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European City Getaways: Paris

Paris is regarded as one of the most beautiful cities in not only Europe, but the world. A 2-hour flight from most European city capitals, here’s an essential overview on how to capture the city in 3-4 days with an overview of some of the must see and spectacular sights of the city. Also included is some useful advice on how to navigate around the city, with tips on how to minimize expense for those seeking to explore on a budget.

#1 Sacre-Coeur/Montmartre/Moulin Rouge

First port of call for all visitors to the city should be the Montmartre region, especially for those whom fly into Charles de Gaulle.

Sacre-Coer is a free visit trip around the church, with mass frequently offered. I opted for the hike to the very top, all 350 steps.   These steps are a struggle but the view from the top is mesmerizing, I’d go as far to suggest the best of Paris. Entry is €6.

Montmartre is the district of Paris wherein you can find Moulin Rouge within a walking distance. A tourist hotspot, but also a tourist trap. I was warned before the trip to mind my belongings, and of all places visited, I felt my personal belongings were most at threat here. Walking around the streets in Montmartre was without doubt a highlight. It felt like the real Paris, with small intimidating restaurants. Starting your break away in this region is highly recommended.

#2 Eiffel Toweref

Well you have to go really, don’t you! A sight from every angle once within the city. In fact, it is very difficult to take an outdoor image without the backdrop of the tower.

My plan of action for this tourist attraction was to walk up to the 2nd floor (€5 admission fee) and then get a lift to the top (€6 fee). Direct elevators to the top are possible but at a further expense and with a lengthy queue. Stairwells are actually very quite and not much of a struggle to hike. The biggest struggle I encountered was tackling the ascend in the midday heat. Through this path you can also fully appreciate the structure. I downloaded some great free audioguides to listen up upon ascending the tower which greatly added to the experience.

#3 Palace of Versailles

Vast. I was told that this is a must see for my trip, and I would tend to agree. That said, depending on the number of days you have in Paris, the palace and gardens of Versailles requires a full day excursion. I grabbed a train from the city out at €3 each way. Such is the scale of the palace, I only managed to take in the gardens and out houses, at a cost of €7, however EU citizens can gain entry for free on days when the water shows are not on. A little tip I would give is to invest time exploring the gardens, which stretch as far as the eye can see. The groundskeepers and maidens gardens are particularly pretty and secluded from tourists. When planning in advance, it is important to note that most of Versailles is not open on a Monday.

Tip: Under 26 and hold an EU Passport? Get in for Free! Just bring your Passport along with you!

#4 Musee d’Orsay/Louvre

The final two highlights of Musee d’Orsay, The Louvre and Notre Dame can all be done on the same day and are all within walking distance of each-other. My recommendation would be to go to Notre Dame in the morning, Musee d’Orsay in the afternoon and then save the Louvre until the evening (Note it is open until 9:45 pm on a Wednesday and Friday).

Musee d’Orsay was my personal favourite of the two, with a much nicer layout. The Louvre is horribly laid out and quite frustrating. That said, if one was pushed for time I would recommend Musee d’Orsay. Art lovers should be directed to Musee d’Orsay, tourists looking for selfies with the Mona Lisa should be directed to the Louvre.

Tip: Under 25 and hold an EU Passport? Get in for Free! Just bring your Passport along with you!

#5 Notre Dame

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Navigation throughout the heart of Paris can be guided with the aid of the River Seine. At the most easterly point of the city centre is the Notre Dame cathedral. The cathedral is quite similar to Sacre-Coer, with the slight draw back of the views elevation over the city not placing this attraction higher up the list. Well worth a visit and you can go right up into the Bell Tower.

Tip: Go up to the top of Notre Dame upon arrival. The entrance is actually to the left front facing. Groups of 20 go up at any given time, so expect to wait. Queing up straight away will save 30 mins to an hour, wherein the queue to the cathedral is fast moving.

Tip: Under 26 and hold an EU Passport? Get in for Free! Just bring your Passport along with you!

 

DCU Business School trip to China 2016

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A brief overview of my trip to China with DCU Business School in May/June of 2016. First stop Shanghai for three days, then a bullet train up to Beijing for the remainder of the trip. This blog will cover some of the highlights of my experience.

Shanghai

Top 5 Visits of Shanghai:

  1. The Bund: Day, sunset and at night – this area was fantastic.

Day

Sunset

Night

2. Jingan Temple & Shanghai Jade Buddha Temple: Two beautiful temples surrounded by the Skyline of Shanghai.

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3. Pearl Tower: Not quite the tallest observation deck I have stood on (Sears Tower (Left) – 412m vs. Oriental Pearl Tower (Right) – 350m), but still fantastic views.

4. International Markets: An area where everyone is your friend, everyone will do you a good price and you get handed a calculator to suggest the price you will pay. They don’t like you trying on football jerseys though, I found that out soon enough! Football jerseys, watches, iPhones, tailored suits, sunglasses, you name it, its under this roof!

5. Qibao, Shanghai: Nice little market town with canals.

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Beijing

  1. Beijing–Shanghai High-Speed Rail (Bullet Train): The group travelled from Shanghai to Beijing via a Bullet Train, averaging a speed of 302km/h. 1,318 kilometers covered in exactly 5 hours.

