When I left Swaziland in July a good friend of mine said, “you’re going to blink and it’ll be October.” Here I find myself, in the middle of November, two weeks from the end of my first term at University College Dublin. It’s easy to let time get away from you when you are busy with the particulars of getting oriented to a new city.
While Ireland is an English speaking country, street signs and nametags may not do you any good at all. Sometimes you find yourself helpless because the Irish spell a name such as ‘Mave’ with a ‘b’ and ‘h’ but no ‘v’. Sometimes you find yourself helpless because you’re looking for the bus to a place called Dun Laoghaire, but Laoghaire is pronounced Leary, so you are met with a quixotic look when you request directions to Dun La-og-hair-e. But most often, you’ll find yourself helpless because the person you ask directions from isn’t from Dublin or Ireland for that matter. Dublin has undergone rapid change in the past decade. They say that in the last 10-15 years, Ireland has gone from being almost entirely white-Irish-Catholic to having one-tenth of its population originating in another country. The years of the Celtic Tiger and the continued real estate bonanza have drawn in people from all over the world to live and work in Ireland.
This is one of the reasons that make Dublin such an exciting place to live in right now. Although the true boom years have passed, the aftermath has been the sudden creation of Dublin as an international city. This engagement with the world is particularly evident in the support for the developing world. Ireland has a long engagement with Africa in particular. While that started out with Catholic missionaries (and perhaps rock stars), the current awareness of African issues is evident in the leadership role that the Irish Government has taken in increasing aid to the economic south. Dublin is also home to several well-respected international organizations, and the newly rich in Ireland are increasingly looking to philanthropy as an outlet for their entrepreneurial energies. I’ve had the good fortune of meeting some very interesting people who truly believe that the innovative-entrepreneurial forces that have changed Ireland can be used to improve the lives of people in countries all over the world. Their energy and optimism has been both refreshing and inspiring. They are a testament to the new Ireland and the world view that has accompanied rapid economic growth.
Being an international city also means being an international draw for the arts and music in particular. I’ve had some very interesting experiences with music in Ireland, experiences that I think are a reflection on both this country and my own. Trina was able to organize tickets for us to go see Maura O’Connell sing at a local ceili. Maura may be Irish by birth but she has spent years in Nashville. She is a soul singer; you can hear her adoptive home and all its influences and emotions in her voice. And last week I saw the Irish-American band the Black 47s play at a local club. They are stalwarts of the Irish- American music scene and have made a name for themselves as Irish patriots with a standing gig in Mid-Town Manhattan. They may have made their name singing about the troubles in Northern Ireland, but today their songs are as likely to reference Fallujah as they are to sing the praises of James Connelly. Even if music is just the slightest reflection of the relationship between Ireland, The United States and the rest of the world, there is something very interesting to be learned in these examples.
So, my education in Ireland has been as much about the people I’m meeting outside the classroom and the music I’ve heard as it has been about my Development Studies Program in the School of Politics and International Relations. That being said, I’ve made some great connections with classmate and professors. I find my teachers very informal. They seem to be uncomfortable with being called doctor or professor. I had this image of a very hierarchical European University system, but this is certainly not the case at UCD. My course has about 15-20 students, and I can think of at least ten countries represented by my peers. So in addition to my fellow Mitchell Scholars, I’ve made some great friends from all over the world. I’m sure that when I reflect back on this year these relationships will be the most important and enduring outcomes from my time in Ireland.
I would like to close by thanking the US-Ireland Alliance and everyone involved in the Mitchell Scholarship selection process. I would especially like to thank the supporters of the scholarship program and everyone that has made me feel welcome in this country. I feel very lucky and honored to have this opportunity.