The Best of Our Program’s Post-Trip Advice

“It’s a funny thing coming home. Nothing changes. Everything looks the same, feels the same, even smells the same. You realize what’s changed is you.” — F. Scott Fitzgerald

Our time in Ireland was a series of adventures, misadventures, wrong turns, right turns, and overall just a lot of exploring. Each day we tried new things, created great memories, and visited new places. Half the fun was wondering around the streets of Dublin, dipping in and out of interesting looking shops and restaurants. However, we all agreed it was nice to have a short list of must-see places given to us by previous visitors. So I few us put our heads together and created a list of essential tidbits of advice as well as places in Dublin I may have missed in previous posts. So now, we bequeath what we learned to you all – the next wave of Dubliners:

  • “Go to Karaoke at The Workman’s Club. If you’re looking for a club in Galway, Electric is recommended by the locals. It’s a bit like a dark, smokey maze but the dance music is on point! – Rohan, senior.
  • “If you want the best loaf of brown bread in Dublin go to Le Petite Parisian! But don’t wait to visit late in the day because they do run out of bread near the closing hours. Also when your craving something light and healthy Alchemy Juice Co. is the place to go. Two final notes: 1) go to Pygmalion for lunch and order a side of sweet potato fries 2) The soup of the day is ALWAYS a good choice.” -Ella, junior.
  • Yogism Frozen Yogurt is a must, as is Candy Lab. On a different note the club scene is Dublin is great, we had some fun nights at Diceys Garden Bar, Copper Face Jacks, and The Academy. But be aware that there’s a cover charge around 5 euro everywhere!” – Kaitlin, junior.
  • HATCH N SONS! Best breakfast in Dublin.” -Kathleen, senior.
  • “Don’t bring rain boots to Ireland, it’s a waste of valuable packing space.” -Meredith, senior.
  • “If you need groceries in Dublin, Fallon and Byrne is the place to go. But it’s a bit on the pricey side.” – Whitney, senior.
  • “Don’t go on the Gravedigger Bus Tour in Dublin. It’s extremely underwhelming.” – Claire, junior.

My tips:

  • Go to Jo Burger and order the “ikqezi” burger. One of the toppings is a caramelized banana, which sounds disgusting but it’s actually wonderful.
  • Good nights always start with Bulmers Original Irish Cider. 
  • When in doubt order a Jameson and Ginger.
  • One very important note on clothing: Pack at least 2 thick sweaters you can re-wear, a warm fleece jacket, more than 2 pairs of pants, and a cute long-sleeve shirt to go out in. When we arrived we were not prepared for the very chilly weather, so these are all things I bought.
  • If you find that you forgot to pack something H&M is a lifesaver, while Penneys is known for being very cheap (think Forever 21) when we arrived in May they had already made the transition over to their summer collection. Despite the fact that it was still 60 degrees everyday. Why anyone in Dublin would be wearing shorts, tank tops, and summer dresses I have no earthly idea.
  • Don’t even try plugging in a hairdryer or straightener from the U.S. into a converter, the warning labels are true, it will explode.
  •  The best places to shop for gifts to bring home to your friends and family are:
    • MAgne – It’s a unique Dublin boutique and everything they sell is handmade by local craft makers from the area!
    • ThunderSolas – An amazing little leather store where you can buy custom handmade key rings, bags, belts, cuffs, bracelets and much more. The cuffs and key rings can even have unique messages printed on them. One of my favorite purchases was a gold brass bracelet that has the coordinates of Dublin on it.
    • Guinness Storehouse – While initially you may think that this is the most cliche place to buy souvenirs ever, at the Storehouse there is an option to purchase customized Guinness pint glasses. My dad adored the glasses I brought him that had our last name printed on it and also read “Thanks for letting me explore Ireland.”
    • Monte Cristo Antiques at Powerscourt Centre – If you are looking for a gift with originality and beauty or are seeking something quite special and unusual they may have just the thing you want. And unlike the other antique shops in the centre they have items that suit all budgets.
  • If you don’t like tomatoes before you visit Dublin you will by the time you leave.
  • Embrace the pub songs! You’ll find yourself humming the staples like:
    • All For Me Grog
    • The Crack Was Ninety In The Isle of Man
    • Seven Drunken Nights
    • Rocky Road to Dublin
    • I’ll Tell Me Ma
    • Molly Malone
    • Whiskey In The Jar
    • The Wild Rover
  • I cannot stress the importance of savoring every last drop of Raspberry Jam from The Pepper Pot Cafe.
  • If you’re traveling for an extended period of time sending items home is fairly reasonable to do. I sent a 16 pound box to the states for 65 euro.
  • Birkenstocks are much cheaper abroad than in the states, so if you’re looking to buy a pair of “Birkey Berks” wait until you leave the country.
  • Buses stop running at 11:00 p.m. so be prepared to pay for a cab home if you’re going out for a night on the town.
  • If you are ever in need of WiFi while in the city there is free WiFi in every Carroll’s Irish Gifts. Since there is a Carroll’s on every other street it’s not hard to dip in and discreetly look up directions.
  • Fun Fact: Google maps continues giving directions even when you leave WiFi if the map is started while you still have it.
  • Kopparberg Cider tastes like a Starburst.
  • A “bookmaker” doesn’t mean a place where they make books…but if you’re looking to place a bet on a sporting event you’re in the right place.

P.S. If you’re a fan of The Bachelorette, this season is pretty hard to watch. But they do visit Dublin, Ireland!

What Study Abroad Taught Me

Novelist Truman Capote once wrote, “Anyone who ever gave you confidence, you owe them a lot.” I owe Ireland and the Irish locals more than I can express. For they inspired me in ways I never expected.

During my study abroad experience I gained confidence in my strategic planning abilities, exercised relinquishing control, practiced living in the moment, learned the importance of work-life balance and became more independent.

Every student at The University of Texas at Austin is a talented, high-achieving individual. I’m grateful to have the opportunity to surround myself with gifted peers, but overtime I began to feel that my skills and talents were non-unique. Though, my experience in 3 Day Start-Up Dublin reaffirmed the real value of my skillset. My 3DS group was small in comparison to the others, but with hard work we were able to conceive a viable marketing strategy and lucid presentation deck. As I worked through the weekend the two older women in my group, Liz Hickey and Saoirse Sheriden, commended my diligent work ethic and out-of-the-box thinking. I was flattered, but assumed they were just being kind to ease my stress. I didn’t understand the significance our group’s work until the last day of the program when Saoirse expressed how she couldn’t wait to use our group’s platform to launch her small start-up. Her gratitude and eagerness to put our plan into action made me more confident that my abilities are lucrative outside of the classroom. Since one of my biggest concerns is not performing well in my job post-graduation, positive feedback from Saorise and the other participants provided a much-needed confidence boost.

Like most neurotic perfectionists, I prefer my life to be filled with itineraries, deadlines, and calendars. By maintaining and following a rigid system of organization I tend to feel like I’m in control at all times. The 3DS program is organized in a way where participants aren’t allotted time to plan. For the most part it’s off the cuff, which means I was far outside my element. During the experience there were moments when I doubted my team’s ability to be successful because at times the conversation seemed frivolous and we were on a tight deadline. But throughout the weekend I slowly learned that in 3DS no conversation is truly frivolous. Some of our best ideas were generated when we took our focus away from the task at hand and just had a brain dump. I realized that by putting too much importance on meeting deadlines I was potentially detracting from the quality of ideas being generated. Consequently, I feel confident that I can tell the difference between planning effectively and planning everything.

