Shortly after I arrived in Dublin, whenever I spoke to a stranger I often received a puzzled look. For a while, I thought it was simply because I am American. There are mixed opinions of American politics in Europe, and I am from the American South, after all. But no, “y’all” was not the problem, and it wasn’t my funny shoes either. Apparently, I am an imposter. The Irish genes passed down from both sides of my family converged to create what is undoubtedly the worst possible combination for the blazing sun of a Georgia summer: pale skin, freckles, red hair, and blue eyes. So, whenever I open my mouth, Dubliners expect that I am a local – or at least more of a local than I actually am – and to their overtly apparent surprise, I am indeed not.
Though I hail from Georgia, I find myself strangely at home in Ireland. The crisp air and cool breeze ever at your back, the clouds that form over Front Square as the sun sets to the west, the Guinness and music that pour out of pubs in the evening. They say country music can trace its roots to the Irish countryside, and maybe that explains my feeling of comfort away from Dixie. Whatever it is, I am intent on exploring it for the next nine months while I make Dublin my second home.
At home in Dublin, I sat down to write this reflection and thought back to where my mind was at this time last year. In the weeks leading up to the final Mitchell Scholarship interviews, twenty or so hopeful finalists will be dissecting our every word to gleam some hints to take with them to D.C. I hate to break it to you that there are no hints here – only anecdotal evidence of why you need an especially good tie on November 20 (hint! Just kidding. But seriously…). I will, however, do my best to give you a window into just how amazing this experience is.
There are nine Mitchell Scholars in Ireland this year. Deirdre is the shining light among a group of eight men hopelessly striving to be gentlemen and scholars. At least the Mitchell got us halfway there. Never before have I met a group of such concentrated accomplishment and aspiration. It is truly a privilege to be a part of this class, and to have the opportunity to participate in their endless discussions ranging from politics to military funding and Michael Phelps.
We kicked off our year together in Cork just a few weeks ago to the sound of endless church bells orchestrated to play The Final Countdown. We shared tea with Mrs. Mary Wilson in her gorgeous home built by Welsh merchants that may actually be my distant relations. The Irish Foreign Minister, Micheal Martin, formally welcomed us at a reception held at University College Cork, where he eloquently stressed the value and importance of international exchange. I was particularly excited, however, about the cooking lessons we received at Snugboro. Until that point, I had exhausted all possible variations of milk and cereal – the extent of my cooking abilities.
This year is sure to be an incredible adventure. Granted I am a little biased, but the other Mitchells would undoubtedly tell you that I have the best address in Ireland. Trinity College has the ideal location for exploring Dublin and her nightlife, as well as the rest of Ireland and the continent. Halloween was one of the few weekends I spent in Dublin since I arrived. I have been to Belfast, Cork, Milan, Edinburgh, and have plans to visit Galway, Dingle, and Kerry in the weeks ahead.
When I travel, I ride on buses listening to Damien Rice as we pass through endless fields of Kelly green, rain beats against the windows, and an overwhelming sense of peace comes over me. Essentially, I have taken a circuitous route and am living out my dream while furthering my career in the land where my great, great grandparents once lived. My family is originally from Co. Cork, and I hear rumors there is even a statue somewhere in Dublin, though I have yet to find it. As I peer out over the countryside, I also feel a great sense of gratitude for the opportunity that has made this all possible. Thank you to the US-Ireland Alliance, its many supporters, and the American and Irish governments for giving me this yearlong opportunity. I look forward with much anticipation to the months ahead and all that this experience in Ireland has to offer.
Until next time…