November 2005 Reflection

This time last year I remember thinking to myself, “If I actually get the Mitchell Scholarship, I’m going to be so excited that I’ll randomly break out smiling for the next two years!” I thought normal students didn’t get these types of scholarships — that they were for the people with 4.0 GPAs who triple majored, started an international organization, and single-handedly put an end to world hunger while training for a marathon in their spare time. But it turns out normal people can be Mitchell Scholars, because I’m one! And yes, I’m still smiling about it =).

As the sun burst up over the Atlantic Ocean, I squinted out into the Eastern sky to see if I could catch my first glimpse of the Emerald Isle. I wanted to know if all the stories I’d heard of a rolling, green countryside dotted with wooly white lambs was true. As the coast inched into view through my oval window, I first saw what appeared to be a quilt of grassy, green squares, each one divided by stone hedges. A few days later, on my first windy, wet hike through that same countryside, I found that it is home to lots of wooly sheep, but in fact they all have one brightly colored spot of spray paint on their backs so their owners can distinguish their flock.

Not only did I see my first Irish sunrise from the sky, but also my first sunset. By the end of my first day in Ireland I had moved into my dorm at DCU and then moved again to the Westin in Dublin’s city centre. There I met the other Mitchell Scholars for the first time since our interviews last November as we boarded a coach headed to the Guinness Storehouse’s Gravity Bar for our welcoming reception. This incredible bar, positioned 30 meters above the city with an almost 360 degree view, save the elevator shaft, was amazing! While there, I was delighted to find that my fellow Scholars are not only brilliant, but also unpretentious and adventurous! I have no doubt that in the future our ‘Reflections’ will be peppered with stories from many a trip spent happily exploring Ireland or some continent together.

During the weeks that followed our Mitchell Orientation, I got settled into life at DCU. I found a beautiful park to go running in, an enormous Tesco to do my shopping at, and after several failed attempts, figured out how to effectively use the bus system here. Now that I have a bus pass, a gym pass, a DCU student ID, an Irish bank account, and a Garda (police) registration card, I think I can breathe a sigh of relief that I am finally done jumping through administrative hoops. I have also learned that “Irish time” is at least 15 minutes behind most clocks, that ‘craic’ means ‘a good time’ here and not a drug, and that Irish people will intentionally provoke you a bit when you first meet to see if you’ll defend yourself or lighten up and laugh with them.

Irish people really are wonderful! I quickly discovered that they are an incredibly friendly and chatty bunch! They’ll go out of their way to help you, and if you start a conversation, you can expect it to last as long as the pub stays open. Their warmth makes up for the considerably colder and rainier weather here than I had become used to during my past four years spent in Southern California. But don’t worry, the overcast skies and incessant wind have provided the perfect opportunity to get back to my Chicago roots! (Speaking of which, I don’t care if it’s really the World Series or not, because the White Sox won it!).

I am so happy to have this opportunity to live abroad for a year! As challenging and frustrating as it can be feeling like a 5-year-old in a foreign country, since I don’t understand the most basic things again (I have a whole new appreciation for ‘push’ and ‘pull’ signs on doors), all the experiences are worth it! Now I know that people can in fact be blown off their feet by the wind, and that it’s not just in the movies that pedestrians have a tidal wave splashed onto them by a passing bus.

Thank you again to Trina and Dell for the personalized interest they take in each of us! They have put together an amazing scholarship program that I am incredibly proud to be a part of! Thank you also to DCU for being the first university in Ireland to offer a one-year MA in International Security and Conflict Studies – you read my mind! And a big thank you to the dozens of amazing organizations that support the Mitchell Scholars. You have each made us feel incredibly blessed to have this opportunity!

With that I must close because tomorrow I am off to Spain and Morocco for my first taste of Mediterranean culture (and cuisine)! I am looking forward to a year filled with exciting experiences as I immerse myself in Irish culture, study the finer points of international security, and travel as much as my meager savings will allow!

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