In Ireland I learned how to live in the moment. One of my favorite memories is standing on the shore at the valley of the two lakes in Glendalough. While on the shore I didn’t think about what was next on the agenda, my worries about the future disappeared, and in that moment I swear I felt infinite. The moments from this trip I look back on the most fondly are the ones where I didn’t spend the entire time behind a lens. By taking fewer pictures I’m a confident I will spend less time reliving the past and more time focusing on the present.

Before coming abroad I measured my success on a linear scale. I spent each day crossing tasks off a to-do list in an effort to reach the next milestone on my 5-year plan. In my mind, a wasted day was when I wasn’t studying, applying for internships, or making professional connections. This summer my media cohort classmates started receiving summer internship offers at major advertising and PR agencies in New York, Chicago, and Dallas. Watching them accept their offers I started to experience severe anxiety about spending the crucial summer before my senior year abroad. I was worried that I was skipping an imperative step in my journey to success. But while in Ireland I learned that the “road to success” is a myth, because success isn’t a destination. By using a linear system to measure my success I was limiting myself, becoming trapped in my comfort zone, and living within the definition the world had given me. By studying in Ireland I deviated from the beaten path and now feel confident in my ability to have a better work-life balance in the future.

Lastly, during this trip I gained confidence in my ability to live independently. Our professor didn’t assign homework for us to complete during our time outside of the classroom nor did he give us a laundry list of “educational attractions” to visit while in Dublin. At the beginning of the program his goal for us was simple, to go out and explore things that mattered to us. By giving us this simple task I learned more than I ever could inside a classroom. Through a series of trial and error I learned how to effectively navigate public transportation inside and outside of Dublin. Since I didn’t have convenient access to Internet 24/7 I grew to be less dependent on my phone and more comfortable asking strangers for help. Perhaps one of the more important lessons I learned was that you have to make your own adventures. For example, since attending a Gaelic football game wasn’t on the program schedule I spearheaded a journey to neighboring Meade County so a few of us could experience a true Irish tradition. Successfully planning this day trip gave me more self-assurance when it comes to travelling. In fact I felt so assured in my ability to traverse abroad that a spontaneous trip to Paris ensued towards the end of the program. In Paris I learned to navigate a busy urban landscape as opposed to the barren Irish countryside of Meade.

Ireland will forever have a special place in my heart because, as cliché as it sounds, studying abroad changed my perspective on life in a number of ways. Most importantly, for the first time in my life I trusted that I don’t always need a plan. And that sometimes I just need to breathe, trust, let go, and see what happens.

Our last evening in Roma

In 2003 The Lizzie McGuire Movie was released and shaped the way my generation viewed Rome, myself included. Rome became known as the city that “dreams are made of.” Thus, when I visited Rome I expected to find nothing short of adventure. And, I could only hope that my adventure included falling in love with an Italian popstar and touring the city on the back of a Vespa like Lizzie. On our last day day in Roma, and the end great European adventure we chose to hit all the sites (besides the Colosseum) that Lizzie explored in the movie, fulfilling our childhood fantasies.


Our first stop of the day was The Jewish Museum inside of the Roman Ghetto. The Roman Ghetto was established as a result of Papal bull promulgated by Pope Paul IV on 14 July 1555. The bull required the Jews of Rome, which had existed as a community since before Christian times and which numbered about 2,000 at the time, to live in the ghetto. The ghetto was a walled quarter with three gates that were locked at night. Before this experience, as a Roman Catholic, I knew very little about Judaism. But my travel companions, Meredith and Whitney, are both Jewish and I was fortunate to have the opportunity to learn a little about their faith.  At the Jewish Museum I only scratched the surface of the intriguing faith by visiting my first synagogue (which was beautiful), gaining a better understanding of the Torah, reading personal accounts of Roman Jews, and finally understanding what exactly “keeping kosher” entails.


Afterwards we completed a short walk to The Pantheon. The Pantheon in Rome is the Roman monument that holds the greatest number of records. It’s the best preserved, with the biggest brick dome in the history of architecture and is considered the forerunner of all modern places of worship. It is the most copied and imitated of all ancient works. Even the great Michelangelo felt it was the work of angels, not men. When listening in on a tour, the guide considered this the most amazing monument in all of Rome because to this day we have no idea how the Romans built it in 126 AD.

After gawking at the marvel of The Pantheon for a few moments we travelled to Giolitti for lunch a.k.a. two scoops of gelato in a waffle cone. Keep in mind that Italian ice cream has about twice the sugar of American ice cream, so it is just what we needed to keep shuffling from monument to monument. The line at the counter was a bit of a frenzy due to the parlors popularity but it was well worth it. I opted for pink grapefruit and mint – both were unbelievable and very refreshing in the Rome heat.


After our wonderful snack stop we ambled to the Trevi Fountain – which was a little disheartening. The precise legend of the Trevi Fountain says you should stand with your back to the fountain and toss a coin over your left shoulder to guarantee a return trip to Rome. I’ve long dreamed of tossing my coin into the Trevi, but since the fountain is under construction – like it has been for the last 5 years – I was unable to do so. Well that’s not completely accurate, there is this small pool of water with a picture of the Trevi Fountain as the backdrop that tourists can toss their coin into. It wasn’t the most magical experience since tossing the coin backwards proved to be quite the challenge because we were 20 feet away from the puddle. Most people overshot the water or didn’t toss it far enough…myself including…so not exactly what dreams are made of.


Our last tour stop of the day was the Spanish Steps. The Spanish steps were built in 1723-1725 by a design of the rather little known architect Francesco de Sanctis and were financed by French diplomat Étienne Gueffier’s bequeathed. It was built in order to link the the Trinità dei Monti church that was under the patronage of the king of France, with the Spanish square below. The long, triangular Spanish square is named after the Spanish Embassy to the Holy See. In the 17th century, the area around the embassy was even considered Spanish territory. The idea of connecting the church with the square below originates from the 17th century, when the French also planned a statue of King Louis XIV of France at the top of the staircase. This plan was never executed, due to the refusal of the Pope.

Around 6 p.m. we made our way to Ristorante 34 for our last dinner abroad. We could not have picked a better restaurant to eat our feelings of leaving away in. The bottle of white house wine was divine and we knew the food would be just as tasty because a fellow traveller from Texas rolled in and greeted the host by saying, “We’re back for the 4th time this week!” For an appetizer we tried the Fried squash blossoms, at the urging of the Texan regular. For our main course we ordered two dishes to share: Gnocchi truffled roman style and Ravioli “34” with herbs, pinenuts and white cream sauce – both were prepared to perfection.

IMG_7157Once we finished dinner we still had one more item to check off our Rome bucket list before departing – have a drink at the Ice Club. Before we even arrived in Rome this is something Meredith, Whitney, and I all agreed was a must-see, so it’s only fitting it was our last stop in the city. The Ice Club is the first club or Rome entirely built of real clear ice! The temperature inside is -5 degrees Celsius. The walls, benches, the bar, and even the glasses are made from ice. Upon arrival we were given heavy capes to wear inside the bar so we didn’t freeze. I was overjoyed when we walked into the cool, crisp air because all day I longed to escape the boiling Rome heat. The atmosphere was unlike anything I had ever seen before, the benches were coated in soft white fur and the bar tender was dressed like he was about to hit the slopes. Meredith had read online that “you should only plan to stay for about 30 minutes because the cold quickly chills your bones…and prepare to lose feeling in your toes if you’re wearing sandals.” The Ice Club was definitely an unforgettable experience, and the perfect way to top off an amazing adventure.

Where the Pope Lives

If you take anything from my trip to Rome know that it is imperative to book a tour of the Vatican before departure. If you don’t book a trip beforehand you will end up waiting long hours in the hot sun just to get through the door.

