Adapting to the New Normal

While Ireland is the place I will inevitably return to and a place I will forever call home, it was always known I would spend my first few years after graduation abroad. Leaving not because I had to, but because I wanted to, something not all of my generation and generations before me are lucky enough to say.

Since leaving Ireland, I have exchanged birthday and Christmas wishes via Skype, been kept updated through plenty of whatsapps, Facebook posts and many Snapchat’s. I have watched my youngest sister complete her leaving cert, finish secondary school and start Art College. My other sister has turned twenty-one, spent five months in Finland, and passed her driving test and these are only the major milestones I’ve missed.

Sisters

I come from a very close-knit family. Growing up I would always know where my siblings were and through the years this didn’t waiver. There is very little we don’t share with each other, which unfortunately, includes my entire wardrobe. This is why it has come as such a shock how quickly I have adapted to the new normal.

The new normal I am referring to is celebrating all these events from afar, yet feeling like it was only yesterday when I was there in person. On a recent phone call my youngest sister, I commented on how it didn’t feel like that long since I’d left and I regretfully admitted that I was no longer missing home.

Connemara

Don’t get me wrong, like everything the bad comes along with the good and on these occasions I find myself longing for home. Varying from the cravings for a decent bar of Cadbury’s chocolate, to a good ole chat with a friend I’ve known longer than the stamp on my passport. The moment that made me realize all the life events big and small I was missing out on, occurred during one of our frequent family skype calls. My mum mentioned an event that occurred three months previous to which I had no knowledge of. Looks of disbelief crossed their faces, they couldn’t believe that this was something I didn’t already know. With a quick summary I was brought up to speed, however, it wasn’t the same. Moments like these have been the toughest part of being away from home; these are also the moments people back home don’t get to see.

As the time approaches for me to return home I do so looking ahead to my next adventure. My gran recently expressed a sigh of relief to hear that I would be coming home, ‘well hopefully that’ll be traveling out of her system for a while’. To this my dad smiled, ‘I don’t think she’s done quite yet’.

Family

Advertisements

Friends Who Pray Together Stay Together

For most their year starts on January 1st full of new year’s resolutions, for me, mine starts on the 6th of September.  I neatly place 5 ironed and folded white nurse dresses into a compact ‘Ryanair approved’ carry-on. Taking a direct flight from Dublin to Biarritz, followed by an organized bus from Biarritz, arriving at my final destination… Lourdes.

Let’s take a couple of steps back… every year over 600 helpers travel over to Lourdes with the Dublin Diocesan. Volunteer’s travel united by one purpose; to ensure the stay of the 150 plus sick pilgrims at the ‘Accueil Notre Dame’ is an unforgettable experience. Volunteers come in the form of doctors, nurses, final year secondary school students (aka blue shirts), college students and the average Joe Blogg like me.

1233534_10153279919640624_4812758_n

Lourdes is known to many as a religious place in the South of France. For me, while yes, it is still a small village in the south of France; it represents so much more than that. It represents community, friendship, laughter and a chance to reflect.

It is often presumed that those who travel to Lourdes do so for a religious purpose, this is not necessarily true. It is true that during the pilgrimage there are many religious services, opportunities to visit both the Grotto and the Baths. There are also sings songs, tea and coffee gatherings, decorating of the wards, a picnic and a party the evening before everyone departs home. Lourdes is a place of no judgments, where everyone is on a journey of their own, religious or otherwise.

Silver Medal

I have made this journey for seven consecutive years, each year more rewarding than the last. Every year coming home with new friends, new memories and a fresh perspective. I have tried many a time to pin-point why it is exactly I return year in year out. While the hours are long and the work can be tough, I always come away feelings refreshed and grounded, ready to take on the world.

Those who travel belong to a community. We often joke; ‘those who pray together stay together’, however, as much as we joke it holds some truth. Last year I moved to California, 2 days before I left I attended the annual Lourdes reunion in Oil Can Harrys. I was inundated with well wishes, and offers from people wanting to help me get set up. Throughout the past year this same community has kept in touch, checking in making sure I am doing ok and eager to know about my return.

314591_2364898609778_1286402484_n

This year I made the difficult decision not to return to Lourdes. Informing the Diocesan of my decision not to go was one of the toughest emails I have ever written. This decision was based on me living abroad and only having two months remaining on my visa. You can be sure that I will be back next year, as the famous saying goes ‘absence makes the heart grow fonder’.

