This was NOT what I expected to wake up to when I opened my email on the morning of May 30:
“30TH May 2013
Audrey, a chara,
I am delighted to inform you that due to another candidate’s withdrawal the Ireland-United States Commission for Educational Exchange has decided to offer you a Gaeltacht Summer Award.”
(To be honest, after I picked my jaw up off the floor, I’m told they could hear me squealing in Donegal)
A real surprise
When I applied for one of the Gaeltacht Summer Awards back in April of 2013, I knew it was something of a long shot.
For one thing, The Ireland-United States Commission for Education Exchange, which sponsors the awards, quite rightly gives precedence to people who have never been on a Gaeltacht program before. As regular readers of this blog know, I spent a fortnight at Oideas Gael in Donegal in 2008.
When I was notified in mid-May that I was not being offered an award, but had been made an alternate, I was disappointed, but not really surprised (and actually rather pleased to be considered as an alternate).
I pretty much gave up on the idea of going to Ireland this year at that point, as I had no idea how many alternates they might have chosen, or how likely it was that someone who had gotten an award would be unable to take advantage of it. I figured the odds were pretty slim.
I almost didn’t open the email
On the day the awardees were to be announced, May 30, I almost didn’t open the email titled “Gaeltacht Summer Award!” I thought it would just be an open note of congratulations listing the awardees.
I figured that I might actually know some of the awardees, however (the world of Irish learners is an amazingly small one), and should congratulate them personally, so I opened it and got the surprise of my life.
A whirlwind of preparation
Thus began a whirlwind six weeks of preparation. You’d be amazed at how much there is to do when you’re planning to spend a month in another country, leaving your family behind to cope with the things you usually do!
Fortunately, I had checked my passport before I applied for the award, so I knew that was in order (your passport must be valid for at least six months AFTER your visit to Ireland).
Still, there was the matter of arranging my flights, obtaining health insurance (an important detail…your personal health insurance may not cover you in another country, or may cover you only in very limited circumstances), ordering currency from my bank, etc.
On the home front, I needed to make sure my husband knew important things such as how I keep the books, when certain bills needed to be paid, what to do if our daughter or one of the animals were to get sick, where to buy pet food, etc.
And in the middle of all that came a planned family road trip to the Pacific Northwest…a week visiting family and more than 2000 miles of driving!
The preparations are done now, though, and all that’s left to do is to head off for the San Francisco Airport very early on Wednesday morning, July 10, for the first leg of my journey.
The goal of the journey
If you follow this blog, you may have read my post of January, 2013, entitled “Fluency: What is it and when do I get it?” (If you haven’t read it, please do, especially if you’re a language learner yourself! It talks about issues a lot of language learners struggle with).
I have a very good understanding of spoken Irish. I have a good grasp of the grammar, and read the language well. But like many learners, especially those who, like me, are mostly self-taught, I lag in the speaking department.
My goal for the coming month is to bring my level of spoken Irish up to the same standard as my understanding of the language. In short, I hope to reach a standard that I consider to be true fluency.
So what about the blog?
I won’t be writing while I’m in Ireland…aside from the fact that I don’t want to lug along a laptop (I’m already planning to carry my smallest lap harp…one must have priorities!), I plan to use English as little as possible while I’m there.
The blog, however, will continue as usual. I write these posts several weeks in advance (usually there’s an eight-week buffer), so I’ve got plenty of material to keep you entertained while I’m gone!
In addition, Eoin is working on organizing some guest writers, to answer some of the questions you’ve been asking about life in Ireland.
When I get back, I know I’ll have a lot more to share!
Are you interested in studying in Ireland next year?
Applications for the Gaeltacht Summer Awards usually open in early spring. These awards are open to U.S. citizens who are either studying or teaching the Irish language, and will pay for up to six weeks of study in a Gaeltacht region.