Friday, November 18, 2016

So wait, WHY haven't you posted in 6 weeks?

...because I'm a typical college student and it kept slipping my mind. Oops!!

Alright, a lot has happened since I last posted. I've officially been here for two and a half months, with just one month left here in Ireland. It's crazy how fast time has flown by! In my next post, I'll talk more about my research in disability perception over here. For this one, I'm just going to talk about my experience so far!

Politics: I'm starting with this one because it's probably the most frustrating part of my experience. Everyone in the world has been watching the United States Presidential Race, and the Irish are no exception. My American accent is hard to hide, so everyone has asked me about my opinion on it. Before the election, everyone asked me who I was voting for (which is interesting, because that's usually considered impolite in the US), and now I'm being asked who I voted for. Now, I'm usually not afraid to discuss politics and my beliefs with people, but I've had mixed reactions for both candidates. My first week here, a boy my age tried telling me America couldn't afford to have a female president, while other people have told me how they are scared of Donald Trump. Now that the election is over, I've started to tell people I'm from Canada and hope they believe me. I'm from Maine, so close enough, right?

Classes: With UCC being such a large school, my classes were going to be different no matter what. I'm used to having small classes and a good relationship with my professors, while over here I have at least 100 students in each class and have never had a conversation with any of them. Also, I have no homework in any of my classes. No assignments, no reading...sounds like a dream, right? Wrong! I have an exam at the end of the semester that determines my grade for the course. No pressure or anything.

Food/Drinks: Even though I'm not a big fish person, I knew I had to try fish and chips over here. Much to my surprise, they are pretty good! I also LOVE pub food. Maybe it's because I love mashed potatoes and gravy...but I've never had a meal that I didn't like over here. Now, even though I'm only 20 and not able to drink back in the states, I am legally able to drink over here (yes I promise I'm being safe and responsible!). Unfortunately, no matter how hard I've tried, I cannot bring myself to like beer. Not light, not dark, NOTHING. So no, I don't like Guinness. However, I do really like cider. There's a drink called "Orchard Thieves," which is a hard apple cider, and then there's Kopparberg, which comes in many different flavors. Both are really good!

Entertainment: Sadly, Pandora doesn't come in over here, so I'm very behind in what's popular for music back in the States. However, a band that I liked back home called "Little Mix" is actually really popular in Ireland and the UK, so I've been listening to a lot of them! For TV shows, there isn't much that I watch, due to a lack of channels on my TV. However, there are a lot of game show I sometimes watch, my favorite being Tipping Point (if you know what that is, I know this makes me sound super lame). I also LOVE the X-Factor, and watch it every Saturday and Sunday night. I also knit a lot to keep myself entertained.

Travel - Past and Future: I've been to quite a few different places since my last post. For Ireland, I've been to Galway, Blarney, Cobh, and Midleton. I also made my way across the English Channel (by plane, of course) and visited London for a day, and then Swindon to see my family! For those who saw me post about seeing my idol, Doug the Pug in London, I unfortunately didn't get to see him due to the line being SO long. For future trips, I will be going to Edinburg, Scotland next weekend. The week after, I have a "study week" before my exams, and will be going to Amsterdam, Cologne, Brussels, and Paris! I'm so excited!

While I love it here in Ireland, I think I'm ready to come home. I miss my friends and family. While my heart yearns to travel, I always know where my home is, and that's back in Maine.

Much love,

P.S. I'm a future teacher, so I love insentives. If you made it this far and actually read my blog, thank you! You deserve a prize. Give me your address and I'll send you a postcard. :)

Here's some pictures from my recent trips!

Yule Ball, put on by the UCC Harry Potter Society

 Kissing the Blarney stone for good luck

 Rugby Game! Go Munster!



London with Lauren!     

                                                          Platform 9 3/4 at King's Cross

Saturday, October 1, 2016

Study Abroad Tips for the Anxious Traveler

Hey guys!

I know this post isn't directly related to my research, but I figured it could benefit those of you who might be interested in studying abroad. This is particularly geared towards anyone who might be like me, the extrovert-who-struggles-with-anxiety-but-wants-to-see-the-world-anyway, or anyone else who wants to go abroad but is nervous about the idea.

