Rule 4: Try Everything at least Once.

Life so far has been fantastic in Dublin!  While normally in the states I tend to avoid going to bars and the like here in Dublin it seems only natural to spend an evening in a pub.  The next rule for anyone looking to study abroad is this Try everything at least once!

I ended up spending a night out at a local pub called Whelan’s you may recognize the name if you are a huge fan of the movie P.S. I Love You as it is the bar in which Hilary Swank meets Gerard Butler.  I know this sounds like it would be a place filled with movie mementos and cheese-y pictures but it ended up being my favorite night in Dublin so far.  While it is a great local watering hole the real charm of Whelan’s is the atmosphere it offers and the company you get to share it with.  When I went to Whelan’s I was with a group of around 12, each of us being new international students studying in Ireland.  It was one of our first nights actually in Dublin so it was a great way to get to meet everyone and swap our stories about where we were all fro.  It was a great way to see how our lives differed from the simple things such as the drinks we ordered to the larger things like politics and which football/Soccer teams we support.

The entire time that you are sitting around enjoying your drinks you are also getting to experience great live music.  Every Tuesday Whelan’s has local musical groups come in and play, while we were there the bands were taking requests from the audience, one song they played was T for Texas by Jimmie Rodgers [click to listen] and they added an Irish folk twist.  The band that ended the night, the Dublin City Rounders [footage from that night], was a great mix between Irish Folk music and American Jazz rock. It felt very much like a performance by The King himself, it was a great way to bring the night full circle.

Dublin City Rounders

Dublin City Rounders

The music and drinking isn’t the only thing that Whelan’s offers though, the walls are covered with bands that all have played at Whelan’s either in their free shows or one of their concerts which take place upstairs, this includes bands like Mumford and Son’s, The Script and singers like Jeff Buckley.  The amazing thing to me is that while you are surrounded by such great music the one thing that I really stood out to me was the audience camaraderie.  As the night went on and the bands continued to play it was no longer small groups chatting but large tables being pushed together to swap stories, at the time I thought this was something unique to Whelan’s but in fact I have come to learn that this is something that can been seen all over Dublin.


Best Regards,

James Kleine-Kracht, Musical and Drink Connoisseur

“A life spent making mistakes is not only more honorable, but more useful than a life spent doing nothing.” — George Bernard Shaw

Rule 3: Your First Week Should not Include the Word No.

When I first arrived at Griffith College we still had around a week before classes started. Back home I would have probably taken this time to stay inside and mentally prepare myself for the coming semester. This is not the case for when you are studying abroad! This is your first chance to go out and meet other students going to your university and make friends with the people you will be stuck with for a semester, this is why rule 3 is so important Your first week should not include the word NO!

When you are in a new country it may be difficult to make new friends as you may feel very alone, the thing to remember is that most people who are here are in the same situation.  Griffith College of Dublin does a very good job of offering great ways to meet other students, there are constantly parties being thrown and clubs that are meeting.  It would almost be tough to not find people with similar interests as you unless you keep saying NO to the opportunities to meet others.  The other thing that Griffith does (I am not sure if this on purpose or just a coincidence) is attempt to pair you with a roommate from a different culture.  My current roommate is a fantastic German fellow, who keeps getting song lyrics stuck in my head! [Insert catchy song lyrics from Queen or Christmas tunes].  Your roommate will be a life-line if you decide to go to these parties as it is very easy to get overwhelmed trying to break into a huge group but if you go with a friend it always becomes easier.

For me I was very lucky to have come over with a great program from the States which required us to at least all meet up for lunch a couple times before classes really got started.  I also was lucky to have someone like Olwyn who wanted us all to all stay in close contact so no one would get left out.  The group that came with me has become a very close group of friends,  none of us knew each other before flying over here, even though some of us go to the same university (GO CATS!).  We all left our lives behind in the states to come over to Dublin, we were all alone, we were all scared of what the future held, we were all in the exact same boat, and there is nothing that can make you become friends faster than if you are all in the same situation.  When it came to meeting up it was difficult because we really had no ideas of where to go and what to do, so we asked Olwyn, she was able to provide with a general idea of where to go and we took it upon ourselves to go out and explore.

Courtesy of Ellza Hines.

Courtesy of Ellza Hines.

