5.10 pm, september 1st, 2014. That was the moment when I trod out of the bus at Galway coach station. I had two luggages, and information when my school was going to start, with me; nothing else. Okay, I have to admit that I also had few butterflies in stomach too!
I got my final acceptance letter from Galway Mayo Institute of Technology only few days before my school was going to start, so I didn’t have time to find an Irish accomodation for myself when I was in Finland. So, some kind of apartment or bedroom was going to be the first thing that I was going to look for.
I stood in a coach station and thought, okay, what should I do next?? I walked out from the coach station and looked for a hostel where I could stay my first days and keep searching for accomodation. I found one almost immediately, but it was too expensive for me, so I kept searching again and next, I found a Galway tourist information office. I walked in and asked if the woman behind the desk would tell me where all the hostels are located in Galway. She gave me a map where all the nearest hostels were tagged, and I chose the nearest hostel named Snoozles and thought that I would try that one – have to say that it was a good decision!
I dragged my luggages to the Snoozles, walked in reception and started to speak: “Hi! I came here to study and I don’t have accomodation yet, so I would like to stay at least one night.” A girl behind the desk answered me immediately with a question: “Excuse me, but where are you from?” I answered with: “I am from Finland.” She mentioned to me in Finnish that: “No niin mä vähän ajattelinkin!” At that time I had two thoughts in my mind; the first one was: Okay, I came here to a little city in western Ireland, where there should not be any other Finnish people, and now I am speaking with a Finnish girl! And the second thought was: Hmm, I think that my language skills are a bit rusty at the moment because she noticed my accent immediately!
Hovever, we introduced ourselves and confusion changed into relief quickly. She gave me lot of good tips during my stay in Snoozles hostel, which greatly helped me to get started in Galway and also good tips for searching for accomodation. She also mentioned to me during our first conversation, when I was asking some questions about Galway, that they say that Galway is “the graveyard of ambitionists.” Then I was confused, but little by little during my stay here, I have started to realize what she ment with that phrase…
By the way, I met my first foreign friend during my stay in Snoozles. His name is Phillip, and he is from Germany! That was my first time in a hostel, and staying in the same room with foreigners. We had many interesting conversations, especially with Phillip, so they are good memories for me 😀 ! Okay.. The beginning of this blog post has been maybe a little bit too long already, but I still have something that I want to tell you about my first days, searching for accomodation, you see. That was not as easy as I thought at first. During my first evening, I started to search for apartments or bedrooms, I found many different webpages and facebook groups and then I realized, that shit, I am not the only student without accomodation here at all! The Finnish girl from the Snoozles said to me that you should join the Facebook group called “House hunting Galway (for sound people)”, and I did what she told me to do. Almost every minute, somebody published some kind of “I am searching the accomodation” announcement to the wall of the Facebook group. At the moment there are 7155 members in the group. I succeeded in arranging some appointments with landlords, and everytime I went to view an apartment, the landlord told me that you are one of the ten people who are coming to see this apartment today, or something like that. One landlord said to me that they are going to draw lots in the evening for who the tenant would be. That made me little upset because I thought it was going to be easy to find accomodation.
Well, then the 3rd September broke, and my first school day too. It started at 11.30 am, and I went there straight from the apartment viewing. I met all of my Erasmus friends there for the first time. One of them was other Finnish student, Jussi. During our discussion I told him that I don’t have any accomodation yet, and he told me that they have one double room in their apartment, but there’s only one guy living in it. Of course I was interested about that free bed, and Jussi promised me that he can ask the guy if it would be okay with him if I could live there too. That same evening, I was going to sleep in my hostel room, I got a message from Jussi: “Se sopii, tervetuloa asumaan – it is okay, welcome to live here!” That was my last night in the hostel, and the end of my first few days adventure also!
Now I am living in a place named Gleann Na Ri, and here are 3 other exchange students in the same apartment; Jussi (Finland), Sven (Germany) and Gerrit (USA). In the building where we live, almost everyone are students. We have good friends from three apartments in this house. For example, our good friends Thomas, Andreas and Martin from Austria live in the apartment right next to ours. This place is about 1 km from the school, which takes about 20 minutes to walk. Gleann Na Ri is like a commune; there are a lot of students living here, but also a lot of families in the buildings. Everyday, when I walk home from school, I see a lot of kids playing in yards.
A normal school day here starts at 9-11am and ends 16-17pm. I have quite an easy timetable because I am studying Construction management with 3rd year students and they have only 4 days at school per week. School system and learning methods are quite similar to that of Finland’s. The biggest difference in local school culture is that they are not as meticulous as we are in Finland! I have been the first student in the classroom almost every morning since the first day! Teachers come to the classroom about 10 – 15 minutes late, and some students too.. It is not bothering me, but it is just funny to notice. A few times now, the teacher has totally cancelled our class without any notification, and I have to say, that it has been little bit annoying to sit in the classroom in vain. Otherwise, I don’t have anything bad to say about the school. They have a lot of different societies and clubs and they are really active. I joined in our school’s Kayak society and we have had two exercises so far; have to say that it is a cool and very physical sport!
In conclusion, I have to tell you a little bit about the city where I live. Before I came here, I was thinking that I am going to spend my exchange semester in a slumbering little town in western Ireland but I was so wrong. Galway is a little and pulsating city which is filled with interesting and kind people and amazing landscapes. The population of Galway is about 76500 and students make up one third of that number. You can also notice that in your daily life here, there are a lot of student events, student offers and student prices in different places in Galway. This is very student friendly place to be. The heart of the town is John F. Kennedy Memorial Park which is better known as Eyre Square. That is the place where you can have a picnic, meet your friends, get tanned or just walk trough it and be amazed how many people there are on a beautiful day. Because Galway is a small town, it is also easy to navigate here; no matter where you live, almost every bus takes you to the Eyre Square and then you can just walk everywhere you want in the city. Everything is quite close to you. And those pubs… Probably everything that you have heard about Irish pub culture is true! Pubs are more like a livingroom here. You can see a lot of people in a pub in the middle of the day just for meeting friends and drinking a pint at the same time. I have an ambition to visit all of the pubs in Galway, but it might be too big of an ambition; we’ll see… Anyway, for my last words, I want to say: forget your prejudices of a rainy and cold Ireland, and plan a visit sometime! This is a good place to be and breath. “Graveyard of ambitionists”, as they say.
I am excited to visit other Irish cities and all of those attractions and amazing landscapes like the Cliffs of Moher and the Aran Islands. You will definitely be hearing something more from me in future!
– Niko Riskilä, studying construction technology at TAMK in Finland, and now construction management at GMIT in Ireland