Childlike

“You talk funny,” the four-year-old standing in front of me noted in his thick Cork accent, a spirited grin spreading across his face. His dad apologized as I threw my head back laughing. In late January, I eagerly accepted a position assisting a young Irish couple as the wife recovered from surgery. Primarily, I was to aid in the daily physical tasks associated with running the home and minding their two boys: a bouncy one-year-old and his brother who, at present, was staring inquisitively up at me with cartoon-scale blue eyes.

If you want to be immersed in a culture, I recommend spending time with children born into it. While adults tend to politely infer meaning from context, children will let you know – in no uncertain terms – if what you say or do is out of place. Usually, there will be tears. This is how I found myself Googling “how to make beans on toast” at lunch one afternoon in case the dish was not as self-explanatory as one might think. (Spoiler: it is.)

Oh, but what it must be like to grow up in Ireland.

Rain is far from a deterrent of afternoons at the park; we simply slip a rain suit over our school uniform and wellies and shield the buggy with a plastic cover. Puddle jumping is an extreme sport among the friend group of my elder charge and shadow games on the illusive sunny day might extend our walk from playschool by nearly an hour. “The Salmon of Knowledge,” an Irish fable about the value of wisdom and perseverance, is a naptime favorite of boys I anticipate I will, one day, recite to my own children.

In early March, a cold front dumped several feet of snow on Ireland – the most seen by the country in over 30 years. I cantankerously tugged on my hiking boots for the trek to work, muttering under my breath how I thought moving here meant sweet relief from the regular blizzards of my Colorado childhood. Nobody in Cork shared my disdain for the storm. With much of the city shut down, the local adults took to the streets to play. Play. Snowmen of all shapes littered unplowed sidewalks and baking trays became makeshift sleds. I witnessed one random passerby blissfully return fire after becoming the unintended target of a rogue snowball.

The door of the family home flew open and out waddled several layers of clothing which concealed a four-year-old. “Have you ever even seen this much snow?!” the clothing squealed. Dad and mom joined us in the garden and, under the supervision of their eldest son, started to build the first snowman of their lives. The toddler gripped my knee as he explored the sensation of snow under his boots. He bent and scooped up a handful of snow and offered it to my lips in the same way he extends to me every piece of his lunchtime “beans on toast.” Grinning, I bit into the chunk and he roared with laughter. Somewhere, buried beneath 24 years of school and work and heartbreaks and lessons regarding the way one is supposed to operate in the world, one-year-old me giggled, too.

I am growing up in Ireland.

I am realizing I am strong enough to thrive despite the clouds. I am exploring the ways in which the sun hits the earth here; it’s different from other places I have called home. I am singing new songs and speaking new words and trying new foods; I am learning to exist in a world that is only just becoming familiar. And, with any luck, it will make me a better person.

As I sat rocking a snoring toddler that afternoon I prayed that, as time passes, he and his brother will continue to cherish their Irish roots. I know I will.

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Car rides, Countrysides, and Thunder Roads

For as long as I can remember, one of the best spaces to become present to the people and places around me has been during a car ride. Whether it was the usual summer family road trip, long drives on familiar roads with those closest to me, or exploring the streets of new cities I was moving to, car rides have proved to cultivate an environment of storytelling, community, and bonding. Without fail, whenever my sister and I had free time, a new album to listen to, or really needed to think through a problem, the sound of, “wanna go for a beach drive?” was music to our ears.

The night before leaving for Ireland, my sister and I went for one last beach drive before the big departure. Windows down. Teary eyed from laughing. Music Blasting. I am at home in the passenger seat of her car. “This is what I’ll miss the most,” I thought to myself. A small part of me was (naively) convinced Ireland couldn’t hold a candle to what we had right here on the coastal roads of New Jersey.

