Classes have finished, grades have been distributed, and writing for my thesis is well underway. Although I’ve grown academically, when I look back upon my year I don’t dwell on the hours spent in Erlich Suite, the Global Health class’s secondary home, or library cram sessions. Rather the pace of life, the conversations with locals and fellow Mitchells, and the spontaneous adventures make me miss the Island more than I could have imagined. I had always heard of the natural beauty and charm of Ireland’s people, so I didn’t doubt that I would enjoy my year in Ireland. To my (very) pleasant surprise, I fell in love with the countries and people and had a much harder time leaving than I had anticipated.
Time flew by second semester. Classes were taught for shorter periods and when I wasn’t in class I hosted several visitors and did a lot of traveling within Ireland. After finals ended, Bradam, Alec, Neil and I escaped our cloud-covered bog world to the farthest south Aerlingus flew- Tenerife, one of the Canary Islands. Beaches, sun, and volcanic rock galore. It was a wonderful change of scenery from my preferred library cubicle.
We were able to dodge Eyjafjallajökull’s wrath and made it back in time just to say goodbye to some of the other Scholars at our End of the Year Retreat. The week started at the President’s Farmleigh Residence with a lovely reception. We enjoyed the company of friends of the Alliance and President MacAleese gave a wonderful speech. The next day we followed the signs to THE WEST to have one last adventure in Ireland as a class.
It’s amazing how many things you accumulate in just a year- and you quickly regret it when moving to another country. Just before the last retreat, I traveled by bus, train, and taxi to a new home in Belfast. Luckily a friend was foolish enough to help me move my belongings and bicycle (thank you!). Maynooth was a lovely town, but I wanted to experience life on both sides of the island before returning to the States.
My short stint in Belfast was filled with unusual beautiful weather, World Cup matches, and lots of laughs. I’ll never know the city as well as Scholars at Queens University, but I deeply love Belfast and its residents. The Mitchell Scholarship allowed me to explore a region and culture that few Americans see during their tours through their homelands.
Graffiti on the Falls Road in Belfast in the 1980s stated:
To those who understand, no explanation is necessary. To those who will not understand, no explanation is possible.
I won’t claim to understand the intricacies of the cultural, social, and political conflicts in Northern Ireland, but I am much more informed and sympathetic to arguments on both sides. As an ecologist and aspiring conservationist, I am constantly thinking about conflicting interests between local communities, natural resources, and wildlife populations. In both situations compromise is challenging and drawn out, instead we should look for novel solutions in which tradeoffs are minimized for all parties.
It’s an exciting time to be in Belfast, there was so much growth that I was able to witness over my visits throughout the year. I’m looking forward to returning to the island many times. In a few years, I have an excuse to go back and see the redeveloped Titanic Quarter. I convinced Adam (and Bre) to jump off cliffs into the ocean and now we have a date to bungee jump off Samson and Goliath (Belfast’s characteristic H & W cranes in the old shipyard).
In my first reflection, I mentioned the correlation between the amount of green and the happiness in my life. Yet correlation is not necessarily causation and I’ve been looking for reasons why I have been so happy in Ireland. Not that my life hasn’t been happy in the States, far from that, but I’ve felt special joy during my time in Ireland.
Oftentimes social pressures encourage success as a valuation of happiness in ones’ life, whether it’s a high salary job, accolades, or a large family. Because of this, my spare time in the States was often spent updating websites, filling in extra applications- whatever would yield the most results in the shortest amount of time.
Yet in Ireland, I had already finished the series of projects I had failed to say ‘no’ to back in college and started with a clean slate. Without a schedule planning every waking moment, I took advantage of gorgeous days with a walk and was able to savor tea with Heather when we needed brain breaks from the library. It was a few months before I realized never to ask what time something started at. Rarely would we set times to meet at the pub, eat dinner, etc. Schedules were so relaxed that I would simply send a short message when I had left my house. If no one was in the pub when you arrived, you could strike a conversation with the person to your left or you could find someone you knew in the corner, at least in Maynooth.
The day before an exam paper was due, I enthusiastically accepted an invite for homemade crumpets and tea (who wouldn’t?). I planned to spend an hour or two for a study break. Eight hours later, after the sun had set, I decided to return home to wrap up the paper. Fortunately for me, a fellow classmate had also gotten caught up in social plans and we kept each alert by exchanging YouTube videos throughout the night. Enjoying the company I was with rather than focusing on how much time until the next engagement made me enjoy the present.
My mother is always telling me to quit doing so much and sleep more. However, it’s not that I do so much in my life that makes me unhappy, rather that I never really enjoyed moments as they happened. I had to photograph them to remember than in retrospect or plan excessively for future memories. Perhaps I’ve been blind to a lesson that’s been in front of me all my life, regardless a change of scenery and culture made all the difference.
With the year in Ireland at an end, the only thing keeping me from being entirely depressed is the knowledge that adventures will continue with the Mitchells (and planning my next trip to Ireland). I’ll always remember our start in Ireland though. In the meantime, I’ll miss Lauren’s infectious smile and her Jon’s ability to keep up with Alec in livid debates in their living room. Their Galway home had so much love and laughter (and swans) associated with it. Michael introduced me to long distance running and I will forever curse him on mile 15 for that (only joking). I hope one day to earn your Goblet of Distinction. Rebekah is an amazing cook and was always fun to visit in Galway and Belfast. The Dublin boys are too cool for school, yet one feels like he can overcome this through another decade playing the role of student. His particular homebrews were almost as good as his descriptions of the brewing process. Much to my joy, Matt’s laugh became more like Sir John’s throughout spring. Alec’s identity will be forever intertwined with winks and bagels. Neil and Sarang’s relationship blossomed into something more beautiful than any of us could have imagined. Shane is staying in Ireland, you lucky dog, but we will always claim him as a part of our class (hands off, Class of 2011). I look forward to hiking in Glacier National Park with him in a few years. We are all indebted to Jon for practicing massage on us, and I’m excited to be only 50 minutes from his new business and old home in Philly. Lastly, Bre and Adam (Bradam), what can I say? We can pretend I moved to Northern Ireland for the cheaper groceries, but we all know the truth- I’m madly in love with you both.
I’m now back in my official homeland, but I feel blessed to be able to identify Ireland as a home too. I had the best welcome back to the States I could ask for- two beautiful, healthy 3-month old nieces, yet I still find myself missing parts of Ireland. I plan to bring the twins to Ireland one day (with their parent’s permission of course), but until then I’ll tell them tales of Leprechauns and mermaids and true stories of the wonderful friends I made there.