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2. Bike tour of Beijing: Easily my favourite activity of the trip. For 5 hours we cycled 25km around the streets of Beijing, and during sunset. Beijing is actually relatively flat which made the experience more manageable!

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3. The Great Wall of China: The uphill,  sweaty, stopping every 5 minutes great wall of China. It is a fantastic sight but a hike, and full of tourists. We went up the Badaling route, which took roughly 1 hour. We got a slide back down, not gonna lie! Didn’t even know there was a slide!

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4. Tiananmen Square: is huge. Again, a tourist trap. Steeped in history, very pleasant experience walking through the temples. At the end, I would highly recommend the small hike up Jingshan Park for an overview of the temple of heaven and Beijing skyline.

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5. Chinese Delicatessen: Not your average food markets in China, the pictures may prove this point. But I will include some of the more saveable dishes.

 

#HackDCU

54 hours to take an idea, with people from various backgrounds, and run with it. An insight into my first Hackathon, #HackDCU. 

HackDCU

Day 1 – Introduction & Brainstorm 

“It’s not about idea’s, it’s about making ideas happen”

Hackathon’s provide people the opportunity to learn, network, build and most importantly have fun. Often, they provide the opportunity to meet a potential co-founder for a business. Hack DCU saw the coming together of young leaders, designers, developers and innovators to create a feasible business which solves an entrepreneurial challenge.

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Once introductions and ice-breakers had been made those who had an idea to pitch were asked to do so in a 30 second space. Here is an insight into some of the key observations made from listening to 30+ pitches at 30 seconds each….

  • Trends: A common trend noted amongst the ideas pitched were those of App’s and Websites. Every entrepreneur that pitched their idea sought a technical person or a designer, of which were difficult to come by. This is almost a mirror reflection on the jobs market today.
  • Environment: In excess of 20 individuals pitched a potential business idea to the room. Most notably, some people pitched ideas to the room that they thought of on the spot. Incredibly, one of these ideas was chosen. Create an environment where it is ok to put yourself out there, you never know what might happen.
  • People: It became clear to me early on whilst hearing pitches of what I was looking for in the Hackathon over the weekend, a great leader and a great team. My three idea shortlist was chosen based upon the fact that I felt I could work with the CEO over the weekend to bring their vision to reality. I believed in the person as much as the idea.

Team 5 – ‘Wink’ – “The newest online flirting app. Send and receive winks to those in your location. Act on Impulse, Act on attraction & get winking”.

Day 1 Interesting Fact: Before the Hackathon even began I met the person who took over my Intra position, which lead to a great throwback to the memories we had in the job.

Day 2 – Let’s get to work

“Life begins at the end of your comfort zone”

Over the night a Facebook group and Group Chat has been set up by the founders. A survey has been created with 60 responses prior to coming in for the morning session. An e-Mail account had been set up and the founders went into day two will a clear plan of action.

Saturday

‘Wink’ hit the ground running. Before the first morning speaker a Facebook, Twitter and Instagram account has been established. The group also established a fundraising account.

The founders of ‘Wink’ sought to get the App developed post-hackaton. You have to be realistic with time-frames in a Hackathon. The goals of the day included establishing a social media presence, seeking funding to get the app off the group, create a video to promote the app and develop a blue-print upon which the app can be developed.

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In the evening we planned for the presentation ahead however at a briefing it dawned upon us that we were slightly off where the Hackathon expected us to be at. Focus required us to shift towards having a product and market research to pitch. The team leaders identified two groups of pairs to conduct primary research out in the field. Late in the evening the focus shifted towards potential revenue models, which stirred much discussion. At the same time, and quite excitingly, progress was being made on developing the app. 24 hours prior, this app was just a concept drawn with wireframes on some software.

Night-Hack

Day 3 – Let’s smash this

“Designing a presentation without the audience in mind is like writing a love letter to ‘whom it may concern’ “

The final day began with preparation for the pitch. All goals set out by the team leaders were achieved over the weekend. The app was in development for both the Android and App store. The most important goal for the team leaders today was to pitch their idea proposition as best they could, whilst receiving feedback on how best to carry the idea forward.

Presentation

A pitch presentation was provided to the team looking at a number of areas to cover in a tight 4 minute pitch. Preparation for the presentation begun. Time and deadlines became the major barrier over the next few hours. Topics to be covered in the pitch include a problem/solution scenario, sell yourself and how you are better than competitors.

Final Prep

Within the next 30 mins, ‘Wink’ will present to the DCU Ryan Academy….

Thinking CAO? Think The New DCU

8 reasons why any Leaving Certificate or Mature student should have DCU on their CAO application form before the deadline on Monday 1st February.

DCU

 

  1. Small Campus, Big Community, Bright Future

DCU has now transformed into “The New DCU”. Quite simply, first year students of St Patrick’s College, Drumcondra (SPD), Mater Dei Institute of Education (MDI) and Church of Ireland College of Education (CICE) are now DCU students. Students will benefit from expanded services in counselling, work placement, careers, financial assistance, sports and health, chaplaincy and disability and learning support, and will avail of a new student centre to be built on the DCU Glasnevin Campus and a new student health centre which has opened on the DCU St Patrick’s campus.