I think that if I had said NO to any of these opportunities I would be homesick by this point in the semester, I would have thought that going abroad might have been a mistake, I would just be counting down the days till I got home, instead I said yes.  I have had so much fun this semester and it isn’t even close to being over!

Best Regards,

James Kleine-Kracht, World Traveler.

“I never travel without my diary. One should always have something sensational to read on the train.” — Oscar Wilde

Every Picture Could Be A Postcard

It was quite the busy nine days that I spent with my aunts, Laura and Barbara before my study abroad program began. Our plan was to see as much of Ireland as we possibly could and that is exactly what we did. I have placed a picture here that shows the route we took minus the getting lost on crazy side roads. I also learned something very important about the beauty of Ireland – Every picture you take could be a postcard.

Mapped out route for Ireland.  Courtesy of Laura Grant.

Mapped out route for Ireland. Courtesy of Laura Grant.

Mapped out route for Ireland. Courtesy of Laura Grant.

I landed in Dublin and needed to get a student visa stamp for 90 days which made the start fairly stressful.  All that worry was over nothing, as the customs agent was by far the friendliest person I have ever dealt with in an airport. I was on a different flight than my aunts so we ended up meeting in the luggage pick-up area. I was lucky enough to have all my bags, they on the other hand had none of theirs. The staff seemed unsurprised to have lost the luggage in the short hop from England to Dublin, you think they would have figured it out by now. From Dublin Airport we rented a car and headed straight off towards Wexford and Enniscorthy. We all were fairly tired with jet lag and all the drama trying to figure out how to get the luggage, so as soon as we got to Wexford we ended up calling it a night. We stayed in a beautiful Bed and Breakfast, The Rathaspeck Manor House, and this place is not only nice from the outside it also sports the best bathroom I have ever seen!


Rathaspeck Manor House

After waking up and having my first full Irish breakfast, black and white pudding included, we headed off into town. Wexford and Enniscorthy both have that special something that most towns seem to lose as they grow in population. They both hold very tightly to their history and they have built themselves around it. I highly recommend checking out the Enniscorthy castle and there is the 1798 museum which is a must see! Also near town is Vinegar Hill, the last standing of the 1798 rising, it gives a breath-taking view of the whole area and is a tremendous place to take a panoramic! That night we stayed at a wonderful place, East Clare Golf Village, where we rented a two bedroom chalet style house.  The house itself was impressive but the drive there was very nerve-racking, especially at night with its crazy hair pin turns which just happened to have high walls and trees around them making it a completely blind turn as well.

The next day we traveled to the Cliffs of Moher, which is just awe-inspiring. We had spectacular weather for it as well, almost no breeze and a sunny 60 degree day, which is just hot by Irish standards! The cliffs themselves are something that I could just stare at for days.  The cliffs’ visitor center boasts a fantastic cafe with an amazing view, you can sit at a window and just look off into the Atlantic ocean for hours!  We ended up driving back and making a couple stops along the way, We visiting both Ennis Friary and Quinn Abbey.  I recommend visiting the Quinn Abbey not just for the church ruins but also for the amazing tavern across the street!  We stay again at the East Clare Village which offers Wifi, allowing me to really be able to touch base with my parents.  It seems odd that at this point I had been gone for only four days and there was so much to catch up on!


Cliffs of Moher

Day 4 rolls around and we have just checked out of the East Clare Village and are now on our way towards the Burren. We have ourselves booked for a walking tour that states it is “an easy stroll”, an easy stroll if you’re used to walking at a 80 degree angle! The tour was given by a man named John whose family owned the land.  They give tours, have a small coffee shop, and also have a chocolate store in the back. All of these are great and while it was a tougher walk than expected, it was still well worth it. we ended up driving back towards a small coastal town named Lahinch.  We ate a place called The Wave which had a better view than it did food.  Personally, if I were to be in Lahinch again, I would find a cheap fish and chips place nearby and just have dessert at The Wave and watch the sunset. That night we stayed at the Vaughan Lodge Hotel, which was quite nice but after having such a crazy day I am sure almost anywhere would have been fine with me!

