November 2009 Reflection

A little over a year ago, as I put the final touches on my application for the Mitchell Scholarship, I spent a night reading through scholar reflections from years past. I can’t tell you exactly what I was looking for – maybe I thought I could find some tip that would give my application an edge or that I could gain some dim sense of what kind of people I might spend a year with. Maybe I just wanted some clearer idea of what a year in Ireland would mean. I don’t know it for a fact, but I have a hunch that most of those who read these reflections are people in that same position. With that in mind, consider this reflection addressed to you – the applicant.

If you know anything about the Mitchell Scholarship, you know it involves moving to Ireland for about a year. Before I arrived in Dublin a few months ago, I had only left the United States a couple of times. When my friends spread out across the world for their semesters abroad, I stayed back home – I was always too wrapped up in campus life to part with it. And while I wouldn’t change my college experience for the world, I regretted not getting the chance to live abroad as an undergrad. More than anything else, I applied for the Mitchell to get a chance to live in another country. Not just to visit, but to live – to immerse myself in another culture. As a bonus, I wanted to get the chance to travel widely in Europe and get some ink on my passport.

So far, so good. I’m writing this reflection on a night train from Krakow to Budapest. Having barely left the country before this fall, I’ve already explored much of Ireland, visited the United Kingdom twice, and gone backpacking in Eastern Europe. Next weekend, I’ll be in Paris. Other scholars have run the marathon in Athens, gone to Oktoberfest in Munich and spent Halloween in Derry. If you plan things right, you’ll have no problem exploring Ireland and the continent without missing class.

As for living in Ireland, I am constantly finding new reasons to fall in love with the country. I like sweater weather and Ireland is perpetually, comfortably cool. I’m a talker and the Irish love to talk. I love politics and history and the Irish are passionate about both. Even the cab drivers are good conversation – as you’ll find, they are experts on everything from philosophy to economics.

While I expected Irish education would differ in style from what I was used to in the States, I didn’t anticipate any substantive difference in the focus of my courses. Having taken international relations courses as an undergraduate, I expected my masters degree in international relations at University College Dublin would build upon what I already learned – complicating, tweaking, and revising the basic framework I developed in college, but not upending it. Instead, I’ve been struck by the ways in which the study of international politics in Ireland is fundamentally different in its orientation than the discipline in the United States. Talking with the other Mitchells, it seems that many of us are finding the Irish (or is it European?) orientation in our courses can radically depart from the perspectives to which we are accustomed. All of this is to say, intensive study outside the United States can offer things that a course within the United States cannot.

You might be wondering what the relationships between the Mitchell scholars are like. Put simply: I’ve rarely had the opportunity to spend time with such fun, intelligent, eclectic people. When we’re all together, I’ve heard conversations that effortlessly jump from property rights in Afghanistan to chicken farms to James Joyce. I think it’s a testament to how much we like each other that, aside from getting together at all of our program events, we’re bouncing around the island to visit one another and traveling around Europe together. I’ve only known most of my fellow scholars for a few months, but I can safely say I’ve already made friends I expect to keep for the rest of my life.

Fortunately, my stay in Ireland has only just begun. I hope to have quite a bit more insight to share by my next reflection. In the meantime, I’d like to again thank the staff of the US-Ireland Alliance as well as the sponsors and governments that make the Mitchell Scholarship possible. I cannot but poorly express how grateful I am for this opportunity.

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