November 2009 Reflection

Cork’s charm comes through even after a trans-Atlantic red-eye. Circumscribing the entire city is classic Irish countryside, and the River Lee meanders through metropolitan Cork, separating the hilly northside from the relatively planar south. The storefronts are almost invariably handsome and give the city a mainland European feel, an effect that is consistent with the cosmopolitan nature of this city. Cork is small (by American standards). There are 300,000 people here. But in my first two weeks in Cork half the people I met were from Italy, Iran, France, Denmark, Congo, and India. Where did all the Corkonians go?

After dropping off my bags at Victoria Lodge, a University College Cork (UCC) apartment complex 10 minutes from campus and 30 minutes from city center by foot, I explored the side streets and shops of Cork and found a pub with a patio on St. Patrick’s Street, the city’s main thoroughfare. Considering the fact that I had been awake for 40 hours, I correctly reasoned that the best thing I could do for myself was to order two pints: one Guinness and one Murphy’s, the latter being Cork’s local stout. A taste test was in order, and true to my scientific nature, I have repeated this experiment many times in many places and have come to a steadfast conclusion that, in Cork at least, Murphy’s is a superior pour. Sorry, Arthur. I know it’s your 250th anniversary, and I truly enjoyed your Jazz Festival in Cork, but Murphy’s has become my stout of choice.

The Guinness Jazz Festival, while deficient in Murphy’s, was a wonderful showcase of Cork. Held in late October each year, the event attracts over 100 bands from around the world and brings tens-of-thousands of tourists, many of whom are from other cities, towns, and villages in Ireland. I invited and hosted the other 2009 Mitchell Scholars for the weekend. We enjoyed the music and city, and we met with local leaders, including gay rights activists and businesspeople. The current Mitchell Scholars are some of the most genuine, inspiring people I have ever met, and I feel privileged to be in their company. It truly is an honor to be in a position to build friendships with them.

This year, although only one-third complete, has already been formative for me, not just because of the people whom I have befriended in Ireland but also because my Masters in Public Health program at UCC has significantly informed my academic interests and career path. My goal is to become a biomedical scientist engaged in both prevention-oriented research and the formation of health care policy and public health initiatives. While in Ireland I have realized that the confluence of basic science and its application for the betterment of society is, in fact, the field of public health.

As a complement to my academic program at UCC, I am currently attempting to initiate a public health initiative in Cork. On November 20, 2009, rapidly rising water levels from the River Lee caused major floods in many parts of County Cork, resulting in the worst flood in the region in over 800 years. Thousands of people were displaced from their homes and hospital beds. In early December, the city is still working overtime to recover from the flood. To ensure that the various needs of flood victims are met, three of my M.P.H. classmates and I started with Project Cork Underwater. Our goals are 1) to build a website and automated cell center that consolidates information on all of the resources currently available to County Cork flood victims, 2) to conduct a thorough county-wide general needs assessment using five complementary approaches, and 3) to generate solutions to address currently unrecognized needs and to report our findings to Irish authorities. We believe that Project Cork Underwater will greatly aid the recovery of Cork flood victims by simplifying the processes to acquire recovery resources and by identifying needs that are not yet recognized.

I derive a great deal of satisfaction and energy from my work with Project Cork Underwater and my public health studies, but I have also found time to explore other interests in more depth. I am taking two massage therapy diploma courses, one in Holistic Massage (Swedish technique) and one in Shiatsu (Japanese technique). The latter is a surprisingly powerful healing modality and dramatically accelerated my recovery from a knee injury. If possible, I hope to be able to start a therapeutic massage clinic when I return to Philadelphia next year. Additionally, I have been gaining teaching experience. I am the anatomy and physiology instructor at the Cork School of Shiatsu, and I teach biochemistry to second- and third-year undergraduates at UCC. I truly enjoy teaching, even those subjects that I dreaded learning as an undergraduate, and I am looking forward to continuing in the spring semester.

Other highlights from my time in Ireland include attending the 2009 Gaelic Athletic Association (GAA) Irish Football National Championship game with Matt Baum (made possible by the generosity of Sean Dorgan, Chairman of Ulster Bank); traveling to Munich for Oktoberfest to consume stellar Bavarian beer with Adam Harbison; and going to the Traditional Irish Music Festival in Ennis, a small city in County Clare on the western side of the island, with Christina Faust. I can’t fail to mention the countless fantastic times had with all of the Mitchell Scholars in Belfast and Dublin. We shall dance on….

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