Now we have been in Ireland for 5 days.  We are just now getting over our 6 hour jet lag but we are still exhausted from all of our travelling, so do we decide to take an easy day? No, we try to pack in even more fun! We start the day driving off towards Knock, the location where Mother Mary reportedly showed herself to believers in Ireland. Along the way we came across an empty rock beach on Spanish Point, the location where the Spanish Armada sank along the coast of Ireland back around 1855. At this moment I realized that Ireland truly has every type of scenery to offer.  We had travelled through an urban city, hills, mountains, grasslands, forests, and now here we are standing on a great stony beach facing the Atlantic! Knock is fascinating if seeing churches and locations where Pope John Paul has spoken before is your cup of tea, otherwise there isn’t much to be offered from the city. It felt a little like Gatlinburg, Tennessee with its overpriced tourist trap stores. After Knock we drove to a quaint Bed and Breakfast in Swinford called Deerpark Manor Bed and Breakfast. Now this is when we got very lost.  We were attempting to find Mullaney’s Cross, which has a connection to Barbara’s ancestors, yet we unfortunately were not aware that it was actually long gone. We ended up travelling along back roads and while not fully lost we definitely weren’t sure where we were, so the only solution was to keep going forward! We met a very nice old man who gave us directions as well as a story.  It was a very Irish moment, which set us back on track to get to our Bed and Breakfast.

The next day we headed off towards Northern Ireland (don’t tell my parents) and we went to see the Ulster Folk Park. If you have never heard of the Ulster Folk Park, or as I like to call it the Ulster Fun Park, I am not surprised. It is set up as a walk-through of how life used to be during the Irish Famine and tell the story of how some families immigrated to America. It focuses on the Carnegie family, which was not your average family as you can tell by the size of their house. The Park itself is in great condition and feels like it is full of information.  It suffers however from the fact that you easily have to walk what feels like 9 miles to see it all. It offers a cafe, which was out of food when we got there so we ended up eating sandwiches that cost us 8 euros. I am sure that if I went again knowing what to expect it would have been nicer but at the time I was just too tired to really enjoy all the history. To get to our next hotel we drove through a national forest.  This was not by chance but because Chuck, our GPS, decided that it would be faster to drive on tiny roads rather than the highway. We stayed at the Abbey Hotel in Donegal.  The hotel attempted to stick me in a “driver’s” room which is about the size of a small car.   Aunt Laura was not having any of this and went to the desk and ended up getting a refund and an upgrade for all of us to a triple room which turned out to be very nice.


Ulster Folk Park -Not the Carnegie House

Day 7 rolls around and we are off again towards Northern Ireland, this time we are headed to Giant’s Causeway. Giant’s Causeway is by far the coolest naturally occurring phenomenon I have ever seen. Pictures cannot describe it and neither will my words, just know that if you ever get the chance to go there that you have to do it, TRUST ME! We also got to see Dunluce Castle, which is slowly trying to reach sea level by falling off a cliff, the kitchen has already taken the plunge! This was the day where those 9 miles of walking in the Ulster Fun Park was catching up to us and we decided to stop early and just have a nice drive back to Donegal along the coast roads. We ended up eating back at the Hotel’s pub; I highly recommend their seafood pie!

After a good night’s rest in Donegal we were off back on our way towards Dublin. At this point we had traveled almost all of Ireland except for the center, so we headed inland towards Athlone. It was a day that contained a lot of driving, but when you are with great company and outside your window are picturesque scenes flying by there isn’t much complaining. We ended up stopping at Clonmacnoise Monastery which is one of the oldest monasteries in Ireland. It is right next to the Shannon River and is still intact even though it was built back in 546. This is another interesting place to visit but I would avoid going with a tour.  It will just make you feel rushed and the magic of the monastery is the peace it can bring you. We stayed at Creggan Court Hotel which was your normal hotel nothing spectacular but not everything can be 5 stars!


Clonmacnoise Monastery

The final day of my pre-semester trip rolls around and we have made our way back into Dublin. We are staying at Stauntons on the Green Guesthouse, which is right on St. Stephen’s Green. We ended up getting the on and off bus passes and tried to see as many of the sites as we could. The on and off bus is good for seeing the city as a whole and helps you get your bearings but at times the commentary can be a little lackluster while other times it can be phenomenal. We ate lunch at the Brazen Head which is the oldest pub in Dublin and surprisingly hasn’t become too touristy.  There was also a live band which adds some to the Irish atmosphere. We continued our journey walking around Dublin, doing some shopping on Grafton Street and in St Stephen’s Green Shopping Center. For dinner there isn’t a lot to offer around St. Stephen’s Green which is mostly residential but we were able to get some fantastic American food at a wonderful place named TGIF. Yes, I know what you are thinking, how could we eat in a TGIFs in Dublin?! Well the truth is, it’s the only place that will give you free soda refills which after nine days of just water, makes it a 5 star restaurant in my books.