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DCU student population consists of 13,000 students (16,000 over three academic campuses) from the four corners of Ireland. DCU is Ireland’s fastest growing University. Students over the next few years will benefit from the new DCU Student Centre to be built on the DCU Glasnevin Campus, which will be the focal point for all student social activities.

dcu hub

 

2. INTRA

DCU is credited with the introduction of a work placement programme into university practices. The primary reason I placed DCU Business (DC111) over Commerce in UCD was Intra. Intra gives DCU students the opportunity to gain practical work experience during their studies. DCU will assist you through the entire process, and student will graduate with practical industry experience. DCU Intra companies include KPMG, LinkedIn and Intel. Between 40-50% of DCU students that graduated from my undergraduate class began their career path at an Intra employer, a testament to the success of the programme. Over 70% of DCU undergraduate students study for a year overseas or gain an integrated and accredited work placement as part of their degree programme.

3. DCU Sport

Sport and DCU go hand in hand, whether you are looking to improve your personal fitness in DCU Sports Gym or join one of the many sports teams, DCU caters for all ages and abilities. DCU Sports Centre has been named Ireland’s ‘Sports Centre of the Year’ three times and also nominated as ‘Best Sports Facility’ at the Sports Industry Awards 2015. DCU Gym offer 65 fitness classes delivered by a great team of fitness coaches in a fitness centre of over 100 pieces of equipment.

DCU Sport.jpgDCU Sport 2

Students can also benefit from the DCU Sports Academy, which focuses on GAA and Athletics. DCU has experienced success on both the track and field in the past year. DCU performed strong in the intervarsities last year whilst also winning the Sigerson Cup, champions in three of the past five years of the competition. DCU boasts two GAA fields, two Soccer pitches, one Rugby pitch, ten tennis courts, a rock climbing wall, two squash courts, a sprint track, basketball court and six Astro pitches. DCU campus facilitates all sports you can think of and more!

Sigerson

4. DCU Club’s & Societies

Societies

Home to ‘Ireland’s Best Society 2015‘ (DCU MPS), DCU is famed for the success of its Societies. There are 75 Societies in DCU and the best thing to do is throw yourself into any one of them, if not, set up your own! Societies include Global Brigades DCU, Africa Soc, F.R.I.E.N.D.S. Soc, Harry Potter Soc, R.A.G. (Raising and Giving) and many many more.

Clubs

Clubs provide a great opportunity for students to get involved in the sporting aspect of DCU life. 42 clubs allow students to get involved in sports such as Ultimate Frisbee, Surf ‘n Sail, Boxing and both mens and women GAA. DCU Ladies Football are current League Division 1 and 3 champions, DCU Mens Football are the current Sigerson Cup Champions and Ryan Cup Champions .

 

5. Graduate Opportunities

“DCU graduates are highly sought after by employers” (Irish Universities Association). 92% of DCU graduates are in full time employment or further study within 6 months of graduating. Not only are you going to have a great time during your time in DCU, opportunities as a graduate of this university are vast. DCU will help you along every step of the way.

Notable Alumni undergraduates include Laura Whitmore (Journalism), Neil Delamere (Computer Applications), Ardal o’Hanlon (Communications), Matt Cooper (Journalism) and Taoiseach Enda Kenny (Primary Teaching).

6. Young University recognised on the Global Stage

DCU Business School is currently in the final stages of the application of becoming AACBS accredited. Quite simply, this would place DCU Business School amongst the top 5% of the world’s business schools.

“AACSB-accredited schools are considered to be the best business schools in the world. Their undergraduate, master’s, and doctorate degree programs have passed rigorous standards for quality. AACSB-accredited schools have better programs, better faculty, better students with higher overall GPAs, more international students, more employers that recruit from them, and graduates that receive better salaries.”

Not bad, when you consider DCU is Ireland’s only university placed in the top 50 universities under the age of 50. DCU also ranks amongst the top 200 most outward-looking  international universities in 2016.

7. Uaneen Module

Unique to DCU, this module gives you the student the opportunity to be recognised for the work you do outside the classroom environment, be it volunteering in the community or playing for your local GAA team etc. Get involved from the beginning and reflect upon it at the end, see how the story plans out! Uaneen is a great talking point on any students CV and often can distinguish you from other candidates in a job interview.

8. DCU Support

Making the transition from school to university or the workplace back into education can be a daughting prospect, but once you arrive on the doorstep, comprehensive support will be provided to you if and when required.

DCU founded and operate the largest Access Programme of any university in Ireland with over 1,000 Access students on campus in 2015, myself included. 93% of DCU Access Programme students go on to complete their third level education studies. The Access Programme has provided me with financial assistance, an introduction to two mentorship programmes (eBay and Google) and consultation in first year. I am also the recipient of the Access Accommodation Scholarship this year, supporting me through my masters. The Access Programme provides Leaving Certificate students an opportunity to study at third level, an opportunity I am forever grateful to receive.

DCU provides student support and development in areas such as Careers, Access, Mature Students, Disability & Learning Support, International Students, Counselling Services, Health service and a Student Advice Centre.

Your choice, your future.

Unheard Voice of the Homeless

“Literally 3 months ago I had everything I ever needed, and ever wanted, I never thought this could happen to me.”

On Tuesday evening, 10 days before Christmas, I took to the streets of South Dublin with the charity Humans Too. We met a young Irish mother near St. Stephens Green. Just 3 months ago *Leanne lost her job as a qualified hairdresser. Soon after she lost her car, house and she made the most difficult decision of placing her son in voluntary care.