On Wednesday morning we met our tour guide, Vanessa, at 10 a.m. outside of the Vatican gates. We booked a tour using Through Eternity tours, because their guides had shimmering reviews and Vanessa did not disappoint. We chose to embark on the “5 hour Sistine Chapel, Vatican Museums, and St. Peter’s Basilica: In-Depth Experience.” What I liked most about this company is that they keep the tour groups small, ours had 11 people in all, making it easy to move through the exhibits. Plus they gave us headsets to wear on the tour to ensure we could hear our guide in even the most crowded places.


We began the tour in the Vatican Museum and had the opportunity to see some of the most important works of the Vatican. Such as timeless Greek masterpieces like the Laocoon, the Belvedere Torso and the Apollo Belvedere, which were excavated at the time of Michelangelo and Raphael, who studied and admired them in the same architectural context in which they are preserved today. The artworks that they created are the fruit of their careful study. In addition to these more well known pieces were very early medieval art pieces that depicted religious figures in ways that were eventually banned from churches. Such as depicting Jesus on the cross with his eyes open or a pregnant Virgin Mary. Once we left the museum halls we passed through the Pinecone courtyard, the Belvedere courtyard and the tapestry galleries.

Vanessa then guided us into the Pinacoteca, which is still ignored by most tours, where some of the finest paintings of the Vatican Museums are collected. In this tranquil part of the Vatican museums it is possible to appreciate the explosive force of Leonardo’s Saint Jerome and the spectacular realism of Caravaggio’s Deposition, an artist of absolute and ungovernable genius. We also encountered Raphael’s Transfiguration, a work that would be his last when, struck by a terrible fever, he died at the height of his fame at the tender age of 37.



As we continued walking through halls of the Vatican Vanessa exclaimed how the Renaissance was a period of overwhelming enthusiasm and of amazing innovation. The men of the Renaissance didn’t merely dream of changing the world – they really revolutionized it. The printing press, the geographic maps with which Columbus reached the Americas, modern science, architecture, art and the sense of beauty (a concept demonized in the Middle Ages), all these were their creations. The frescoes of the Raphael rooms perfectly depict the world of the contemporary courts that governed the course of this new world and where the great geniuses of the age called home.The cultured conversations fueled by the wine of sumptuous banquets, the statues brought to light by a frenzied passion for excavations, new fashions, and above all new ways of thinking and living, are marvelously recreated by Raphael with the perfect touch of his graceful brush. On this Vatican group tour we had the opportunity to experience this amazing world in the flesh.

Whoever sees the Sistine Chapel through the eyes of Michelangelo, whoever reads in it his thoughts and sentiments, encounters a genius. Who he was, how he lived and what he thought – these were the main themes of our walking tour. Vanessa accompanied us into the great building projects of the Italian Renaissance and together we relived the environment of the Florentine Renaissance and the Papal court in Rome in which Michelangelo created his masterpieces. Before we stopped for lunch in the middle of our tour Vanessa gave us short lessons on the Sistine Chapel and the Last Judgement in a Vatican courtyard. She told us interesting stories about the making of like Last Judgement. Like how Michelangelo depicted himself among the martyrs and used the the Pope’s own Master of Ceremonies, Biagio da Cesena, for Minos the god of the underworld! She also pointed out that if you look closely at the artwork on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel one can see that the figures on the last six frescoes are much larger than those of the first three. This is because after 1 1/2 years of Michelangelo working on the ceiling the Pope ordered him to remove the scaffoldings so he could see his progress thus far. This was also the first time Michaelanglo had a chance to view his work from the ground of the Chapel. He noticed that it was a little difficult to make out his figures so he painted a fewer number of figures and increased their size. The Sistine Chapel and in the Last Judgement speak of Michelangelo and of the Renaissance: and Vanessa helped to clarify how and why these frescoes have redefined not only art, but the way in which we look at the world. My first initial reaction to the Sistine Chapel was a lot like when I saw Mona Lisa – a state of disbelief. When you spend your whole life looking at something on a screen or in a book seeing it in person is surreal.


Our last stop on the walking tour brought us to the heart of the Christian faith, St. Peter’s Basilica. Along the way we discovered an incredible collection of relics and religious tokens that have accumulated here over the course of nearly 2,000 years at the site of St. Peter’s tomb. At the same time we had the chance to admire and understand enchanting works of art such as Michelangelo’s Pietà, a work whose intimate embrace overflows with such tenderness that it can move even the hardest viewer to tears. The masterpieces of Bernini, the great genius of the Italian Baroque, also dominate St. Peter’s, and the spectacular eponymous piazza dazzles with astounding optical effects. As one of the biggest cathedrals in the world it is here that the faithful have gathered for centuries to celebrate the great events of Christianity, from the election of new popes to solemn masses.

Before visiting the Vatican I was told by a number of people that when you pass through the doors you are overwhelmed by a strong sense of religion, since it’s such holy ground. But to be completely honest I didn’t feel that way when touring the Vatican. The outrageous number of people loudly scurrying through the halls detracted from the experience. Plus the Pope wasn’t scheduled to make any appearances in the month of July so we ended up missing him by a day. Oh and don’t even get me started on the hectic frenzy that was the souvenir shop….

While exploring the Vatican was extremely enlightening I would have preferred to see it during the fall, or really anytime other than the height of tourist season. I would also have opted for the 3 hour tour instead of the 5 hour one because as much as I enjoyed visiting the Vatican Museums at the beginning of the tour, by the time we had reach St. Peter’s Basilica my feet ached. With that said, I can’t wait to see it all again under different circumstances.

All Roads Lead to Rome

Tuesday evening – Our first night in Rome

We departed for Rome from Florence via a 4 hour train ride on Tuesday afternoon. On the train we met two girls – both named Brittany – from San Diego who were backpacking across Europe together. They had spent some time in Dublin and even visited Galway! We weren’t surprised to learn that they loved it was much as we did. Then when we arrived at Termini Station in Rome we discovered that the Brittanys were staying at the same hostel we were, The Yellow. 

The Yellow was recommended by a good number of different people we knew who had previously travelled to Rome. Advertised as, “The youth hotel in Rome where you party, relax, explore and can splurge on hotel services with all the hostel fun! Weeeeeeeeeee!” We knew it was going to be a good time. Plus the rooms were an adequate size, had WiFi, and were cleaned everyday. Here are a number of reasons I personally loved The Yellow:

  1. It was located only a few blocks from the Termini – so I didn’t have to lug my monster suitcase very far and we were able to move around the city fairly quickly. 
  2. The hostel bar, The Arcade, served a tasty and cheap breakfast – we ate a hearty breakfast there every morning for under 6 euro, and their Chocolate Chip pancakes are stellar. 
  3. Almost everyone that stays there speaks English – language barriers are the most frustrating thing when traveling abroad so when 99% of the guests and staff speak English you make note of it. 
  4. The Arcade serves Bulmer’s Irish Cider – the best drink on the planet and a rare find outside of the Emerald Isle. Although when bottled it’s not near as good as when it’s on tap, it was still glorious. 
  5. It’s easy to meet people – the hostel is set up so that guests are forced to interact to one another thus making it very easy to make new friends. 

Our first night at The Yellow we met up with the Brittanys for a chill night at The Arcade after a long day of traveling. At The Arcade we had the pleasure of meeting 4 guys from Sydney, Australia who were also backpacking before “they went their separate ways in life” and 3 girls from London who were just on quick vacation together. As well as a student from The University of Alabama who had been, gutsily, traveling Rome alone for about a week after his Barcelona study abroad program ended. Like I’ve said before, meeting new people is one of my favorite things to do so I couldn’t think of a better way to have spent my first night in Rome.

