I am writing this final entry as my three suitcases lay open beside me (and as I’m wondering whether they will be enough!). In two days I will be going back to my hometown in New Jersey to spend the summer, before moving to Iowa in August to do my MFA at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop.
When I look back on this year, I am blown away by how I have changed and what I have learned. Being in Ireland opened up more doors for me than I can count. I remember so clearly the US-Ireland Alliance barbecue in DC last summer before I left, where I met the previous class of scholars and was awed by how mature and cosmopolitan they all seemed. I was incredibly nervous coming here; I had never been out of the U.S. for more than three months, and I couldn’t imagine how being gone for almost a year would feel when it was all said and done.
But now it has been nine months, and with the exception of 5 days at home for Christmas, I have been traveling and living abroad all that time. I am leaving with a new confidence. I feel like I am more than capable of anything I choose to do. I remember my first night in Dublin, it suddenly hit me that I was “out in the world.” It was very different from college; there were not a thousand other students having the same experience, with the same nerves. Suddenly I was a graduate student; a foreign student; no longer taking money from my parents; and more on my own than I had ever been.
Twenty years from now I will tell my children all the things I had done before I reached the age of 23—so many of them occurred here. During this year I traveled to thirteen countries and twice as many cities; I published eight short stories and wrote the first half of a novel; I was accepted into my dream MFA program; I met ten other amazing Mitchell Scholars and formed bonds with them that I know will last throughout our lives; I entered into a new community, the US-Ireland Alliance, and the hundreds or thousands of people involved with it, which I know I will always now be a part of; I met dozens of Ireland’s greatest writers; I hiked Ireland’s second-highest mountain and saw snow there for the first time all year; and I now have a lifelong affinity for this country.
I have only aged one year during my time here, but I feel five years older. I think challenging yourself to take chances—on people, places, and careers—is so much more valuable in the long run, no matter how intimidating it seems. I don’t think I’ve chosen the taken road—by writing; by going abroad instead of working after college; or even by choosing Ireland, when so many students think first and foremost of graduate school in England. But what made the Mitchell program and Ireland so special to me was the intimacy of it all.
Now I am also looking forward to going back to the U.S.—I think I will see it so differently now. I’m looking forward to seeing my family, and spending in dollars and not in Euro, and to having a Magnolia cupcake in Greenwich Village! But I know that my time in Ireland has colored, in a positive way, my experiences for years to come—so thank you to all the people who were here with me during this experience, and all the people who allowed me to go.