-Come up with a packing list weeks in advance. Start packing things you know you won't need while you're home but will need abroad.
-Have someone help you pack. If you're a bit scatter brained like me, you'll probably forget something if you pack by yourself. Having someone (I used my mom!) help you pack will ensure you have everything you need, and it'll also make the whole process way easier.
-Remember that if you DO forget something, you will most likely be able to buy it once you get to your destination.

Say your goodbyes:
-Don't say goodbye to everyone the night'll lead to a very emotional and stressful night. Say goodbye to people a few days in advance. I had a nice dinner with my best friends from home a few days before I left, and said goodbye to my other family members the day after that.

-The night before you leave, make sure you have all your necessary documents for traveling. I kept my passport and acceptance letter to my university (needed to enter the country) in my purse so I had easy access to them when I needed them.
-You can check in and get your boarding pass before you arrive to the airport, but you don't need to. Trust your mom when she says all you need to do is show your passport (nearly had an anxiety attack in the airport because I was afraid I forgot papers or something).
-Don't bring a lot of people to the airport. It's going to be hard enough to leave, and if you have to say goodbye to 6 people it's going to make it harder. I brought my mom and my two sisters, and I felt that was perfect.
-Once you get through security, go straight to your gate if you're afraid of getting lost like I was. Once you know where your gate is and know when you're boarding, then you can walk around for a bit to get something to eat or drink. Just don't leave your bags behind!!!

-Schedule your flight for a time that will work best with you and your sleep schedule. I decided to fly overnight because I thought it'd help me adjust to Ireland's time better. Sadly, it did not. However, if you think you can sleep well on a plane, an overnight flight might be best for you.
-If you can, pick your seat. You might have to pay an extra fee, but it's worth it in my opinion. I knew that I wanted to be next to a window so I could sleep easier, and I was more comfortable there than I would have been sitting in between two strangers.
-A neck pillow might be helpful, but it depends on how you sleep. If you think you can sleep sitting straight up, I highly suggest it. However, after all of the flying I've done recently, I've realized I sleep better resting my head against the seat in front of me (weird, I know).
-Make sure your phone (or iPod) is charged, and bring a portable charger just in case. Listening to music can help you fall asleep and also drowns out other noises in the planes.

Arriving in your host country:
-Before you leave, figure out how you're getting to your university. Some programs will pick you up at the airport, others will have you take a cab to your accommodations. At UCC, I had to take a cab from the airport. Make sure you have cash in the country's denomination, as most of them don't take cards.
-If you're staying with other students, get to know your roommates. They are most likely just as anxious as you are.
-Once you are settled and feel comfortable, try going for a small walk around the area. You don't have to go too far, but it can be helpful to have a better idea of where you are.

-If you're going to a university that is way bigger than your home one (like I did!), walk around the campus and get idea of what it's like, short cuts on how to get to your classes, etc.
-Give yourself plenty of time to get to your first class. Assume you will get lost. I was on campus 3 hours before my first class started, and left to go looking for the classroom an hour before it started.

Settling in:
-Step out of your comfort zone and try to make new friends. Join a club. Go to events for international students. Having people on your team will make everything so much easier.
-Culture shock is a thing, I promise. Even if you go to a country that speaks English, it definitely won't be like the United States.
-Homesickness is also a thing. I thought I'd miss home only a little bit, and I was very wrong. Some of my roommates decorated their rooms with pictures from home, which I'm thinking I might do myself.
-You're going to be lonely sometimes, and that's okay. Take sometime for yourself when you need it. Reach out to your friends when you need them.
-Don't look at studying abroad as an extended vacation. I unfortunately made that mistake and now have to change my mindset. You are going to be living in this country for 4 months, so you're not exactly a tourist.

Most importantly: Don't let your anxiety keep you from doing something you've always wanted to do. I was terrified of leaving and didn't think I was capable of doing it. While I'm very homesick, I'm so glad I made the decision to come here. I think it's going to help me grow as a person, and I don't regret my decision one bit.

My best,

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

First Month Observations

Hi everyone! Sorry it's been a while since I've last posted...things got pretty busy!

As I mentioned in my last post, I'm taking one Special Education class while I'm over here (there weren't that many to choose from). Since the class meets once a week, I've only had two classes so far. However, I've learned a lot from just those two classes, along with some general observations I've made while over here.

