WARNING: a very long blog!!
Exactly a year ago I left the known and familiar in New Zealand and flew alone around the world to start my new position as a Teaching and Learning Developer at Dublin City University. Bruce joined me a month later. This blog is a chance to reflect on some aspects of what has been a most unusual, enjoyable and at times challenging year.
It took me a little while to settle in. I am in the Teaching Enhancement Unit in an open plan office with three other staff; a fourth off in a smaller office, and two Open Education Unit staff in a larger office off ours. The first shock to my system, having become accustomed to collegial, sometimes hilarious morning tea sessions back in New Zealand at Waikato University, was that the two colleagues who were here when I arrived didn’t take morning tea breaks. Further, the University provides NOTHING in the way of hospitality. We have to buy our own coffee, tea, milk, sugar…and as I start work around 7 a.m., I’m hanging out for a coffee by 10. It turned out that one of my colleagues started only the day before I did, and the other colleague, an administrator, works for only 2½ days so is pretty busy when she’s here. Undaunted, I filched a coffee table that was being discarded elsewhere, set it up by a floor-to-ceiling window next to my desk with the necessaries, and began having morning tea at ten. Eventually I found that a group of Open Education Unit staff from elsewhere in the building, with the two who work off our office, went to a central theatre and café complex on campus for coffee, so I’ve been joining them since. Hilarious times are often had! Meanwhile, the little coffee table and its resources are shared and topped up by all, and we sometimes share lunch there. We’ve done our best to induct newcomers into the socialising practice.
The music and culture:
Well, where do I start? One of the joys of living in a country like Ireland is that music is in their lifeblood. In an earlier blog, you’ll have seen that my brother-in-law Nigel, who works for Air New Zealand, kindly transported my small harp across for me. One aspect of the office socialisation that I have really enjoyed, is the development of a small ‘trad music’ group. With our manager Mark’s approval, we practice for an hour once a fortnight. Among the seven folk on our floor we have a guitarist, our administrator who has played in trad groups in pubs in the past; a violinist who is good; fledgling ukulele, accordionist and harpist; tin whistle player; and our remaining member plays whatever percussion instruments seem apt, including a Tibetan bowl! We did a small concert for other people in our building at Christmas time, and are currently gearing up for another.
Outside of DCU, we’ve attended a variety of concerts. There is so much culture here in Dublin – art exhibitions, music, photography, plays, poetry…and much of it free. At the Hugh Lane Gallery, four doors down from the Abbey Presbyterian Church on Parnell Square that we occasionally attend, there is a concert at 12 just about every week. Entry is by gold coin donation. As the church service starts at 11 and is rarely finished at 12, and you need to be in early for a seat at the concert, sometimes the pull of the concerts has led us astray! There is a sung-gospel Mass every week at a local Catholic church that we’ve not got to yet, but we did get to another Mass elsewhere at a cathedral where there’s a very good organist and choir, doing a full sung Mass every Sunday. We’ve been to a couple of plays – not as many as we’d have liked, but the combination of expense and cold winter rather hindered our enthusiasm, not to mention being out of town a fair bit. But there’s a huge amount that’s free, and these happenings are advertised on http://www.dublineventguide.com. This is a labour of love by a German guy, Joerg, who puts it all together in his spare time. If I wasn’t working, I’d never be bored!
Ireland the country:
As will be clear in the blog to date, we’ve got out of town as often as we can. Additionally, there are excellent travel programmes on the TV which we watch. A recent one traced the work of a surveyor in Ireland who was also an artist, two centuries back. He drew scenes and monuments, historic buildings and sites, as he worked. The TV series has been tracing his journey, and visiting the places that he encountered. Last night’s covered the cone-shaped stone buildings that Bruce and I visited on the Dingle peninsula when we were here in 2008. We keep looking at the programmes and saying, “Gee, isn’t Ireland beautiful!” And that is high praise from Kiwis. The greens are amazing; the wild west coast is incredible, and the lakes…well, they bring to mind a song I was taught by Irish nuns as a child. “There’s nowhere else on God’s green earth have they such lakes and dells…’tis a little bit of heaven, and it means the world to me.” In some parts – the Gaeltacht (Irish language) areas – there is fierce pride in the language and a wish to retain and expand it. But unfortunately something about the way kids are taught Irish, compulsorily, in schools seems to put many of them right off it. I have encountered surprise from Irish people that I bothered taking an Irish language ten week course when I first arrived. But ‘language carries culture’ as Ngugi Wa Thiong’o, a Kenyan academic, says, and if the language dies, the culture will be overwhelmed. I can’t do much, but I’ll do what I can. Sermon over, back to blog….
