This post was first published as part of the New Tribes Series in the Galway2020 blog. Galway is bidding to become the European Capital of Culture 2020 and with only a few weeks left until the judges make their final decision, I want to share this again. I volunteer for the Galway2020 initiative and the Galway2020 team is very open to suggestions. They made me feel welcome and try to find volunteer roles I’m able to do and enjoy. Sometimes people with a disability are, often unintentionally, excluded from participating in and contributing to mainstream cultural projects. In fact, their voices are seldom heard outside disability related contexts. For me this wasn’t the case in the Galway2020 campaign. Thanks for letting me be part of it. I hope we win!
I like the concept of Europe, because theoretically, it means I can be German and Irish at the same time.
I’m from Germany and I came to Galway as an ERASMUS student while studying English at the University of Leipzig. My degree focused mainly on Britain, but I wanted to go somewhere different and Galway was advertised as a small seaside town, so I picked it without knowing much about it.
I’m legally blind and there aren’t that many students with a disability who go abroad. I had to organise some things in advance, but it was definitely worth it, because I became more self-confident and independent. I’d recommend living in another country to anyone, but I’d especially encourage students with a disability to give it a go. During my first week in town, I did a walking tour and the guide said, ‘Some people call Galway the graveyard of ambitions, because once you move here, you can’t or won’t leave again’. I’m now doing an M.A. in Irish Studies at NUIG, so I agree with the part about not wanting to leave, but I don’t think Galway is a graveyard of ambitions. It’s very much alive and I can imagine living and working here for a while longer.
My Irish friends are always amazed that I don’t greet everyone I hear speaking German on the street, which is what most of them would do. To be honest, I didn’t really go looking for other Germans; I wanted to meet people from different countries. However, I met some lovely Germans over here, mostly ERASMUS students and people connected to the German Department in NUIG. Native speakers of English are said to be unwilling to learn another language, but I know lots of people here who learn German or at least have some phrases. There’s a German conversation group meeting every other Tuesday in the Bierhaus, if anyone wants to catch up on their German. Living abroad definitely made me look at my home country and culture in a different way.
Being at Home
If you go out and do things, it’s very easy to meet people and to get involved with community groups and projects. In the beginning, college clubs and societies helped me a lot. Especially when you’re new somewhere and know nobody, you’re more prepared to try new things.
I joined the Galway Visually Impaired Activity Club. Every other Sunday, we go cycling on tandem bikes, with a sighted pilot in the front and a visually impaired person in the back. It’s a great way to get to know different people and it doesn’t matter whether you have a disability or not. Once or twice a year, we go on weekend trips and I already got to see a good bit of Ireland by bike. We also participate in charity cycles. The longest one I did was 100km, but our Sunday spins are shorter and we try to cater for all ages and abilities.
Last year, I helped organising a cycle from Berlin to Prague for the club and I hope to do the Cycle Against Suicide next year. I also volunteer with the NCBI (National Council for the Blind of Ireland), advising people on how to use their smart phones with the built-in accessibility features.
I’d love Galway to become more accessible to people with disabilities; more pedestrian crossings and acoustic lights, wheelchair accessible businesses and bigger street signs with contrasts.
There’s always something going on in Galway; festivals, good live music in pubs, charity events, and Connemara is ideal for all kinds of outdoor activities. I bring my Jack Russell terrier, Mixer, who I got from the GSPCA for a walk on the prom every day. It’s a great place to meet other doggie-people. I got so used to having the sea right outside my doorstep that I start missing it when I’m gone for more than a week.
When I first came here, I tried to listen to a conversation on the bus from Dublin airport and thought my English was really bad, because I couldn’t understand anything. It took me a while to realise that they spoke Irish. I’ve learned a few phrases from friends and Duolingo. People are delighted that I try, even when I get it wrong. I hope to do a spoken Irish course next year. I went to a few events in Irish and even though I didn’t understand most of it, it was fun.
Because of my visual impairment, I often have to ask for directions. People here are very nice, sometimes even a bit too helpful, when they want to help me cross a road which I don’t want to cross at all or try to lift me into a bus. But they mean well and sometimes, I have great conversations with total strangers.
I’d love Galway to become more accessible to people with disabilities; more pedestrian crossings and acoustic lights, wheelchair accessible businesses and bigger street signs with contrasts, to name only a few things. I recently wrote a blog post on how giving each bus stop an individual name and announcements on busses would improve Galway’s public transport system, not only to visually impaired users but also to visitors.
What it Means to be European
I like the concept of Europe, because theoretically, it means I can be German and Irish at the same time. It would be great if Europeans didn’t need to decide a citizen of which country they want to be, but I suppose that wouldn’t work for legal reasons. I find applying for anything in Ireland rather cumbersome. It’s all so bureaucratic. If you have documents in a language other than English, you have a real hard time. But I suppose that’s the same in every country. It would be great if it became easier to resettle within Europe, especially when it comes to insurance and state benefits.
First published: www.galway2020.ie