Wednesday – Blast to the Past

Public transportation in Dublin – wonderful!
Public transportation in Paris – not bad!
Public transportation in Rome – avoid if at all possible. 

First of all, I greatly dislike being hot and sweaty. One thing I dislike more than being hot and sweaty is being pressed against other hot and sweaty people on a tiny bus. Same goes for the metro. So if you’re like me, know that when going to Rome you will be miserable for at least 20 minutes every morning when traveling to a site. BUT other than the crowded public transport systems Rome was nothing short of magical.


On Tuesday morning we had planned to visit the Pantheon, but a few wrong turns and a couple miles later we found ourselves at The Roman Forum. The Roman Forum was ancient Rome’s showpiece centre, a grandiose district of temples, basilicas and vibrant public spaces. The site, which was originally an Etruscan burial ground, was first developed in the 7th century BC, growing over time to become the social, political and commercial hub of the Roman empire. Landmark sights include the Arco di Settimio Severo , the Curia , and the Casa delle Vestali. At the Roman Forum entrance we were able to purchase our tickets almost immediately.The tickets granted us access to the forum and the colosseum, helping us to avoid the extremely long colosseum ticket line. Nowadays the ruins are still in impressive condition so stepping into the forum was surreal. We entered the forum at the same time as a tour group and by subtly listening in I learned the story of the founding of Rome.


Rome was founded by twin brothers, Romulus and Remus. Their grandfather was the rightful king of Alba but he had been deposed by his brother. Their mother was supposed to be a virgin priestess of the goddess Vesta, but she got pregnant, some say by Mars, the god of war. Their great-uncle recognized that Romulus and Remus were more than human and attempted to have them killed. The servant entrusted with this task abandoned them by the river Tiber, which was in flood. They were found by a she-wolf who suckled them, and a woodpecker, who fed them. A swineherd later found the babies and brought them up. Romulus and Remus grew up into strong young men, born leaders of the shepherds and outlaws in the surrounding countryside. Remus was captured in a brawl with some of his grandfather’s shepherds. Romulus attempted to rescue his brother, and the presence of twins of about the right age uncovered the secret. With their own followers and their grandfather’s men, they deposed their great-uncle and restored their grandfather to his throne. Romulus and Remus did not want to serve anybody else as king, so they left Alba to found their own city. They chose different sites, and decided to seek omens for which would be better. Remus looked round and saw six vultures, a good omen, whereupon Romulus claimed to have seen twelve, even better. While they were arguing, Remus jumped contemptuously over the walls Romulus had built. Romulus was made even angrier by this, and in a fit of rage, killed his brother.

The tour guide then said that this story has been passed down for centuries and it sounds so absurd because facts have become muddled. For example at the time “she-wolf” was another name for prostitute, so all the ancient depictions of Romulus and Remus being raised by a wolf are misleading.


After exploring the extensive Roman Forum for a few hours, we made our way over to the Colosseum – which according to the same tour guide, “is nothing more than a sports stadium that photographs well. Whereas the Roman Forum was the center of civilization and discovery and should be more highly regarded.” Not bitter at all. I will admit that from the outside the colosseum underwhelms. It’s tallest section is only three levels high (granted each level is probably about 25 feet tall) and you can walk the circumference of the building in about 10 minutes. Most of the building was raided for parts to build other pieces of Rome and Vatican City once the gladiatorial games were ended. At the Colosseum I rented an audio guide for 5 euro. It was a great investment since we had missed the guided tour. Meredith, Whitney, and I had a system in place where I would listen to the audio guide and then recite the more interesting points to them as we walked. By listening to the audio guide I discovered the colosseum was built for


the people of Rome and was free for all citizens. Each Roman had a designated seat depending on their social class: the poor sat up top and the Emperor and Senate sat in the front row. Games typically featured one or many warriors fighting bred or imported animals, but some (the most popular) pitted one gladiator against another. The events were further animated with full sets and the arena was built with trap doors to allow entrants and adversaries to appear in the center of the arena as if by magic. The Romans, keen on building a good narrative for their spectators, often reenacted famous battles or had games centered around current events. When a whale washed up on shore and was the talk of the town, the Emperor had a giant whale built in the center of the arena whose jaws opened to reveal 30 feral bears.

That evening we went to the Trastevere district for dinner at Dar Poeta – the top pizzeria in the area. Trastevere had a young, hip vibe to it with a good number of restaurants to chose from. There were numerous vendors selling handmade crafts along the street. Some of them involved warping metal forks into jewelry or sculptures – something I had never seen before. Plus the prices for the goods weren’t exorbitant, and I was able to get three pairs of handmade earrings for 10 euros each. I wish I could have gotten to spend more time exploring this area!

Me & My Firenze

Day 1

We left Dublin airport for Pisa a little after 1 p.m. and landed at about 4:30 p.m. When we stepped off the plane I felt something I that I hadn’t felt in quite a while – the warmth of the sun. The warm air felt foreign to girls who had spent the past month getting excited whenever the high of the day broke 71 degrees. IMG_2763Since we’re not the type of travelers who pass up the chance to see the big sights, before jumping on the train to Florence from Pisa we took a detour to see the leaning tower – luggage and all. We rolled our luggage through the crowded plaza and took turns guarding the bags while the others took staged pictures. It was a frustrating process trying to get the angle just right, but since we had already paid 12 euro on a cab to get us there we weren’t leaving without some quality pictures. What was interesting was that we were obnoxiously rolling massive suitcases through the crowd, and no one seemed to notice since they were so focused on getting their own perfect picture, with the perfect pose. This was also the first time in a month I had broken a sweat, I’m currently missing the chill of the Dublin air and dreading returning to the scolding heat of a Texas summer. We arrived in Florence at about 9 p.m., and took a taxi from the train station to Hotel San Giovanni. When we walked through the door we took a few moments to let our inner child freak out over the fact that the hotel elevator was similar to the one in the Lizzie McGuire Movie. Not soon afterwards we were beyond thankful for the tiny elevator since it meant that we didn’t have lug our suitcases up 6 flights of stairs to reach the hotel entrance. The hotel is managed by a friendly little Italian man who couldn’t have been more excited to give us maps of Florence and tell us all about the history of the hotel. IMG_5778 Even though the original 16th century frescos on the ceiling of our room were cool, the view from our window onto the Duomo was unmatched. However one thing that we’re all still trying to acclimate too, is the fact that Italians don’t believe in air condition. So our room was a tad warm at night, despite turning the fan on full blast. We hadn’t eaten since the Dublin airport, so we quickly dropped off our luggage and made a beeline for the door to find somewhere to have a late dinner. Osteria Santo Spirito came highly recommended so we headed there and got seated rather quickly. After trying their amazing apple balsamic vinegar we had to fight the urge to eat the whole basket of bread before our food arrived. We each ordered a 3 euro glass of white wine and ordered 3 dishes to share: their famous Gnocchi Gratin Cheese Soft Scent of Truffle; Spaghetti with Guitar, Garlic, Oil, and Chili; and Pappa al Pomodoro. By far, the best Italian food I’ve ever had in my life. The ingredients were fresh, full of flavor, and even though we cleaned our plates we didn’t feel gorged afterwards. Olive Garden will never be the same. In Ireland, Ella, who had travelled to Florence before, told us that when it comes to gelato “there is a greenish yellow place and a pink place across the bridge. Everyone goes to the pink place, but the yellow place is better.” That evening we found the greenish yellow place and for only 1.50 euros I got a little taste of heaven.

