the ambiance of the institute. During recess, groups of American students (many of whom from the same university) would swarm the courtyard to speak their mother tongue, accompanied by bagels and Starbucks. Even during class time, some are prone to responding in Anglais… “Bonjour” is replaced by “Hey,” “Quelle est ta nationalité?” by “Are you American?” I feel like I’m back in Indiana.

While it’s a shame that the diverse groups of Thai, Korean, Taiwanese, Arabic, Canadien and Europeans students seemed to have faded from the institute, I’m also very grateful that I had started two weeks ago and had already grown used to only conversing in French, as was the norm before Monday. The perk of being Taiwanese (or just non-American) is that if I keep my mouth shut and only smile, people often assume I don’t speak English, which is only perfect for exercising French.

The end of the previous sequence also meant adieu’s. On Sunday, I accompanied the Thai girl to the train station, and I was devastated. It’s miraculous how I’ve already made friends that made saying goodbye so hard– rare friendships that persisted despite limited French vocabulary and half-finished sentences.

Still sad from my friends’ departure, I strived to distract myself by posing all sorts of (sometimes sensitive) questions at the dinner table. In one conversation, my host mom has slipped out very strong feelings on the Trump administration and Macron.Between two bites of poulet grillé, I also finally gathered the courage to ask if the French and the British really dislike each other, which I’ve been dying to know since watching Dunkirk. At school, I’ve learned much about the French way of doing things: the inefficient *cough** political system, the French income tax rate, which the teacher had said was non-progressive, being 24% for everyone (not sure if it’s actually true), and also how slow the French time passes, making it okay for the teacher to always be 15-30 minutes late. An observation of the French civilization is incomplete without addressing la grève, or the railway strike. How much France has achieved has not ceased to amaze me– all the philosophers, cosmetic brands, gourmet and NGO’s– despite how laissez-faire, whiny and inefficient they are at times. Currently, two out of every five days are affected by the strike, and since my flight falls on a strike day– I will have to seek an alternative means of transport. Not easy given the limited availability of bus. This strike, however authentically French it is, will be the end of me. Stay tuned.

You have probably noticed by now how much I’m complaining. I’ve learned this is their most iconic habit, making one a true French national. As I continue to eat more yoghurt and pains, speak more bonjours and escape more dog poop (everywhere on the streets here), I’m also realizing my own potential of becoming cynically French.

Château de Chenonceau looks even smaller next to my gigantic head
First excursion with the institute!

Saludos de Cusco!

After an extremely hectic, long, and confusing day of travel I finally arrived in Cusco at around 6:30 am. A taxi driver (sent by Maximo Nivel, my language school) took me directly to my host family, a woman named Tuca and her brother, Victor. They don’t speak any English but luckily my Spanish is enough to communicate and converse with them. After sleeping for a couple hours, my host mother showed me the way to Maximo Nivel, where I had language testing and orientation for my Spanish program (a combination of four hours of group classes and two additional hours of private lessons).

After my testing I went on a short city tour of the nearby area and got to know some of the more popular restaurants and cafes.

The next day, I started my classes. My teacher’s name is Roy and he is originally from Lima, but has been living in Cusco for over 10 years. In my group class there is just one other person, a girl named Mikayla from Toronto, Canada. The classes are simultaneously really overwhelming as well as a little tedious and slow. Each day I learn an incredible amount of vocabulary, but at the same time I haven’t learned much grammatically. In this first week of class we focused only on the present and preterit tenses which was a little frustrating at times but I also feel that the practice has made me more confident in my speaking abilities. Even though I haven’t learned any new grammar, I can talk much more quickly and fluidly than before.

However, despite all of my progress, by the end of the week I was completely burnt out. Constantly thinking and talking in Spanish is EXHAUSTING. Luckily, each day I have a three hour break between my group classes and private lessons that I use to explore new restaurants and explore different areas of the city. My favorite dish so far is a famous Peruvian dish called Lomo Saltado, which has beef, onions, some other vegetables, french fries, and rice.