Good luck to all those traveling over the weekend on this years pilgrimage, can’t wait for all the snaps 🙂

Curing a dose of homesickness

Over the last couple of months I begun to have a real bad case of homesickness. While a flight home was out of the question, a flight to NYC was more within my reach. Everyone I know in San Francisco I  only know as long as I have been here myself, however, in New York there are a lot more ties to home. I am very lucky that the company I work for has an office in NYC and was very accommodating in letting me work from their NY offices to facilitate my 12 day trip.

Highline, NYC

I stayed with Maria, one of my very good friends from secondary school. We must have only been with each other a little over an hour when I noticed her ‘tunnel’ ear piercing. Without thinking I said in disgust ‘what is that?’, she immediately turned around and laughed, followed by an ‘I’ve missed you’. Similar to me she moved to NY without knowing anyone. We have both become so accustom to people filtering the truth or being too polite to say what they really think.

During my first week I met up with an old friend from Irish college. At one point in the evening he started to roll a cigarette, a habit he has had on and off for years. Me being me, not so discretely said, ‘you’re not at that again’. He quickly told me off. It was so refreshing to spend time with people who told you exactly what they were thinking without it being put through a filter.

Friends Abroad

The day before I left NY the question was asked ‘do you still feel homesick?’. My answer at the time was of course as sarcastic as ever, but truthfully on reflection those 12 days away spent with friends and family was exactly what I needed. One of my biggest fears when moving abroad was that I would lose touch with those at home. This trip amongst other things has taught me how blest I am to have some really great friendships, that no matter the length of time between when we see each other, things always fall right back into place.

Today I am 9 months in the US of A, something I cannot believe. Time has flown by and continues to do so. One of my closest friends is coming to visit in just 5 weeks!! When she originally booked her flights it felt like it was forever away (fabulous use of the english language there) and now it is just around the corner.  That looming visit will be an adventure of its own…

Taking some time out

Learning to slow down & speak a little slower

A little about life

Growing up performing in front of large groups of people never seemed to phase me. Music was one of the subjects I chose for my leaving cert for which I sung. In preparation for our practical the school organized a mini concert for younger years and the odd family members to attend. I remember loving the rush before stepping out on the stage and the relief after singing the last note. I often get the same rush when giving a presentation or making a speech.

I vividly remember a couple of weeks before starting my final year in college I was asked to give a presentation to incoming first years about the society I was involved with. For anyone who knows DCU it was in T101, a large lecture hall with tiered seating. The lecturer politely made an introduction followed by one of my peers kicking off the presentation. A few moments later he turned to me signaling that I was to take over. I stood there for a very painful 30 seconds before looking blankly at him to continue. I walked out of the lecture hall swearing that I would never let that happen again.

In the summer of 2013 I was lucky enough to get a one on one coaching session from Barbara Moynihan, MD of On Your Feet. By the end of the summer I was able to confidently give a 17 minute speech to a professional judging panel with 4 other society members.

944281_459998404089429_4781150_n

I believe in my line of work it is important to be able to confidently present in front of your peers, colleagues, clients and strangers. I have found the more passionate or excited I am about something the quicker I talk, even my parents have difficulty understanding me at times. I am working on a really exciting project in work at the moment and get quite excited when bringing the team up to date. One member of the team tends to smile and nod, then if I ask a follow up question his reply without fail is ‘I’m sorry I couldn’t understand you’. For this reason I recently enrolled in Toastmasters. This is a global public speaking organization. The club I joined is small, with the recent attendance being between eight and twelve people.

The club runs for one hour every Tuesday night. There was a once off membership fee of $20 and then to enroll until September it was $30. The structure remains the same weekly, however, the roles change round depending on who volunteers. You have the toastmaster who leads the session, a person presenting the word of the day and another presenting the joke of the day. There is an opportunity for two people to present their prepared speeches and an opportunity for short 2 minute unprepared speeches. During the second half of the session we hear feedback on the prepared speeches, members vote on the best unprepared speech and we also hear from grammarian about how many filler words the speakers used.

I have volunteered to do a prepared presentation the first week in June. I am looking forward to that feeling I use to be so familiar with, the rush of excitement, that sigh of relief when it is all over and the sense of accomplishment. I hope this is the start of many more (hopefully successful) presentations, improving throughout the process and maybe in not so long that certain team member will be able to understand me, even through my excitement.

Tost-NewLogo

#BeMyYes

On Saturday the 9th of May, members of the Irish community in San Francisco gathered together to encourage those back home to use their vote in the upcoming referendum. It is estimated that there are over 1 million Irish citizens living abroad. That is 1 million Irish people that can not vote in the upcoming marriage referendum. The #BeMyYes campaign was launched at the start of May encouraging people in Ireland to ‘be the voice of those who cannot be heard’.