 

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*Leanne found herself living on the streets after becoming redundant. She had had a stable job and until 3 months ago “had everything I ever needed, and ever wanted. I never thought this could happen to me. I walked past homeless people myself and I used to give them money and thought that is by choice.” 

When *Leanne become homeless she turned to a number of refuges seeking help. To her shock, one in particular refuge expressed that they did not help women, only men. They advised her to get on social welfare. In the social welfare office she presented all the required documents excluding a physical copy of her birth certificate, which is required. She then went to the English embassy, who put a rush on getting the document to her.

*Leanne’s experience of hostels to date has been mixed, with “90% of the hostels drug ridden”. In one homeless hostel she described her unforgettable and freighting experience:

“I was there for about an hour and a half and everything was going smoothly. I was keeping myself to myself, reading my magazine. Then I looked across and there was a girl injecting right beside me.  I went pale, the blood drained right from my body because I sleep walk and if that needle was dropped on the floor and I stepped on it that is like a death sentence. I ran out and told the staff what was going on and what I saw and they asked me did she use a sin bin?

Although the injection of drugs is not permitted in this hostel, it was outlined that exceptions can be made for those who use a ‘Sin Bin’. The experience of hostels as a whole is not a nice environment to be in until she found a hostel in which she felt safe, it is affordable for her and provides her with the opportunity to pay by the night or for the week.

The most difficult part of the talk was when *Leanne talked about her son, who is in voluntary care. *Leanne outlines the positive aspects of the service such as seeing her son 4 times a week for a 3-hour period. She is also given the freedom of where to bring her son. She has a wonderful social worker who is helpful and in the case of an emergency, is always informed.

*Leanne broke down in tears when describing the heartbreak of losing her son to voluntary care:

“At the same time it is not the same as waking up with your son, feeding your son, changing your son, washing your son. I know they are normal things you do with your child but at the end of the day I had him, and I have never spent a day, ever, without my son until all this happened. It has been a month and a half and it feels like 3 years. It is hard to explain to a 3 year old baby that I don’t have a home to bring him to.”

The first thing *Leanne does in the morning is go to Focus Ireland who provide her with something to eat. She will then go to an Internet cafe for a couple of hours looking for places to rent that accept rent allowance. Focus Ireland also provides her with a list of flats and apartments that do accept rent allowance. After this, *Leanne goes to another homeless shelter for coffee and a chat. On the day’s she doesn’t see her son she will go to a friends for a couple of hours before returning to the hostel for the rest of the evening.

*Leanne then goes on to describe the days she gets to see her son;

“I’ll get up, get ready, it would usually take me about 2 hours to get ready because I am going to see my son so I am all excited. I go and see him and bring him to a fun house, bring him on some of the rides and try win him a teddy bear or two when I have a few quid. My friends help me out when they know I am going to see my son. Then I would just leave him, my heart would be broken for the whole day because it is great seeing him but leaving him is a killer/heartbreaker. Then I would go back to one of my friends houses for a bit of consoling.”

*Leanne has a lot of friends and a tight network to rely on for support. They call her to make sure she is ok and often invite her around to their house for dinner, although at times she does feel like she is intruding.

On the whole, *Leanne try to stay positive during the day:

“There is not much you can do when you are homeless, you just keep battling on and looking towards the future.”

*Leanne is finding Christmas very hard, lonesome and tearful. She finds people are much more giving at this time of the year. The public are supportive not only financially but also emotionally:

“I have met an awful lot of nice people who have had concerns for me and have taken my number, rang me and made sure I am ok. The public do help because even when I am speaking they think this is not the average homeless person.”

*Leanne battles the stigma that is associated with homeless people. On an average day she could have 10 people stop and talk to her over a 3-hour period. She feels at a disadvantage but believes there are other people like herself out there:

“The public need to know, that’s why I am here speaking to you, because I want the public to know.”

Housing is the priority of *Leanne. Once she receives Social Welfare she will look to save to get a house, which will then put her in a position to get her son back and start applying for a job. *Leanne believes once you have a plan and a positive mind set you can get off the streets:

“As long as you keep positive and have a plan, I think you know what you are doing and where you are going. There are so many people out there that are so confused and do not know where they are going or what they are doing. A lot of people don’t know what they are entitled to, how to go about it, what to do with themselves during the day, then they met the wrong sort of people, they end up taking a drug.”

“But I will, I will get my life back, I am determined, there is nothing going to stop me.”

*denotes the change of name

Want to get involved? Get in touch…

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Humans Too – A Hand Up, Not A Hand Out.

Over the next couple of weeks we will all rush to the high street, splash the cash on presents for loved ones and indulge on food. In doing so, we overlook those that may not have loved ones, a roof over their head or food in their stomach, the homeless. 

Homeless Crisis

As part of a 3 blog series, I will focus on the homeless crisis in Dublin City Centre, researched through my participation with the Charity “Humans Too“.

Humans Too were founded through a group of Dublin college students who sought to make a difference to the life’s of people who are homeless in Dublin City Centre. During the week, Humans Too take to the main streets of both the north and south side of Dublin to provide the homeless with food, tea/coffee/soup, clothing and sleeping bags – the essentials to get through the harsh winter conditions. Soup runs commence from a Monday to Wednesday between 20:00 – 22: 00, with the hope to begin runs from Thursday to Sunday. Can you donate 2 hours a week to help the homeless? 8% of your day? Or 1% of your week?