Note: These are simply just observations followed by my own opinion.

I'll first start with what I've learned so far in my class. On the first day, I quickly picked up that the professor was using the term "disabled" to describe someone with a disability. If you're not familiar with person-first language, it is typically more appropriate to put the person before their disability. For example, it's more appropriate to say "a boy with Autism" rather than "an Autistic boy." This is to break the stereotype that a person is defined by their disability, which we know couldn't be further from the truth. That being said, there are some exceptions, such as with the Deaf community. I haven't quite figured out if using the term "disabled," is a generational thing, or a cultural one. I'll post in here once I have a better idea!

When the professor was going over our topics for a paper that was coming up, one student asked if they could write about a person they know with a mental disability, such as depression. What I learned from their conversation is that whether or not a mental illness can be classified as a disability seems to be a gray area here in Ireland. Many people chimed in, saying that it depends on the person. I found this conversation interesting, seeing that it's not much different than how we view mental disabilities in the United States. While a child may qualify for Special Education under the "Emotional Disturbance" category in the IDEA (Individuals with Disabilities Education Act) if the mental disability is inhibiting their learning, mental illness is often viewed as an "invisible disability," and often goes unnoticed.

The next class led by a guest lecturer, who worked with Deaf students. She had a lot of experience in this field, and provided a lot of history on the treatment of Deaf people in Ireland. She said that after the World War II, people were afraid of those who were "different." Because of this, people started putting hearing aids on Deaf people so they could speak. Prior to this, Deaf people were taught using Irish Sign Language. After this movement, though, many Deaf students were forbidden of using Sign in the classroom, and were forced to communicate orally only. This guest lecturer said that in the 1980s, the principal of the school she was working in told her to threaten to tie the students' hands if they used Sign instead of speaking. This woman also said that when she started working with Deaf students, she didn't know any Sign at all, because of this anti-Sign movement. I found this very interesting, because while I'm not an expert in the treatment of Deaf people throughout history, I'm pretty sure the United States has a similar history. (If you know more about this, please feel free to leave your input in the comments!)

Now, for my general observations in the community. First, I kept on seeing these guide dog statues everywhere, such as in the bus station or the post office.

If you look closely on the head of the smaller dog, there is a coin slot. I'm assuming that the money goes to fund the training of guide dogs for the Blind, due to the extreme cost of them. The website for that organization if here:

Since coming to Ireland, I've done all of my grocery shopping at the same place: Tesco. Maybe it's because of the convenience, or many it's because they are constantly giving back to the community, I'm not sure. I just keep on finding myself back at this same store. That being said, at one of the (many) Tescos I've been to, I saw this sign.

I know we also have disability accessible parking in the United States, but I liked the little blurb that they put on the sign as well. (Here, we see the term "disabled" used again) Also, Tesco has a contest each month, and the charity the receives the most tokens at the end of the month receives a monetary donation from the company. As you can see, the Irish Dogs for the Disabled (again) are winning! It is a different organization than the one I talked about before, but still an awesome one! (

Now, here is the interesting one. I saw this sign in the bathroom of a pub I went to.

Alright, I'm sure there was a good intention behind this. Drinking and driving is bad, and could have a serious consequence, such as a serious, permanent injury or even death. However, I get an uneasy feeling about this sign. I feel that it gives the connotation that having a disability is the worst thing that could happen to someone. Does anyone else feel the same way?

PHEW! This was a long post! If you've made it this far, give yourself a high five. I really appreciate all of the support, everyone! I promise I won't go that long without posting again.

Until next time,

P.S. Totally unrelated to my research, but here are some awesome pictures I took this past weekend at the Ring of Kerry. 

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Greetings from Ireland!

Happy Tuesday everyone! While many of my classmates back at UMF have already started classes, today is my official first day of school here at the University of College Cork. That being said, I'm currently sitting in the library 3 hours before my class starts, because I'm terrified of getting lost and being late (this campus is HUGE!).

For those who might not know, I'm spending my fall semester here in Ireland, under the generous George Mitchell Peace Scholarship I was awarded. I'm only taking three classes over here: Introduction to Modern Irish History for Visiting Students, Ancient Ireland, and The Curriculum in Special Needs Education. While my first two classes are just for fun, I'm taking my Special Education  class to see how disability is perceived in Europe, and more specifically, in Ireland.

