My first impression of Irish people was 'Wow they look incredibly comfy' and 'how do they always have something to say?'. The comfy bit came from the fact that 83% of the Irish people (their accents gave it away) travelling on my flight were all wearing either Nike, Puma or more commonly Adidas tracksuit pants and runners. This was a foreign concept to me, as most Australians I know travel in one of three attires: 1. 'Semi-casual' outfit featuring jeans and a nice jumper/cardigan/scarf 2. The hippie style involving usually baggy hippie pants. 3. The tourist outfit, which includes an array of outdoor, gear mainly Kathmandu brand. The 'chatty' part came from my observations of conversations. Irish conversations are so fluid and laughter occurs after most statements are made.
Anyway, I landed in Dublin after a long journey from Denpasar-Abu Dhabi-Kuala Lumpar and it was a frosty, slightly rainy (of course) morning. My taxi driver spilled his life story to me on the way to my home-to-be at South-Circular Road. He warned me not to walk home alone at night, he told me I was brave for coming on my own, he answered two phone calls, briefly explained a bit of Irish history, told me about the River Liffey and he also told me that marriage is stupid. At least I think this is what he told me...I mostly laughed and said 'oh, how interesting' because, to be honest, I could only grasp a few words here and there. A typical Irish taxi driver experience as I later found out.
I was greeted at the door to 'the white house' by Aoife, yes I did Google 'how to pronounce Aoife' before I arrived. I was instantly warm when I walked into the house, I think because the heating was on but also because Aoife was just this radiating ball of happiness, warmth and positivity. She asked me how the journey had been, she introduced me to one of my house mates, lovely Cassie, she gave me a tour of the beautiful house 'many oh wow's' were made (because the house is huge and AMAZING), she gave me a cute little bag of goodies with a phone, some postcards and emergency contact details and she ordered me to get some sleep. I was overwhelmed with all the new stuff I was experiencing but also weirdly at peace in the house already, I unpacked a bit and slept for a good 8 hours.
My first few days in Ireland I spent finding my feet and meeting the rest of my housemates (who I now consider life long friends that I've shared many a laugh, boogie and adventure with). I walked to the
‘Stint’ office and after a cup of tea, a polaroid posing shot and much chatting I went off and explored the city. I got myself a 'leap card' (essential in Dublin), a new sim and did some sound shopping (sound is my new favourite Irish word). I also explored a few grocery stores; these always excite me when I'm in another country. Turns out Tesco is super expensive, but has great cakes and bread.
Skipping past a lot of the in between moments, not to say that nothing happened in these moments...it did! but I don't have the right words or wittiness to explain to you how great these little in between moments were.
I started my internship at the Irish Wheelchair Association in Clontarf on a Monday. After a bus ride to Westmoreland St, a train from the Tara street station and a brief walk led by my trusty Google maps powered by 3 mobile unlimited data (this is unheard of in Australia!), I arrived. A bit nervous but outwardly confident. After a bit of waiting around I met my 'boss' Ciaran (yep I googled pronunciation of this one too, its like Kieran but with emphasis on the ON, so its like Kier-ON). He spoke quickly, I nodded and smiled and tried to get in a few 'yep's. Luckily he sensed I'd missed a lot of what he said and paused 'am I speaking too fast? did you understand that?', I giggled and said 'yes, maybe just a tad too fast, I think I understood most of it...' and he proceeded to give me a dumbed down, slower version of what he'd started with.
The facility was basically a gym and a huge sports hall, but it was fully catered to those with disabilities. Each and every piece of equipment in the gym could be accessed and used by someone in a wheelchair. There were special gadgets for people who may not have full control of their hands (commonly people with cerebral palsy, or people who have suffered a stroke) and assistive aids and equipment for people who are re-learning to walk. Six men work at the gym on a regular basis, and while at first this was intimidating, I soon felt very welcomed and comfortable. My job as an intern was to be an active member of this team, to help set up the hall for lawn bowls (this happened twice a week, and people of all ability levels and ages, even those wheelchair bound - came to play), to lead school groups through wheelchair education sessions (we got abled body kids from local schools to jump in wheelchairs, taught them how to stop and turn and gain speed, got them thinking about what it would be like to be in a wheelchair, all of the things you need to consider when going somewhere and then finally got them playing a game of wheelchair basketball) and finally my job was to write exercise programs (based on the latest scientific evidence sourced from journals) for individuals with various disabilities including cerebral palsy, spina bifida, multiple sclerosis and brain injuries/disabilities incurred from a stroke, car or motorbike accident.
