My last week in Ireland was spent touring the country with my Mom and my partner, Kelci. I got to show them where I lived and worked, they got to meet some of the people I worked with at Energy Action and I took them to some of my favorite places, including the Long Room in the Trinity Library. Then, we all got to experience the rest of the country together. We went hiking in Howth and saw dolphins, seals and professional cliff divers! We went to the Bunratty Castle and Folk Park in Limerick; we went to Killarney National Park and saw the Torc Waterfall; we went to the Cliffs of Moher; and, most importantly, we went to the Blarney Castle in Cork and kissed the Blarney Stone – which also happens to be the place where my partner PROPOSED! All in all, I’d say Ireland has been and forever will be one of the most memorable times of my life.
I learned a lot about sustainability in Ireland that was not specifically related to my internship. I realized that Ireland is sustainable by default simply because the lifestyles and habits of the citizens are much less wasteful and greedy. For example, public transportation, walking and riding a bike are more common modes of transportation than individual cars. Also, most of the cars that are on the road are much smaller than the average vehicle in the U.S. Food portions are much smaller in Ireland, which reduces food waste and materials needed to produce to-go containers. Markets charge customers if they need a plastic bag to carry their groceries in; most people bring in their own reusable bags when they go shopping. While touring Ireland my last week, we saw hundreds of wind turbines up in the hills. These are just a few of the things I observed in Ireland that make me realize how unsustainable our lifestyles are here in the U.S. and this realization really solidified for me the fact that I truly want to tackle environmental issues on a global scale.
As of this morning, I only have three more days left here at my internship in Ireland. These next three days will be quite busy, however, because I have a lot to wrap up in order to get results for my capstone paper. I will hopefully be getting some more face-to-face time with the religious leaders of some of the minority faith groups in the area. The main objective behind my research has been to effectively engage religious communities in behavioral change that leads to energy conservation within the homes of the community members. The program I have been helping with has been facing some challenges though and to be honest, these challenges and the difficulties the partner organizations have been facing are going to make for a very interesting (and rewarding) research paper. Although I am saddened by the fact that the program is a struggling a bit, I am also excited because it will allow me to present my findings and offer recommendations that could potentially help this program and other similar programs in the future. I haven’t been able to do as much as I was hoping due to the struggles the program has dealt with but at the same time, the struggles have offered me an even better approach to my paper. I am sincerely looking forward to how my paper will turn out and I hope that it makes a difference to someone in the future.
Ireland has been a wild ride and I am more than half way through my trip (I am both excited and a little sad about this). The beginning was very rough for me but I am doing much better now and I honestly feel a sense of melancholy when I think about going back home.
I have met some amazing people so far, including the people I live with (other Stinters), my coworkers and people I have just met through social gatherings. I am finding that Ireland is a very friendly place with so much history and beauty. I have not explored much outside of Dublin because I am planning a full week of traveling around the country at the end of my trip but I have been exhilarated by what I have seen so far. There are parts of Ireland that are so picturesque, yet pictures never seem to do it justice. I am truly looking forward to my last week here, especially because my girlfriend and my mom will be here. We plan on visiting the most famous cathedrals here in Dublin, Trinity College and its library, Howth (second time for me) because it is so beautiful, the Cliffs of Moher, castles, the Blarney Stone and much more!
Even though I have not explored much of the country yet, I have still had the time of my life here in Dublin, creating a new (though short-lived) life for myself and I know that this experience will change my life forever. This experience has taught me to be brave and courageous; it has taught me more about how to be a leader and a go-getter. These are all abilities that will help me through every walk of life. I have also been very inspired in terms of sustainability because many parts of Ireland are still very old and inefficient, meaning that the country could greatly benefit from sustainability efforts. I am constantly thinking of ways to improve upon the three pillars: people, planet, profit. I am also noticing though that other places, including the United States, could benefit from taking some plays out of the Irish playbook in order to simplify and become more sustainable. Lifestyles here seem to be so much simpler and at times, I find it very refreshing.
My internship has been very insightful and I am hoping to complete a research masterpiece by the time I leave here. Maybe my paper won’t get published but I am hoping it will at least be a good read and will get me the A I am looking for so that I can complete grad school with almost a 4.0!
Although the purpose of being here is to participate in this internship and write a paper in order to graduate and gain experience for my future career path, I also know that it is just important that I soak up as much of this country and its beauty as I can. It is important for me to remember that this is an adventure that I will never forget and I need to grab life by the horns right now. I am incredibly thankful that my school encourages us to take internships abroad and I completely understand why now. Traveling abroad is one of the most eye-opening experiences, especially – in my opinion – for sustainability professionals. It is tough to pursue a career path that involves every part of the planet if you only have one perspective to work from. So, again, I couldn’t be happier about my being here because I know it will help me grow as a person and as a professional.