‘Great work guys’ – Passer-by on the street on Tuesday 24th November

Taking the step to volunteer and take time out of your evening is one of the most rewarding things you can do. Over the past number of weeks I have volunteered on a Tuesday evening from 19:30-22:00. Humans Too are located on 56 Aungier Street, or just behind Cost Cutter. The first activity you will do is either prepare the food (Sandwiches/Soup) or sort the clothing (Socks, Hats, Jumpers etc.). The group will be split, tackling the north and south side of Dublin city centre.

On the North Side, you will walk through the streets of Temple Bar, across the Ha’penny brigade, up Jervis Street, along Henry Street before sweeping back along O’Connell Street.

On the South Side, you will cover the area from St. Stephens Green shopping centre to Kildare street.

 

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Whilst on the run you actively seek to identify the homeless. Approaching the homeless can be a daunting prospect as you are not quite sure what reaction you may get. To date, I have had the same response, a warm welcome. Even if the person does not want a cup of tea, or food, they always appreciate you stopping to ask. Some of the people quite like a chat, others just want to be left alone. Taking the time to stop and offer your assistance is always welcomed. Nobody has ever asked for money. One thing that I came across that surprised me was the amount of sugar the homeless like in their tea and coffee, 3-4 sugar spoons full! I suppose it gives them an energy boost, which when added to the warm beverage, always helps.

The Face of Homeless

To date, most of the people we come across are male. There is no age demographic, and no clear reason why the person is homeless. I will discover some of these reasons later on in my blog. There is no anger or frustration on the faces of the people, they are content.

The cost of the roof

What difference does 50c – €1 make to your day? You might spend €3-4 on your Starbucks coffee. The cost of a hostel for the homeless starts from as little as €5 for the night. Hostels are not the preferred option due to drug abuse that can plague some of the more affordable hostels. A safe, warm roof for the homeless on a cold Dublin night can start from as little as €10. The next time a homeless person asks you for 40c to afford a hostel, think about it, instead of walking on. 40c won’t make much of a difference to your day, it will make their day.

In the next part of my series covering the homeless crisis I will get the views of those on the streets. I will look to uncover their story, their views, their feelings. I want to give them an unbiased voice.

Want to get involved? Get in touch…

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Work for a cause, not for applause #Volunteer

It is always said to get involved in club’s and societies when in college. In third year, I made the decision to get involved with one, Global Brigades DCU. It was easily one of the best decisions I made, and here’s why….

Ghana Beach

Ghana 2014 (Microfinance/Business)

As powerful as social media and posters are, I actually signed up for this brigade through word-of-mouth. Of the picture above, 4 out of the 9 of us were in the same class. I didn’t know anybody else, today, approaching two years later, I speak to most of the brigade on a regular basis. I made friends for life on this brigade.

Volunteering abroad is something I have always wanted to do and when the opportunity came up, I was on board. €1500 fundraising target was set and without doubt it was a daunting prospect raising that amount.

Fundraising came from a Sponsorship card, a Raffle, Secondary School donation and random donations. No matter what the fundraising target is, you will always manage to achieve it one way or another.

Ghana Airport

Once the fundraising was in, I was set to board the plane to Ghana via London. One of the most exciting moments of the trip was the morning of departing, in the airport holding the Ireland flag and wearing our Global Brigades t-shirt. I had no idea of what was going to happen over the next 10 days and set no expectations, little did I know they would be some of the best 10 days of my life.

Such is the tight turn-around at Heathrow airport, we missed our flight. This meant a 10 hour layover wait in the airport which was a blessing in disguise as the brigade got to know eachother before we stepped foot in Ghana. On the way down to the terminal we were approaching none other than Michael Buble. We caught his attention and he had no issues in getting not only a group photo but also individual photos. Half the group got individual photos and after we (eventually!) let him go we went back for some more, which he was absolutely cool about.

Michael Bube

Finally, we were Ghana bound for the experience of a life-time…..

Airplane Selfie

I will never forget the morning we arrived in Ghana. The heat was immense, it was 6am, like nothing I have ever experienced. It beats a summers day on curracloe beach hands down! Once we met our in-country coordinator, Gordon, we were on our way. A 2 hour trip beckoned on some of the most dangerous roads I have ever seen! Our driver was mental – overtaking whilst driving uphill with a bend approaching. The back of the bus was also in no way what-so-ever connected to a suspension.

For the entire duration of the brigade we worked in the community of Ekumfi Egyankwaa on both a Microfinance and Business brigade, split  3 days each. We went door-to-door in groups of 3 to get to know the community on a personal basis seeking to gain their trust before conducting financial accounts for them personally/for their business. We also prepared and held community workshops teaching financial literacy. Finally, we conducted market research into a potential soap business which through our fundraising, would contribute to the foundation of the project. The foundation of a soup business would not only be an investment in the community, it would create jobs and increase prosperity. One of the many  insights I gained from this brigade is that we were not there to change peoples lives, we were there to improve their lives. The people of Ghana are humble with what they have and grateful for having it. It is a lesson that many of us can learn.