Day 2

During our second day on Florence we quickly remembered how important it is to stay hydrated, our poor little bodies still aren’t used to the blaring sun. We began our morning by eating croissants from a café near our hotel and decided to spend our afternoon at the Palazzo Pitti, where we saw the Boboli Gardens, the Porcelain Museum, The Costume Gallery, and The Silver Museum. DCIM107GOPRO My biggest regret once arriving in Florence wasn’t pre-booking a tour of the Tuscan countryside, but the Boboli Gardens were a nice compromise. Once I was in the garden I forgot I was surrounded by the hustle and bustle of Florence because I was enamored by it’s natural beauty. The entrance of the Porcelain museum is located up on a hill that gives visitors a breathtaking view of the Italian countryside, and it was everything I imagined it would be. Walking down the gravel garden paths underneath the trees surrounded by old architecture was like a scene from a movie. Like Glendalough and the Wicklow mountains, no picture can capture the Italy’s true natural beauty. The Costume Gallery was interesting because it showcased the wardrobe of some Italy’s fashion icons from different generations-and no surprise-Italians have always been very well dressed. Meredith, Whitney, and I laughed when we say that certain pieces from decades ago resembled outfits we saw in the window of Gucci on our way to the garden. IMG_0679For lunch we went to Gusta Pizza, a small pizza place where the pies are served in the shape of a heart. Rightfully so, because their flavorful pizza stole mine. At Gusta Pizza we met some students from Wash U in St. Louis Missouri who had been studying abroad in Florence for the past few weeks. They told us that we should make a point to go to Uncle Jimmy’s – an American college themed bar where most American students will hang out. After lunch we went to the Uffizi, because even though we didn’t have pre-purchased tickets, we heard that if you go after 4 the wait won’t be as long. We arrived at 4:30 p.m. and only had to wait about 15 minutes in line to buy our ticket, but unlike the Lourve they don’t given student discounts. In the Uffizi we saw work by Michelangelo and Botticelli’s famous masterpiece Birth of Venus. Plus I know I would’ve made Hannah, my freshman year art history TA, cry tears of joy if she could have seen me recognize Madonna with the Long Neck and Judith Slaying Holofernes. After the Uffizi we had dinner at Trattoria 13 Gobbi. We knew it had to be good when we got there and the line to be seated was out the door. Thankfully even though we were a few minutes late they still honored our 9 o’clock reservation. Famous for their Rigatoni, our waiter grew to love us when we made our order simple by ordering 3 Rigatoni’s and the house wine. As you can assume, it was delicious. Then because they were a little understaffed and we had to wait a little longer, our waiter brought us chocolate cake on the house. I genuinely love the Italians. One thing we all noticed about the Italians is how hard they try to communicate with us when they don’t speak English and we ask them for help. On a number of occasions we’ve asked a local for directions and although there is a language barrier they are very expressive and use their hands to send us in at least the right direction. Meredith, Whitney, and I are very appreciative of their effort because really all we need is a few key words.


We woke up bright and early to get in line to climb the Duomo, all 463 steps to the top. Although it was quite the climb, the view from the top was more than worth it. We’re just happy we were one of the first groups to go up in the morning before it got really hot. On the way to the top you’re in close quarters with a lot of people on staircases so climbing up in the afternoon with people who had been outside and in the sun all day wouldn’t have been ideal if you catch my drift. We grabbed a quick bite at a café near the Duomo and then, thanks for Whitney’s extensive research, went to the best market in town. Since Florence is known for it’s high quality of leather each of us had our minds on getting a beautiful leather purse. Vendors tried to entice our attention as we walked through the market since most of them were selling the same goods. Whitney had briefed Meredith and I on the rules of the market before we went and one of them was, “Don’t believe the price on the tag, they’ll almost always go down.” As we walked, I kept picking up the same bag at each stand we stopped at. After about the 4th time examining the same bag, Meredith and Whitney told me to get it. It was marked at 60 euro but by the time I left the vendor had knocked it all the way down to 25 euro because they know if you’re not buying the bag from them, you’re buying it from someone else. So after some pursuing and persistent haggling each one of us is leaving Florence with a beautiful leather bag for less than 25 euro. IMG_5793We dropped off our market goods at the hotel and left to go to lunch at All’antico Vinaio – the best sandwich shop in the city. Luckily we had the lowdown on how to order, you ask for Fennel Salami and say “Make it how you like it!” Then when they finish you say, “Add some balsamic vinegar.” They’ll tell you no, but you tell them that you insist. I followed all the directions and at the end of the exchange I was eating the best sandwich in the history of sandwiches. Do I know what exactly was on it? I could guess spicy eggplant spread, but other than that I’ll never be able to tell you. DCIM107GOPROAfter lunch we were all feeling a nap coming on, so we returned to the hotel for a quick break. Then at about 6:30 p.m. We left to hike to Pizazza de Michaelangelo to see the sunset. Like everything else in Florence, climbing a lot of steps was involved. As we grabbed a spot atop the crowded lookout we toasted little bottles of Prosecco to tackling another European city together. As the sun was setting, I started snapping pictures like crazy. Then I took a step back and decided to put the camera down and just enjoy the moment. If it speaks to how good Osteria Santo Spirito is when we went back for dinner only a few nights later. I don’t know how they did it, but it was even better than before.

Day 4-Morning

DCIM107GOPRO Before we left for Rome in the afternoon, we were determined to see Michaelangelo’s David. Since we didn’t think to reserve tickets in advance to The Academia we were forced to get to the museum at around 8:15 a.m. and wait in the long “unreserved” line. We didn’t get through the doors until about 9:15 a.m., since they only let in visitors every 15 minutes. Even though it was a long wait, seeing David in person was worth it – the sculpture really is majestic. Now to catch the train to Roma!

Passport to Paris – Part 2

The next morning we woke up around 8:30 a.m., ate a sufficient breakfast at the hostel and then made our way to the site I was most excited to see – The Catacombs.The Catacombs of Paris are underground ossuaries in Paris,France. Located south of the former city gate, the ossuaries hold the remains of about six million people and fill a renovated section of caverns and tunnels that are the remains of historical stone mines, giving it its reputation as “The World’s Largest Grave”..creepy right?? It was quite a long trip to the Catacombs and we decided to walk in order to see more of the city. Along the way we printed our boarding passes at a cyber café, stumbled upon The Luxembourg Palace, and passed The Observatory.


The Luxembourg Palace gardens were expansive and inviting. Like the garden the day before, it was more like a public park. Families with young children pushed the boats in the fountain, and each boat had the flag from a different country. I thought this was really neat because when the kids went to go pick out a boat to play with from the little stand they were giddy to choose the one with their home country’s colors. I was surprised that there wasn’t a boat out on the water that was flying an American flag, but Whitney and Meredith wisely refused to let me go and rent my own little toy boat. As we walked further through the garden we saw tennis courts, grassy lawns were locals were picnicking and playing Frisbee, and even permanent concrete Ping-Pong tables. As we walked we talked about how amazing it is that Paris is able to preserve so much of its original architecture and just convert it to meet a more modern need.

Right before the Catacombs we passed The Observatory. God bless Whitney and Meredith and their ability to tolerate my ramblings about outer space. The Paris Observatory is the foremost astronomical observatory of France, and one of the largest astronomical centers in the world. I was pretty disappointed we couldn’t tour it, as Whitney would say, “Nerdy Birdy.”

