UL Erasmus student Petra Gönczi writes about enjoying – to the full – her semester on Shannonside.
My first memory of Limerick is a good one. I went to the supermarket to buy some basics for my four-month stay here, after arriving from Hungary, the heart of Europe. Only seconds after reaching the shop I found that I didn’t have a one euro coin for the trolley, so I went inside with the hope of finding someone who had change for my many, many cents. A middle-aged woman, there with her daughter, helped me out but she didn’t take my cents in return. She said with a smile: “It’s okay, take it! I don’t need it.”
Right there and then I could understand what everybody meant before, telling me about the friendly Irish.
I must say, if I was to decide to move to Ireland for a longer time, I would be glad to stay in Limerick. First of all - and I cannot stress enough how important this is for a foreigner - the weather here seems to be the best compared to other regions of the country! I have been on a trip to Kerry, Connemara, Dublin, even Northern Ireland, which are beautiful places, but at the end of the trips I always wished only if I could be at home again, in Limerick!
Here, although we get rainy, cloudy days with some occasional storms at night too, it always seems to be warmer than everywhere else in Ireland. We could start a discussion on what ‘warm’ means, but I decided to drop this argument for now because I have much more to say. Also, the other day I saw a wonderful rainbow all of a sudden from my window, which made me promise that I won’t be annoyed anymore because of the weather!
I have been asked many times why I came to Limerick for my Erasmus semester. I’ve never been sure about the answer. On the other hand, I promised my family and friends to return with a leprechaun and I’ve been informed that they live here! Also, I heard that in their free time they make shoes. I could use a new pair!
However, I haven’t met them yet. Maybe the same rule applies to them as to many other magical things: “Seeing isn’t believing. Believing is seeing.” I’m staying until Christmas, so here’s hoping!
To tell the truth, I came here to study journalism. At the University of Limerick, I take classes in the Journalism and New Media BA programme and I’ve never been happier to study my major. I’m not only enjoying my classes but I love the extra opportunities provided by the university’s clubs and societies. I joined the International Society and the Dance Club, allowing me to be involved as much as possible.
I heard the following phrase many times since I’m here: “Come on guys, get involved!” It captures UL itself too. Everybody, from students through teachers to university staff, is trying to help us to feel comfortable.
At the Erasmus orientation tour we had in the first week, we visited the chaplaincy of UL, where Sr Sarah O’Rourke gave an emotional, moving speech. I remember one thought in particular: “You’re all away from the familiar.”
This sentence made my think of my home and my future in Limerick at the same time. What she meant to say was that even though you might feel alone sometimes, you must remember that others are just as lonely from time to time, and the only solution is to get together and then to get involved.
Taking her advice, I decided to enjoy my time here. I went on trips throughout Ireland, I made friends from many different countries and of course, I discovered Limerick city itself.
One of the best events was the evening in the city centre when all the Christmas lights were turned on, and I have to tell you that only a person who really likes Limerick could stay there for the whole time, just as we did.
It was raining, it was windy, we couldn’t feel our feet after standing there for an hour. And yet still, we stayed there listening to the Christmas carols and waiting for the lights to glow up the streets of this cosy town. Another totally different experience was the rugby match in Thomond Park, when Ireland played against Fiji.
Well, as you might guess, that was not much about fulfilling ourselves spiritually. However, I could honestly breathe in the Irish patriotism and love of national sports. Also, the free flag with the ‘Come on, Ireland!’ sign was worth going to the match for. I am sure that I will always remember this game, standing there in the cold, the rain; shouting out loud and cheering for the Irish team with the whole stadium and - most importantly - with my Erasmus friends.
In a much sleepier afternoon I headed into the city with my friend to discover what Limerick has to offer in the weekends. Our first stop was the Milk Market as it was recommended to us several times at UL. Since we were deep in the cold autumn weather, we needed a hot beverage to warm up while wandering around the market stands and what else could it have been than a cup of hot chocolate from the Limerick Chocolate Shop, right there in the middle of the market.
We have been in the city centre several times now and I honestly feel that this town always has something new to offer every time. Since I’m a coffee lover, I always watch out for the cafés and it seems Limerick has more than I could count on my two hands. One afternoon my daily caffeine dose and my urge to have a friendly chat brought me to Catherine Street, where I found a charming little place, standing out from the other houses with its purple colour. The place is called Melt Chocolate and Coffee, which provides a two-in-one experience.
When I ordered my coffee, they asked me what kind of chocolate I would like to go with it. It was like Sophie’s Choice - there were so many different types of chocolate in front of me it was impossible to pick the perfect one in seconds.
So I just followed my instincts. Let me tell you, the Dark Strawberry chocolate went perfectly with my latte and was a wonderful end to the day we went shopping to town.
Oh, about the shopping. What kind of girl would I be if I wouldn’t save at least a couple of sentences for this topic! And in particular for Penneys, of course. Whenever I am there it seems as if the whole town is in the shop, running up and down searching for the next item to try on! What am I saying? Sometimes it feels as if all Ireland would be queuing in front of the fitting rooms. And as an extra, count in all the foreign students too who study at UL. We’re in there looking for a funny T-shirt, the next party dress to wear at the International TGIF Party Night in The Stables, or one of those holly-jolly Christmas themed jumpers.
Christmas is just around the corner, which also means that our time in Limerick is coming to an end, so we are trying to appreciate more and more this chance life has given to us. A year ago I would never have imagined that I would spend that much time in the pouring rain, sitting in pubs with my new friends next to some Guinness and hot whiskey, learning the new meaning of cold and windy, or trying to make it on my own so far from my home.
Limerick, my new home – albeit temporarily – has taught me some lessons that I must be grateful for. I hit some bumps along the road since my arrival, trying to be a person who can belong to any group. Then I found out that the important thing is not to be a good candidate for any group. The goal is to fit the one that is made for you. And after finding my Erasmus family (I hope my friends don’t mind me using their phrase), Ireland seemed to be sunnier than before. Maybe a leprechaun helped me realise this, standing at the end of the rainbow the other day.
So I’m starting to see that there won’t be any leprechauns in my suitcase when returning home from Limerick, but instead I will take my lucky coin. Yes, the one I got from that nice lady, creating my very first memory of this place.
That will be my reminder of how the rainiest country became, for me, the warmest of them all.