Fast forward to January, watching my sister hold her breath as we are driving on the other side of the road from Galway to Cork, half fighting because of the stress and half laughing because if we make it to our destination, it will be a miracle. Both of us in awe of the scenery around us and neither getting sick of the other saying “look, more sheep!” We used the time in between sharing new songs to catch up on everything we already told each other on the phone over the past six months. Before I knew it I was already thinking, “this is what I’ll miss the most” not only about her visit but also my time in Ireland.

My sister and I taking a break from almost driving off the side of the road.

The magic of car rides quickly proved to be an important part of my Mitchell year. Within the first week of moving here, new friends from Cork offered to pick me up at “half eight” to go for a drive. Passing from the busy streets of Cork City to the countryside, I discovered new sights while also learning about what it’s like to grow up in this place I’m about to call home. “That to the left is my family home…to the right thats an old abbey…oh have you been out west yet? We can drive there one weekend.” Just like that the unfamiliar starts to become familiar and new plans are created in the time it takes a traffic light to turn from red to green.

Back home, a staple of any road trip, no matter its distance, is Bruce Springsteen. I used to think that there was no better place to blast Thunder Road than Ocean Avenue in Monmouth County, New Jersey with beach views on both sides of the road and Springsteen’s voice blaring through the speakers. That is, until I got to Ireland — a land that might give New Jersey a run for its money with their love of the Boss. On a drive back  from Belfast to Cork, I heard the beloved words “play some of your favorite Springsteen songs.” As Thunder Road began playing and I took in the scenery around me, I realized how much moments like these blur the lines between home in New Jersey and home in Ireland.

From the time best friends surprised me with a car already rented and ready for a week of adventures across Ireland, to family friends from Cork City packing the car for a day of discovery, I have found that the best way to get to know this country has been from the passenger seat of a car.

Friends from home leading the way on our week long road trip through Ireland.

Views from the backseat of a drive through West Cork with my childhood best friend and her Irish family.

Bruce Springsteen and I most likely bonding over our love of road trips and New Jersey.

Exciting Irish car ride destinations!

 

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have your tea biscuits and eat them too

As I was tumbling from a pier in Howth, I felt as though I had a lifetime to think about feathers.

Bird feathers and bowling balls because in a vacuum they fall at the same rate, at the exact same rate as each other, at the same rate as I would, and how can I learn that fact and still not fully understand that fact, and how can I still be falling from this pier.

I learned two things at the end of three meters:

  1. blunt force trauma to your feet can break them
  2. I am awful at physics

I spent the next six weeks in a wheelchair watching this NASA video and considering the phenomenon of paradox. I thought about my hazardous relationship with gravity and tried to reconcile the physical characteristics of falling objects with physical laws. I also thought a lot about social binaries and mutual exclusivities, but mostly I thought about how to comprehend them and believe them.

It has been said that you can’t be a woman and wield social power. You can’t be poor and a hard worker. Republican and empathetic. Fully human and fully divine. Fiercely concerned for the global condition and yet passionate about providing employment opportunities and healthcare for people within your own country’s borders. An immigrant and a resident. A runner with broken feet. Irish and Northern Irish. An openly gay prime minister of the most Catholic country. Bird feathers and bowling balls. They say you can’t have your cake and eat it too.

And maybe we can’t.

But I fell from a pier and decided that this was my chance to “get good” at physics––not embroidery, not French, physics. So, every day since February 3rd I have read a new article about space and time and vectors (and, let me tell you, the scientists in that field could use a creative writing workshop or two). But, I learned that, in 2015, we formally acknowledged that a particle can exist in two places at once.

I told this to an Irish friend of mine over tea. I said that maybe I could have my tea biscuits and still eat them too. He laughed. He said of course I could––the Irish don’t run out of tea biscuits.

I don’t know if I properly conveyed quantum mechanics in our conversation, but his answer made me laugh and caught me off guard. What if instead of having one or the other, we simply expanded the parameters of the situation? What if this whole time I’ve been fixated on limits instead of possibilities.

