Alumni Ambassador Andrea studied abroad in Limerick, Ireland with us and when we asked her about one of her most memorable experiences, she wrote about her excursion to Inis Oirr, the smallest of the Aran Islands…
“A humpback whale and her calf have been spotted at 3 o’clock!” exclaimed the excited guide on the whale watching excursion my aunt and uncle took me on last week. After venturing far enough off the coast of Maine we saw these magnificent creatures throw their bodies out of the water and slap back into the surface creating a splash that captivated the attention of our boat from a hundred meters away. Upon heading back to shore the rocking of the boat, the salty air hitting my face, and the deep blue of the water took me back to a moment I had last fall of taking a ferry to the Aran Islands.
After being in Ireland for less than a week, AIFS arranged to send myself and 20 of my fellow Americans to Inis Oirr. Inis Oirr is the smallest Aran Island, has a population of 300 (though I’m willing to bet that the population is outnumbered by sheep), and is easily one of the most interesting and charming places imaginable. As my friends and I meandered the gravel road that led us on a self-guided tour, we were greeted by the friendliest dogs who raced up for a pat on the head, moved aside for carts pulled by Irish Cob horses, and poked our heads in shops to see and feel just what a proper and authentic Irish woolen sweater (or jumper as they call it) looks and feels like.
It was during this Island exploration where two of my companions and I wandered into a building that looked like a small and dilapidated museum. It took less than two minutes to hear that we “were very welcome” by some older Irish gentleman. They showed us the project they had been slaving over all afternoon– refurbishing a small boat for a gallery. The boat in the slings had been used in the rescuing of a ship not too far from the island, one of the more notable historic events of the island. These men then offered us tea and cookies as the seven of us chatted for nearly 30 minutes. They talked to us about politics (and were not shy), inquired about what brought us to the island, and for that half-hour us three young Americans laughed, learned from, and interacted with some truly fascinating natives of Ireland.
The morning after our second night in the perfectly quaint bed and breakfast that housed us, we reluctantly made our way to the dock for our departure. Not unlike the whale watch, the cold sea air whipped across our wind-blown faces as our arms wrapped around the railing to steady ourselves as the boat moved side-to-side. Our hearts, heavy to leave such a rustic piece of Ireland, were lightened not by a whale-sighting a football field away, but by a dolphin who swam and jumped out of the water no more than 10 meters away from where I stood. The other passengers on the boat were just as delighted as us American students, the captain however was nonchalant, for him this wasn’t unusual and he continued taking us back to the mainland.
As I sat on that ship thousands of miles away from the Aran Islands, I remembered every detail of that adventure like it had only happened the day before. That’s the thing about studying abroad, the experience never fades. It is never diminished by other sights, other people, or even time.