And on Fridays, Maximo offers cooking classes and this week the dish that we learned to make happened to be Lomo Saltado. I learned a lot more about the history of the dish and that while it is a Peruvian favorite, it is actually inspired by Chinese immigrants. Throughout Peru there is a large mix between Peruvian and Chinese cultures and throughout the streets of Cusco you can always spot various “chifas” which are Peruvian-Chinese fusion restaurants. Peru is a really fascinating country because of all of the different cultural mixings. It’s interesting because aside from my clearly American clothing, I actually blend in around the streets of Cusco pretty well.

Aside from all the Spanish classes, another snag along the road have come from the sharp slap in the face and reality check regarding my privileges in America. I don’t think that I ever really understood how blessed I am to always be able to rely on hot water, clean tap water, and conveniences like Walmart (where I can find everything I need in one place). Luckily, my host family has been doing everything in their power to make me comfortable here and I am incredibly grateful for all their help.

On the weekend I had a lot of free time to explore the city. I ended up going to Sacsayhuaman, a famous Incan site right next to Cusco, it was close enough for me to walk (which was a HIKE, the streets of Cusco are steep and narrow). It was incredible to see how advanced Inca society was and to see their engineering with my own eyes. I couldn’t believe how strong and sturdy their buildings and walls were without having modern-tools.

And on Sunday, I went on a hike with a couple of other students from Maximo. We went to Humantay Lake which is about a three hour drive away from Cusco. The drive was both beautiful AND terrifying. The scenery around Peru is like something out of a dream BUT the roads are really different from what we are used to in the US. In a lot of places they can get a little bumpy and people here drive a lot more aggressively.

But despite the long and bumpy drive, the hike was definitely worth all of it. I had a ton of fun getting to spend time with others my age who were traveling from various parts of the US as well as from Canada and Brazil and I had a blast climbing up to the lake with all of them. However, the hike was more difficult than I was expecting because of the altitude. Humantay Lake is approximately 13,000 feet (South Bend is approximately 700 feet). It took me much longer than I was expecting and I had to take a ton of breaks along the way.

Although my first week was exhausting and overwhelming, I can’t wait to see what the rest of my time here has in store for me. 4 weeks left!

Progress and Surprises

I’m now a bit over a week into my lessons. To put my situation into context, the school I’m at teaches Italian as a foreign language to various levels – from people who have never studied Italian to people like me who already have a pretty solid grasp on the language but certainly have more to go. Importantly, the students at the school are not all native English speakers. (I have learned that English is almost ubiquitously a second language to those who speak other languages. Further, most of the people I have encountered speak English proficiently and it is interesting seeing it used as the common tongue between two people who come from different places. For example, I have a Dutch roommate and a Turkish roommate and they speak to each other in English. This is very interesting to me but is a story for another time and place.) Since the students in my class speak various different languages as their first language, the class is obviously not taught in the way that I am accustomed to. That is, in my two years of studying Italian at Notre Dame, it’s been taught to an English-speaking class. As we advance we try to speak more in just Italian, certainly, but our classes are nonetheless grounded in our native tongue. Here in Italy, I am instead learning the language from a more or less linguistically neutral perspective. There is no translating back and forth in the class; all is in Italian. This type of learning has had its positives and negatives. At first it was very hard to follow the discussions of the class. I could get most of it, but it took a lot of focus to follow every single thing. I was for the most part translating the Italian I heard into English in my head. But after the constant exposure to this for several classes, I’ve become more habituated and can now follow conversations more easily. There is definitely still a lot of internal translation going on, but it is less than at the beginning. In this respect, I think this form of learning the language has helped me. The main negative I have noticed so far is the difficulty in explaining particular words and phrases that no one in the class knows. I often find myself checking my translator because I didn’t understand the teacher’s explanation of something. Considering that one of my biggest weaknesses is a lack of vocabulary, I wish this type of learning were better in this regard. Overall, I do think this format is helping me improve my comprehension skills. I am still timid in real interactions, however, because I know that if I attempt to speak to an Italian in Italian and he either 1) notices I am American right away or 2) realizes I have trouble understanding his response, he will just start speaking to me in English. This is a downside of coming to such an Anglicized city as Florence – you can definitely have English as a crutch. I was not extremely aware of this fact beforehand, but I guess I shouldn’t be surprised. I’ve felt somewhat spoiled having English as my first language. As English speakers, we’ve never really needed to be truly proficient in a second language, which is (I suppose) a privilege, but maybe also a bit of a shame.