I can walk now. I’ve realized that the entirety of this Irish experience–– the course-related books I have read about diseases and inequalities, my fractured calcanei, the 44 Youtube videos I watched about quantum entanglement, conversations with fellow Mitchells, lessons from Irish friends––has been challenging me to realize that there are infinite solutions to our problems if we are willing to embrace what we can’t fully imagine. I know that if I am willing to apply what I have learned from the existential Irish tea cupboard, then I will make a better future doctor.

I can only hope that it somehow helps me to be a better future hiker.

.

 

 

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Corrymeela Lesson in Relativism

When we visited Corrymeela in Northern Ireland for our mid-year Mitchell retreat, I was unprepared for the deeply philosophical conversation that ensued – much like I felt prior to our initial retreat in Limerick. Padraig, a community leader, orchestrated the convicting discussion, accompanied by the beautiful backdrop of the Irish Sea.

To me, conflict resolution, as a practice, seemed foreign in that the work is often overlooked in periods of “peace.” Corrymeela takes an opposing stance. Routinely, they host a variety of groups on varying topics in a region still feeling the undertones of its sectarian conflict. According to Padraig, the conversations range from talks about LGBTQ+ inclusion to religious differences. After we probed as to how Padraig exactly conducts these talks, he followed with a seemingly paradoxical remark: “I am uninterested in consensus. I am interested in disagreement.”

Such caused me to reflect on how often appeals to universality are used to cure conflict. For example, as an opposition to the onset of identity politics, many Americans champion the zero-sum response of suppressing differences, be it race, gender, income, sexual orientation, etc. to uphold this idea of being “American.” Albeit tangentially related, Alastair Bonnett addresses this topic, differing between the strands of anti-racism in her book entitled, Anti-Racism: Relativism and Universalism. She loosely endorses a relativist approach where uniqueness is emboldened to further peace. In some ways, Padraig held a similar view.

Upon reflection, Padraig’s comment is incredibly wise. Embedded in feigned consensus efforts can be divisiveness. While our humanity bonds us, our lived experiences separate us. That dissonance is what contributes to the richness of cultural exports. However, when efforts are not made to understand the fruits of individual dissonance, an embargo is placed on individuality. Suddenly, a society becomes too concerned with trying to agree rather than being comfortable with distinctiveness.

Conflict resolution is not about changing another’s mind or defending one’s dignity. It is, however, about finding “strange ground for peace.” That is something I can get behind. Thanks for the lesson, Corrymeela.

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So Much to Celebrate

Whenever the weather allows in Galway (which can never be guaranteed), I like to walk the Salthill Promenade. On one of my first nights here, Azza introduced me to the walk and ever since then it’s often been a place of processing and reflection for me (and of enjoying the beaches and admiring the local dogs). Luckily, today Galway put on its best sunny show; so off I went. With my birthday, fencing intervarsities, and St. Patrick’s Day falling across the last three weekends, as I walked I was happily flooded with memories of celebrations.

To be fair, my birthday actually fell on a Tuesday. The bad news being that as a weeknight, some of my friends couldn’t make it out that night; the good news being that that meant only one thing — double the birthday celebrations. I shared a laughter-filled dinner on my birthday with two of my longest-held friends in Galway before heading to the pub to meet the fencing club. Tuesdays are our usual pub night as a team, so I anticipated the usual banter when to my surprise they pulled out a cake and a pack of Kinder Eggs (my first ever). The following Saturday, I had dinner with a group of my friends in our usual dinner spot. When we got back to their sitting room, they brought out a cake complete with trick candles. With some help, I did finally manage to get them all blown out.

“blowing out” the birthday candles (probably attempt 6 or so with no end in sight)

Before I knew it, only days later I found myself on a bus surrounded by the fencing team at the beginning of our seven-hour journey to Coleraine for intervarsities – a team competition across the universities of Ireland and Northern Ireland. Saturday evening, there is a celebratory dinner that was described to me beforehand as “like a wedding reception with no wedding attached.” Sitting together around two tables sharing our meal, competing in various party games and races, and dancing the night away, it was a time for the whole team and the whole fencing community to come together to celebrate all that we’d accomplished that weekend and throughout the year. And we left with some pretty wonderful photo booth print outs too.