The trip has come to an end and while I was sad to see my aunts leave me, I know that my adventure has only just begun at this point! They help me get all checked in to Griffith College and we split ways. I just want to take a moment and thank both of them for coming with me over to Dublin. I know how much of a sacrifice it was to take a 9 day, fun-filled, action packed, vacation. I would do it all over again at the drop of a hat!

Best Regards,

James, Your Travel Leader

“Ireland is where strange tales begin & happy endings are possible.” — Charles Haughey

Rule 2: Any Extra Time You Get to Spend Abroad Is Well worth It!

Before we dive right in to where I left off last time I would like to talk about an opportunity that arose for me that was quite spectacular.  Many students who study abroad end up travelling after their semester is finished, I end on December 20th so that really isn’t an option for me if I don’t want my mother coming over to Ireland to kill me for missing the holidays.  However, I was able to convince two of my aunts to travel with me before I was meant to report to Griffith College, both of which had traveled many times to Ireland themselves.  My trip beforehand is one of the best experiences of my life, what we ended up doing was renting a car out of Dublin and taking it all around Ireland for 9 days prior to me starting my studies.  While I could go on and on and on about all the great places I visited, the most important thing to take away from my experience is this, any extra time you get to spend abroad is well worth it!


At the start of the trip I was worried that I was going to lose valuable time at home, extra time with my friends and time to make sure I had everything ready, but I now realize that flying over early was exactly what I needed to do.  The extra time abroad helped me become much more comfortable with Irish culture, get over my jet lag, help me figure out exactly what my favorite food was at supermarkets (Jammie Dodgers), and begin to help me get accustomed to spending the equivalent of 26 USD on an 8oz steak, still seems ridiculous.  Now I am not saying that all it took was 9 days to get used to my new life in Ireland, I still get confused by so many things here in Dublin, I’m not quite used to the cars driving on the WRONG side of the road, the fact that no one arrives exactly on time, or the fact that they say take-away rather than take-out (the small things seem to mess me up the most), but it definitely helped me get closer.

I owe a lot to both of my aunts, they helped me with any questions I had and really were quite the blessing for helping me get settled.  It was great having someone I knew I could ask stupid questions and get honest, helpful answers.  Questions such as, “Why on Earth did the Irish build such tiny roads?” and “Who the heck decided that these roads should be two way?” I am not sure if you notice the pattern but the roads in Ireland are very small especially out in the countryside.  The response to both the questions is the same “Well, these used to be ox and cow paths that someone decided to pave.” that isn’t a joke, it seems like half the roads here are named “Ox Trail Road”.

Ox Trail Road.  Yes this is a real road and yes it is a two-way road.

Ox Trail Road. Yes this is a real road and yes it is  two-way.

While I know not everyone will be as lucky as I was to have family that can travel with them, you should still look in to traveling beforehand.  Try to get into contact with other students going from your university or through your study abroad program.  Try to convince a friend to come over and spend a week with you in a foreign country, anything you can do to make the transition easier will pay off in the long run.  You also get great bonding moments out of the trip, when else are you going to get directions from a man who has three teeth remaining and really wants to inform you how similar the lough he is next to looks like it is from Wales.  These are the moments that will stick with you, these are the moments that make it all worth the hassle.

Best Regards,

James Kleine-Kracht, your travel guide.


P.S. The next blog post really will just be me going on and on about where I went so if you are looking for just more advice on studying abroad skip to Rule 3.

“Life is a journey that must be traveled no matter how bad the roads and accommodations.” — Oliver Goldsmith

Rule 1 – You may be afraid but you are not alone.

