November 2009 Reflection

Green has been my favorite since I first learned the difference between colors. Most of my wardrobe is green, my main form of transport in the States is a green road bike, and even the background for my email is green. I was fairly certain that the percentage of green in my life was correlated to my happiness, and my experiences thus far in Ireland have provided strong anecdotal evidence towards the theory.

I find myself surrounded by a beautiful emerald landscape in a small town just west of Dublin, and I can’t seem to wipe a smile off my face. NUI Maynooth overlaps with St. Patrick’s College, Ireland’s National Seminary. The College’s buildings designed by Augustus Pugin in the 1800s are magnificent, but the grounds surrounding the magnificent steeple are my true love though. I’ve picked up running again, something that extracurriculars and sports injuries didn’t make too easy for me at college, and it’s wonderful to run through gardens and apple orchards, past rugby pitches and cow pastures, and admire the beautiful green carpeting the ground and scaling the trunks and flourishing on branches of ancient trees.

It may be ironic to some that I’m studying a huge issue, Global Health (and Immunology), from a small village (population 10,000- not the smallest town I’ve ever lived in though). However, I’d argue that it is helping give me a very practical perspective on how solutions need to be organized. Plus, it’s a very charming place that cultivates a good conversations and personal reflection.

I’m interested in working on wildlife conservation issues relating to wildlife and human health. Many of the points of contact between wildlife, humans, and disease originate in small communities scattered throughout the globe, though especially in the tropics. Even though the temperature is far from equatorial, Maynooth is a small community in a rural setting that has many of the same needs and functions of a small village in Borneo. In addition to the coursework and interactions with professors, living in here has been a huge asset to my learning process.

I don’t spend all of my time in Maynooth; I’ve spent every weekend since I arrived 8 weeks ago travelling. It’s a good thing I absolutely love public transportation. Sometimes I can get a lot of reading for class out of the way, but my favorite times are when I get to spend the 4 hours chatting with a stranger about everything from orphanages in Belarus to the upcoming cinematic releases.

The rest of the Mitchell Scholars are scattered around the island and they’ve been incredibly accommodating. The Mitchells at Queens University hosted us for an amazing play and tour around Belfast. Jon coaxed us to Cork for the Jazz Festival and we had the opportunity to meet some incredible leaders in the city. For Halloween, we all dressed as Greek Gods and Goddesses and celebrated the holiday with parades and fireworks in Derry. I still have Galway and Limerick to look forward to with the Scholars, and there is so much more outside the major cities. I know I’ll never see and experience everything Ireland has to offer, but I will try.

Festivals are quite popular in Ireland, and have provided a wonderful excuse to see the diversity on the island. Just last weekend, Jon and I went to Ennis for their semi annual Trad Festival. We relaxed in the small town atmosphere (though it’s much bigger than Maynooth) and indulged in some incredible Trad music. Bluegrass is a popular style in my hometown in Georgia, it’s actually derived from Trad, so it was a wonderful reminder of the connectedness of the US and Ireland.

I have many plans for the upcoming year. An Irish friend and I have started a garden in his backyard. It’s our attempt to make our Euros go a little further, reduce our carbon footprint, and spend more time together. I may also have suggested the idea to add more green to my world. I’m also incredibly grateful to have a substitute bike while in Ireland. I spent a long time searching for the perfect one and finally found it- a vintage Austrian road bike with the shifters on the frame. Although cobblestones and Kildare roads are not too gentle with its thin tires, I have become an expert at changing the tubing in the wheels. The freedom of my bike is wonderful, and it’s handy when I am trying to catch a train across town. The Mitchell class also has plans to circumvent Northern Ireland in the spring and I am also biking to Galway with some classmates for charity next semester. Although RyanAir has very attractive prices on flights to other European destinations, I think most of my time will be spent exploring Ireland (hopefully) by bike and hiking boots.

As cliché and redundant as it may be, the people in Ireland have been the most incredible part of my experience thus far. The other Mitchells are so wonderful; I don’t think I could ever fully describe my appreciation for their laughter, intelligence, and company. We have become so close so quickly and I’m looking forward to many more adventures in the coming year. I left the island for my first time this weekend to travel to Krakow, Poland with three other Mitchells. It was comforting to have them by my side as we walked through the remains of Auschwitz. Although the concentration camp was in operation over sixty ago, it served as an incredibly powerful reminder of genocide and discrimination that continues in our generation. Experiences such as this have pushed me outside of my comfort zone and I hope to have many more in the upcoming year.

The transplanted Americans aren’t the only people whose company I enjoy. My classmates and peers in Maynooth have been very welcoming and eager to engage in conversations. I traveled and lived in many places for months at a time when I was in college, but Ireland is the first place that I have felt included in my local community. I am eager to see what the next year will lead to, but I am also perfectly happy enjoying watching the setting sun cast shadows over the rugby pitches and cow pastures.

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