What I have come to appreciate the most from my time here in Ireland is the outside perspective. I wrote about this a little bit in my last blog and hearing the phrase “That’s so American of you..” and since then I’ve reflected more on just how valuable those sort of experiences are.
Often times when I debate with my friends about foreign policy or international perspective it is with good intention but it is missing validation. We discuss what others think, but we can’t confirm it. This was mostly true in my life up until moving to Ireland. Dublin is a very international city and in just less than a year I’ve met and befriended people from all over the world. It’s been great for two reasons.
The first being that you can actually ask someone from the place you’re debating about what they think about your thoughts or the policy up for discussion. Now I understand that one person’s opinion cannot represent a whole nation, but just having that one voice is infinitely more valuable than making assumptions. In my engineering program there are students from Pakistan, India, Venezuela, Kuwait, among others. When I have questions or am learning something new about those countries it is such a privilege to go to class and ask them what they think. For example, I read a book on country borders in South America and as I was reading it I would pester my Venezuelan classmates about their own experiences or the cultural context of the book. This made the reading experience so much richer than it would have been if I read it alone and just pondered what it must be like to live in South America.
Secondly, the flip side of highlighting your differences is a disconnect when trying to explain things using only your cultural lens. There have been many times where either myself or someone else wants to use a metaphor to explain a concept and with comic frustration the whole point dissolves in front of your eyes. This is best explained through an example. In my statistics class my teacher was trying to cement the concept of Type I errors in statistics. A Type I error is a specific error in which the correct outcome is interpreted by humans as incorrect. The teacher explained this and then opened it to the class for an acceptable metaphorical example. An American student made a Supreme Court reference in which an innocent person is found guilty. An Irish student in the class made a hurling reference (a strictly Gaelic sport only played in Ireland). An Indian student gave a cricket referee manual reference. A Spanish student talked about football (soccer for Americans) in which a goal is recalled after the fact. At first this discussion was frustrating, but in the end the whole class was laughing because we all knew what we wanted to say but everyone fumbled their answers. It was just a funny and true moment in which our cultural lenses showed themselves.
All these experiences have left me with a great appreciation for the international perspective I get here. One that I’m sure I will miss once I move back to America.