My schedule this semester is pretty awesome. I have Mondays and Fridays off, and the earliest I have a class is at 2 pm. I'm hoping to find a volunteer opportunity that would put me back in the classroom a few days a week, so I can see first hand how the Special Education curriculum is different (or similar) from the United States. Also, with my long weekends, I'm hoping to travel as much as my budget will allow me. I'm hoping I'll be able to extend my research to other European countries, but we'll have to see.

For my first Irish excursion, I visited the Cliffs of Moher with my roommates. Here are some pictures of that, along with some pictures of campus in general!

That's all for now folks,

P.S. I totally love it here at UCC!

Sunday, July 31, 2016

Connection to Ecotourism

Some of you may know, the whole reason I went to Tanzania was for an Ecotourism class with my school, the University of Maine at Farmington. Eco-Tourism, also known as Responsible Tourism or Sustainable, is tourism that brings sustainability to the community. This can be done in a variety of ways, and many ecotourism companies hit most of these "qualifications": employing local people and paying them a fair wage, preserving land, taking care of the wildlife, and also giving back to the community.

During our trip, we met with multiple ecotourism groups. While all of them were fantastic to meet with, I had a hard time making the connection to disabilities in Tanzania. While we didn't meet with any groups that benefited people with disabilities directly (Shanga isn't an ecotourism group), there were still many groups that benefited the community as far as education and children goes.

On one of our first days, we visited a local coffee cooperative, through an ecotourism group called Honey Badger. While we didn't stay at Honey Badger, we did have an opportunity to visit, talk to one of the owners Joseph, and eat dinner there. While talking to Joseph, we learned that they greatly support the school that is next door to the lodge, due to Joseph's mother working there. One of the ways that they benefit the school is by selling souvenir items (jewelry, clothing, etc.) to the guests at the lodge, and giving all of the proceeds directly to the school. Needless to say, I bought a few items there!

Obviously, if you read my last post, Rhotia Valley Lodge and Children's Home is also a clear example of an ecotourism group that benefits children. Not only do they have teachers on site for the younger children, but they also send their older children to secondary school and pay for their fees. Also, if the student takes full advantage of what the home is offering and does well in school, they will also pay for them to attend university. Although Mary isn't yet receiving schooling, due to the lack of teachers with experience working with children with disabilities, they are looking into programs that might still benefit her.

According to, "Tanzania: Whose Eden is it?" by Martha Honey, tourism in Tanzania "has become the country's most important foreign exchange earner ... [and] is now viewed as one of Tanzania's best hope for development" (Honey 249).  However, too many tourist industries are based in North American or European countries where very little benefit is actually given to the visited country. Through ecotourism, tourists are still able to get the great experience of visiting another country, while also being assured that the company they are going through is sustainable to the community.

Before going on this trip, I never gave much thought to the exploitation of workers or damage to the environment many companies allow. Now, I am sure to only go through ecotourism certified companies. I know that they will be taking care of their workers, while also taking care of the environment and the community. That, is something I think more people should care about, and I hope that I can take what I've learned and educate others.


Honey, Martha. 2008. “Tanzania: Whose Eden is it?” Ecotourism and Sustainable Development. Washington, D.C.: Island Press, 215-255.

Link to Honey Badger's Website:

Link to Rhotia Valley's Website:

Rhotia Valley Lodge and my friend Mary

One of the last lodges we stayed at during our trip was called Rhotia Lodge. It was located on the outskirts of the Ngorongoro Crater, which is where we went on safari the next day. There were many reasons why it was my favorite lodge of the trip. First of all, it was absolutely beautiful. The view from the lodge was stunning. Second, and most important, not too far from the lodge was Rhotia Valley Children's Home. This is a home for children in the area who are either orphaned, or only have one parent who is not able to care for them during the day.

Since part of the proceeds made by the lodge go directly to supporting the Children's Home, the lodge offers small tours of it to the guests. However, the tours are only given once a day at the same time, and are only offered to guests, not to the general public. At first, I thought this was strange. I was a little disappointed, because at the time I was thinking of how great it would be to some day come back to Tanzania and potentially volunteer there. After speaking to my professor on this, she brought it to my attention that it was to prevent the Children's Home from becoming a tourist attraction. While it was appropriate in our situation, because it was a part of the lodge we were staying at and we weren't intruding on anything, too often orphanages seem to be put on a bucket list of places to visit while in Africa.

