June 2006 Reflections

These past two months have embodied the philosophy: “work hard, play hard.” The more routine rhythm I had established during the first half of the semester has transitioned into an intense workload punctuated with travel and other amazing opportunities. One week I would be pulling all-nighters because of thesis deadlines or final exams; the next week I would be pulling an all-nighter at the Stansted airport in London to catch a 5 am flight back to Dublin for St. Paddy’s day as hordes of people in leprechaun hats and appallingly tacky green decor bustled about the airport at all hours of the morning.

What I have lacked in sleep, I have made up for in memorable experiences. Right after I finished my last March entry I enjoyed two weeks of traveling, one week through Hungary and Croatia with some friends and another week through Ireland with my family and my boyfriend, Adam. We visited Bunratty, Cliffs of Moher, Killarney National Park, Ring of Kerry, Blarney, Waterford, Kilkenny and Dublin, just to name a few of the highlights. I really enjoyed discovering new parts of Ireland with my family and watching their faces as they realized what an incredible island this is.

I returned to my thesis, as I spent the next two weeks hurriedly gathering materials and beginning my literature review. A trip up to Belfast to use the Linen Hall Library (with an useful section on the Northern Ireland conflict) also provided an excuse to visit with fellow scholars Geoff and Mike, and hear some of Mike’s original music. I returned to the States for two weeks in April to spend Passover with my family, friends and Adam. The trip home was wonderful; besides observing the holiday, celebrating my grandmother’s 80th birthday and cooking with my mom, I also had some time for self-reflection and realized how much I had grown during my year in Ireland. I think I will need some more distance from the experience to fully reflect on my time on the island, but suffice to say it has given me a lot to think about.

I returned to Dublin bringing a little bit of Passover with me. With the support of the Equality Studies Centre, I put together a “Freedom Seder” for some of the students and professors relating some of the larger themes of Passover to egalitarian change. I enjoyed putting the Seder together, but soon I traded in my Jewish history texts for my class readings, as I faced looming deadlines. The next three weeks were a blur. I wrote five final papers, two chapters of my thesis and began a third chapter. I began setting up interviews in South Africa for June and in Northern Ireland for July in order to include real women’s voices, experiences and perspectives in my analysis of women in post-conflict societies. I am very excited about my research although a bit overwhelmed with all there is to do in the next few weeks.

A welcome respite from my work was the five-year Mitchell Scholar reunion in Dublin on May 18th. Besides the wonderful feeling of receiving our class rings and spending time with my Mitchell class, it was an honor to meet the past Scholars and hear about all the amazing things they are doing. We saw 2005 Mitchell Scholar Nick Johnson’s play in Temple Bar, watched an eventful rugby match, and, through workshops organized by the Alliance, connected with some of Ireland’s emerging leaders in the fields of culture, politics, economics and science/medicine. After the reunion, the Mitchells headed out West with Mary Lou, which, for me, was one of the best parts of the year. We met with the monks of Glenstal Abbey, enjoyed a BBQ at Micheal o Suilleabhain’s (Irish traditional musician extraordinaire) and hiked Mt. Brandon.

After the time out west, Liza and I visited the Rock of Cashel and then I headed down to Cork for a few days to visit fellow Scholar Richard. On the 3 hour train ride back to Dublin I couldn’t help but reminisce about my experiences with the other Scholars and the things I will miss about Ireland. I recalled biking through the Aran Islands on a beautiful autumn afternoon with Lily, Ben and Aaron. I thought about enjoying dinner at my friend Aoife’s house and then discussing egalitarian change (yes we’re dorks!) as we walked along the Irish Sea. I remembered the Christmas party for Equality Studies at Kathleen Lynch’s home when we stayed up until the wee hours of the morning drinking good wine, singing songs and chatting. I realized that next year I will miss the view of the Liffey river from the O’Connell Street bridge, my favorite place to buy scones on Dame Street and people saying things like “your man over there” or “good craic”. The Mitchells, my Irish friends and Ireland itself have all left a huge impact on me.

Today, Ben Cote and I will be leaving for 4 weeks in Southern Africa. After a few days in Johannesburg to conduct some interviews, we will be embarking on a three week guided camping excursion through South Africa, Botswana, Zimbabwe and Mozambique. I am really excited about this opportunity (made possible by the USIT stipend), not just for traveling, but also to meet with women involved in egalitarian activism in the post-apartheid landscape. I’ll return to Dublin on June 28th for two and half weeks of finishing up interviews in the North, working on my thesis and saying my goodbyes before heading back to the States on July 14th.

I think that the departure will be bittersweet. While I am looking forward to going back to the States to see my family and find a job to apply all the things I’ve learned this year, I will certainly miss Ireland. One thing that has been consistent throughout this choppy semester are the friendships I have developed with the other Mitchells and students in the Equality Studies Centre, for which I am truly grateful. One thing that hasn’t wavered has been my affection for this island and all the insights I have gained because of my experiences here. I would like to thank the US-Ireland Alliance and all of its sponsors for this opportunity.

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