As you have probably heard me complain about if we have ever talked for more than say 45 minutes, the life of an undergraduate engineering student is crazy. During my three years at Purdue I have met a ton of other engineering students – struggling through building and programing a Lego robot, writing countless lab reports, planning events with PESCers, and trying to stay awake in lecture after a near all nighters (proudly I have not done one yet!). Through all of this it has always seemed like we have something in common and now that I’m really starting to get to know my fellow engineers here in Ireland, I can sense a bit of that thing in them too.

Now of course identifying that thread that ties us all together isn’t easy (plus I’m not great with personality analysis/elegant writing) ….so I’m not going to try. But I do have a few random musings that highlight this concept pretty well.

The Exponent, Purdue’s student run newspaper, publishes a few cartoon strips every week. During the three years I’ve read the Exponent between classes, while drinking my morning coffee, and instead of listening to my physics and stats professors (sorry it was just too boring) my favorite comic was always “Enginerds” and I definitely think that this cartoon series (usually) captured engineers to a tee. Prime examples:

Trust me they are much more amusing when you are an engineer, are on 4 hours of sleep, and constantly feel that there is never enough time in the day. Plus #Enginerds makes a great hash tag on Twitter — James and I use it frequently!

The first few weeks here were chill (in terms of academics), almost too chill for me to be honest (on the bright side it gave me time to get the rest of my life in order…). I had no homework in classes, my FEM lab didn’t start until the second week of school (and even so the first assignment was elementary), and I found out there are no required textbooks and no tests until Finals. Senior design at Purdue was still picking up and we were still figuring out the logistics of that situation.

But now, four weeks into our semester, well definitely not chill, things are picking up. We have FEM labs due every week and the instructor doesn’t hold our hands much anymore, we have tutorials (recitations in the US) where we need to solve example problems with small groups for a grade during class periods, and senior design is in full swing. Work is similar to that at Purdue – back to not having enough hours in the day! But I’m enjoying myself, especially since all this work means that I have even more of an opportunity to meet my new classmates.


Read the piece The Irish Times did on NUI Galway’s Engineering program! Dr. Laoise McNamara is our Irish Senior Design advisor and is featured on page 3.

Odd as it might be, the more time I spend doing homework in the computer labs on campus or in the library (and less time in the gym or socializing at pubs), the more I feel like I’m integrating into my new environment. After meeting a few engineers through a number of humorous situations and then at a “class” party (all the engineers were meeting up at the College Bar….yes there is a university-run bar on campus), I finally made my first Irish Facebook friends! I now have a good number of engineering students that I recognize both inside and outside the engineering building (a rare occurrence in Ireland as well!), fellow 4th year engineers to ask for help when I get stuck on FEM labs or can’t remember which Greek symbol stands for stress and which one stands for strain, and Irish natives that can educate me on my lack of Irish cultural knowledge (such as they speak Irish not Celtic , you don’t pronounce half of the letters in traditional Irish names – so don’t even try, and Wellington’s are extremely unfashionable even in the pouring down rain).


A humorous – totally Ellen – story from my first week of classes…. All students in the same major at NUI Galway take the same courses. They are handed a timetable (schedule) on the first day of class and are required to go to all the classes on that paper, with very limited flexibility (some majors allow a language option). Since all students are in the same classes for their entire college career, the course email lists are by graduating class, not by the actual course roster (those who registered online for that course). This means that the international students in a class are never on the email list…well needless to say this can lead to some problems. In my first two weeks of class, one professor cancelled his class 4 times and being that I wasn’t on the email list, I showed up to all those classes, sat there for 20 minutes and then was on my merry way.

Don’t worry that wasn’t the funny part. In FEM (an advanced math class teaching the theory behind a powerful computer program) our lab instructor on the first day forgot to print out the assignment, so he said he would email it out to everyone. Being on the ball, I knew we (the International students – 4 Purdue BMEs and a graduate student from Italy) wouldn’t be on that list. So we wrote our email addresses down on a piece of paper and I volunteered to go give it to our instructor. Well somehow in the hustle and bustle of getting settled at the beginning of class, my backpack was stuck to my rolling computer chair. When I got up to walk to the front of the lab, I tripped over my backpack (of course making more than a bit of noise) and then started laughing as I caught my balance again. Typical Ellen…

As if that didn’t draw enough attention from the entire room, I had to explain multiple times why we weren’t on the emailing list, the instructor didn’t seem to understand why we were even in the class if we weren’t NUI-Galway engineers. However, luckily, after returning to my seat (I wasn’t phased but my Purdue pals were still laughing…) one of the Irish engineers smiled at me and kindly offered to just email me the assignment because he had already had it up in his email – see it all worked out, plus a new friend! (We finally got added to that email list! just FYI).