Each day at work was different. I'd see different clients, one day a week I'd sit in on a group exercise class in which most participants were wheelchair bound, I'd chat with an athlete training for the Paralympics or I'd work with a young lad doing his work experience for school or I'd eat lunch downstairs where a day program of various activities was run for those with physical disabilities. The only thing that was consistently the same each day was the 'throw a shrimp on the barbie' comment that would come at some point or another, and each time I would laugh politely and take the opportunity to explain that we actually call them 'prawns' and we never say that, much like the Irish never say 'top of the mornin' to ya'. Banter was always included in each day, part of the Irish way and I loved that.
I was kept busy with administration work, I quickly learned how to use the computer system and to add new members, file paper work and use the Eftpos machine (hopefully I didn't mess up toooo much!). Ciaran was always kept busy organising events, meeting new people who were thinking about joining the gym and wanting to start a program but he always made time for me and I was always in his ear asking his approval of certain exercises I could/couldn't do with clients. I am so so grateful to Ciaran for the time and effort he put in to teaching me some of the skills needed in this sort of rehabilitation work. He is an incredibly knowledgeable and hard working man, not to mention incredibly quick witted, who I aspire to be like.
Each day on my bus ride x 2 home from work, I'd catch myself awkwardly smiling to myself, I was buzzing after each day at work, I felt incredibly lucky to be in this lively, positive country and to be working in such a cool, life enhancing facility! When I looked out the window, there were people riding their bikes, walking briskly home from work, (nobody even phased by the rain and the wind), the girls in their sensible 'stockings and runners' outfits for the journey home, many faces with pink cheeks and freckles (like me! woo I don't stand out!) I'd listen to some Irish songs on my phone like 'Fairytale of New York ', 'Galway girl' 'I'll tell me ma' and I'd think to myself...'what a wonderful world', haha nah just kidding, but I did think to myself 'I need to live here someday'.
Work aside; the rest of my life was pretty great while I was in Ireland. I'd come home to my housemates, (special mention to my bubbly, inspiring and hilarious roommate Ally who arrived a week after I did and soon became one of my best friends), who were all completing different internships or working different jobs, each of them as interesting as the next and we'd share our funny stories. We'd laugh about the best and worst of the Irish sayings. 'Ah you're grand' became something we all said, because it's just so lovely isn't it? It’s kind of like 'no worries' like we say back in Australia but a whole new level of nice. 'Story horse?' still doesn't make sense to me and 'craic' still manages to make me laugh. One day at work I rocked up and said 'how's your craic' to Karl (one of my colleagues) and he lost it. He then proceeded to give me a lesson on when and how to use 'craic'.
Most nights the housemates and I would share the living room area, we'd be researching and discussing places to go on the weekend, we'd laugh about funny tinder stories and whether or not to go on that date, we'd cook for each other, we'd watch movies together, sometimes we'd venture out for a meal, on Tuesdays some of us would go and see live music and at least twice a week some of us would go out on the town. The most interesting stories came out of 'Coppers', it's a pretty dicey place, but you do have to go there at least once.
Weekends were precious, we'd each be up and at it asking each other 'so what are you doing?' and the responses ranged from 'I was thinking I'd go explore the Wicklow mountains' to 'I want to go to Belfast' to 'I'm thinking Howth'. Each of us shared the same desire to see and experience as much of Ireland as we could. We quickly learned not to go too hard on the Friday night, because hangovers meant lost time on a Saturday.
My internship alone was an awesome experience. But combine that with a wicked house, some crazy Americans and a shared sense of adventure between us, and you have a humungous learning experience and a budding love for Ireland that has left a strong imprint on me. Literally, I got a small circle tattooed on my wrist to remind me of the grand south circular road and my time in Ireland. It was ‘Stint’ that enabled all of this to happen. They got me in contact with the IWA, they set me up in the white house, they inspired me to get outside of my comfort zone, but made me feel 100% comfortable the whole time. I cannot thank them enough for this!