Despite the large English presence here, recently I went to a pizzeria and, for the first time, successfully got the server to speak to me only in Italian. These were small exchanges, but nonetheless I was satisfied. To commemorate, I had to take a photo of the pizza – I’ve had better. I’m also quite enjoying the city. It’s very beautiful and has so much to offer in terms of art and history. The most beautiful view of the city is found up at the Piazzale Michelangelo. It’s a bit of a hike to get up there, but I’ve done it three times and it’s worth it. Some photos from there are also included.

Arrival and First Encounters

I have now been here in Florence for a few days. Soon after my arrival, I documented my travel experience, which in all took about 20 hours, and my very initial encounters in Florence:

“Saturday, May 12: I landed in Milan at about 8 am local time. On the plane the flight attendants spoke both perfect English and perfect Italian. In fact, I couldn’t tell which was the native tongue. There were (I believe) more Italians on the plane than Americans. I found the baggage claim and was confused that I didn’t have to do anything after picking up my bag – I can count the number of times I’ve flown on one hand so I’m not accustomed to the protocol. Then I needed to find my train, the Malpensa Express, so I asked a woman behind a desk, “Dove vado per la Malpensa Express? Where do I go for the Malpensa Express?” She answered in Italian, and, somewhat shell-shocked, I didn’t pick up much of it and she could tell. “English is better?” she asked me. “Forse, sì. Maybe, yes.” I was a bit embarrassed. I still had trouble finding the train but bought a ticket for the 9:13 one (at 9:08…). I wasn’t sure where I needed to go so I asked the man who sold me the ticket, “Da dove parte? Where does it leave from?” He smugly answered, “Dai binari. From the tracks.” I found the right spot and got on the train. After some time on the train I realized I did not validate my ticket as one must do on certain trains in Italy – it was not clear to me that I needed to and I now wonder if the man who sold it to me purposely did not tell me to – and became very worried about my incoming fine. Luckily they never came to check and I made it out alive. I got to Milano Centrale at about 10:10, where my next train was to leave at 11:35. I was also very confused at Milano Centrale. At first I could not find the information for my train, Italo 9923. Was it canceled? Initially I just stayed on the platform, planning to wait until my train arrived. But then I started getting worried so I went out into the main area of the station where I saw my train number up on the screen, but no other information about it. Soon I picked up that the board adds the info later on as the arrival time approaches. Keep in mind this is the first time I’ve traveled alone at all, not just in Europe. Finally I get on the Italo train and arrive in Florence, where my transfer is. Without saying more than 5 words to me, he recklessly drives me (as Italians do) to the apartment, takes out my bags, points to which door is mine, and immediately leaves. I’m unsure exactly what to do but eventually find my way up and meet my roommates, who are all nice.”

So my first couple attempts with the language and the culture were not picture perfect, but it would be silly to expect it to be so. Even with all my preparation in the classroom and my exposure to Italian music and film, the actual, living, real-time language came as a shock to me. These initial experiences really give a sense of just how useful it is to be able to come here to Italy. That is, I wouldn’t truly be able to improve my Italian unless faced with these types of situations and with the real spoken language. And as for the discomforts I experienced while traveling, they, too, are extremely important for my adaptation to a different culture – I now know to be sure to validate my ticket before boarding the train – and also for my personal maturation in being able to handle real-word, confusing situations.