In the Middle Ages, Ireland floated at the periphery of the known world, and the island’s medieval history is occasionally mischaracterized as remote and isolated. I remember a time when I held misconceptions that were similar, in an abstract sense, during my first days exploring Dublin in 2013. I had received several compliments on my English, amused looks at my Irish name, and questions of, “No, where are you really from?” when the United States was not a satisfying answer. It was a reminder that we can sometimes forget strangers will not necessarily match our expectations.
Fortunately, I had arrived for the Undergraduate Awards Global Summit, which quickly corrected these first impressions. I never expected Dublin would provide me with some of the most globally engaged experiences of my life over the next several years. The Undergraduate Awards (UA) recognizes achievement in student research around the world. It culminates in an annual Global Summit in Dublin, which supports and connects undergraduate researchers and bombards them with inspiring conversations and late nights of socializing. As I traveled to Dublin for the Summits of 2013, 2014, and 2015, the attendees became more diverse each year, and these three short trips produced a global network that I’ve reconnected with on visits from Santiago, Chile to Astana, Kazakhstan.
Returning to Dublin with the Mitchell Scholarship helped sustain my connection to this community even though I was no longer eligible to apply to the UA program. Within a week of my arrival, a fellow UA alumnus put me on a discussion panel at the BlueFire Street Fest in Smithfield. The festival was created to celebrate intercultural relations and the diversity of Dublin, with dance from India, music from Nigeria and Brazil, and more. My five fellow twenty-something panelists were each from a different country, but we all shared Dublin as our current home. That evening I went to see Megalomaniac, a play about a Palestinian pharmacist earning Irish citizenship while her family remained stranded in Syria. It was a side of life in Ireland that I had not seen during my short trips in previous years, and I spent my free time trying to learn more and get involved.
Then the election happened. Home felt far away, isolation and remoteness characterized my feelings as I watched from Ireland, and communities seemed more insular than I previously imagined. But just as quickly, I found an unexpected connection to home as a guest at the UA Summit Awards Ceremony in Dublin City Hall. The keynote speaker was a Chicagoan, Dr. Mae Jemison, and with her audience of 152 students from 38 countries, we reflected on how to engage with one another and challenge boundaries and limits rather than respect them. And as Jemison, a former NASA astronaut, encouraged us to see beyond our world both literally and figuratively, Dublin once again played host to formative and invigorating international exchange. It sets a promising tone for the rest of the Mitchell year.