November 2005 Reflection

I’m very grateful for being able to have this opportunity to experience Ireland this year. The previous month and a half have been an exhilarating process of integrating with the Irish society here in Cork city, in the southwest of the green isle. This is my first time in anywhere in Europe, let alone Ireland. The welcoming for the Mitchell Scholars in Dublin was a fantastic initial experience — hiking in true Irish weather (rain), a crash course in everything Irish, theater and great food. And it’s proving true what I’ve heard others say time and again — the year in Ireland is made all the much better by getting to share it, at least in part, with the other Mitchell Scholars, scattered all over the island.

I have had the privilege of making Cork home. Some call it the People’s Republic of Cork. For Ireland’s #2 city, it’s unusually small, and to me, that’s perfect. It’s big enough to attract a lot of research in biotechnology and science in general, yet small enough to be quickly in places where cows and sheep abound. I’m studying biotechnology here at UCC and couldn’t have asked for a better program. The students are able to mold the course to their own interests, something I’ve really appreciated. There’s a research component to the program, and though I haven’t yet joined a lab, I’m excited about all the opportunities. UCC is very much a research university in the sciences, yet isn’t immune to the friendly, relaxed Irish culture. Professors are always willing to stop for a chat, and the students I’ve met are more than eager to talk about their research, the latest soccer game, American politics or more. On that note, I found it hilarious how in my first two classes here, both professors opened with a joke about Americans! It’s also been a lot of fun to have peers from diverse locations around the world — Nigeria, Iran, China, India, Pakistan, and, of course, most of Europe, to name a few. It feels like a mini-UN at times.

For all its differences and its much more relaxed pace than that of the States, the UCC student body is very similar to that of North Carolina in that it is filled with students who are inspiring, passionate, and eager to change the world for the better. I’ve met most of them through the societies (just an Irish way of saying a student organization). I’ve learned a lot about fair trade from several motivated students whose most recent achievements have culminated in Cork’s designation as a Fair Trade city. Through the Surgeon Noonan society, which raises money for medical instruments to several countries in Africa, I joined a large group of medical students, all of us in white coats (to make ourselves visible and to bring home the point of collecting for medical purposes), and went (legally) from pub to pub during Cork jazz festival weekend with buckets for collecting donations. It was quite a sight to see the brigade of white-coated, bucket-carrying students trick-or-treating for donations in the busy streets of Cork.

I hane’t yet had the chance to join a game of hurling, though I’ve been warned numerous times about doing so! I’ve joined the athletics club (Irish for track and cross-country) and have had my first go at yoga. My travels have been limited to the southwest of Ireland, as there’s been a lot to see and experience here. But I have a trip to London planned soon and more ambitions to see as much as I can of everywhere to take advantage of being on this side of the Atlantic. More adventures to come! Cheers!

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