Well I thought that was behind me, but it turns out that it was quite memorable. A couple days later, I went to “Societies Day” in an effort to get involved! There was a huge crowd so I was patiently waiting and a guy I didn’t recognize in an “Engineering Society” hoodie came up to me and asked if I wanted to join. I laughed and asked if he really thought I looked like an engineer. He paused and said “O I know you are — you are in my FEM class, you are one of the international students, right?” Well turns out he remembered me from my graceful walk to the front of lab, but he made sure to get our email addresses so he could invite us to the Engineering Class Parties they plan throughout the semester!

Sorry for the less-than-artistic picture, this was in the College Bar at the Engineer Class Party, it was also Open Mic Night (AKA—get up and play the guitar and attempt to sing). They really like their American country music – someone played “Wagonwheel” which really brought me back to my summer in Bloomington, who would have thought!

It is good to know that no matter where I am in the world – China, Ireland, or Indiana – I can connect with fellow engineering students not only as peers trying to survive one challenging class after another while keeping our heads up and eyes on the weekend, but also as passionate students that enjoy learning and a good laugh!

Sorry for the sappy post…I’ll wrap up by letting you know I was pretty much locked in the Engineering building on Saturday night (night=8pm) and spent 10 minutes looking for a non-automatic door that would open to the outside world. After the initial panic, and confusion on why an academic building (the Engineering building no less) would be closed so early on a weekend, it was actually quite funny. But, as Dr. Atkinson, my China Maymester instructor, always said – even when things seem the same, focus on the deltas, that is where you’ll learn what a culture values.


….. But that is a whole other post for a much later date!

Posted in Engineering, Ireland, NUI Galway, Random Musings, Study Abroad | 1 Comment

Dublin National Lottery Half Marathon: My First Race Recap!

Finish Line (about 44min after I finished...)

YEA I DID IT! After finishing my first Half Marathon and first road race!!

Back on May 10th (yes I looked up the date!) I registered for my first half marathon: the Dublin National Lottery Half on September 17th. I had been running almost daily for a year and was ready to race. The timing of the race was perfect, exactly 3 weeks after arriving in Galway I’d be headed off to Dublin to run 13.1 miles. So I paid the registration fee online and laced up my tennis shoes to finally get off the treadmill and tackle running distance outside.

In my transition from Purdue, home, China, home, Bloomington (whew May was a hectic month) I didn’t start training until June when I started my internship at Cook Medical. I found some running routes in Bloomington with the help of the many coworkers who were seasoned runners (many had their bibs in their cubicles, how’s that for daily motivation), the only downside was the HILLS! I trained on a super hilly route in the intense heat and humidity of an Indiana summer but I loved it (even though I may have complained about it a bit at the time…).

So I trained by myself, not really following a strict training plan but ran at least 3 times a week, with a long run on the weekends, held off on the strength training, but went to a ton of yoga classes.  Training kind of took over my life, so sorry if you thought I was no fun this summer, but I loved having a goal and loved running. I don’t have much experience running with buddies but I knew I didn’t want to enter into this adventure all alone, so luckily CW signed up to race too.

Enough of my rambling …. PICTURE TIME!

Dublin at Night -- River Liffey

A group of international students took the bus from Galway to Dublin (only 20euro round-trip and about a 2.5hr drive) after classes on Friday. The city was gorgeous all lit up and there were tons of people out and about. We checked into Isaac’s Hostel and then headed out for some CARBS, naturally we ended up at an Italian restaurant downtown. My dinner was yummy, just what I wanted the night before a race, simple pasta with marinara sauce. However, I did miss the homemade spaghetti sauce that I was spoiled with throughout my entire childhood.

Dinner was fun, we finally chatted about topics other than senior design and finite element analysis. However, the highlight of the evening was the definitely the old man signing Italian songs (you know with the deep, raspy voice) and a Canadian women sitting super close to the speakers, drinking wine, and crying because she just loved the performance. How’s that for entertainment for the night – she even bought his CD and asked if he’d be doing a tour anytime soon!