Ghana House

Other activities that took place on the brigade included celebrating St. Patrick’s Day, visiting the opening ceremony of a church, attending  a market place in Ghana, visiting a crocodile farm, driving around Ghana at 10pm in the middle of no-where looking for a lost phone that wasn’t actually lost, visiting cape coast castle, having a meal beside the beach on one of the last nights, the list can go on and on and the stories are endless.

When we all came back from the brigade a reunion was in order. Most of us could make the A&F Great Gatsby themed ball which was so good to catch up with everyone.

B&E Ball

Then again, around this time last year after a summer away on J1’s and working, those that could, met up once again for a catch-up.

Ghana - House

At this point I think it is important to point out the contribution of three key people to making this all happen.

  • Cody, Chair of Global Brigades DCU, oversees all brigades that go out from Ireland. His contribution to the society is unmeasurable.
  • Ellen, Microfinance/Business Brigade co-ordinator, turned what was an idea into reality. The amount of planning, motivation and stress involved in organising a brigade was only seen when I decided to lead the brigade this year. The role the brigade leader is often overlooked, but credit is due to Ellen for organising a fantastic brigade.
  • You: without your donations and encouragement none of this would have happened. I am forever grateful and will always return the favour. Your donations have improved the quality of peoples lives less fortunate than us.

If you are interested in volunteering with Global Brigades please click here.

If you are interested in volunteering with Global Brigades DCU please click here.

Interested in volunteering? Just do it, and don’t think twice.

 

“I love your accent, where are you from?”

This week it was announced that it is becoming more difficult for Irish students to go on a J1 visa due to the clause of having a job sorted before you head over. In this blog post, I will give you an insight into my last J1, Chicago ’15. This blog post I hope will be the one stop shop for all students considering a J1, with Chicago a fantastic option.

Chicago has for a long time been a popular choice destination for J1 students however before travelling over I felt it could be seen as a cheap man’s New York City. I went over with the expectation of Chicago having the second best of everything compared to New York. After all, the big apple appears to have the wow factor, even though i’v never been. Over the next couple of minutes reading I will outline why I was so, so, so wrong. Chicago has it all, from music, sport, culture, museums, beaches to city skyline – Chicago.Has.It.All.

Chicago - 2

Ok, so you’ve arrived in Chicago. The first thing on the agenda is accommodation, right? I mean you need a place to stay!? You have a few options, Greek town is popular short-term but a little out of town. WrigleyField and surrounding neighbourhoods are the most popular spots for J1 students and arguably where the best summer nightlife is. Finding houses can be difficult with a good lease, so be careful.

777

My Accommodation: 777 South State Street

You’re straight off the plane and all you have to do is jump on the red and blue line into town to get here (roughly 40 mins). This place is CENTRAL CHICAGO. You cannot ask for a better location for your J1. This place will be packed with Irish students over the summer and there will be house parties in a different apartment every night, because ironically, the party room does not live up to it’s name. 100% safe, security on the door 24/7. Pool room, laundry room, Gym, Swimming Pool, it has it all. Downsides, there was a lot of building maintenance over the summer, we would actually wake up to a man outside the window 20 odd floors up drilling into the wall! The big one is the price, you’re looking at $2000+ for your 11 week lease. This might sound like a crazy price but when you compare it to paying $600-800 to sleep on the floor in a house in the middle of no-where,  it might seem reasonable enough.

Job: Navy Pier

Navy Pier is mainly where it’s at. Your research would have directed you here. Good news – it is within walking distance of the city and 777. Downside – there isn’t a lot to do on the pier! I mean it’s no comparison to spending your summer in Courtown or Mosney but for one of the most tourist attractions in America, I Harry Caraysfelt it was lacking. On the pier you can find work in
Bubba Gump Shrimp, Harry Caray’s Tavern, Giordano’s or any of the ice-cream shops. Event management companies are also quite popular and pay excellent for easy work. Problem is the work does not come too often. Whatever job you do get, those who get a job based mainly on tips are winning.

Not 21? Forget about getting a legit job serving alcohol, because it isn’t happening. One of the main reasons why I suggest Chicago to those >21.

Tourist Stuff: My top 5

Lolla

(1) Lollapalooza: best part of both my J1 experiences. I got a Sunday ticket which arguably had the best line-up. Tried to catch James Bay first but Grant Park got evacuated due to a storm. Once let back in, I saw my main act, The Chainsmokers. I basically paid $130 to see them but it was worth the entire 1 hour of their set. We all watch YouTube videos of music festivals in America and it is the real deal. Please don’t tell me your summer adventure of seeing an Irish band in a field in the middle of Ireland was better, because we both know it wasn’t. Marina and the Diamonds, The Chainsmokers and Florence and the machine were the main acts I caught but the line-up was incredible. You should have your ticket for this before you buy your plane ticket over.

Sears Tower

(2) Sears (Willis) Tower: SkyDeck is the most famous attraction here but the views are incredible. Try go at sunset to catch Chicago at day and at night. The views will do the rest of the talking here….

Field Museum

(3) Field Museum: The only place I went to twice. I loved the field museum. Whats so special about it? It has everything. I could kill 5-6 hours here on every visit. History and 1.5 million artefacts. The history of everything is covered, with some special exhibitions depending on the time of the year. Go with an open-mind, leave wanting to go back.