#BeMyYes

With this in mind, on Saturday a group of us gathered together beside the picturesque Golden Gate Bridge to take a photograph encouraging our loved ones at home to get out and vote. The turn out was fantastic and we even managed to convince some Scottish/Australian tourists to hold some letters for us. As mentioned on Saturday, ‘it doesn’t take a lot to show up’, the real credit goes to Adel for organizing such a successful event and putting together the short video below.

Be My Yes

After the main photo a handful of us made our way to The Castro, one of the first gay districts in the United States. This is where we took one of my favorite photographs of the day, at the rainbow flag cross roads. We waited for the lights and then in order of height quickly ran halfway across the road and posed for a quick photograph. I have to say this Saturday was one of my best days in San Francisco to date.

It has been difficult watching all the campaigning being done in Ireland from abroad. It has been inspiring seeing people of all generations stand together in the hope that their voice is heard. One of the best stories I read online is to do with a secondary close to my home in Dublin. ‘No’ posters were placed outside the school grounds and students responded by painting a rainbow on the ground at the school gates. Now bare in mind the voting age in Ireland is 18 years old which means over 80% of the students are unable to vote, however, they are aware of what is happening and want their voices to be heard.

Mount Temple

I was also delighted to see Dublin City University revised their exam timetable so students can be at home to vote. They are also proudly flying the Rainbow LGBT Flag on the main campus building. Another reason why all students past and present should be proud to be associated with a university standing strong and leading the way once again.

Here is a short video that pretty much sums up our day on Saturday. Please go to your local polling station on the 22nd of May and be our yes! ❤

From the dance studio to the GAA pitch

Dance

I remember the day I walked into my very first ballet class, excited and hopeful that this would be the same class my neighbor and childhood best friend attended. Our teacher Marie Cole walked around the room with her remote gently tapping our knees when our first position was over turned. I remember drawing an imaginary line on the floor, pretending it was a tightrope, and playfully fell over, as I prepared for our performance in the National Concert Hall.

I remember the day I arrived to class upset over homework, Ms Cole took my hand, thinking I was upset due to my friend missing our weekly class and lead me to my place. I remained with the ‘Irish Ballet School’ throughout primary school, secondary school and during my first couple of years in university.  Weekly classes became bi-weekly and increased further before the occasional performances.

InstagramCapture_269c2289-172c-4e7f-a486-ec6a381b13dd_jpg

I contemplated joining a dance class when I first moved over, while also looking for other opportunities. To my father’s delighted I found a GAA (Gaelic Athletic Association) club to join, Clan Na Gael. My friends back home find this concept hilarious… and tbh so do I!

Growing up sports were just not my thing. Now don’t get me wrong, I know plenty of people that dance and take part in competitive sports, I was just never that girl! However, in my opinion there is no better time than now to change that. So much has changed over the last year so why not give this a shot!

I have to admit I have not been as dedicated as I would like to be, but I plan on changing that. We train twice a week and have the odd match on the weekend against the only other ladies team in SF.

gaa

I love the feeling of accomplishment after training, the fitness aspect of it and the community the club offers. The only thing that has been holding me back is the feeling I get during training… It reminds me of when I returned to dancing after being out with a knee injury. Everyone had learnt a new dance for an upcoming performance. I had sat in on some of the rehearsals to avoid falling behind, but watching and actually dancing are two very different things. My first class back I messed up the steps and found myself getting extremely frustrated. At training I feel like I am reliving that dance class, over and over again. I know with time and practice I will improve (I really can’t get any worse) and I am determined not to give up! Sure I’ve already been told I have the ‘spin’ defense move down 😉

The Age of Adaline

Adaline

Last Thursday I went to see ‘The Age of Adaline’ a story of a women born in 1908, who was in a car accident in 1935, and as a result cannot age. Adaline played by the beautiful Blake Lively is a movie a would highly recommend going to see.

Having only previously seen Blake star in popular the television series ‘Gossip Girl’ this was a much welcomed change of scenery. The one and only similarity between ‘The Age of Adaline’ and ‘Gossip Girl’ was Blake’s stylish outfits and ever changing hairstyles.

A big bonus was that some scenes are set in San Francisco showing new and old footage of the city and how things have changed over the years. It is always nice to watch a movie/television show and be able to relate to the setting.

‘The Age of Adaline’ is currently out in cinema’s in the U.S. and is hitting cinema’s in Ireland on the 8th of May.

