OCTOBER 17, 2011

Tales from Abroad: Ireland
BHA junior describes juggling summer internships in Dublin, cultural differences
By Sara Keats, The Tartan, October 17, 2011

You’d be surprised by the number of people who will harass you for going to Ireland to study abroad. I get the argument; Ireland is English-speaking, less diverse than a Wilco concert (Yes, I stole that phrase from 30 Rock — it’s too perfect not to borrow), the weather is crummy, the cities are tiny, and if you’re going to study theater, wouldn’t you rather go to London?

Not to hate on London, but I wouldn’t trade my summer in Dublin for anything. Instead of taking classes, I split my week between two internships, killing both the “summer internship” bird and the “study abroad before I graduate” bird with a single IES Summer Internship in Dublin Program stone.

I lived in an apartment with other American students. They were doing a different IES program and took classes at the prestigious Gaity School of Acting a few blocks from my Monday/Thursday internship. I’ll spare you the mushy friendship stuff, but suffice it to say I made some lifelong friendships, primarily with the people I lived with.

As I said before, I split my week between two internships: one at Fishamble: The New Play Company, and one at Poetry Ireland, which is like the Poetry Foundation here in the United States. I worked Mondays and Thursdays at Fishamble (or ‘The Fish’ as my mother started calling it for no discernible reason) and Tuesdays and Wednesdays at Poetry Ireland. Both internships related directly to my schoolwork here at Carnegie Mellon; I’m a BHA student in dramaturgy and English, and on the whole, I was really happy with my internship placements. I met 11 really smart, talented, and enthusiastic people who were eager to get to know me, advise me, and trust me with tasks valuable to the organization.

Yep, you read correctly. Only 11. It isn’t unusual for companies in the arts to be small, but Ireland is a small country, and that seems to make everything else a little smaller, and maybe even a little more low-key, just because everyone knows each other. I once saw the president get out of her car to go to a meeting in Dublin Castle with only two Garda motorcycles and one black town car. That’s it. Granted, the president is more of a figurehead than a political power in the Irish government, but still, I thought that was pretty neat.

In addition to having smaller staffs than their American counterparts, the Irish work environment was, from my experience, a lot more relaxed. I want to clarify that I don’t mean “lazy.” Everyone I worked with was focused and productive, and I saw all kinds of projects in both the companies I worked for. But in Ireland, arriving five minutes late or leaving three minutes early was not a big deal, and the dress code was very casual.

It was actually kind of a problem: Anticipating four days a week of American-style business casual apparel, I showed up on my first day in tall heels and a pencil skirt, only to find that the dress at Fishamble was far more casual. I wouldn’t go in wearing sweats and ripped up jeans, and I don’t mean at all to say that the staff was not well-dressed, but the Fish was on the fourth floor of a building with no lift and I quickly learned to wear better stair-climbing shoes. I called everyone by their first name, whenever anyone went out they asked if I wanted anything — which did nothing for my hazelnut biscuit addiction — and my supervisor saw nothing wrong with making me a cup of tea.

I don’t want to give the impression that U.S. internships are cruel and unforgiving, but I think because internships are so much more common in the U.S., interns are a dime-a-dozen, and they aren’t treated with the same gratitude as they are in Dublin. It made for a far more pleasant work environment.

Working in Ireland was not without its mishaps. At Fishamble, I had some trouble answering the phone; with my American accent, I hit the “FISH” of Fishamble with the emphasis, instead of the “AM” sound like everyone else at work — not to mention the entire United Kingdom. I’m sure that no one on the other end minded, if they even noticed, but it made me really nervous at first, and I would avoid answering the phone as much as possible. That, and my constant distress about the Irish language.

The language spoken in Ireland other than English is called Irish, not Gaelic. The same way Polish is a Slavic language, Irish is a Gaelic language. So is Scottish, which is why the new name for Homecoming is pronounced “kay-lee,” even though it’s spelled Cèilidh. Though Scottish Gaelic is different from Irish Gaelic, the Cèilidh to “kay-lee” relationship is a good way to understand how hard it was to guess how people on the phone wanted their names spelled. And at Poetry Ireland, I had to type up a few poems and announcements in Irish. I was surprised to learn how hard it is to type in a language you can’t read or even pronounce.

Luckily, almost all of Ireland is English-speaking, which is one of the main reasons why I went there to work. I liked working abroad as opposed to taking a class, for all the normal reasons why internships are good — Hands-on experience! A break from classes! Networking in your field! — and also because I felt more integrated into Irish culture than I would have been under other circumstances. Although I lived with American students, I spent most of my week typing things, reading things, and spending time with people I never would have met otherwise.