I have a Belarussian passport. It’s not mine, it’s someone else’s, but it’s in my possession. And in case you are wondering why, I will share. One of my classmates in Galway is Belarussian and invited me to visit home. He has lived in Galway for four years, part of a large Russian population there. This would be his first time back to see his parents.
Belarus under President Lukashenka is perhaps, along with Uzbekistan, the least reformed of the former communist bloc countries. Goods are still dispersed based on a queuing rather than a price system. The Bush Administration has been openly hostile to the regime, which is of course supported by Moscow (including talk of union or at least currency union). The merits of U.S. foreign policy are open for debate. But while EU citizens have recently been extended an invitation to enter Belarus, US citizens still need a written invitation directly from a Belarussian, plus a hefty 100+ dollar visa fee.
So thus I ended up on my way to the Belarus Consulate in New York with an invitation in Russian and a Belarussian passport to prove its authenticity. It’s a not so subtle reminder that not all the world is as welcoming as Ireland.
More importantly, going through the exercises to enter Belarus puts a fittingly eye-opening and random exclamation point to my time in Galway, Ireland. Much of this year has brought similar experiences, going places and making plans that were not quite envisioned when applying to the Mitchell in the first place.
On my last two nights in Galway in early May, I spent time with three groups of people, each representative of my time on the island. The first was Michael Gale, fellow Mitchell Scholar in Galway, just on his way back from Japan and Dubai. The second was my roommates in the Niland House in City Centre Galway, a rowdy group that had made a name for itself in the pubs. The third was my classmates, mostly Irish and astonishingly diligent, also out for a good time after finishing exams. How unexpected, that only a few months before coming to Ireland, still immersed in my relative cocoon at Princeton, never would I have thought that such people would be the primary determinants of a year of my life.
My summer plans are set. I’ll be in Paris, France, to write my Masters dissertation on the oil stockpile program of the International Energy Agency. Coincidentally, my girlfriend will be there as well. We have several events in Ireland throughout June, however, so once again Ryanair should prove a godsend.
I’d like to sign off my journal with a very heartfelt thanks to Trina, Dell, and Katherine at the U.S.-Ireland Alliance. I’ve been consistently amazed at the dedication and energy with which they administer the Mitchell program, and their efforts have certainly paid significant dividends in the quality of the experience for the Scholars. I could not have imagined a better postgraduate year.