My Enactus Experience: What’s it all about?!?

Students of Ireland’s top universities are busy preparing for this years National competition, competing to represent Enactus Ireland in this years World Cup in South Africa. In 2013, myself and five other students from Dublin City University (DCU) represented Enactus Ireland in Mexico for the 2013 World Cup.

Following the competition I was asked to write a guest blog for Enactus Ireland on my experience of Enactus. I recently came across my blog post and with minor changes I have decided to share it here.

Good luck to everyone in this years competition!

ciara-blog-2

I got involved with Enactus in my final year of university and I can honestly say it was one of my best and most rewarding experiences in university. People often ask me ‘What is Enactus?’ or ‘What’s so great about it?’ both questions I struggle to answer, however, in a few words I will try! Enactus for me is, students from across the world seeing situations that need to be changed, these students realise they have the power to make a difference! I have always enjoyed helping other people and Enactus gave me the opportunity to continue helping others.

I initially got involved as a dance teacher for one of DCU’s projects, HeadstARTS. HeadstARTS is an organization that enables and empowers people with intellectual disabilities through the arts. I really didn’t understand the impact this project was having on our member’s lives and to be honest I still don’t think I do. We enabled and empowered, similar to all Enactus projects! Our member’s lives were changed and we gave them a creative outlet in the arts.

ciara-blog-4

I am proud to say I went on to represent DCU at both the Irish National Competition and Enactus World Cup in Mexico. The whole experience feels like a dream and trying to explain it to others is close to impossible. I was astonished to see how students from all corners of the earth shared the same passion and excitement for helping other people as myself and team. The joyous atmosphere was contagious. Everyone dressed up in their traditional clothes, music was blaring, people were dancing and exchanging gifts from their native countries. We even taught the Egyptians a few ‘one, two, threes’!

Because of Enactus I have learnt that I am not alone in wanting to make a difference in the world and anything we may do alone or together will make a difference. As Mother Teresa said “I alone cannot change the world, but I can cast a stone across the waters to create many ripples”. Enactus has also given me the opportunity to meet some inspiring and wonderful business leaders.

ciara-blog-3

Although my college journey has come to an end I hope my Enactus journey has not! If the opportunity arose I would love to be a judge not only in Ireland’s National competition but also in the World’s. I have been so inspired with what I have seen this year, Enactus students see opportunities to make the world a better place and instead of overlooking the problems, they make it their mission.

If I could give one bit of advice to students, business leaders and companies, it would be… get involved! You will not be disappointed!

Guest Blog: USIT 1 Year USA Graduate Programme

1 YEAR USA GRADUATE PROGRAMME – APRIL PARTICIPANT SPOTLIGHT

This month we caught up with Ciara Ennis, a Business/Marketing graduate from DCU who is currently in San Francisco on the 1 Year USA Graduate Programme.  Like a lot of participants, Ciara stayed in Ireland right after she graduated college and gained some experience before deciding to take part in the programme right before her 12 month cut off point.  We asked Ciara why she decided to take the plunge, what she’s working at now and what advice she would give future participants.  Here’s what she had to say.

ciara 1

WHAT MADE YOU DECIDE TO GO FOR THE 1 YEAR USA PROGRAMME?

For years I had spoken quite openly about wanting to working abroad, to the extent my family thought I might never leave! On graduating I started working on the marketing team in Microsoft and loved it. However, I knew if I did not take the opportunity of the graduate visa it would be a lot harder to in the future to attain a working visa. With this in mind I set a date and arranged to leave a month before the anniversary of my graduation.

WHAT KIND OF INTERNSHIP DID YOU FIND AND WHAT KIND OF PROJECTS DID YOU/ARE YOU WORKING ON?

I am working as an Account Management Specialist for Viscira. Viscira is a provider of interactive, new-media communication solutions and software products for the life sciences industry. Finding a job in the technology industry was a priority for me, however, I never thought I would also be working in the pharmaceutical industry. Each project is very different from the one before, ranging from iPad Apps, speaker portals to promotional videos, and trade show booths.

ciara 2

What has the highlight of your time in the USA been so far?

I must have only been here 2 weeks and was invited to a networking event for Dreamforce. It took place in a swanky Irish bar and the attendees were all successful professionals. It was a very relaxed atmosphere and you could easily walk up and have a conversation with a manager for one of America’s most profitable companies. As the night went on I found myself with a VIP ticket to the Bruno Mars concert at City Hall that night, with an after-party performance by Will.i.am. It happened be the eve of my birthday, and a 24 hours I won’t easily forget!