Carbo Load Dinner before the Half!IMG_0239


After dinner, the rest of the crew hit the town but CW and I went back to the hostel, stretched a bit, and hit the sack – we had a big day ahead of us. Fortunately for us, the Irish don’t start their races at the crack of dawn as is accustom in the US, our race didn’t start until 10am. This gave us plenty of time to get up, eat, run to Phoenix Park (about a 3.5 mile warm up jog), pick up our registration packets, and get ready for the late start.

The Hostel Enterance

It was a bit gloomy, but luckily no rain. Having trained in hot, humid but usually dry weather, it takes me awhile to warm up in this 60 F weather, and I hate the rain (totally makes you appreciate the dry days, but my Irish classmates say is only gets worse throughout the winter months, oh no). Here are some pictures from Phoenix Park and our jog over.

Wellington Monument in Phoenix Park

The Wellington Monument in the middle of the park, some Duke built it and it was supposed to be a lot taller, but he ran out of funds – kind of reminded my of the Washington Monument. Phoenix Park is the largest enclosed park in any city in Europe, it was super green and relatively flat.

Irish President's House (Phoneix Park)

This is Áras an Uachtaráin, the residence of the Irish President. There is actually a presidential election at the end of October, and they just started campaigning – putting up cardboard signs in Galway (pictures to come!), stories in the newspapers, and public appearances. It is interesting to see such a stark difference from the presidential campaigns in the US, hopefully I can learn more about the whole process in the next few weeks.

Ready to Run!! -- Representing Purdue!

Go ahead and make fun of my dorky pose/photo op Clare I know you want to (….haha). We found our way to the tent, checked in and got our bibs. I’ll skip the next segment of time which included not knowing where to throw our stuff (the rest of the crew was sleeping at the hostel still), waiting in huge lines for the port-a-loo (loved the name), and totally forgetting to make a plan for a post-race reunion – o well we were both super excited for our first half marathon race!

8500 Runners!The walk to the starting line!

There were a ton of runners (registration was maxed out at 8500) and the starting line was a bit hectic. CW said good luck and he headed to the front of the pack. I started with the 90-120 min finish time group, only a bit behind the 2hr pacers, which were honestly guys in brightly colored spandex suits with huge balloons that said their pace time tied around their waste – is this normal?

Starting Line!

I was extremely anxious chilling by myself in the corral, I just wanted to run. The longest run I had under my belt at that point was 11.5 miles on my regular route with the cows in Bloomington, no water, and the bright shining sun. I knew I could finish the 13.1 miles, just wasn’t sure how I would handle all the people and a new route.

I was excited to be running, tried to keep calm and under control and start slow (I swear that was the only thing I said to myself for the first 6 miles). It was mostly flat, although I was a tad bit excited for the hill at mile 5 (who am I?). The first half of the race was fun, definitely was cruising along, passing people (I may have started a bit far back) and just taking it all in. There wasn’t much to see, so I mainly jammed out to my music on my iPhone and people watched (more like runner watched, there weren’t a ton of spectators).

Mile 10 and 11 were a bit rough, we were on a narrow, muddy trail. I just wanted to know what the rest of the course looked like, and not stress out about if I could run it. I knew I could and stuck with it and finished strong (I even ran fast – can’t really say sprinted – the last 400m)!


I’d really wished I had more pictures from the race, but alas I wasn’t photographed by the fancy camera dude—probably because I ran on the opposite side of everyone else, the traffic was making me antsy. Maybe next race I’ll hire someone to take pictures of me, or just utilize my slave-labor I like to call my sister and brother Smile

And yes I will be signing up for another race. I’m going to stick with the half marathon for now, and leave marathon training for a summer a few years down the road. My nifty running app on my iPhone (Nike+ if you care…I highly recommend it!) let me download my splits, and I have my official time from the chip on my bib [1:48:40].




My mom claims that this is the same pace I ran in 8th grade cross-country. Now I may believe her, it was a good run, long, fun, but I wasn’t dead at the end like I imagined. However, I don’t remember having much fun in middle school cross-country (I’m sure there are a lot of great reasons…I remember a lot of rain and mud!). But, I think it had to do with the competitive nature of such an individual sport. My only goal for my first half was to finish the race – but I was pumped to come in under 2 hours! – and for my next race I guess I need to have a better pacing plan to make the most of all my training.

