Our plane sank through the fog mist hills of green and skidded to a halt on the landing strip of Shannon Airport, Ireland. It was like walking into a postcard, the landscape as lush, overcast and mystical as I’d always imagined.
Arriving on campus at the University of Limerick was a bit of a shock. I’d been spoiled by the proximity of Mount Allison campus buildings, and was surprised that I only had ten minutes between classes to walk a fifteen minute distance to some courses. I was amazed by trails that cut through campus, winding through forested areas along creeks through open fields, scattered by cottages, where cattle graze.
But it took me exactly three days of living in Ireland to understand why people gave me such quizzical looks when I mentioned that I’m a vegetarian. The grocery stores devote several aisles to meats of all kind, and an even larger section to wine and liquor, but the fresh produce area was smaller than I was used to, and tofu was nowhere to be found at a reasonable price. I was craving non-meat protein and couldn’t find proper iron supplements anywhere. It wasn’t long before I realized how high-maintenance a vegetarian diet can be when travelling to different countries, and that I’d taken Canada’s vegetarian-friendly ways for granted. I’ve been living on lentils and beans to make do, and have a good laugh at myself along with my roommates, who still don’t understand how I can get through the day without some meat.
I have been fortunate in that the only cultural adjustment I’ve had to make thus far is dietary. In my experience, the Irish have been welcoming, generous, and the moment they meet you are as friendly as if you’ve been their drinking buddy for years. I live with five Irish girls from different parts of the country that have shown me the “craic” (fun) to be had in town, and even threw me a Canadian Thanksgiving dinner in October because they thought it would be a “grand” time to see what the holiday was all about.
The university is a fantastic resource for travel, with clubs that cater to outdoor adventuring, surfing, travel and more. Beyond campus resources, there are many affordable student tours. I spent three days exploring the west coast on a tour, partly done by bike, saw the Ring of Kerry, Dingle Peninsula, and more. I met a man on a plane who shared his sincere belief in fairies with me, explaining which parts of Limerick to watch out for because of their negative fairy energy. I’ve drank Guinness in a small town pub and watched older locals sing folk tunes with the pub performer. I’ve visited the Jameson’s distillery in Dublin for a whiskey tasting and passed through the National Museum in Dublin to view original handwritten poems by W.B. Yeats.
My time in Ireland is nearly over, but I’ve experienced much so far. The best way to experience a new culture is to become immersed in it, and to take your time exploring it in your own way.