Bruce mentioned a few of these in earlier blogs. Expenses that exceed those in New Zealand (medical, price of wine, accommodation – but the food’s generally cheaper I’d think). Incredibly bureaucratic systems – the latest of which is their refusal to issue Bruce with a licence to drive a manual vehicle, as before 1999 New Zealand didn’t record what type of vehicle one took one’s licence in. You’re not allowed to drive one here unless your licence specifically indicates that you got it in a manual vehicle. And the costs of hiring an automatic are a LOT more expensive. We have a nine seater booked for four days when relatives visit in August, and the cost went up E170 when Bruce had to change to an automatic. Tight employment and accommodation situations – since the crash of the Celtic Tiger years, there has been a tendency to use short-term contracts which means no job stability for many. This makes things hard for me as a staff developer, because it takes energy to extend your practice and investigate its improvement, and many staff just don’t have the time, the will or the energy. My manager told me when I arrived that they’re working on the 20/20/20 principle: they do 20% more teaching with 20% fewer staff for 20% less money.
As you’ll all know, this is an Irish word for ‘fun’. The Irish are GREAT at celebrations. Any excuse, no matter how small…and off they go. The supermarkets get right in behind, and for about a fortnight prior to any celebration, we get inundated with advertisements for chicken, turkey, Irish salmon, prawns, beef, lamb…and the assortment of ready-prepared desserts is mind-boggling. Fortunately, with only two of us, we’ve not succumbed to these (much!) So we’re keeping pretty close to our ‘home weights’. If we did pick up weight, we could always walk it off at a protest march. These seem to occur approximately fortnightly, and often close the main street altogether. And many adjacent streets also! The latest source of disruption is the imposition by Irish Water of water meters and charges. We’ve not had our first bill yet but it’s due any day. It seems to have been the last straw for many Irish, who in general have absorbed a huge amount of austerity measures, many imposed by the EU, without rebellion of the sort that Greece, for instance, has demonstrated. It’s certainly not craic, but indicates a resilience in the population that is probably bred through centuries of oppression. Watch this space for accounts of the 1916 Easter Uprising centenary celebrations next year. The city will just explode with activity, hopefully of the peaceful, celebratory variety!
Dark doings in Dublin:
In my job, I occasionally visit a ‘sister institution’, St Patrick’s College. It’s in Drumcondra Rd, about six to eight blocks from our apartment. Two weeks back I had just left a meeting and caught a bus back to DCU when our bus was passed by Garda cars weaving in and out of traffic, lights flashing, sirens wailing. About half a block from St Pat’s, and about two minutes before I caught the bus, there was a gang-related fatal shooting. See http://www.rte.ie/news/2015/0326/689918-drumcondra/ if you want the gory details. Mostly, Dublin feels pretty safe although you do get quite a bit of rowdy behaviour in town later at night, and there have been some attacks on drunk or homeless people (there are a LOT of both. And beggars by the dozen). We watched a TV series called “Love/Hate” which was based on gang-related behaviour in Dublin, and that incident did feel to me almost like being caught up in it. But the main disruption we get where we live, in our gated community, is racket from sports fans or rock concert fans at the nearby Croke Park.
So, what’s the verdict?
This has been a long blog, and if you got this far, well done! But overall, it has been a complete pleasure and privilege to be able to conclude my academic life working in a place like Ireland. We loved it when we visited in 2008 and always wanted to return, but never thought we’d get the gift of being able to live and work here. Bruce is doing a grand job of keeping the home fires burning, I’m not getting too exhausted working full time, although there are moments…and we’re loving being closer to the UK-based family. We couldn’t have turned it down!