My name is James Thomas Kleine-Kracht, my family and friends have always called me Jamie and my mother wishes she had named me Jameson when I was born, personally I am glad she didn’t who wants the nickname “on the Rocks”.  I grew up in Nicholasville, Kentucky and went to college at the University of Kentucky which was a 15 minute drive home if the traffic isn’t bad.  I continued to hang out with all my friends from High School adding people to my social group but I would never say I was a social butterfly.  I much preferred hanging out with 1-3 close friends rather then going to a wild party or out to a bar.  I study Computer Science through the school of Engineering, I am sure most of you know the social stigma attached to being an engineering, we are good at math and that is about all.  While this is not true of all engineers, including me, it is often how we are perceived, we do not do ourselves any benefit with how we act either.  Engineers tend to stick together, we tend not to be extremely adventurous and would rather stick to what we know.  After being in a group like this for three years I made a decision, I needed to get away from my friends, away from my family, away from my school, away from my state, I needed to make a big step in my life and get out of my comfort zone.  I choose to Study Abroad in Dublin, Ireland and I was lucky enough to have found program and college that fit me.

I looked at many different countries and looked at many different programs before I decided on Dublin, Ireland.  I had very few criteria for where I would go, really only two stipulations, 1) It had to be English speaking and 2) I had to be able to take courses that would continue my major.  I ended up spending months looking at brochures and websites, then I finally found the right one through the University of Kentucky’s Study Abroad Program Finder.  I found KEI, Knowledge Exchange Institute, it is a partner program with UK, what that really means I am not sure I just know that I got a discount for going with this program.  KEI offered me an opportunity to achieve my goals of studying abroad and it met all my criteria, I would be able to continue studying Computer Science at Griffith College in Dublin.  The rest of the necessities such as airplane tickets, what classes I needed to take, and how exactly I would pay for all of it sorted itself out of the next couple of months, and I just want to give a big thank you for all the people that helped me both at KEI and at UK.  I’m talking to you Jennifer Doerge and Kim Nicholas, you all helped me sort out everything before it even became an issue.  Those months flew by as I attempted to prepare myself for what would hopefully be the kick in the pants I needed to begin to become a better more well rounded person.  I will go into more detail on how exactly I was able to get over here and afford all this but lets get to the business of being in Dublin.  Fast-forward to September 15th the day I arrived at Griffith College.


Front Gates of Griffith College Dublin. One side is in Gaelic, the national language of Ireland.

The first day in this country is where you will realize rule 1 and how important it is.  You may be afraid but you are not alone.  Back at the University of Kentucky it was easy to stick to what I knew and with the people I knew and never have to reach out to others, life was easy.  That is not how study abroad is, sure you could sit in your room and watch Netflix and just do the bare minimum for classes but that’s not why you came here, you could have stayed at home and saved money.  You have just entered a new country and phase in your life, it is time to make new friends it is time to be adventurous.  My first day at Griffith College in Dublin was not a day filled with classes it was a day filled with meeting new people who all wanted the same thing I did, we all wanted to expand our horizons.  The first day I got to campus we met with our on-site director from KEI, Olwyn Mannix.  Now this is the person you dream of when you first start thinking of studying abroad.  You begin to think of all the fears you have and you just wish that there was someone who was going with you that would always have your back, would be able to answer almost any question you wanted and if they couldn’t they would go to extremes to help you out, you want someone who will basically be your mother when you are so far away from home, that is exactly who Olwyn is and she is so much more.

The first day my fellow KEI students (6), Athena students (1), and ASA students (1) met up for a lunch meeting at a local cafe with Olwyn, while most of us were exhausted from long flights and long lines moving into our dorm rooms, Olwyn was full of energy.  She was able to answer any questions we had about housing, where to eat, where to go to have fun, safely of course, and what parts of town we should avoid.  That first day our group was so out of it I am sure she could have spouted non-sense and we would have believed it, but just the fact that there was someone there to help us and that they knew the area put me at ease and made me think that this was not only a good decision to study abroad but one that will shape the rest of my life.  After the meeting we ended up walking back to the tiny dorms of Griffith College where most of us ended up passing out and sleeping around 12 hours, at least I did.  Not much fun that first night I know but hey we will get there as time goes and we get more adjusted.  The thing to remember is not how alone you are in this new country but how many people are here to support you.

Best Regards,

James Kleine-Kracht, Your Study Abroad Guide.

“Memory is the diary that we all carry about with us.” — Oscar Wilde