It hardly feels as though I have been living in Galway for two and a half months. Time has flown, and my life has settled into a relaxed, comfortable routine. Galway has the benefits of a town with quaint shops that line windy, cobble-stoned streets and a large student population that keeps the city feeling young and alive. In minutes, I am able to walk from my quiet house along the docks to the vibrant Quay Street pub scene or meander around the Saturday Market in search of fresh vegetables and curry. I walk alongside the Corrib River to the university each day. While the weather was warm, it became almost habit to look for fishermen standing in the river on sunny days.
After surviving the initial shock of classes beginning and adjusting to how lectures are run, I am looking forward to the year to come. For example, lectures run on “Irish time” and start ten minutes later than the time that appears on the official timetable. NUI Galway is also larger than I expected, and my coursework is more intense than I expected. Six lecture courses, of which two carry double weight is staggering from an Irish student’s perspective, or so I have been told. Overall, I find the course material interesting. I have been asked to consider questions from the point of view of an entrepreneur, engineer, and pharmacologist. Still, I am excited to start the research portion when I can use my skills in the laboratory.
The first few days of classes, I confused my classmates with my background. I have an American accent, look Asian, and have an Irish surname. We are curious about each other, and I know that I ask lots of questions. At times I feel as though I will never fully remember all of the slang. The other day, someone asked me to grab bread from the press. Needless to say, I was puzzled and started looking for the iron, never thinking that he was referring to the cupboard! The differences between the United States and Ireland have proven to be the source of many a good joke and story. The tomato-tomahto routine remains fresh and funny as ever. To break up the long hours spent in lectures and group project work, my classmates and I go for tea breaks and for a pint at the pub. It is from them that I recognize quotations from Father Ted episodes and say everything is “grand” or “lovely.” I used to laugh about the mixed-up directions that any Irish person would give, until I found myself giving similar directions: head down the road that lines the canal, take a quick left and then right after the cathedral, and turn right again… and well… you get the point. Plus, I have the sneaking suspicion that my classmate, who told me that I am becoming more Irish as time passes, is right.
As the first Mitchell to arrive, you would expect that I would have travelled more extensively than I have. I cannot complain as I have enjoyed every weekend thoroughly. Many have been spent as any Irish student would – relaxing and enjoying a day without work. However, my day trip to the Aran Islands was fantastic as the rain stayed away. I biked around the narrow roads of Inis Mor, gazed hesitantly over the steep cliffs at the fort with rounded walls, and photographed more stone walls than was probably necessary. Recently, a friend and I visited the Dingle Peninsula. The half-day bus ride was well spent when we saw the beauty of the quiet, seaside town. It was a memorable weekend as we hiked along the coast, ate fresh seafood, and discovered that the pubs served incredibly smooth-tasting Guinness.
Before I close, I cannot forget to mention my amazing, fellow Mitchell Scholars. I was incredibly excited to meet them at the fall orientation, and I was not disappointed. From the opening dinner to our memorable night at the Tubridy late-night talk show, we became fast friends. We explored Dublin, from the Kilmainham Jail to Temple Bar. For me, the orientation gave me an opportunity to compare my experiences in Galway and impressions of Ireland with friends who had similar experiences. Just as I know that I always have a couch to crash on at my fellow Mitchells’ places, several of the scholars are invading my house this weekend. I am excited to show them Galway and to spend – what we expect to be – a memorable weekend. In my mind, I have certain pubs and restaurants that I want them to visit. In addition, I know that I have Thanksgiving dinner and a trip to France and Spain with a couple other Mitchells during the winter holidays. It is going to be a good year….