On the afternoon of September 15th, I met Bernadette and Jeff in the Chicago airport. None of us could contain our enthusiasm; in only seven hours, we would finally see the country we had been anxiously anticipating for the past year, the island that would become our home for the next 12 months. What would the country of Ireland be like, we wondered? A land of Guinness and céilidhs? An ultra-modern country transformed by the Celtic Tiger? None of us really knew.
Seven hours later, we rode the bus through the north of Dublin, our faces pressed to the window in curiousity. Bernadette and I stepped off the bus at the Trinity College front gate. We struggled to roll our oversized luggage through the endless sea of pedestrians. But as we walked through the front arch of Trinity College, a beautiful Georgian campus unfolded before our eyes, a quiet urban refuge that would become our home.
In the past two months, Dublin has morphed from a place of anticipation, a place seen only in pictures and on Wikipedia, to a city I now call home. My time in Ireland so far has been filled with new, exciting experiences along with a few difficult experiences as well. From my first two months, I will always remember watching Mitchell Scholar Allison Barlow finish 2nd in the Galway Bay 10 mile race. I will look back on amazing jazz music at the annual Cork Jazz Festival. I will also think back on learning about the Peace Wall in an IRA-run political tour of Belfast, and I will reminisce about kayaking the whitewater rivers near Kilkenny, Ireland.
In my course, an M.Sc. in Environmental Sciences, I have learned about the challenges of environmental policy-making in the era of the Celtic Tiger. I waded through the River Liffey and cruised Dublin Bay on a research boat to monitor the health of freshwater and marine environments in the Dublin area. My course runs on a module system; I study one subject intensively for three weeks and then switch to a new subject. The course material on Ireland has been new and interesting. In some ways, the policy-making process in Ireland is very very different from the US, but many of the basic environmental problems are exactly the same.
Living on the Trinity College campus has also been an amazing experience so far. In the epicenter of the city, every pub and store is no more than a few footsteps outside of my front door. The museums and art galleries are free and are no more than five minutes away. When I want to leave the constant bustle of Dublin city center, the Howth Peninsula to the north and the Wicklow Mountains to the south have become outdoor refuges for me. The cliffs at Howth plunge into the sea. They have been a stunning place for me to practice my landscape photography. The Wicklow Mountains, only an hour to the south, are nothing like the mountains I am used to in the American West. But the Irish highland bog is beautiful and charming in an entirely different way.
Not everything during my first two months in Ireland have been easy for me. The challenges range from small to seemingly-enormous: from learning the location of the nearest grocery store to making new friends on this side of the ocean while keeping in touch with friends from back home. I have had to adjust to an academic program far more relaxed than the constant bustle of four years at Harvard. In Ireland, there is also the constant mist and rain.
In many ways, however, the other Mitchell Scholars and the Fulbright Scholars in Dublin have become one of the best aspects of my time in Ireland so far. The other scholars have become a family away from home. We meet almost every week for dinner. I hear stories of Sean’s time in Iraq and about Allison’s newest running best and her goals for the next marathon. Best of all, we have the chance to share our experiences from the Emerald Isle – both good and bad – and grow as a class together.
Even though I have lived in Ireland for two months now, I still feel much of the same excitement as I felt anxiously awaiting my flight in the Chicago airport. My time in Ireland has been filled with new adventures, and I am excited about the many more months to come.