January 2006 Reflection

As I sit here in Dublin’s first Starbucks, I realize that some things have changed very little for me in the past few months. I can still sit, surrounded by familiar Starbucks earth-tone furniture, and drink tea while typing on my laptop. And I still get frustrated by a general lack of free wireless internet access — we’ve become such a spoiled generation! But on the other hand, many things have changed. Like the fact that at 10 pm Starbucks is my only coffee shop option because the local establishments I’d prefer to be in closed hours ago. And more important, the different frame of reference and perspective that people bring to any discussion here. Now that I’m several months into my MA program, I’ve discovered that whereas I used to be able to have full blown arguments with those who had different political views in America, I must be far more reserved and tactful here. It’s no longer an argument between Republicans and Democrats, but rather between two different countries’ values, resources, priorities, and foreign policies. I’ve learned how much of my childhood education, society, and experiences have molded my world-view. While discussing the causes of WWII in class, I realized, after listening to my classmates talk only about the European front for more than an hour, that while I’ve been primarily taught about the U.S. relationship with Japan leading up to Pearl Harbor, they’ve been focusing on how economic conditions in Europe and relationships between kings and dukes sparked the war. Without realizing it, school age children everywhere have experiences unique to their country and society that make them familiar with certain topics and specific terminology. When I recently wrote a critique of the 2002 U.S. National Security Strategy, I saw how terminology meant to inspire Americans could also be taken as inflammatory or demeaning by those who aren’t citizens of “the greatest nation on earth.”

Trying to see things from another perspective has helped me gain sensitivity to many topics that I thought I’d always see in black and white. I am also more convinced than ever that there is indeed a distinct American culture! There is not just one American culture — it can come in many forms depending on the part of the country one lives in, ethnicity, religion, and socio-economic class. But there is a distinct American culture with many forms just as surely as there is a distinct Chinese language but with many dialects. Americans say “that’ll be great,” not “that’ll be brilliant”; they eat pizza with pepperoni or sausage, not with tuna or squid; they play baseball and football, not cricket and snooker; and they celebrate Thanksgiving, not Saint Stephen’s Day. Don’t get me wrong, I love other cultures, but I’m proud of my American culture and frankly am proud to be an American! Being abroad has allowed me to identify what I love about my country and what I think could be better. I think getting free refills in America is a great thing — it sure beats paying 2 euro for a cup of coffee that’ll be gone before your chat gets going. And I think shops being open past 5 pm is very useful. On the other hand, I wouldn’t mind America having more public transportation options or a real low-fare airline. But I guess that’s the beauty of traveling, you get to experience the best, and often worst, of each country.

Speaking of which, I have been bit by the travel bug. And when I say bit, I mean I’ve been infected! Since arriving in Europe, I’ve lost no time in filling up my passport. The trip to Spain that I mentioned at the close of my last ‘reflection’ was fabulous! The mix of Moorish art and Mediterranean scenery was unbelievable! I loved exploring old fortresses and places of worship that were used by Muslims, Protestants, and Catholics alike. My next trip, to the German Christmas markets, was fabulously festive! Trudging through fresh snow, inspecting traditional ornaments and toys, and sipping a mug of mulled wine was unbeatable. Another Mitchell trip, this time to meet Senator Mitchell in Belfast, was an excellent opportunity to find political murals in the most unlikely places and visit Stormont for a quick lesson in Northern Ireland governance. I was also fortunate enough to have my family visit me in Ireland over the holidays. I had fun playing tour guide for my Mom and four younger siblings in Dublin and shocked myself with how much I’ve learned about the city. We explored the beautiful West Coast, including Galway city, the Connemara region, the Burren, the Cliffs of Moher, and a few castles before winding through Waterford and Wexford on our way to take a ferry to Wales. On Christmas morning we found ourselves in the Cotswolds north of London where we had our fill of thatched roofs and country pubs before heading into the city. New Year’s Eve in London was one for the record — certainly a crowded flurry of excitement! What’s next on my travel itinerary? Italy for 10 days! But don’t worry Mom, I’m still studying and getting good grades =).

Well, apparently even Starbucks closes, so back out into the cold I go to catch the bus back to DCU. As the weather warms up and the days get longer, I’m looking forward to further exploration of this lovely, green island! With Scholars from Cork to Belfast and a full supply of long weekends, I think the spring months will have many more experiences in store for me!

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