At about noon we reached the famous catacombs and I was ecstatic-until I saw that the line to enter stretched around the whole block. We learned that the wait to just get in the door would be about 3 hours, time we didn’t have to spare before our flight that evening. So with a heavy-heart I snapped a picture of the entrance and we made our way to the metro to hit up one of the more popular shopping districts near the Bastille. Funny thing is the only shopping we did that afternoon was in the local patisseries, and after filling our stomachs with sweet treats we decided to give the Louvre a second go.

IMG_5698We took the metro to the museum, we’re pretty much pros at this point, and arrived at the Carrousel du Louvre. Where for the first time in my life I had to pay to use the restroom. Advertised as “the cleanest bathroom” in Paris I was happy that for a 1.50 euros the saying seemed to be true.

Surprisingly we didn’t have to wait too long to pass through security and enter the museum, most likely because we went in the underground entrance from the metro instead of trying to buy our tickets at the above ground booth. Our day got even better when we found out that we had free entrance to the museum when we used our University of College Dublin IDs. Felt good to keep those 12 euros in my pocket.


The main draw of the museum is the Mona Lisa, and like every other person in The Lourve it was our first stop. The size of the Mona Lisa was a tad underwhelming, but still, it was cool to see something in person I had been learning about since grade school. After snapping a “soft smile” selfie with Mona we perused the rest of the museum.

I’m the type of person who reads everything in museums so luckily for Whitney and Meredith’s sake most of the descriptions were in French. My freshman year of college I took Art History, and I found the required class to be a little dull. However, seeing paintings and sculptures I had studied in person sparked my interest to refresh my memory on the subject. I was impressed with my ability to still recognize certain works of art, so Mom and Dad, you’re getting your money’s worth with my education.

One of the cooler facts about the Louvre I learned (when overhearing a private tour) was in the basement of the museum where remnants of the original castle structure are displayed. Turns out the Louvre influenced Walt Disney’s design of Cinderella’s castle, making each of us a little more cultured than originally thought.

IMG_5700We spent our last few hours in Paris dining at the wonderful Laduree -it’s mint green and gold color scheme make it wonderfully adorable. It’s literally a tea party for grown adults. Each of us ordered great sandwiches, the best signature house tea (what Christmas would taste like), and then capped off the late lunch with macaroons. I ordered Orange Blossom, Rose Petal, Marie Antoinette, and Strawberry Candy Incroyable. Both the orange blossom and rose petal macaroons tasted like I swallowed a bath and body works product, but I could have eaten about 5 more of the Strawberry Candy Incroyables. I felt like Blair Waldorf from the show Gossip Girl, since Laduree is her favorite restaurant in the show. Also: We learned to ask for a “craft” of water if you don’t want to be charged 8 euro for a bottle of Evian.

At around 7 p.m. we bid adieu to Paris and left for the airport to take a plane back to Dublin. We prepared to answer the slew of questions we were inevitably going to get from our classmates and professor, because we kind of just got up and left the country on a whim instead of travelling to Bray with them. Luckily Whitney bought a few macaroons to ease some of the pain.

I know I’ll return to France soon since, despite my Dad’s insistence, I didn’t have a chance to make it Normandy. Nor did I get to see Disneyland Paris. I’m very thankful to have had the chance to travel to the city even though it was just for two days. It was a good test run for Italy since we learned how to communicate with locals despite the language barrier and how to navigate a new place when WiFi isn’t steadily available.

Passport to Paris – Part 1

We landed at Beauvais Tillé or BVA, a small airport about an hour outside of Paris. Thankfully Whitney has an international credit card with a chip, because all of the ticket machines only accepted that type of card. The ability to buy our tickets from the kiosk saved us about 30 minutes of waiting in line to buy them. On the bus to Porte Maillot I met another American student, Amanda, who was backpacking all over Europe. Before I passed out from exhaustion I found out that she was from a small university in Colorado, and was travelling alone. She had bounced across the continent catching rides from city to city through an app called BlaBlacar and told us she would be sleeping in BVA airport since she was only in Paris for the day. I told her she was brave, and travelling alone was something I could never do. We invited her to come along with us on our Paris adventure, but once we arrived at the train station she disappeared to do her own thing.

We stepped off the bus and into the cool Paris air and realized, we had no idea which way to start walking. Luckily Amanda was around long enough to lead us into Congress Center Porte Maillot where we were able to connect to WiFi. I’m thankful that the night before we left Meredith’s dad complied a two-day itinerary for us to follow so we weren’t overwhelmed upon arrival. Since we didn’t have a hostel booked, we just started making our way towards the first stop on the list Tuileries Garden.

DCIM107GOPRONone of us had gotten much sleep on the plane so trudging into the city with our backpacks seemed like a daydream. But we snapped back into reality when we caught our first glimpse of the Arc de Triomphe welcoming in us into the city. That’s when I looked at Meredith and Whitney with wide eyes and said, “Y’all we’re in freakin’ Paris.”

We passed shops and cafes just trying to take it all in. We passed Laduree vowing to return for a few of their world-renowned macaroons as well as the original Louis Vuitton store (which had a line outside to get in.) When people describe Paris, “beautiful” is an understatement. No matter which way you turn each building looks like the original style, unlike Dublin whose cityscape blends old and modern architecture.
IMG_5649When we finally reached the Pont des Arts we all saw the Eiffel tower, standing in the distance. Naturally we snapped a few pictures and the continued making our way to the Tuileries Garden. On the way we passed the remnants of the old love lock bridge. By the time we reached the Tuileries Garden we were all starving, chilly, and in desperate need of caffeine. Before I embarked for Paris my friend Rachel raved about the crepes, so my lunch consisted of a chocolate and banana sweet crepe and diet coke. Although it wasn’t the most nutritious choice when I ate the crepe I started tearing up a bit. Perhaps the tears were a result of sleep deprivation and hunger, but regardless it was pretty dang good.

I expected the Tuileries Garden to be similar to Powerscourt Estate so I was pleasantly surprised that this garden wasn’t so much of a garden and more of a public park. Couples were picnicking, children were kicking around a soccer ball, and numerous people were just sitting in lawn chairs reading a book. We continued to walk through the garden until we reached The Louvre.

From my friends accounts I was expecting to immediately fall “in love with The Louvre” but my first encounter with the museum was less than ideal. Along the walkways surrounding The Louvre as well as on the museum grounds themselves pushy peddlers will approach you pushing you to buy a selfie stick, miniature Eiffel tower, or one of the 50 Eiffel tower keychains they keep on a big ring. There are literally hundreds of these men in the city, scouring out tourists in popular spots. You always knew when they were approaching by the clinking of their key rings.


Little did we know he was a con artist.

Once we pushed past all the peddlers we had the opportunity to take pictures in the famous “touching the point of the Louvre” post. We were clearly struggling to get the camera angle justtttt right, so a street photographer approached and offered to show us the right place to stand. He seemed friendly enough and his service was taking Polaroid pictures. Initially Whitney asked him to take a Polaroid of her by the Louvre pyramid, and then we all gathered for a few group shots. We were expecting the 5 polaroids to be about 5 euros each or so because we hadn’t seen the prices displayed on his camera case. So when we told him we had taken enough pictures he said, “Okay that will be 280 euros.” All of our mouths hit the ground. No way. I just wanted to walk away from the scam, but we ended up giving him 50 euros to give us the pictures and leave us alone. Needless to say I wasn’t a big fan of the Louvre at the time, but at least we got a few cute pricey pictures from the experience.

To top it all off, we found out soon afterwards that The Louvre isn’t even open on Tuesdays, so to see the museum we would have to return the next day.

