June 2010 Reflection

As I have written before on these pages, I’m convinced that most of the people who read scholar reflections are prospective applicants. If you’ve made your way through my previous reflections and those of other Mitchells to chance upon this little entry, you probably don’t need to be convinced to apply. But let’s suppose, for some reason, you’re still on the fence about whether to fill out an application. Allow me to try and convince you.

First, applying for the Mitchell is a worthwhile experience even if you don’t end up with a scholarship. When my undergraduate advisor used to stress that applying for this opportunity was not merely a means to an end but an end unto itself, I would roll my eyes. Of course – it sounds like the sort of thing you tell yourself to prepare for a suboptimal outcome. But he was right. For me at least, thinking long and hard about whether I wanted to live abroad, about a desired course of graduate study, and about where the Mitchell would fit into a larger vision of my life triggered the kind of self-examination I rarely indulge in. It’s so easy to pass from short-term goal to short-term goal or to glide onto a conventional career track without pausing to take a more thorough account of where you’re at and what you want. If done right, the process of applying for the Mitchell can provide that kind of reflection. In fact, I’d venture to guess the best applications are the product of just that sort of honest, thorough rumination. Even if an application is not ultimately “successful,” an applicant that takes advantage of the opportunity will learn something about herself that’s worth knowing.

It has been a little over two months since I left Ireland. Since leaving, I like to think I’ve gained some dim sense of perspective on what the experience meant to me. I can honestly say that I wouldn’t trade the year I had for any of the other opportunities before me when I left the country. I can only speak with some authority about the scholars in my class, but I’m confident in saying that they all feel the same way – there are no regrets. This is no small feat. It is the nature of the program to select people with exciting options in front of them; providing an experience engaging, enriching and enjoyable enough to convince a bunch of ambitious young people that it was the best way to spend a year is challenging.

How, exactly, does the program inspire this kind of appreciation? Where to begin? There is the staff of the Alliance – past and present – who take a tireless interest in scholar’s lives as mentors and friends. There are the opportunities for travel throughout Ireland and the continent of Europe, the dizzying experience of planting roots outside the United States, and the rigor and intellectual ferment of Ireland’s graduate programs. And, of course, there is Ireland itself, which while no doubt pleasant in tourism’s sense of the word (the guidebook sites, the landscapes, the welcoming natives), reserves its richest treasures for those who invest real time in it.

But most important of all are the scholars themselves – I have never met a more inspiring group of people.

If all of that doesn’t sound appealing to you, you need to get your head checked. So apply already.

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