These last couple of weeks in Ireland have been constructive, both on a personal level and in regards to my internship. Let’s start with the internship news and save the fun stuff for last 😉
A couple of weeks ago, I helped man a booth at a local farmer’s market type event to help Energy Action acquire some pledges. Although we were not very successful, we definitely made some fantastic contacts that could prove to be very beneficial in the future. Also, this even was very beneficial to me because I found my new favorite market :). There is one booth that has the most delicious raspberry tart I have ever tasted and walking to this market to shop and grab a raspberry tart has become a Saturday ritual. In addition to this event, I also found out I will be attending an event in Co. Kildare called The Marigold Festival Series. Apparently this event has been a success for Energy Action in the past and they are hoping to spread the word about SPIRIT at the event this year. I am really looking forward to it! The past week was probably the most exciting for me though, because I was given the opportunity to propose some ideas I have for the project as they directly relate to my research. I began by explaining that I was aware of the issues we were facing in terms of engaging religious communities in the project and that I had some suggestions. My main suggestion was to start by determining the values of the communities being approached, rather than just trying to give the communities information on the program and hoping they will be interested enough to get involved. Determining the values of these communities will help in properly communicating the value of the project and the value of energy conservation to the individual communities. If the ultimate goal is to energize faith-based communities to influence individual behavior change, simply providing them information is not always going to encourage action. A project like this takes a lot of work on the part of the religious leaders and the individual community members themselves; it is important to illustrate the true benefits in a way that is meaningful, which varies based on the audience. Another one of my ideas was to email the Executive Director of an organization called GreenFaith, whose mission is similar to that of the SPIRIT program, to see if he could offer any insight. The feedback was more than I could have hoped for – my boss was impressed and inspired by my ideas. Since my boss liked the idea of emailing the Executive Director of GreenFaith so much, he allowed me to be the point of contact and I was able to arrange a Skype conference with the Executive Director that will take place next week.
Now, for the fun stuff. I live in a house full of wonderful roommates that love to go out and explore, even if that just means taking a walk down the canal behind our house and stopping at some place new. We have been to dinner a couple of times, we have been to a few local pubs, we have gone shopping on Grafton Street and down by the River Liffey and we are always thinking of new places to see and things to do. A couple of nights ago, we took about a 40-minute walk along the canal down to the Docklands, got some ice cream and sat at the dock with the Bord Gais Energy Theater behind us and the water in front of us. Yesterday evening, we attended a science gallery at Trinity College and I was ecstatic to find out that the theme was sustainability. Unfortunately, it was quite packed so I couldn’t take many pictures but some of the exhibits were so interesting. A lot of the ideas had to do with converting everyday waste from consumer products into new, environmentally friendly and even edible products. Tomorrow we are planning to take a hike up the Dublin mountains and I am planning a weekend trip to Phoenix Park, one of the largest parks in Europe. Most of my countryside exploring, however, will happen during my last week here in Ireland.
Close-up description of exhibit at science gallery
I have been in Ireland for 9 days now but it feels like it has been weeks. Adjusting to a new culture can be very difficult, especially if you have never been abroad before; especially if you have never been abroad before and you have to begin a new job and a new life. This experience has been overwhelming, to say the least but the most important piece of advice I have received (from numerous people) that I have realized is incredibly true, is that “it takes time”. It takes time to get used to the new job, the new life, the new culture and most importantly, it takes time to get used to the homesickness. It is easy to feel sad and scared and even alone, but it is not easy to overcome your fears and make every day count – this takes courage. You have to take it one day at at time. You will discover just how strong and courageous you are when you slowly start to realize that the days are going by faster and you’re doing it all on your own. Take it from me, it’s tough but it absolutely does get better.
The first friend I made was my cab driver. He talked my ear off throughout the entire cab ride, giving me history lessons and inquiring about my home, my school and my internship. He was fascinated by the fact that I am a sustainability student but he asked me something that, at the time, I just responded to quickly without giving it much thought. He asked, “Sustainability. Hmmm. You’re fighting a losing cause, don’t you think?” I told him that I heard that more often than I could count but that I was passionate that I could really make a difference. I have been thinking a lot about that question though because being here in Dublin, the topic of sustainability is not discussed as much as I hear it being used in conversations back home; sustainability is not as “popular” as I originally thought. When it is discussed, it does not seem to generate as much enthusiasm as it does in certain parts of the U.S. Is it worth it in places like Dublin? Is it worth it at all? Will it make a difference?
I began my internship with Energy Action last Wednesday. In brief, Energy Action is a non-profit that seeks to “alleviate fuel poverty in Dublin by provision of insulation in the homes of older people and low income people free of charge”. In partnership with 8 organizations across Europe, Energy Action has been participating in the development of a new program known as Spirit, which “aims to deliver effective energy saving programmes, by engaging, informing and working together with households to promote energy efficient behavior and energy saving activities” through the use of faith-based community interaction. For my internship, I am assisting with the Spirit program. Right now, we are just trying to gather data about residential home energy use habits, so Energy Action has been handing out and collecting surveys that we called pledges. They are partly surveys but the main task is to ask residents if they would pledge to make certain changes at home to help reduce energy consumption. There is a checklist of items that they can chose from and they can chose as many as they think they could accomplish. So far, I made some phone calls to residents of the Dublin area that filled out these pledges in order to find out if they have fulfilled any of the pledges that they made. I have also been chosen to be a part of a 2 person team that will attend a sort of farmer’s market this Saturday to acquire more pledges.
Through the work that I have completed so far and the work I anticipate completing in the future, I think I can answer the cab driver’s question, and the questions I have posed, honestly and wholeheartedly. The work I am doing makes me happy and I am grateful to be a part of such an organization because organizations like Energy Action really are doing meaningful and beneficial work; and I see that there really are people that care and feel just as passionately as me that they can make a difference. So, I am proud to say that sustainability is not a losing cause and I will continue to fight to make Mother Earth happy and healthy again.