DCIM107GOPROFrom The Louvre we walked along the the River Seine to see Notre Dame. The architecture was breathtaking, the gargoyles were unreal, and the 8 year-old in me criticized Walt Disney’s The Hunchback of Notre Dame for not doing it justice. Like most attractions in Paris the line to get into the cathedral was hours long and time to spare was the one luxury we didn’t have on this quick trip.

We then crossed the Seine to the Latin Quarter, which was another interesting experience. Located in the heart of tourist central, the quarter is filled with tacky gift shops and mediocre restaurants competing with one another’s prices. Each had it’s own variation of a 3-course meal for 12.99 euro. At this point it was really pressing that we find WiFi to book a hostel for the night, so we stopped at one of the French restaurants in the quarter. Even though we had to deal with a rude waiter and a lukewarm plate of overpriced mussels, we had successful booked three beds at The Louvre Youth Hostel.

Since we booked our beds so last minute we were assigned to a 5th floor 6-bed all female dorm room. When we got into the room we laughed because like the rest of the morning it seemed like we brought the luck of the Irish with us from Dublin. The only unoccupied beds were up a fireman’s ladder in a dark loft. To make the most of an unusual situation, we lovingly dubbed the loft “the treehouse.” And took much needed power naps. This was the turning point in day one, because even though the morning was trying to say the least, the rest of the day couldn’t have been more spectacular.

11536098_10207010319207312_4405005585866343546_nWe jumped up from our naps at around 6:15 p.m. feeling refreshed. We headed downstairs were the hostel’s very helpful receptionist mapped out directions to each place we hoped to visit during our time there. We heard from numerous people that the Eiffel tower’s lightshow after sundown is nothing short of amazing. After seeing person after person stop in a local patisserie in Montmartre, Ronde des Pains, and come out with baguettes we figured they must be something special as well. So we decided to buy some baguettes and have a picnic in front of the Eiffel tower. We left Ronde de Pains with two baguettes and a meringue as big as my face. Then we took the metro to the tower and purchased a meat tray, brie, and a bottle of champagne at a nearby market. We set up our makeshift dinner on the tower lawn and cheered to making it to Paris, walking 13.1 miles, and surviving a crazy day – and I got another chocolate and banana crepe because YOLO. We met another group of 3 girls from the states who were travelling together to celebrate finishing grad school. They were excited when we told them we were going to Italy in a few short days, they said Florence and Rome are absolutely breathtaking. Even though my Dublin adventure will be coming to an end soon, another one is about to begin!

Also PSA: The peddlers have no limits, when we were picnicking in front of the tower guys kept coming by trying to sell beer, champagne, and wine. There’s no way to ignore them, but they’re harmless once you firmly tell them “No” a few times. #struggs

Prequel to Paris

August 2, 2006 – The day Lauren Conrad chose love over a summer internship in Paris on the Season 1 finale of The Hills. It was also the day I called LC’s sanity into question, because even at a young age I knew that when given the opportunity you ALWAYS choose Paris. Which is why, this past Monday evening I made the spur of the moment decision to book the next flight to the land of baguettes and cheese.


On Monday afternoon our group had our final tour of Dubin with the great Garvan – it was titled Stories and Songs and it was a grand time. After the tour we all headed over to J.W. Sweetman for a pint and some wings. At dinner Brad began to talk to us about the concept of spontaneity and how most people never regularly travel outside a 5 mile radius of their home. The conversation then turned to how we were choosing to spend our last two free days in Dublin. I was originally planning on just going to the Dublin Zoo, but the preluding conversation sparked an urge to do something more exhilarating and worthwhile. Interestingly Meredith and Whitney had been thinking the same thing, so we rushed home to look up flights for the next day to Scotland. Our original plan was to spend our days off in Edinburgh, but then we got to thinking that if we’re gonna fly out of the country we’re really going to have to go for it. We found that London was too pricey, Barcelona was too far, but Paris…Paris could work.

After 3 incredibly stressful hours of searching for the right flights, by 1 a.m. Whitney and I had confirmed seats on a 6:15 a.m. RyanAir flight to Paris. However, Meredith’s booking didn’t process correctly so she wasn’t sure whether or not she had a seat on the flight. After calling the Dublin airport information desk we discovered that the RyanAir ticket desk didn’t open until 4 a.m. so we couldn’t check the flight list. Since it was about 2 a.m. by the time we called we decided we only had one option – pack our bags and catch a cab at 3:30 a.m. to head to the airport. When we arrived, the Dublin airport was already bustling. Who would of guessed there would’ve been so much traffic at 4 a.m. on a Tuesday. We rushed to the RyanAir customer service desk to see if Meredith would be making the flight to Paris with Whitney and I. Turns out her seat wasn’t processed, so Meredith did one of the most gutsy things I’ve ever seen anyone do, look at the customer service rep and say, “Get me to Paris!” Luckily there was a seat available and (finally) with tickets in hand we cruised through security and into the terminal.

It was about 5:15 a.m. when I thought, “Maybe we should tell Brad about this…” and the email he received went a little something like this:

After chatting with you about traveling outside of our comfort zone at J.W. Sweetman, Meredith, Whitney, and I really decided to make the most of our time left in Europe. With that said I am writing you from the Dublin airport, because we’re flying to Paris and will be coming back late tomorrow night. 
Our parents are aware of our plans and excited for us to see more of the world while overseas. Let me know if you would like me to forward you the information about where we’ll be staying while we’re in Paris since I know you wanted our Galway information.
See you on Thursday for class!

He took the news surprisingly well.

So then at around 6:15 a.m. we departed for Paris – without a wink of sleep, without a plan, without a hostel booked, and without a care in the world. All we knew was that at 9 a.m. we would be landing in one of the most beautiful cities in the world and we had 2 days to make the most of it. For the first time in my life I trusted that you don’t always need a plan. And that sometimes you just need to breathe, trust, let go, and see what happens.

3 Day Start-Up Dublin

This past weekend marked the pinnacle of our study abroad program – 3 Day StartUp Dublin. 3DS is a group of businesses, government agencies, university faculties, and students striving to make a change and bring social entrepreneurship opportunities to the world. They believe that social entrepreneurship brings about innovative solutions to societal problems and that the answer lies in collaboration and innovative thinking. “3 Day Startup Weekend” is a 72-hour learning-by-doing workshop that teaches entrepreneurial skills to students in an extreme hands-on environment. 3 Day Startup focuses on social entrepreneurship – technologies, businesses and ideas that bring about social change or impact. The idea of the program simple: start a company over the course of three days.


Meredith, Rohan, and I kicked off 3DS weekend by grabbing lunch at Pepper Pot Cafe before the first official 3DS event that evening. PSA: Pepper Pot is home to the best raspberry jam in the world. I’m currently trying to finish a jar before I leave in just a few short days. After our late lunch we made the trek to Gravity Centre – a creative flexible workspace – and our gracious hosts for the weekend.

When we arrived at 5:30 p.m. we had the opportunity to meet other participants who we could potentially be working with over the course of the weekend. They were all current or recently graduated students, old and young, who had amazing ideas. Some students were from University College Dublin whereas others had travelled in from Wexford, Dalkey, and even India.

At 6 p.m. we wasted no time kickstarting the program, we broke out into small groups and began brainstorming ideas. Before we started the program Brad had told us that the European students were excited to have American students participating with them because we brought qualities and traits that they don’t usually strongly exhibit. Within the first 30 seconds of working with my small group I found that one of those qualities is the ability to facilitate. I grabbed a pen and paper and started giving the whirlwind of ideas we had some flow and direction. The ideas we generated ranged from creating affordable virtual reality education programs to developing urban microfarms that could employ and feed Dublin’s large homeless population. Some of our ideas were off the wall because in this module no idea could be criticized, it could only be met with, “Yes and….” It was a great experience because since there was no criticism no one had any hesitation when presenting an idea! Once we had about 3 pages of ideas, we had the difficult decision our narrowing it down to two ideas. These two ideas would then be presented to the group in the form of 1-minute pitches. After some constructive debate we settled on virtual reality education and a youth rewards card that would make youths engage in more civic activities.