NUIG Women’s Foil Team

Then just a few days ago, I found myself in a sea of green – my first Irish Paddy’s Day (I was warned sternly not to ever say Patty’s Day – duly noted). I watched as children’s GAA teams, various cultural groups, performing arts programs, and everything in between marched through Galway during the parade. Then we filed into the pub to watch the Ireland-England rugby match – a game I never knew I’d be into until surrounded by cheering, swearing, nail-biting fans. After an Irish victory, the celebratory spirit carried on long into the night. The town was packed; Irish flags were hanging from store fronts; banners were flying across the streets; and laughter and singing filled the air.

Caught mid-cheer during the rugby match

In thinking about each of those nights and what I loved about them, I realized that I kept coming back to connection. Celebrations are a time of joy, a time of achievement, a time of reflection on contributions and identity, but what makes them truly celebratory is often the community of people that you celebrate with. When we celebrate, we look to those closest to us and in doing so we both acknowledge and deepen our sense of community. Walking along the Prom today, I reflected on how lucky I am to find myself in so many supportive communities here and how lucky I feel to have so much to celebrate.

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Academia as a circular room

Why is the percentage of female patients who receive inappropriate medications from their healthcare providers significantly higher than male patients? Why is the quality of American healthcare improving much faster than access or disparities? Why do Americans need Go-Fund-Me pages to pay for basic life-and-death healthcare expenses? Why do twice as many African American and Native American babies die before year one compared to Caucasian babies?

When I finished my four years of premedical courses as an undergraduate, I was in many ways just as perplexed as when I started. I felt like I had learned everything and nothing. I studied biology, chemistry, physics, anatomy and math, but I had no idea how to answer any of the questions above. I felt unsettled because I could see disparities in treatment and outcomes along lines of gender and sexuality, but I have come to see that this is just a part of a much larger fragmented system. Physicians can’t just be gears in a machine that allows for such gross discrepancies in treatment, and taking this year to try and understand the global systems that result in such discrepancies has been invaluable.

The highlight of my second semester at UCD has been my World-Systems, World-Literature class taught by Sharae Deckard. Each week we read a novel that deliberately attempts to “write the world” by taking on a global perspective, often by thinking about globalization, capitalism, and the impacts of transnational corporations. These books also question the assumption that Western knowledge and Western styles of thinking are inherently superior to other histories and perspectives about the world. One week we read The Swan Book by Alexis Wright, an indigenous Australian author who includes indigenous conceptions of time within her novel. Instead of envisioning time as a line, always moving forward and progressing, the indigenous characters in her novel envision it as a snake biting its tail or as a circle. Things move forward, but reminders of past events continually influence present circumstances, much like a palimpsest. At the same time, I was reading about immunotherapies, especially checkpoint blockade, and I realized that this conception of time was much more useful in understanding the cell cycle. At a cellular level, life operates much more by this circular conception of time where cells grow and divide and grow and divide.

Academia today has a dogmatic insistence on demarcating areas of knowledge within firm boundaries, and generally discouraging “experts” from stepping outside their prescribed territories. One of the best metaphors for academia that I have ever heard is that academia is like an enormous round room with the secret to the world in the middle. The room is covered by a ceiling, but has a walkway around it with windows peering in so that can each view can see a section of what is inside the room. Each disciplinary approach can see its own view of the center, but only together can a full picture of what is inside be pieced together. Gender theory, race theory, postcolonial theory, transfeminist theory, literary theory, Marxist theory, feminist theory, biology, chemistry, physics, anatomy and math together can give complementary insights into the systems that are responsible for generating the questions above, and perhaps how the systems that they arise from can be changed.

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Power in Small Things

Studying conflict can be intensely demoralizing. Every day seems like a new lesson in mankind’s potential to be cruel, and every solution seems painfully imperfect. We learn to pull our far reaching hopes in, to make our goals a bit smaller, and to ultimately view peace not as a singular leap but instead as a multifaceted process that may never be fully complete. These are hard lessons–most of us are young idealists who always dreamt of saving the world, many of us are heartbroken to realize how impossible that may be. At times, I have found myself edging perilously close to cynicism. In February, a group visit to the Corrymeela Community served to remind me of the human potential for change, for progress, and for good.

