The best part about Ireland so far, other than the people, the cultural experiences, and my academic program, has been the easy access to travel. Last month I was able to travel to Spain and France with two other Mitchells, Karly and John, along with another student who goes to the University of Limerick. We saw Barcelona, took a 12-hour bus from Barcelona to Nice, France, visited Christmas markets on the French Riviera, and then stayed in a chateau in Barcelona (thanks to Terry Cross). I learned that I don’t speak as much French as Karly speaks Spanish, and decided that I will never again take a bus from Spain to France. These were important life lessons. I also became a tourist in my new home, Dublin. My mother and stepfather came to see me, and we did all the bus and train tours that we could cram into one week, allowing me to see a new side of Dublin and Ireland. I especially enjoyed the town of Kilkenny, which has great shopping, restaurants, and a gorgeous 12-century cathedral, not to mention an impressive (and closed) castle. We went to Malahide Castle and Powerscourt Gardens, as well as another trip to the Wicklow Mountains, although our hike was somewhat less intensive than the Mitchell trip to Glendalough. My mother’s favorite part of the trip was the delicious Irish desserts, and getting to see Bono’s house in Dalkey.
My internship at the James Joyce Centre and participation with the Tae Kwon Do student society and the Law Society have been very interesting and rewarding. The Centre has allowed me the opportunity to attend various workshops and conferences on postmodernism and Finnegan’s Wake, and because of these opportunities I have come into contact with several local Dublin authors. Victoria and I also attended a book reading by a local Dublin playwright, as we sat in the cozy environs of Bewley’s Black Box Theatre. I also participated in a campus debate on abortion rights for women, which gave me a new perspective on the complicated issues surrounding this topic in Ireland. A volatile topic in the US, this issue is approached with a great deal of posturing in Ireland, as well. But I enjoyed the way that the Law Society wants all sides of an issue to be explored fully, and so it has people switch sides on the debate after a round–I thought that this was a great way to encourage people to see both sides of an issue. Tae Kwon Do has been exciting for me, since I am a person notorious for my lack of athletic ability. I am able to center my body and balance myself more effectively, which was useful on the Barcelona Metro! It has also taken away from some of my fear and apprehension about large cities, and made me more cautious, rather than afraid (useful also on the Metro–when I caught a pickpocket before he grabbed my wallet). I am glad that I stepped outside of my comfort zone and decided to take Tae Kwon Do.
My academic coursework with Anglo-Irish Literature continues to complement my interests outside the classroom and challenge me intellectually. In December I was consumed with take-home final exams, which although difficult, ultimately clarified my thoughts on a lot of questions I had been struggling with. I was able to decide on a subject for my thesis, which right now is taking shape as an exploration of the similarities in influence between Walt Whitman and James Joyce as developing the consciousness of their respective nations. My work with the James Joyce Centre should allow me to bounce ideas about this topic with other scholars. I also want to have a component about the effects of racism within a society in forging a national consciouness, an aspect that Joyce was especially concerned with. My contact with so many new people in a new, multidimensional and polyglot Ireland will give me a new perspective on how I will formulate this thesis. I think that has been one of the most important ways I have grown this year; not just learning new things, but meeting people who have had so many different experiences from myself.
I am taking twice as many courses next year as I was last semester, including three classes with authors Frank McGuinness, Paul Dirkin, and Hugo Hamilton, respectively. I have previously only had two classes in my life with published poets and prose writers, and I have never had a course with a playwright, so I am extremely excited about this opportunity. I am hoping that these courses will expand my interests and widen my perspective on the process of writing and the influences that writers have in their work. This is an important aspect for a literary scholar, especially since many scholars are accused of not taking the writer into account when writing literary criticism. I am also taking Chinese next semester, in preparation for spending a year in China next year, working with the World Wildlife Federation. Fellow Mitchell Scholars, most of whom have travelled and lived throughout the world, have inspired me to take what I would once have considered a rather drastic move–going to live in China. But when I speak to so many people who have had exciting and fulfilling life experiences through travel, it makes me want to have similar experiences. While everything about Ireland has expanded my perspective, the opportunity and the encouragement to travel has been especially influential on my life.