There was a time when, desperately homesick and severely jet-lagged, I sat with Allison and Brendan in a very old pub in Blackrock on our first night in Ireland thinking to myself, ‘This is going to be a long year.’
On that evening as we sat over Guinness and chips, anticipating the start of classes and discussing our hopes and fears, it seemed that I would endure a full year of suffering away from home and out of my comfort zone. The three of us had run around as a unit that first day: finding UCD’s international office, locating photocopiers for important documents, tracking down the embassy’s phone number, and ending up a mile outside of UCD at Tesco attempting to purchase toilet paper and milk while standing dumbfounded at the check-out counter with the realization that you had to pay for plastic grocery bags. Later, Allison somehow determined we should take the number 17 bus to Blackrock and find some food; I appreciated her then more than I can express because I would have just gone to bed hungry if left to my own devices.
Starting over is hard, and that’s what the beginning of the year was for me. I had started over at West Point at 17, then again when I spent the semester at the Naval Academy in 2005, and then I ended up in Ireland surrounded by strangers, not to mention in a country far more different from the US than I had anticipated. On that first day I was not looking forward to the next year—I wondered if I could just go back home, where Wal-Mart existed and things were familiar. I was tired of starting over, and I was tired of strangers.
Luckily, those strangers I was surrounded by didn’t stay strangers for long. It would have been impossible to stay distant from Allison, the energetic girl I lived next door to, whose mission in life seemed to be to run as much as possible, and then love even more. This generous and kind woman I share a wall with made the year far easier than I imagined it could be with her warmth, vigor, and strength. Brendan was always there with his cool calmness and varied connections in Ireland and made sure life never became boring.
Later, the other Mitchells would arrive in Ireland and complete our hilarious roster of personalities: Bernadette, the sweet, compassionate girl on whom you could always depend; Scot with his love for adventure and quirky kindheartedness; Sean, to whom everyone goes for advice, a laugh, and the TV channels with American football; Jeff, the ever-talented and determined man who calmly accepted everyone’s idiosyncrasies; Jimmy who loves knowledge so very much and has the anchored ambition of a compelling future leader; Arthur who is our leader, our go-to man, who has the sought after ability to bring people together; Sarah, whose vibrant personality and incredible humor and intelligence kept us all on our toes; Frank, the most careful thinker and wisest twenty-something that I have ever me; Nate, so determined to save the world and doing so with a smile. I have learned plenty in my classes at UCD and ever more during my internship with the National Museum of Ireland and I appreciate the opportunities that I have had to learn and develop both academically and practically in the field of museum studies and cultural policy. But it wasn’t until our final Mitchell trip to Limerick and Dingle that I realized one thing I had neglected to acknowledge over this year that I had spent so much time dreading.
As we drove along with Mary Lou and Trina along a narrow and winding road towards Mount Brandon, surrounded on either side by bright green fields and sheep, the bus became quiet for just a moment. It was then that I realized the Mitchell Scholarship is not properly advertised. It is not simply a fully-paid scholarship to a university in Ireland. It does not simply cover room, tuition, and travel. You don’t leave Ireland with only a master’s degree and a fully stamped passport. The Mitchell Scholarship comes with hidden benefits—11 lifelong friends and enough memories to keep you smiling into very old age.
To all the benefactors of the US-Ireland Alliance, to everyone who has welcomed us into their homes and businesses, and everyone who has spent time making this year possible, particularly Mary Lou and Trina, thank you. I know enough to admit that I haven’t fully realized all the lessons of this Irish journey, but I am confident that I those lessons will reveal themselves to me as I continue with life. So thank you—particularly to those 11 friends who made this year not so long.