In contrast to the breathtaking coastline upon which it sits, Corrymeela’s buildings seem quiet and unassuming. It was established in 1965 as a space in which to have difficult conversations. During the Troubles, bitter political rivals could meet here as a first step in overcoming devastating social rifts. Our introduction to the organization was provided by current community leader Padraig O Tuama. His speaking style was an echo of the place itself–quiet, comforting, unpretentious, and yet decidedly charged with power and meaning. I wish I could remember every word he spoke; I wish I could write them all here and have them wash over you the way they washed over me, somehow shaking me to the core while simultaneously providing me with a sense of strength. Knowing I can’t manage that I offer instead what I found to be his three most potent thoughts:

  1. Seeing the bigger picture. Padraig told us the story of a conversational impasse, a moment when all sides felt so mired in their differences that they could not speak productively. One member of the group suddenly looked through the window and pointed to the ocean: “There are dolphins out there!” The group broke, moved outside excitedly, watched in amazement as the animals leapt and swam. The group was able to come back to the conversation with a sense of the larger world and its meaning beyond the divisiveness of any single issue.
  2. Feeling safe. “Before anyone enters the room,” Padraig explained, “there are hundreds of phone calls being made. Most of these are assuring guests that they will be treated with respect.” It makes sense–who would want to enter a space knowing that those within it are waiting eagerly to tear you to pieces? Regardless of the perspectives from which group representatives might come, much of Corrymeela’s burden is to ensure that they feel safe enough to engage in productive dialogue.
  3. Speaking the same language. When discussing his work combating homophobic legislation abroad, Padraig mentioned its alleged moral roots in the Christian Bible. Instead of condemning the authors and legislators as heartless or broken, he approached them with a Bible in hand. Together they sat and worked through the texts that both sides valued, ultimately finding the passages to be far less in favor of dogmatic punishment and far more in favor of acceptance and empathy. When their moral framework was respected, they were far more open to change.

None of these are solutions in themselves, but they are elements of a larger process that holds infinite potential. Corrymeela stands as proof that great change is made up of small-scale action, and that one organization, one group of dedicated individuals, even one young idealist, can move the arc of the moral universe a little further towards justice.

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How to Spend the Perfect St. Patrick’s Day

First, you will want to get an early start to the day, plan for a 9 o’clock breakfast in Cathedral Quarter, where you can sit down to a great meal at one of Belfast’s new hip restaurants. You’ll want to take your tea sitting by the window of the restaurant, to watch as the parade organizers begin marshaling their massive floats. After indulging in a light breakfast and friendly banter with the staff, bundle up and brace for the cold.

Walk to St. Georges market where you can shop the stalls for festive attire. Paddy caps, Aran sweaters, green scarfs, and gloves are all appropriate but don’t forget the jovial items of flair (these will be essential later). As you enjoy the market and make conversation with the stall keepers, you’ll be serenaded by live traditional Irish music (trad for short). Here you might stop to enjoy some sweets or a Belfast Bap, certainly a tea, as you tap along to the songs and watch the people dance.

Around a quarter to noon, make your way to city hall at the city center where the parade makes its loop. Here you’ll soak up the culture of the city as floats begin to ferry by, marveling at gigantic mythical St. Patrick and the ironic Titanic float, accompanied by more trad music and river dancers. After the parade finishes and you’re thoroughly frozen, it’s time to head into a pub for warmth and preliminary drinks. Find a decent snug to sit with your friends in the Garrick, and chat away while you thaw. Following a pint or two, it’s time to find another pub as the crowds begin to swell. Head down to get a proper meal in the Cathedral Quarter and stake out a table to watch the Ireland England rugby match.