ChiCity

(4) The City: One of my favourite things about the summer was walking around the city. For my first few days in Chicago I went out with the intention of getting lost, its a great experience. You build a navigation that will stand to you during your J1. I never got the Bus in Chicago and limited CTA travel. I loved walking in-between the skyscrapers, beside the buskers and through the crowds, skipping from block to block.

Art Museum

(5) The Art Institute of Chicago: Voted the best Museum in the world in 2015 I believe and I can see why. Spread across 8 buildings and 3 floors, a vast array of history is covered. You need a couple of hours to get around, the building is vast. I know it does not sound very J1ish, going to a Art Museum, but if you are interested in Art, this place has it all.

Travel: Route 66

Although I never did any travelling myself Chicago is perfectly placed for those that want to travel before or after their J1. New York is a 2 hour flight away coming in at around $250 return. Package deals to Vegas will be thrown at you once over in Chicago. From there, the west coast may beckon. More interesting, New Orleans and central mainland were also suggested.

If all else fails, rent a car and jump on Route 66, after all, Chicago is where it all starts.

Recommendations:

  • Tip: We’re European, we don’t tip? No. You are European in America, you tip. Your waiter/waitress is getting paid $2 max an hour, the least you can do is throw them 15-20% of the bill total. If you can afford to eat out, you can afford to tip. I have experience first hand of serving and trust me, it is not as easy as taking the tables order and running it through the system.
  • Arrive Early: The good jobs (waitress/waiter/bar) are gone by early June. Mid-May: Arrive June: Party July: Vegas August: Travel/Home. Plan.
  • Wrap-up Early: You can wrap up all activities in Chicago before August. After Lollapalooza, everything calms down.
  • Spring Awaking: Love my dance music and minus the addition of Calvin Harris, this was the best of the best DJ’s in the world.
  • CityPass 5 tourist spots, express lines, access all areas, $96. Thank me later.
  • John Hancock Building: 360 degree experience they sell it as. Just go two floors higher, for FREE, and buy a drink, if you want, for the same view.
  • Cubs or Sox’s: You support the Cubs.
  • Haircut: Don’t get your haircut at a student barbers. I know it’s only $7 but its not worth the two hours in the chair.
  • Irish: If your pale skin and ginger hair isn’t enough of a tell, your accent sure as hell will be. Be prepared to sell your accent all summer long.
  • Spending Money: “Best summer of my life” says the Facebook post at the end of August as Jane uploads 158 pictures from her adventures. What Jane should have said was “Most expensive summer of my life, i’m broke, but here’s a few pictures”. Chicago isn’t cheap. Go out for a meal, $15 burger, $8 drink. $23 bill right? No, 10% tax, 15-20% tip.
  • Deep Dish Pizza: The home of the best pizza you will ever taste. Giordano pizza would be my personal recommendation.
  • 4th July Fireworks: Go on the Lake Front Trail at the Shedd Aquarium for the best view. Away from the mass crowds and you’ll grab some fantastic pics.
  • Jazz Bar: Buddy Guy’s Legends. Spot. The rolling stones even rocked up one evening after a U2 gig.

Breathe Aloha

I travelled to Hawaii through the CIEE Work & Travel Program.  In this post, I share my top 10 things to do in Hawaii.  I hope you enjoy as I share my experiences to those wanting to explore this small island in a short amount of time.

By Rob Kavanagh
2014 Summer Internship

Rob1_DiamondHead

(1) Diamond Head:
I never heard of Diamond Head before arriving in Hawaii,  however,  I spent a sizable portion of my time around the crater. On my second day I hiked Diamond Head.  Good footwear, water, sun lotion and a camera are a must for this hike. I forgot sun block, went up in the mid day heat, sun stroke for 2 weeks. Lesson learned. I hiked diamond head five or six times  on tours the hostel offers. I would recommend taking the tour the Polynesian beach club hostel offers.
Finally, Hawaii’s best kept secret is Diamond Head beach. A 20 min walk from the hostel and a popular spot for surfers, the beach is beautiful. A perfect place to grab some sun and read a book.  When I thought of what a beach would look like in paradise (Hawaii), this is what I had in mind.

Hostel: http://www.polynesianhostel.com

My Ice Bucket Challenge at Diamond Head Beach: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fnkPAb-KERc

Rob2_ManoaFalls

(2) Manoa Falls:

No entrance fee. Bring Bug Spray and apply regularly on the walk, you will get bitten! The only tourist destination I have been to twice as I loved this place so much. By bus get the number 8,19,20 & 42 to Ala Moana, cross through the center to catch the number 5 bus. Check this timetable as I was waiting quite a while. The bus drives exactly to the bottom of the road that leads up to Manoa Falls. The bus driver will tell you when to get off for Manoa Falls. Continue up the road towards Manoa Falls and follow the signs. From there you will see the path. You walk through beautiful plants and trees and along a river. The hike itself will take between 30­40 mins including taking time to take photos. The falls itself is magnificent. You can walk up on the stones and get great photos. I remember standing on the stones and feeling the pressure of the waterfall hit the rocks which affected by stance. There is also the Lyon Arboretum in the area which is worth a visit.