ONE PIECE OF ADVICE YOU WOULD GIVE TO PEOPLE WHO ARE THINKING ABOUT GOING ON THE PROGRAMME?

Network!!! Ever heard the phrase ‘it’s not what you know, it’s who you know’, it could not be more true over here. Keep your LinkedIn profile updated, upgrade to a premium account and connect with your universities alumni network. Not everyone you meet will be able to help you, it may just lead to another conversation, however, there is always something to take away from every conversation.

Are you interested in taking part in the 1 Year USA Graduate Programme? For more information, visit our website here, or email melanie.young@usit.ie to make an appointment to come into our office to talk about your options.

ciara 3

The 6 month mark

Last Sunday marked the 6 month anniversary since I moved State side and I have loved every minute of it so far. I’m not going to lie, I do occasionally get quite homesick. In fact if my parents hadn’t paid a visit this month, there is a very good chance I would have booked a ticket home.

To mark the occasion here are 6 of my biggest highlights/accomplishments over the past 6 months…

1. Moving into my own apartment… and surviving!

Growing up in Ireland’s capital, Dublin, allowed me to live at home throughout my education and the years that followed. Although I really hate being referred to as spoilt, I did however live very comfortably at home. Growing up my Mum would go to the moon and back for each of us (and still does), we would wake up to breakfast, return from school to food on the table, received  help with our homework and we always had freshly cleaned clothes.

IMG_0038_2

Moving into my own apartment was going to be accomplishment of its own, never mind the fact the apartment was located in a totally different country. I am happy to say my clothes remain clean (although rarely ironed), home cooked meals still occur, and I am still alive (always a bonus).

2. Christmas

Having moved over at the end of September going home for Christmas was not feasible. As my family pointed out, I had just said goodbye to all my friends and family, was I really going to return 3 months later for a visit. With this in mind I accepted an invitation to spend Christmas in Philadelphia with my friend Erin and her family. I was a little apprehensive about going as I see Christmas as a very family orientated time of year, this concern quickly disappeared on entering her home and saw a stocking hanging at the fireplace with my name on it.

IMG_1808IMG_1212_2

The whole experience was better than I ever could have imagined. After celebrating the new year together we took a trip to New York to spend the night with some friends. It was a brilliant ending to a fantastic Christmas, that being said, I don’t intend in spending next Christmas without my family.

3. Weekend Brunch

This is a weird one but there are so many nice (mostly healthy) places to eat. Having a reservation is not a thing here… however, standing in line for two hours is! I know for Irish people we do not like waiting around and certainly don’t like standing in a line for hours in order to be fed. So if you feel like you’ll be hungry at 11am, grab your place in line at least an hour before that.

IMG_2201

Ok, so i’ve made brunch sound like an awful thing, but trust me it’s not! There is lots of places to choose from so you never get bored of the same food or run out of places to try.

4. Spending time with my parents 

I always knew my mum would come to visit, however, I was unsure about my dad. Now don’t get me wrong I know he would want to, however, when working in a family business taking holidays is not always an option. Shortly after I arrived in SF my mum told me she was planning a visit in the new year, to which my dad replied that she was not going without him. March 11th, they both arrived!

IMG_3372

To say we did a lot during their visit is an understatement, we packed everything in. So much so my dad teased about why would he visit again as he has seen it all. The highlights of their visit for me where little things, Dad trying to pay cash in an Uber, Mum’s face when I brought her to Mixt Greens, Dad’s dancing on St. Patrick’s Day and then Mum threatening to stay up night cause she didn’t want to go home!

5. Discovering California

It took a while but I finally started to tick off the tourist attractions one by one. I’ve cycled the bridge, climbed up Coit Tower, Baker’s Beach, Pier 39 and the likes. I still have a lot to do such as Alcatraz at night, Japanese Tea Garden’s and much more. But what I like the most is discovering the hidden gems outside of the city. Point Bonita Lighthouse, Point Reyes National Seashore, Muir Woods and Napa are all short drives out of the city and are all equally breathtaking. Another bonus point for most of the places out of the city is that the weather is a lot better, it’s really a win win!

IMG_3464_2

6. Passing my driving test

Although I have absolutely no need for an american driving license I thought it would be fun to do the test and get myself another card for my wallet. I sat the test on the 23rd of March without any lessons and am glad to say I passed first time round (something I haven’t been able to say before). Once passing the test I quickly realized it has its benefits, I now can rent a car at an hourly rate from ZipCar, which will make my weekly grocery shop that little bit easier

IMG_3026_2