After a proper feed, steel yourself for the cheer as the 3 o’clock match kicks off. This is where your newly acquired flair will come in handy for making new friends, as you cheer the all-Ireland team on against the pompous English. Strangers of all shapes and sizes become acquaintances, and then fast friends as Ireland carries the day and wins the rugby grand slam. Join the crowd in singing songs of victory as you partake in a now slightly drunken revelry.

Now as the day turns into evening, the celebration gets into full swing. Venture to Madden’s, Kelly’s Cellars, and then Hudson Yard (now Peaky Blinders) for the best wings in Belfast. After some good bar food, the pub crawl continues as you go from bar to bar, band to band, finally getting a booth at The John Hewitt. While the band plays yet more trad music, you join in the choruses and singing. End the night at the harp bar, where everyone begins to funnel as the rest of the bars close.

Head back to your Airbnb overlooking St. Anne’s Cathedral for rest from a St. Patrick’s Day you won’t forget.

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Cross-Cultural Curtain Calls, or How I Became “The Goat Girl” of Dublin Theater

When I got the email saying that my play was going to be produced in Dublin as part of the Smock Alley Scene + Heard festival, I cried tears of joy. The play that I had submitted was called Escapegoat. It followed the conflicts between an invasive species of goat and native species in the Galapagos, and the ethically questionable ways in which scientists intervened. I was excited to do this play in Dublin because, while many of my plays directly address American political and social issues, this play does not deal with human cultures in any significant way, and is primarily told from the perspectives of different animals. This makes it the play of mine that is best suited to cross-cultural collaboration. Smock Alley was the first theater I ever went to in Dublin, and it is a beautiful space with a rich history, so I could not have imagined a better home for my playwriting debut in Dublin.

While the process of staging a play in a new city was challenging, and there were moments when it seemed nearly impossible, I was touched by the support I received from my Irish and American circles. My professors met with me to give me advice and inform me about resources available throughout the city, as did several theater artists to whom I reached out because I admire their work. One professor even secured us free rehearsal space, which helped us immensely. Friends recommended actors and a director, and two of my classmates were involved (one as the producer, and the other as an actor). American friends and family were incredibly generous in helping us fund the production and spreading the word. And, of course, the Mitchell family has been a constant source of support to me throughout this process. When we faced challenges, my fellow scholars were often the ones to enthusiastically cheer me on and inspire me to keep going. Many of them came to see the show, and Carolina (the Mitchell Director) was also able to attend while she was in Ireland. I always feel fortunate to be part of this community, but I was especially aware of how special it is in the weeks leading up to my play.

One question that this process has raised for me is the extent to which plays have to be culturally specific in order to resonate. Several of my Irish colleagues in theater remarked to me that this play was very different from the majority of plays they have seen in Dublin, simply because its subject matter had nothing to do with Ireland. Indeed, all of the plays I have seen in Ireland interrogate what it means to be Irish, or address the most pressing social issues in Ireland today. I have often heard the critique that Irish theater is “navel-gazing,” and I generally object to this opinion because it assumes that Ireland is not important or culturally rich enough to be worthy of writing many plays about. After all, countless American plays deal with specifically American politics and national identity, and no one ever accuses American theater of navel-gazing. However, I also believe that Irish audiences deserve access to stories about other parts of the world on their stages, and that Irish playwrights should not feel that they must only write about Irish topics if they want their work to be produced. Putting up a play in Ireland as an American writing about the Galapagos has complicated this debate for me in a constructive and eye-opening way.

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Blessings on blessings

I’ve always thought that being mindful of one’s blessings reaps rewards for mental health and spirit. Finding ways to be thankful brings assurance and perspective to testy times and can help a person recognize – even maximize –unique opportunities whenever they arise. As a Mitchell Scholar in Ireland, this “attitude of gratitude” has come naturally. It’s a motto that is reinforced daily through the breadth of learning opportunities and relationships that come with living and studying in the Emerald Isle.