Sorry if this post wasn’t as fun as the last few, I enjoyed thinking back about race day though! I am sad training is over, I liked working out and running with a purpose and am still looking for a half marathon for when I get back to the States. If anyone (especially someone around my speed) would like to sign up with me – let’s do it! If not, Clare and Mom (and probably Dad and John who are we kidding) I’ll be dragging you along as my cheering section!

I’ll be back with the rest of our weekend in Dublin. We walked a lot but hit a lot of the major sites – Guinness Brewhouse, St. Patrick’s, Trinity University, the Dublin Castle – can’t wait to share with you!

Posted in Dublin, Half Marathon, Hostels, Ireland, Road Races, Study Abroad, Weekend Adventures | 2 Comments

Mind the Gap

My first international trip of the semester is booked! A group of international students is off to London the weekend of October 7. I’m glad that my first adventure outside of Ireland is to another English-speaking country – don’t think I’m ready to handle a language barrier while traveling yet.

Last night we booked flights out of Dublin (only 102 Euro through RyanAir!) and a hostel which is within walking distance of Westminster Abbey and Buckingham Palace. Covering London on Saturday and Sunday morning will be a challenge, I’m sure we could explore for a whole week!

When I was planning on coming to Ireland, my mom gave me an entire book on Irish Hotspots and boy has that been helpful. It even has nifty fun-facts and historical tidbits for all the cities and major sites in Ireland, which I love!  However, the plan of attack for London will be a bit more complicated than Irish day trips: “get on bus, see old castle, see awesome natural phenomena, see green fields, get off bus.” Or even Dublin, which I explored while carbo-loading for, running in, and recovery from (hello Guinness Brewhouse!) my first half-marathon.

So I’m starting to compile my “Must See” list for London this week…obviously spontaneity isn’t really my style! Any suggestions or recommendations on where I have to visit before leaving London?

Posted in London, Study Abroad, Weekend Adventures | 5 Comments

Castles, Cliffs, and Craic!

I arrived at Shannon airport in Ireland almost a month ago!  It definitely doesn’t feel like it has been that long at all, but I think I’m finally settling in here and enjoying Galway.  Classes, my senior design project, living in a new apartment, making new friends and exploring a new city on foot  have consumed the majority of the weekdays. So on the weekends I make sure to get out of the apartment, engineering computer lab, the gym, and the pubs and have an adventure!

The Aula Maxima (The Quad) at NUI-Galway – it is modeled after Christ’s Church, a college at the University of Oxford

Inside of the brand new engineering building on campus – NUIG has the largest engineering school in Ireland

Coming to Ireland, I had no intention of posting pictures on Facebook or starting a blog. My mom made me promise to take pictures and actually upload them (unlike the pictures that remained locked in my camera for 3 months following my trip to China in May!). Once I started taking the pictures, uploading, and sharing them with a few people, a blog seemed like a great idea. Most posts will be pictures, writing long paragraphs that don’t involve technical details of cell seeding protocols or analysis of fluid dynamic experiments is a bit challenging for me…I am an engineer Smile.  But don’t worry I’ll include useless facts (Dad and John I’m sure you’ll love those…) and a few anecdotes along the way!

I have a lot of Ireland posts to catch up on:

  1. Exploring Galway: Salthill and Eyre Square
  2. Trip to Connemara, Cong, and Kylemore Abbey
  3. First Half Marathon and weekend in Dublin!

But I’ll leave those for a rainy day (o wait that is every day!), and start with yesterday’s trip to the Cliffs of Moher and the Burren. Galway Tour Company has a great deal for students, unlimited bus trips to Cliffs of Moher and Connemara for the price of one adult trip (20 euro). Since I paid to go to Connemara already (post to come soon!), my trip yesterday was essentially free….score!

Two great things about this tour company: They “collect” all passengers at their residence or Bed&Breakfast, meaning no walking 30min downtown in the rain or 8euro taxi ride, and they fill up your entire day with stops and sightseeing (10am-7pm). One draw back, you have to listen to the 90 year old bus driver tell horrible jokes about “his prime” and love making skills of the Irish…awkward.

We did a lot of sightseeing from the bus, many Medieval castles, mountains, rivers, lakes, and lots of rocks! The Burren, which is the part of Ireland we were travelling through all day, is just South of Galway in Clare County and is a large limestone-rock landscape. It was formed by the glaciers in the 2nd Ice Age (they tell you this a million times, the scientist in me would love to see the evidence of this) and all sorts of flora grow in the cracks between the rocks. Anyways, besides lots of rock, there are also a ton of historical castles and churches, here are a few of them.

