Well, our year as a Mitchell class is slowly drawing to a close. Some of us have already moved on, the rest sticking around to finish work on final projects. I actually left Ireland yesterday and am writing this from a guesthouse in Johannesburg, South Africa. I’m headed back to Swaziland to do some research on HIV prevention and the local policy making decisions that allocate resources and effort to that end. I’ll be around for a month doing interviews and trying to get a sense of how things have changed over the last year. I’m looking forward to catching up with old friends as well. I lived in Swaziland for the two years prior to the Mitchell experience, and my year in Dublin was a good time to step back and fill in some of my academic gaps with the structure of a formal programme. Being in the Development Studies school at University College Dublin (UCD) gave me a fair amount of freedom in terms of the details of my study, given the interdisciplinary nature of the programme and the breadth of topics addressed.
Mostly, though, the year provided exposure to great people. As I write this I’m sitting across from a German friend of mine from UCD who is in South Africa for the next couple of months doing thesis research on corporate social responsibility. I’ve got colleagues going to East Timor, northern Uganda and India for the next few months. They were a great set of minds to spend time with, have a pint with, and share ideas and experiences. And those experiences come from a wide variety of contexts: The development programme had students from France, Germany, Netherlands, United Kingdom, United States, South Korea, Uganda, Zambia, Ethiopia, and, of course, Ireland.
In addition to my phenomenal classmates, I had the opportunity to get to know an impressive class of Mitchell Scholars. Since my last journal we had two events that gave us an opportunity to get together — the 10th Anniversary of the Good Friday Peace Accords, in Belfast, and our end of year class trip in Co. Kerry. The Belfast event was certainly a highlight of the year. It was inspiring to get a chance to see and hear about the peace process from the historic giants that created the agreement, and we had the sobering experience of hearing from some of the former combatants, from all sides, that have been tasked with implementing the peace. As all involved made clear: the peace process really only begins after the “peace process” has ended at the negotiating table.
But the weekend wasn’t all based on somber reflection, either. There was plenty of good craic, and the US-Ireland Alliance brought together Mitchell Alumni from every year (and nearly all of them). It was great to meet our counterparts from previous years, and while the programme is still young, the number of alumni that gathered in Belfast this past April is a testament to the great experience people had as scholars. And the speed that a sense of community has developed around Mitchell alumni can only be credited to the hard work of people like Trina Vargo and Mary Lou Hartman.
Besides the event in Belfast, our 2007-2008 class met up in Limerick to do some traveling at the end of the academic year. We did a hike up Mt. Brandon and into the clouds (but no rain, amazingly), watched Munster claim the Heineken Cup Championship, and had lots of opportunity for lazy pints and long conversations. We spent two nights in Limerick and ended our week together in Dingle, which has established itself as my favorite place in Ireland. Mary Lou, Arthur, Jeff and I also took in a hurling match in Portlaoise on our way back to Dublin.
Two weeks ago I was watching the Co. Offaly hurling squad win decisively, and now I’m in southern Africa. It was a great year, and I can hardly believe it’s time to move on. While that is true, it is time to get on to the next thing, I had a great time in Ireland, made life-long friends, and left with a great feeling about the place. I’m sure I haven’t seen the last of Ireland, and I’m sure Ireland isn’t finished playing a role in my life.
PS: I’ve made my way over to Swaziland, and my first weekend here the Swazi national football squad (Sihlangu) beat Togo 2-1 in a World Cup qualifier. I believe this is the first win for Sihlangu in six years, and they beat a Togo squad that features Arsenal striker Emmanuel Adebayor. So, I’ll end a very meandering journal (Portlaoise to Swaziland) on that auspicious note. Thanks again to everyone who made this year possible, especially Mary Lou and Trina at the US-Ireland Alliance. Sln go foill.