DCIM100GOPRO


(3) SkyDive:

Skydiving from 12000ft at 120mph in freefall over the north shore of hawaii – it is as good as it sounds. Skydive Hawaii was the company I chose and they did pick­up, skydive and photos for just over $200, a bargain if you ask me. Health & Safety are all taken care of and you are re-assured before your jump. Nerves will be soon replaced with excitement. The most nervous part was actually walking over to the plane to get in: at that point your thinking “oh this is it” to put it mildly. Take off and ascend.  Take your mind off things as you overlook the mountains, sea and landscape of the northshore of Hawaii. Once you reach 12000 ft the door goes up and you go out. Those 20 seconds of freefall are incredible. On a rollercoster you have time to think, on a skydive you have no time to think. Forty seconds of gliding over the northshore once the parachute goes up for me was the best part. Your heart is racing, you are trying to catch your breath and get your head together, whilst gliding over sea and land and beside a mountain. The photos show half the story. If you want to do a skydive,  there is no better place than Hawaii.

DCIM100MEDIA

(4) Shark Dive:

North Shore Shark Adventures was the company I went with, located in the harbour in the north shore.  Note: you will have to organize your own transportation to the site or pay for them to pick you up. A brief introduction and you are soon on the boat heading out to sea. Located around 3 miles off the coast you will pull up beside the cage. The group is split into two groups of six. You will spend 20 minutes in the cage. I would advise going as early as possible. I did the 11am tour and the waves were quite choppy. You’re guaranteed to see sharks.  However, there is nothing to be afraid of.  They’re are no great whites and none of them pose any great threat. A great experience, one off the bucket list.

Rob5_PearlHarbor

(5) Pearl Harbour:

An early start is required for this one. I was up at 5:30am and out the door by 6:00am. I got the bus at around 6:15am and arrived in Pearl Harbor at 07:30am. (You can also take a shuttle; check with the hostel office to make a shuttle reservation.)

Entrance is free, however no bags are allowed. Any kind of a bag/satchel/handbag/etc will need to go to storage at a cost of $3.

Upon entrance you will meet the reception desk where you can purchase tours. This is also the location where you claim the free USS Arizonal Memorial Tickets. Tickets are usally gone by 11:00am, so get there early. Before departing via boat out to the memorial, a brief 10 minute clip is shown on the history of Pearl Harbour. Once finished, a boat will bring you out to the memorial. You are on the memorial for roughly 10 minutes before heading back.

I also went on the USS Bowfin submarine. $10 entry covers both a full tour of the submarine and entry into the war museum.

At Pearl Harbour, I did not see any restaurants.  But there is a Hot Dog stall, convenience store and soda drink fridge. On the site there is also a war museum which is open to the public. Pearl Harbour is a great half day trip but make sure you are there early.

Rob6_Makapuu

(6) Makapu’u Lighthouse & Hike:

The number 22 bus will bring you to Sea Life park. From here you have to walk back along the main road to the entrance of the hike. The hike will take roughly 30 minutes. It is a paved road from the bottom to the top and consists of a gradual incline. There are amazing views along the hike and you will be surprised at just how high the peak brings you. At the peak there is a look out point and you can climb even further up to the war bunkers. After the walk back down you will see a trail to your left hand side which appears to lead out to the sea. Go on this trail. It will lead you to the coastline where there is a beautiful little beach where the waves crash right up against the shoreline.  Mackapu’u is one of Hawaii’s little secrets, go.

Rob7_KokoHead

(7) Koko Head Hike:

Once again, the number 22 bus will bring you. Get off at the stop just before Hanauma Bay, but the bus driver will inform you that this is the entrance for Koko Head. Cross the main road and walk past the gate and down a private road to get to the entrance. Koko Head is quite simply 1000+ steps straight to the top. The most difficult part is the bridge over which I crawled. The top gives a 360 degree view of the most southern part of the island. The pain and sweat is worth it.

Warning: Koko Head is a challenging hike and should be treated as such. Prepare to sweat.

Rob8_HanaumaBay

(8) Hanauma Bay:
Number 22 bus will bring you direct. This bus leaves every hour, make sure you get it that hour or
else it is a long wait. It drops you straight into Hanauma Bay. $7.50 entry fee to the bay. You’ll have to watch a short video on preserving the reef. This is the best place in Hawaii to go snorkeling.  The beach is also quite nice and a great place to spend the day. Note that the last bus leaves just after 5pm. Also, the bay is closed on Tuesdays.

Rob9_AlohaMarket

(9) Aloha Market:

This is the best place to get your souvenirs. Half the price it would cost you in any shop or market in Waikiki. The Market stretches all around the Aloha Stadium, consisting of souvenirs, local produce, coconut, pineapple and shaved ice. If you arrive on a Wednesday, tours of the Aloha Stadium operate at 11am.  This is the only time during the week that tours operate. $1 Entry.

Rob10_ValleyOfTemples

(10) Valley Of The Temples:

Graveyard and memorial site to lost soldiers in the war. Located 1 hour via bus outside of Waikiki.  $3 entry fee. A walk through the graveyard will bring you to the temple based at the foot of the mountains. The temple is magical with black swans swimming in a lake amongst fish, the temple in the backdrop and complete silence. Tranquility at its finest. You can walk into the temple and light a candle but do not forget to remove your shoes as a sign of respect. Remember to also do this if you ring the bell.

YouTube Channel: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCbOxaeco1wMb12WOmiQAFSA