At the end of this module we heard 11 student generated pitches, and then held a blind vote to see which 5 would be worked on over the weekend. The selected pitches were:

Problem: People facing mental health issues lack the funds and access to receive affordable care
Solution: MyMoodandMe empowers people with mental health issues to complete day-to-day tasks as a way to give counseling and advice

Problem: Young adults in Dublin struggle to find cost-efficient living arrangements while elderly individuals struggle to maintain an independent lifestyle in their home alone
Solution: Elderhomeshare is a service that connects elderly homeowners with home-seekers

Problem: A lack of civic engagement among young people continues to phase Ireland
Solution: EarnIT uses business incentives to promote civic engagement with a reward system for Irish youth

Problem: Communication between parents often suffers or becomes hostile as the result of a divorce or separation, causing a child’s well-being to suffer.
Solution: LYNKiD provides a method of streamlined communication for separated parents regarding the well-being of their child

Give A Day
Problem: Charities need more funds to fulfill their missions, but individual-level fund-raising is limited by a range of practical and social constraints
Solution: Ethereal suggests a new giving model by re-routing business costs (like consultancy fees, for example) straight to a charity

IMG_5769During Group Formation I chose to work with the Elderhomeshare founder, Saoirse Sheridan. During the founders elaboration she emphasized that she needed someone who was good at market research and strategy, so I thought it was a good fit for me and her idea seemed like the most plausible of the five. Plus, I was inspired by her passion and devotion to her project since she is currently living with an elderly resident herself. Recently, in an unfortunate turn of events, Saoirse was evicted from a flat she had been renting for 15 years. Currently working as an intern she found it much more economically friendly to rent a room in an elderly person’s home since they weren’t using the space. Her presence provides the elder with casual social interaction and someone who can do the “heavy lifting” i.e. taking out the rubbish. At the end of group formation, we were a small (but mighty) team of 4 – myself, Saoirse, fellow UT student-Emily Kendrick, and entrepreneur- Liz Hickey.

During our group brain dump it was easy to see that every member of the team brought something to the table which made me excited to begin collaboration the next morning.


We arrived at Gravity Centre at 9 a.m. and were delighted to see that Roasted Brown Cafe had catered a lovely yogurt, fruit, and granola breakfast. After we got our plates Saoirse walked us through her vision for Elderhomeshare. However, I was suddenly put under quite a bit of pressure when Saoirse announced she would invest a large portion of her savings to fund Elderhomeshare if this weekend was successful.

After an hour or two of critiquing Saorise’s plan and polishing her marketing strategy we had to do something that pushed me way out of my comfort zone – gather customer feedback from the streets. Even though I thought it would be much more effective to spend our 3 hours of “customer discovery” drafting surveys, the 3DS coordinator insisted we use the face-to-face approach. First of all, our target demographic is the elderly – one of the most standoffish target markets. Second, I know how much I loathe when strangers approach me with interview questions on the street. I strongly believe we were set up to fail. Standing outside of Dunnes, I discovered that the elderly can be quite deceiving. When they really don’t want to talk to you they are surprisingly quick and agile!  Even though there were a good number of humiliating rejections my team was able to gather some quality feedback on the idea of Elderhomeshare.

LIMG_5770uckily around 2 p.m. we were able to nurse our wounds with lunch at The Workshop. It’s a hidden gem on the River Liffey, because it has a quaint pub atmosphere but I was able to enjoy a fabulous three course meal.

When we returned to Gravity Centre after lunch we were hit with another brick, we had 1 1/2 hours to create and presentation and a 5-minute pitch. Even with my experience drafting presentations for TexasMedia, I was at a loss on where to begin. Once we were given this assignment I immediately felt anxious because I’m a neurotic perfectionist. I don’t work well under deadlines since I hate turning in/presenting something I feel is incomplete or sub par. Thus, in an effort to avoid having a mental breakdown my first step was the most insignificant task – picking a Google Slide layout from Slide Carnival. Emily and I then worked tirelessly trying to convey our idea in the most effective way possible. Even though this was just our intermediate pitch, I didn’t want to be surpassed by the other groups. When the timer sounded that we were out of time to prepare our pitch, I was only just satisfied with our work. I knew there were some major holes in our case that could be prodded during the Q & A section. Saorsie did a good job presenting, but during the presentation I realized that although we had introduced our problem, solution, target market, competition, and media strategy we were missing one key thing – the description of the product we are selling, Elderhomeshare. Talk about a d’oh moment. Once the pitches were over it is safe to say we were all feeling pretty braindead, so I jotted a few notes about what I noticed and we all called it a night.

Sunday – Pitch Day

IMG_5767Quite possibly the most trying day of my life. After leaving Gravity a little after 10:30 p.m. and getting back to UCD at about 11:00 p.m. I wasn’t the most thrilled about being back at the program at 9:30 a.m. Like the day we were working under a deadline on our presentations and pitches, except this time they had to be flawless since a panel of judges would be watching them. When I arrived I was already feeling the heat because even though we had a group of 4, only 2 of us really knew how to use Google Slides. Our group had just rested into a steady work flow when the 3DS director approached and asked if she could make some recommendations of things she noticed last night. Expecting only a few minor tweaks, I was in disbelief when she walked away and her criticisms resulted in a remodel of our entire deck. As if I wasn’t stressed out enough, one of the more impressive mentors, Nicolas Heinze gave us input that resulted in even more drastic changes. Plus some of his advice countered what the 3DS director had advised us to do. So now instead of a 10 page deck, we were pushing 20. I could feel like the clocking ticking down as I stared at this daunting task in front of me. With the stress of the project, the detrimental amount of coffee in my system, and the incredibly overheated workspace a perfect storm had been created and for the first time in my collegiate career I experienced a minor panic attack.

I often joke that my impossibly high standards will one day cause a mental breakdown, and this weekend I reached that point. I walked outside to compose myself, I leaned against the wall and tried to ease my mind with the advice Brad had given me earlier in the weekend – “you need to be okay with turning in the best you can do for what you are given.” I then counted to 10, drank some water, stepped back inside, delegated more tasks than I had before, and got back to work. Brad saw that I was clearly distraught so I told him my predicament regarding incorporation of the conflicting advice. He reminded me that advice is “just opinions from stupid humans” and not everyone is always right. It was our team’s judgement call to decide which direction we wanted to go and pleasing other people shouldn’t be a factor.

Luckily lunch was served soon after my minor meltdown, and a tasty chicken dish from Little Ass Burrito Bar was my saving grace. With a full stomach and clear mind we tackled our presentation deck (with time to spare) and perfected our pitch. Later that afternoon Saorise knocked the pitch out of the park and the panel of judges seemed impressed by the work we did.

During this program I was faced rejection, was challenged and pushed to my limits…and you know what? It didn’t kill me. I’m a stronger individual now and I’m beyond grateful to have had the opportunity to work with such a bright group of students and network with accomplished professionals. Brad told us that the Gravity Centre Board of Directors was ecstatic with the work we did and he’s been contacted by numerous groups asking to set up meetings to discuss the event. I’m excited to have been part of the team that pioneered the first 3DS event in Dublin and I cannot wait to see what comes of it.

Check out the event website!