Dunguaire Castle: The King who built it in the 16th century really isn’t significant, but it was actually a meeting place for the heads of the Celtic Revival (Father’s of traditional “Celtic” Art and Literature) including WB Yeats and George Bernard Shaw.

It was by far the sunniest day since I’ve been here, we were really blessed with great weather—it only rained twice! Haha o how your perspective changes!

Napoleonic Watch Tower

CW and me at a port on our short potty-stop. Public restrooms are pretty much non-existent in Ireland, which proves to be a problem when you are an avid coffee and water guzzler like me!

Poulnabrone Dolmen: Burial site for remains of community, when someone died they would actually allow the animals to consume their body and then bury the bones or ashes here. Excavation in the 1980s found remains of many different people, the majority not over the age of 40.

It was built in by Neolithic Farmers in the Burren over 5800 years ago, making it older than the Egyptian Pyramids and the Battle of Troy!

On our way out of the Burren and towards the Cliffs we passed by Lisdoonvarna, home of the oldest, most well known matchmaker in Europe (or so the story goes…). September is singles month with visitors coming to dance, eat, and meet other singles from all over the world! Guess I should have had more strategic planning and made it to the festival! Haha….Mom you can insert your jokes/desperate pleas here:

As I mentioned before, it was a gorgeous day; barely rained AND we saw the sun! This is in Doolin, where we stopped at a Pub for a traditional Irish lunch.

We didn’t make it for the music or dancing, but the town was really cute and had a lot of traditional Irish art shops. It was quite the craic! (Translation: fun, good time, among like 500 other definitions….)

YUMMMM! I passed on the Irish lunch for my lovely packed tofu, fruits, and veggies but couldn’t resist the homemade fudge at one of the shops! I got the Peanut Butter Milk Chocolate, it was super delicious but extremely rich. Totally meant to get a picture of the selection and sign outside, but all the tourists’ mad rush for the fudge was a bit much for me and I forgot.

I would like to pause to say “yes I did just say tourists as if I wasn’t referring to myself.” Since I have been here for a few weeks now and have my bearings on my general geographic location the majority of the time in addition to being independent in planning/executing “normal tasks” (international and domestic calling, grocery shopping with euro/credit cards, walking around without an umbrella or rainboots and preferably no rainjacket (don’t ask me why…) and finding my way to the “college” pubs) I feel like I’m no longer a tourist in Ireland. I guess it is more that I am a temporary visitor with a little know-how of the Irish culture. Enough of that, moving on to the REAL reason we went on this trip….Drum Roll….

Breathtaking, right? Well this is the only time I think the sun was a nuisance, the pictures don’t do it justice, guess you’ll just have to come visit and see for yourself!

A view of the other side of the Cliffs. Again, they are made of limestone, formed by the Ice Age. Limestone is easily eroded by the wind and rain so the edge is constantly changing. Apparently scenes (don’t ask which ones…) from the 6th Harry Potter movie were shot here (something with Dumbledore) but since I stopped reading HP when the books got too long and Clare had to tell me what was happening in all the movies, I can’t tell you any more details – go Google it.

Don’t make fun of my last picture! It makes me happy, it is something a lot of other bloggers do, I’m pretty sure some company and/or popular blogger started it awhile ago and assigned different poses to other bloggers. So I decided that since it was peaceful and such a calming view, I’d document the moment with a yoga pose too!

Warrior II on the Cliffs of Moher in Ireland!

Yes the edge is the edge and I was careful not to get too close!

Well, it was a long, beautiful, and exciting day in the Burren, I’m glad I had the opportunity to go and some company too. Hope you enjoyed the pictures and my side stories! I didn’t plan on writing this much, I expect the other posts to be much shorter.  Feel free to leave comments, I’d love to know someone is actually reading this!

Next up: Recap post(s) on Dublin and the Half Marathon! I’m also going to try to do local restaurant posts if we schedule one for this week.

Posted in Day Trips, Ireland, NUI Galway, Study Abroad, Weekend Adventures, Yoga! | 3 Comments

First Blog Post!

This is my first blog post!

After reading blogs for the past year,  studying abroad in Ireland this semester is my chance to get in on the blogging action! Sometimes my sentences don’t sound quite right and my stories make no sense when written down (that is why I need Clare to be my editor for important documents!), but I just wanted to share all my exciting adventures during my semester in Europe!

Posted in Ireland, Study Abroad | 2 Comments