During the tour, we were shown the living quarters, the classroom, and the garden that the children worked on (fun fact - a lot of the meals at the lodge came from food in the garden!). We didn't get a chance to interact with the kids, though, because by the time the tour was done they were eating dinner. On the way back to the lodge, I was able to ask if there were any children with disabilities. I learned that there was one girl. I asked if I could come back and potentially meet with her, and with the help of my professor, I was able to go back the next day.

Mary came to the Children's Home about 5 years ago. She was found on the side of the road by one of the workers at the Home. She had great hypertonicity in her hands, which is why they believe her family abandoned her. In a society where farm work is so essential to survive, and Mary unable to fully use her hands, her family viewed her as nothing else but an extra mouth to feed. Mary also seems to have a developmental delay, which can't be determined if she was born with it, or it occurred due to malnutrition from her neglect.

Since coming to the lodge, Mary has received endless love and support. She's 12 years old, but sleeps in the quarters for the younger children because she likes to play with them best. I had the opportunity to walk around with her for a bit after initially meeting her and asking questions, and everyone we came across smiled and said hi to her. The other students treat her the same as they do any of the other students, which I think is especially great. Even though she doesn't receive any formal schooling, she still sits in on lessons with her peers, because they feel it gives her great social skills.

I asked if there were any homes or schools in the area specific for children with disabilities. They did say that there was one opening in Dar Salaam, and they were doing some research into it. However, they are afraid that if she does, she will be just a number amongst the other students, and not have the same loving environment she has at the children's home. They are still going to look into it, though, and are ultimately going to do what is best for Mary.

Here are some pictures from the Children's Home, along with a picture of me and Mary! (We had permission to take pictures)


Thursday, July 28, 2016


Hi everyone!

I have to talk about one of my favorite parts of my trip to Tanzania. One of the "touristy" shops we stopped at was called Shanga. Shanga, which got its name from the Swahili word for "bead," is a store in Arusha, Tanzania that employs people with various types of disabilities. The store sells a large variety of things, ranging from jewelry to glassware, and everything in between.

Most of the products are made right behind the store itself. Upon our first visit, we were given a tour. There were a variety of stations, from beadwork to sewing to glass blowing. We were able to learn some Swahili Sign Language, so we were able to say "hello" and "thank you" to the workers who were deaf. The tour then ended at the store, where we stayed for quite a long time looking at and purchasing the items (there was SO much to see!).

A few days later, some members form my group wanted to go back to Shanga and learn some more. We were able to meet with one of managers of it, learn more about the history and ask some questions. Shanga started employing people with disabilities after the founder, Saskia Rechsteine, asked a deaf woman who worked at the coffee estate where she lived to help her make her products. She then saw an opportunity to provide an income for this woman, and wanted to help more people with disabilities. Since then, Shanga has employed more than 45 people with disabilities in Tanzania. 

There were many reasons why I liked this place so much. Obviously, I loved that their focus was on employing people with disabilities. They believe that by giving these people the skills to produce a desired product, they will be gaining respect in their community, which unfortunately would otherwise look down upon them. I also liked that there was a wide range of disabilities amongst the workers. While many were deaf, there were also many with physical disabilities and some with intellectual disabilities as well.

I also liked that all of their material is recycled. All of the cloths that are used for the necklaces are scraps from kangas (garments that can be used for clothing, table cloths, etc.), and all of their glass beads are recycled wine bottles from local restaurants. I thought that this was especially neat!

Lastly, I love the respect they have for their workers. All of the workers start at a wage that is above minimum wage, with the opportunity of it to increase over time. Also, through the work of the Shanga Foundation, they are able to continuously provide assistance to their workers. This foundation has been able to provide new medical equipment for their workers, such as wheelchairs, while also providing classes for other people with disabilities that they wouldn't be able to employ. I thought this was great because even though Shanga is not able to employ every person with a disability in Tanzania, they are still reaching out to the larger community.

Overall, this is a VERY cool place. If you're interested in learning more, or even ordering a product, here is the link to their website!



P.S. Here are some pictures of Shanga. We were given permission to take photos!