Since the start of the second semester I’ve begun a new job and have done more traveling throughout the island. After probing various firms and NGO’s in Dublin; I decided to take up a part-time job with Matheson, a prominent Irish law firm, to coincide with my Master’s at UCD. Although I certainly don’t aspire to make a career out of practicing corporate law or facilitating mergers, my time so far at Matheson – which possesses a vast portfolio of international clientele – has proven valuable. My role, which involves assisting the lawyers (“solicitors”) in the International Business practice group on ongoing client matters and legal research, is a way for me to play a small part in promoting a new transatlantic “special relationship.”  After Brexit, the bond between Ireland and America – already rich culturally – can only deepen through business. The influx of capital and investment to Ireland, where most of the top American multinationals house their European headquarters, has been integral in helping Ireland recover from the eurozone crisis better than the other ‘PIIGS’ debtor nations. Moreover, it bodes well for Ireland’s future and her relationship with the US.

“The Beast from the East,” featuring UCD

St. Patrick’s Day parade from O’Connell bridge

My courses at UCD continue to challenge me in new ways. A module on political violence has helped me knock the rust off my debating skills: our class holds weekly debates on prominent, explanatory theories for conflict and violence in the 21st century like religion, ethnicity, and poverty. Working on a team to construct a reasoned argument regarding certain controversial theories (Huntington’s “clash of civilizations,” for example) has forced me to think more critically and to more clearly connect political theory to contemporary events.

One aspect of my Mitchell year that has been a constant since the day I got here is my respect and admiration for the other scholars. I have learned immensely from the other Mitchells throughout the year and consider our friendships as valuable as any part of my year in Ireland. With a cohort of twelve, we were able to form a very closely-knit group. We all enjoy being around one another – like our incredible mid-year retreat in Belfast and Northern Ireland this February – and we savor the chance to meet up on occasion during the workweek. We love traveling together and engaging in meaningful conversations. I’ve enjoyed exchanging book recommendations with Pete, traveling extensively with Donovan, and chatting frequently with Joel (and talking politics with all three together). Lacey and May have afforded me useful insights about topics in which I am relatively clueless – medicine/science and theatre. As my fellow UCD flatmate, I love talking with Ellie each day whilst in the kitchen about her studies, travels, and academic future. And that’s just a few examples. I am blessed to be in such an eclectic group that will undoubtedly remain close for years and years to come.

All smiles at Giant’s Causeway

This year, I don’t have to look for ways to show thanks. In Ireland, the blessings are abundant and ever-present. I often find myself wishing this year would slow down, but I know the feeling that time has flown by means I’ve truly enjoyed it all. I just hope I’ve been a good steward of this rare and special year.

Exploring the beautiful Aran Islands with my visiting brother

Giant’s Causeway

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Irish Music

I’ve played trombone since I was about eleven years old. Picking up the instrument seemed natural to me. My father played trombone when he was younger and always had an old musty instrument in the basement that, when I was a kid, I’d sometimes take out and attempt to make what I thought resembled music on it, although not very successfully. I’ve been lucky enough to play in some great ensembles in my life, including four years in the Spartan Marching Band at Michigan State. After graduating I’ve still pursued my desire to play, and continued to performing in a community ensemble in Flint.

When I moved to Dublin, one of the first things that I wanted to do was find an ensemble in the community to continue making music with. I didn’t want to skip an entire year of playing with passionate musicians, and Ireland is a nation with no shortage of passionate artists, whether they be musicians, painters, or most famously, writers. After a few weeks searching through brass bands, wind symphonies, and symphonic orchestras, I reached out to the Dublin Orchestral Players to see if they were in need of a trombonist. To my luck they were, and I began attending rehearsals in the fall.

After attending weekly rehearsals every Tuesday evening, our first concert was on a gorgeous night in early December at Kings Inns on the north side of Dublin. While the concert included the obligatory Christmas carol medley, it also included a gorgeous Haydn oboe concerto and a beautiful Mozart symphony. The talent of my fellow musicians was overwhelming and getting to perform in such a beautiful space made for an emotionally fulfilling evening that I’ll remember for some time.

