November 2004 Reflection

The more I travel, the more I realize that every place is basically the same. I don’t mean that in the sense that globalization has infected the whole world with a McDonald’s on every block (although that would be an accurate diagnosis.) I mean that it is difficult to make generalizations about Dublin or the Irish in a meaningful way, because all over the world — well, at least everywhere I’ve been — societies are composed of a wide variation of elements that defy characterization, and people everywhere are just looking for some respect. Women, both in Dublin and in Anderson, South Carolina, get angry when a taxi driver overcharges them. Men, both in Dublin and in Anderson, South Carolina, drink too much and yell at passersby. Students, both in Dublin and in Anderson, South Carolina, search diligently for the cheapest place to get an edible meal. Cultural distinctions are certainly present, and they are interesting and important. But the world would be a kinder, less xenophobic place if we stopped focusing on our neighbors’ “exotic” behaviors and started realizing that our common experience as human beings is what’s most important. My time in Ireland has been a justification of this worldview.

That’s not to say I came to these shores free of my own preconceived notions. One expectation was being faced with racism at every corner. Ireland has experienced an increase in immigration in the past 5-10 years since the Celtic Tiger, and Irish people are still struggling to deal with the new diversity. There were ethnic tensions here before (the Traveller community comes to mind) but the influx of Asian and African immigrants has brought ethnic diversity to the forefront of social discourse. Ireland’s transitional phase is detectable in the low standards of political correctness. For example, in any Centra or Spar convenience store you can pick up a pack of Minstrels candy white malt balls with a chocolate coating. You might also head over to Cafi Sol for a “Sambo Run.” It can be slightly disturbing, but it’s much more benign than what I’d imagined. Before leaving the US, I read a news story about an African-American who was stabbed in Dublin City centre during broad daylight by some people who thought he was an asylum seeker. Forgetting the media’s tendency to sensationalize, I went into panic mode, thinking I might literally be fighting for my life on the mean streets of Dublin. Boy, was I wrong. Not only have I been treated very well by almost every Irish person I’ve encountered, I have not even been followed around a convenience store yet! (Back home in South Carolina, this was a regular occurrence and I was used to it.) All of my roommates and most of my friends are Irish. That myth of rampant, vicious racism has been largely debunked. After all, when it comes to the Minstrels and Cafi Sol, I can just go to Insomnia for a coffee and Cadbury Bar!

In other news, I absolutely love the Equality Studies Centre here at UCD. The students are incredibly diverse in every way. There are a number of mature students who work full-time, so that adds a great experiential element. I look forward to my classes every day and am excited about my thesis. It’s intellectually very interesting to be surrounded by people who are generally far more to the left than I am. Arguing for the “too conservative” theories of John Rawls and other liberal egalitarians has made me appear callous here at times, while in South Carolina, I am more in the “bleeding heart” category. One thing that I’ve realized about myself is how much my politics are rooted in American values and the “American Dream.”

While I have always viewed equal opportunity as an ideal, most of my classmates don’t think it is extensive enough. There are some who would argue unabashedly for equality of condition, including equality of love, care, and solidarity. In the US, people just don’t say those kinds of things, it sounds too much like socialism. It’s healthy to be challenged not just from the right, but also from the left.

Finally, for the more mundane things people should know:
1. It rains a lot here, but the wind will blow your umbrella inside out and it will become useless.
2. Spar and Centra are the fanciest convenience stores this country girl ever did see.
3. Try to avoid doing laundry as long as possible. In two months, I’ve only done it once. The launderette on campus is 2.60 a load, and apparently that’s cheaper than other places!
4. NEVER put your wallet in your backpack, especially when you’re visiting Paris (a long story for another day.)
5. NEVER get in a fight with twelve-year-olds (another long but truly hilarious story.)
6. The best food you can find in Dublin is at Cornucopia, a vegetarian restaurant on Wicklow Street. A large soup and freshly baked bread are just 3.65!
7. Salads here are way better than lettuce and random oily dressing. I hate salad in America. Salads in Ireland, though, are scrumptious. You should come here and try them for yourself!
8. Continuing on the food tip, definitely get the sweet corn on your pizza. You may have never considered putting corn on your pizza before, but it is truly a life-changing experience.

I have been enlightened by my first European experience, and I look forward to continually expanding that knowledge over the course of my time in Ireland. I can’t express my gratitude for Trina, Dell, Kathleen, the selection panel, and anyone who contributes to Alliance for blessing me with this amazing opportunity!

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