March 2008 Reflection

Over the past year and a half, I’ve received much advice about living abroad. And most all of it was appreciated and heeded (except for the suggestion that Scot Miller gave me on our first day in Dublin – swimming in the River Liffey is probably not the way to make a lasting impression of the Mitchell Scholars in Dublin!). For example, a Dickinson College professor told me that life lessons are the most important thing we can bring back with us from our travels. So, in these past few months, I’ve been developing a sort of ‘list’ of the lessons I’ve acquired, am acquiring, and still hope to acquire. Here’s a sampling:

1. We don’t own time. The path ahead of me is quite unclear – I’m not sure where I’ll be living or working come September, but being in Ireland has taught me to embrace this break from intense daily scheduling and life planning. I visited County Tipperary a few weekends ago with my second cousin – she has aunts, uncles and cousins living here and comes to visit every few years. The town of Clonmel was rather busy on Sunday morning and we were running late for Mass, so when a tiny parking spot was opening up, she waited, then slowly parallel parked the rental car. Traffic in town backed up for blocks, yet people waited patiently and not one horn was honked. Similarly, the phrase most frequently used by my course director and instructors is: “Don’t worry, it’ll all come together.” And they’re right – whether it’s a group project or a master’s dissertation, an internship or a future career, sometimes it is just better to deal with life on a day-to-day basis. The Irish seem to approach the concept of time differently than many Americans I know. Here, time feels like less of a commodity in a very refreshing way.

2. Personal belongings aren’t THAT important. I’m not the kind of girl who packs lightly. Five pairs of shoes, six extra outfits and countless hair gadgets have always accompanied me on every trip. In my car-reliant years of past, I would load up bags of everything I could possibly need for a trip or vacation of any kind and drive to my location (and, consequently, my car became more of a second home than anything). But when my sister arrived for a visit this past November, she forced me to shed – without thought to my outfit planning – over half of what I had packed for our four-day trip to Galway and Connemara. It sounds simple, and perhaps even petty, but for a ‘planner’ such as myself, this sudden shift to my packing logic threw me for a loop! But WOW, was the light packing worth it! Because when we stood in the old fort on Inishmore and there was no roof, no walls, just a giant sea cliff and the Atlantic Ocean stretching in front of us, I was grounded by the idea that if I was schlepping 50 pounds of belongings with me, I might have missed the natural beauty.

3. Embrace the ordinary. Living and studying abroad is almost inherently exotic. Friends gush about how ‘lucky’ I am to be able to drink Guinness everyday while living in such a fun city and meeting so many fascinating people. I couldn’t agree more that I am truly blessed that the US-Ireland Alliance has provided me such wonderful opportunities. But there is also something somewhat mundane about daily rhythms, no matter where you live. Despite my exotic locale and lifestyle, I still get up and go to class, head to the Tesco for groceries, and take my turn cleaning the bathroom. But it’s also these ‘simple things’ that make me love living in Dublin – the tourists crowding the sidewalks and gaping at ‘my’ campus, the women selling produce on Moore Street who predictably sell me the rotten fruits from the bottom of the pile, and sitting upstairs on a Dublin bus and watching the city stream by (although at most hours of the day the city tends to move by at more of a turtle’s pace).

In a few weeks I begin a twelve-week, full-time internship with the Homeless Agency in Dublin, before commencing work on my master’s dissertation in July. These will undoubtedly be months of learning – not just about how travel lessons can relate to life, but also about the causes to which I plan to dedicate my life. I know that no matter which specific field I work in next year, homelessness, social service provision, community development, housing, and healthcare are inextricably linked. I anticipate that learning how Ireland, and Dublin in particular, have developed action plans to alleviate social inequities will serve me well in the future. I’ll be sure to continue updating my list of lessons learned.

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