“The Ireland I grew up in is no longer. The Ireland of migration is the future, my future, and my kids’ future.”
As we went around my class explaining why we had chosen to pursue a degree in Contemporary Migration and Diaspora Studies, this response from Judy, a middle-aged mother of four from outside of Cork, stays with me. Once a country famous for emigration, the Ireland of today is experiencing unprecedented amounts of immigration, from both inside and outside the European Union. Judy’s words aren’t necessarily unique. Rather, I’ve found that while definitely not perfect, Ireland for the most part not only accepts the reality of immigration, but is committed to getting it right. As the only American in my course, this sentiment acts as both an inspiration and a challenge to me as I compare our two countries.
I’ve now been in Cork, Ireland’s real capital if anyone asks, for almost two months. While not quite as large as its twin city (and my hometown) San Francisco, I really do love living here. If there’s one “benefit” of the weak dollar, it’s pushed me to improve my cooking and I visit the English Market for fresh meat every Friday. Furthermore, University College Cork has been so welcoming to me and that has made the transition much easier. Marita Foster, the International Education Officer, took Jimmy and me out for lunch and then also set up a meeting for us with Dr. Michael Murphy, UCC’s president. The Geography department, where my interdisciplinary major is housed, has also really tried to ensure that I have a positive academic experience.
In addition to UCC, I’ve been trying to venture out into the city. One of the highlights so far was volunteering for the Cork Film Festival. As a volunteer, I eagerly used my free access to screenings to see the festival’s renowned short films. Volunteering also provided me with an opportunity to not only meet locals, but also find people with a similar love for film. It’s interesting how shared interests that move beyond ethnic and national identities can help new arrivals better integrate into their surroundings.
Speaking of identities, it’s been strange and almost refreshing for me to be classified in Cork as American first, Asian second. I know that once I start speaking English, the association with America becomes clear. But in the United States, even with perfect English, Asian Americans often must contend with the “perpetual foreigner” syndrome, marked by the question: “No, where are you from?” hinting at an Asian country of origin. I asked one of my classmates Rosari about this and she said that the Irish always saw America as this multicultural place and that an American could look like just about anything.
Now, while I’ll be the first to trumpet Cork’s virtues if you haven’t noticed already, I’ve also enjoyed traveling around Ireland. Jimmy and I went to Cobh (pronounced “Cove”), the last port of exit for emigrants and the Titanic, to attend a reception with Ambassador Tom Foley and Msg. Steven Rush aboard the Navy destroyer, USS McFaul. Dave, the only other male in my class (we’ve bonded over that fact), took me with him to the beautiful Dingle Peninsula where I tried surfing. Imagine that: a native Californian surfs for the first time in Ireland! Unfortunately my California blood did not make me a natural. Jimmy and I have also perfected the art of running after a departing bus, which has happened twice now, once on our way to Dublin for the Mitchell Orientation and the other time when we went to Galway to visit Nate.
However, the highlight of my travels was a day trip to Killarney with the UCC Mountaineering Club. While I do admit going through an extreme sports phase during seventh grade, I felt severely unprepared for this experience. After our bus ride, we stood at the foot of the peak, Boughil, and I looked for any signs of a trail, switchbacks, or ropes. There weren’t any. Our group leader took out his map and showed us the route: straight up the mountain. So here I was, two weeks into my Mitchell year, hoping that I would not seriously injure myself as I used my legs as well as arms to scale Boughil. This was not a leisurely hike through the woods. Though a bit frightened throughout the climb and exhausted by the end, the view at the top made the effort so worth it.
I want to finally thank the US-Ireland Alliance, which started helping me even before my Mitchell year began in setting up an internship at United Talent Agency with Peter Benedek in Los Angeles. That experience has really given me some context around working in the film industry in the future. I also want to thank my fellow Mitchell Scholars for the incredible times we’ve already had together. I truly appreciate being in a group of people that want to get the most out of any experience and opportunity that comes our way. That energy will surely make this a special year.