January 2009 Reflection

There is no place like home for the holidays, however, this year my wife and I made the difficult decision to stay abroad for the season. While this year’s Thanksgiving and Christmas were unlike any other, they will forever be remembered.

Thanksgiving in Kansas City, Missouri with my family is always one of the best times of year. Family members of all ages and skill levels play an impromptu game of backyard football whether on the auto-lined asphalt streets of inner-city Kansas City or the expansive grass fields of my cousins’ home in Southeastern Kansas. This short-lived game is our meager attempt at compensating for the hours of eating that preceded it.

This Thanksgiving was quite different however. Trina Vargo arranged for the Mitchell Scholars to meet with Irish President Mary MacAleese in her Pheonix Park residence in Dublin, the Áras an Uachtaráin. Over tea and biscuits by the fire, President MacAleese articulately described Ireland’s historically troubled relations between Dublin and London, Western Ireland and Eastern Ireland, and, of course, Northern Ireland and the Republic. I have been very fortunate in my young life to have been able to interact with several national leaders up close. While the others never wavered from the official line, President MacAleese refreshingly spoke with frankness. While Her Excellency clearly possessed the mental acuity and forward-thinking necessary for national leadership, she was also so welcoming that I admittedly forgot about her political position and instead relished the engaging conversation.

While I am on the note of welcoming behavior, none were more welcoming to us than Paul and Mary Hayes. The couple graciously opened their beautiful Dublin home up to us American hooligans for a scrumptious Thanksgiving meal. My wife was smitten with their adorable infant boy Cal, and I particularly enjoyed Paul’s tips on making the perfect mojito. The Hayes’ charm and charisma made me, if only for an evening, forget that I was spending this holiday oceans apart from my family back home. It was a truly marvelous evening.

Now, no journal entry from me would be complete without a reference to my ongoing struggle with the Irish weather. I am not sure who said it, but ever since I came across this quote, I have tried to apply it to my life. The saying goes, “Life is not about waiting for the storm to pass, but rather it is about learning to dance in the rain.” Putting the metaphorical implications aside, I have tried to practically apply this quip to my time here in rainy Ireland. Therefore, in this spirit, I put away my hopes for warmer springtime weather and chose to embrace the cold. This new attitude led me and my wife to travel to two different wintry destinations in the month of December.

First on the list was a trip to Stockholm, Sweden with two other Mitchell Scholars, Vicki and Ryan. The four of us had a great time navigating the numerous islands that make up the Scandinavian Capital. We celebrated St. Lucia Day, tasted reindeer, shared an odd drink at a bar made entirely of ice, and marveled at the mere 6 hours of sunlight a day. Most importantly, we shared hours of conversations in the subway, waiting in line for museums, or over dinner at one of the Italian restaurants that oddly could be found on nearly every corner in Stockholm.

On the second trip, Kacey and I traveled to Belgium for a little over a week. While we visited Brussels for a couple of days, we spent the bulk of our time, including Christmas, in Bruges. This little city is like something out of a fairy tale. Swans fill the canals that meander their way through the Old Town, horse-drawn carriages trot through the narrow cobble-stoned streets, and the buildings stand like perfectly decorated gingerbread houses. Perhaps our best memories here are of the two of us ice skating in the temporary rink smack dab in the middle of the market. It was like spending this special holiday inside of a snow globe.

For now, it is back to Belfast, where I am writing a few essays in order to conclude my coursework for the first semester, and in a few short weeks I will begin a new semester. I will also attend a terrorism conference hosted by my department at Queen’s University. Finally, I am trying to catch my proverbial breath after having experienced a year’s worth of activities in a few short months. It is my hope that I can continue to make the most of my opportunity here in Ireland in the months ahead.

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