June 2009 Reflection

I think, on occasion, that I’ve adjusted to Ireland. It’s the little things: freeze-dried coffee, bringing your own bag to the grocery store, being detached from e-mail access for a day – and the world not entirely stopping.

But at this point, an Irish accent will not cling to my tongue and I still haven’t grasped the concept of chicken liver spread. I leave in 1 month, 2 days. And maybe there are just some things that aren’t meant for transplants like myself. I’ve never fooled myself into thinking that I am a citizen, but I have become conveniently comforted by the feeling that Ireland has become my home.

I’ve lived all across the United States for 3 to 4 months at a time, between Boston, San Francisco, Seattle, and Tampa, for the last 3 to 4 years of my life. I’ve never called these places home, never claimed them as cities of my own. And after all this, what a lucky chance that a floating feather like myself finally fell in Dublin, Ireland.

After living here, I’ve thought differently about study abroad programs as well as my short experiences elsewhere. Months are a sliver of time – just enough for a season to change or time to be counted in weeks. A badge of honor for Dublin locals is surviving the winter winds and rains by drinking that coffee and wearing those Wellies, just to make it to a gorgeous, sun-lit summer. Because of this, I question my time in Seattle – would I have looked at the Space Needle with such awe if I accepted the skyline as my backyard, not a postcard? Would I have been a devout cyclist had I lived in San Francisco an entire year? A Red Sox fan in Boston? Worshipped the beach in Tampa Bay?

There are so many things one cannot know without living in a city for an extended period of time. And as cities bear some sort of stereotypes, we eagerly look for those upon arrival, check them off on our mental tourist list, and consider another city conquered on our world map. For this (which I see daily in Dublin), I chose not to vigorously travel throughout Western Europe this past year; I simply feared that I’d allow tour books to become to-do lists. And although I cannot live everywhere at every time in my life, I’m continuing to explore ways to tour places that will leave me with more authentic experiences.

There’s a popular need to “fit the world in a picture frame” (John Mayer, “3×5”) in this era of Facebook and flaunting. And though I’ve uploaded and sent photos, my best memories have soaked and seeped, floated and flopped in my mind as a panoramic view that no camera can capture. The memories will remain there as long as I will, outlasting whatever will replace SD chips or my iPhoto. When old friends talk, it’s not of the photos they took or the videos they tapped; it’s of their memories, of the way their minds recorded the hysterical laughs and the way she looked when she walked down the aisle and the wrong directions on the road trip and the ever-evolving pillars of life. And if that’s what it takes to adjust, I’d have to confess – Ireland has become a part of me.

In recognition of the tremendous leadership of the George J. Mitchell Scholarship program, I’d like to sincerely thank Mary Lou Hartman for every e-mail, every phone call, and every fond memory. I know Northern Ireland will greatly benefit from your talents and inspiration over the coming years.

I’d also like to thank Trina Vargo, who is the definition of “the woman, the myth, the legend.” I’ve never met a smarter, saavier woman. Thank you for honoring me with the Mitchell – and thank you for creating it. You inspire us, Trina.

This year abroad would have not been possible without the generous support of the George J. Mitchell Scholarship sponsors in United States and Ireland. Words and pages could not express my gratitude for the experience and honor you have bestowed upon me and the 2009 class of scholars. Thank you for making this year one of the most captivating experiences in my life.

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