Following this concert and a break for the holidays, we began rehearsing again for our spring concert. Unlike the first concert, this one included trombone parts in every piece, including a fairly challenging part in the famous William Tell Overture. The overture was accompanied by a beautiful cello concerto by Elgar, with a guest cellist who was breathtaking, and the famous Requiem by Fauré where we partnered with a local area choir to round out the piece. To top it all off, the concert was held in Christ Church Cathedral, one of the most breathtaking churches in all of Ireland. I’ve been fortunate enough to have fellow Mitchell Scholars attend each performance with their sincere and encouraging, if sometimes embarrassing, vocal support.

I’ve been lucky throughout my performances to be welcomed by the friendliest of people, fellow musicians in Ireland. The Irish are well-known as a kind and welcoming people, and in my time with the Dublin Orchestral Players I have found them to be nothing but eager to accept me into their group and make me feel a part of the ensemble, an ensemble which includes players who have been members for decades. It has been the chance to get to know fellow musicians here that has been the most rewarding part of playing with the DOP. While the music has been enjoyable, and the venues breathtaking, the kindness of the Irish people stands out as the most memorable part of playing with this ensemble. I count myself lucky to have been welcomed into the group with such open arms and can’t wait to make more music across Dublin.

The first concert in December at Kings Inns in Dublin

My wife Olivia and I after the December concert

Christ Church Cathedral during our March performance

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Hard Lessons

As I have found to be par for the course, coffee with classmates seven hours ago has somehow landed us packed shoulder to shoulder with dozens of other strangers in a Cork City pub. Irish Bob Dylan is perched at the edge of a makeshift stage bathed in orange light. He points his microphone towards the crowd which responds with inebriated vigor, yell-singing the chorus to “Like a Rolling Stone,”

How does it feel
To be on your own
With no direction home
A complete unknown
Just like a rolling stone?

I hate this song. It ends, and I wish my classmates luck on our final paper before making my way home. Strolling down the main street of City Center, the cheery twinkle of millions of Christmas lights is amplified in the ever-present rain.

I pass a man and woman dozing on a mattress in the doorway of a store and feel my gaze drop to my feet as I attempt to ignore the sickening pull of my heart as it plunges into my gut. Cork’s main thoroughfare is a high-end retail district. But, after the shops close, the homeless of the area who are without a bed at a rescue take refuge in the entryways of Brown Thomas and Debenhams and Penny’s – a stark juxtaposition to the gleeful occupants just hours earlier. These are the “rough sleepers” and it seems their numbers grow every time I find myself in city center after dark.

The 2008 recession left Ireland to battle a severe housing deficit in its wake. Thousands of individuals nationwide are without homes, presenting a unique circumstance for policy development. As such, homelessness has become a natural point of exploration in my social policy courses at UCC. I would be lying if I said it has been simple to endure. Nothing about battling for care of the human condition is palatable but the problem of homelessness has an exceptional grasp on my heart. In part, I credit this to the difficult memory of my family’s brief stint with it several years ago; however, it is important to note that homelessness in Ireland is exponentially more visible than any place in which I have ever lived. And, with visibility comes discomfort. I watch as others pass the rough sleepers and mimic my implicit actions; eyes avert, belongings are clutched tighter, paces quicken. All of this is done as if the rough sleepers have nothing more pressing to concern themselves with than the anonymous passersby. Imagine: “How does it feel / To be on your own / With no direction home /A complete unknown/ Just like a rolling stone?”

93% of human communication is nonverbal; What one says pales in comparison to accompanying actions. What does it say about my supposed dedication to the welfare of others if I can’t bring myself to look them in the eye? I am here to learn about and, hopefully one day, improve upon methods of social welfare policy. Lesson one is forcing myself to be uncomfortable, knowing full well it will never match the discomfort of those I aim to help. Ireland has reminded me of the obvious and painful truth that there are faces and names and stories which serve as impetus for social policies. With all due respect to Bob Dylan, they don’t have to go unknown.

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