I am not the type of person that can quickly adjust to a new environment. It took me almost six months to get over my desire to return home to Alabama and to finally feel at home in Washington DC. However, here in Belfast, something strange has happened to me as I truly love this city. I can’t pinpoint what made this happen. I know I first realized this though as I felt the overwhelming joy of returning to my beloved city after a long weekend in Dublin for Mitchell Convocation. I felt the pure relief of being back “home” in my tiny flat at Queen’s, and I then become conscious that this unique city and country had found a special place in my heart.
I am continually amazed by how fast time can fly. A year ago, I had completed my semi-finalist interview before heading out to Ohio with the RNC to campaign. My Republican party suffered through quite a sound beating, but a few weeks later, I learned that I had won the George Mitchell Scholarship. I still remember sitting in my living room in DC watching an Alabama football game with two friends when I got the call. For the next nine months, Ireland always seemed so far off in the back of my mind. A full year later, everything has come full circle as the GOP is resurgent, Alabama is again at the pinnacle of the football world, and I have been on the Emerald Isle for two months.
After two years of working, being back in school is a strange feeling, especially in a foreign country. However, I have become immersed in my study of Rural Development and getting back into the swing of student life. From the first day of class, I knew my program would be a good fit for me when I discovered that many of the students come from a rural farming background like me. I feel like I learn something new every time I attend a lecture, whether it is about the history of the EU and its future with the Lisbon Treaty or about using community partnerships that allow rural citizens to bring about development and pull themselves up by their boot straps. More importantly though, I learn the most over lunch or tea breaks with my class students as I listen to their perspective on the future of farmers, politics and divisions in Northern Ireland, and cultural competencies and linguistic differences that I need to be aware of in order to get by in Belfast.
Since I have already mentioned them, it’s no secret that I have two passions and vices that I cannot get by without: politics and Alabama Crimson Tide football. My worry about moving here was that I would not be able to be engaged and follow both of these, but this has not been a problem. I knew I wanted to do something political here instead of just following the news back home. At the Fresher’s Fair (a student org fair), I stumbled across the Young Conservatives table. Having always admired the UK Tories, I immediately signed up with the party so I could help with elections and see firsthand how their creative policies will bring about a change in 10 Downing Street (and hopefully carry some of these lessons back home). At my first meeting, I was also asked to stand as a candidate for the Queen’s Student Union Council. My campaign was simple: ask my housemates and classmates to vote for me. Thirteen votes later, and voila! I now serve as a Postgraduate Councillor, which should be an interesting experience as I see how student politics work here.
With regard to football, I have been lucky enough to watch or listen to most of Alabama’s big games. I followed along to the Kentucky game via text messages while taking in Oktoberfest in Munich with Jon Brestoff and a friend from Alabama, and I listened to Eli Gold call the LSU game from a hotel rooftop in Marrakech, Morocco with a college friend in Peace Cops there. Thanks to the Mitchell Scholarship and its generous funding, I have gotten to take some amazing trips, and pairing football with it only makes everything that much sweeter! I have also started to follow football here, or as we know it in America, soccer. Bre Detwiler and I were privileged enough to go to a match between Northern Ireland’s best two teams and biggest rivals. I only thought SEC football was intense as this game was the rowdiest sporting event I had ever seen before complete with fans throwing firecrackers at each other. While taking this in, we also got to chat with our host a bit about how the role that the sectarian politics here even plays in football. The game was a truly great experience, and our team even pulled out a 2-1 victory. I definitely hope to catch more games.
The best part of being here thus far has been time spent with my fellow Mitchell Scholars. We are such a diverse group with a range of experiences and fields of study that always makes for stimulating and engaging conversations whenever we get together. The group is continuing to grow into a close knit family here on the island through trips to Dublin, Belfast for a play, Cork for the Jazz Festival, Derry for Halloween, and even to the Bray for a filming of The Tudors. I feel quite blessed and humbled to be here in Ireland with the other eleven Mitchell Scholars. I cannot thank the US-Ireland Alliance and the scholarship’s benefactors enough for this wonderful opportunity. My goal for the next year is simple: to take advantage of everything Ireland has to offer as I expand my intellectual horizons and live life to the fullest. I am quite excited and looking forward to all the adventures yet to be had in my temporary homeland.