When the sun goes down o’er Dublin town

The transformation from winter to spring in Ireland is unlike any seasonal change I have experienced.  When I left Dublin in March for a respite at home in the States, I left gray skies, damp air, and chilling cold.  When I returned, the contrast was unbelievable – sunny skies, weather in the 60s, a light breeze, and practically no rain.  The Pav was packed with students spilling out into the lawn almost every afternoon.  People in shops were in good moods.  I could walk around without a sweater for the first time since September.  If I didn’t know any better, I’d think I had come back to a different country. Spring in Georgia lasts about two days, but Ireland has been blessed with an extended springtime following its snow-filled winter.  The sun hangs in the sky until nearly 9 pm.  Every day, couples are playing tennis, students are setting up croquet on the lawn, and busloads of French tourists are sunbathing in front square.

But not me.  I am inside the 1937 Postgraduate Reading Room writing my dissertation. By writing, I mean still researching, but it makes me feel better to say that I’m writing.  I am exploring the way that the United States Government justifies engagement in foreign policy for global health.  Having studied public health and microbiology at the University of Georgia, it is safe to say I am stretching myself to new limits with this endeavor.  I love it, though, and it brings me closer toward my goal of working to bridge policy and practice to improve health around the world.

When not writing my dissertation, I’ve taken to running along the Grand Canal in the afternoons.  Reading Faulkner and the JFK biography An Unfinished Life by Robert Dallek has occupied a considerable amount of time recently.  I also had a few days’ distraction thanks to a visit from my friend Cullen.  I showed him the sites in Dublin – his favorite probably being Lansdowne road and Aviva stadium.  We also enjoyed Kilmainham Gaol (kill-may-numb  jail) and all of its history.  A surprising number of movies were filmed there.  Or as the Irish would say it, many fill-ems were fill-emed there.

This brings me to an important lesson that the class of 2012 needs to learn before they arrive: Irish language.  I’m not talking about Gaelic – I’m referring to the Irish-English vernacular.  There are the standard differences that most Americans would expect from traditional “British” English.  The car trunk is a called the boot; the hood, the bonnet; an eraser, a rubber.  Those are easy enough.  Surprisingly, what will really throw you off the most are snack foods.  So, you want some potato chips with your sandwich? Better ask for crisps.  Irish chips are French fries, but not skinny French fries – more like American steak fries.  American biscuits are scones, but scones are scones as well.  (I’m still not quite sure where to draw the distinction there.)  Irish buns are American cupcakes.  I somehow don’t see “Georgetown Buns” being a success.  Never fear – the easiest way to get it all sorted is to head down to the store and check it out for yourself, but beware that it is not a store, it’s a “shop”.  Who would’ve thought I’d have trouble ordering at Starbucks in an English speaking country?

On a much more serious note, this week President Obama announced that U.S. Navy SEALS successfully infiltrated a compound in Pakistan and killed Osama bin Laden.  I first learned of the mission when I awoke Monday morning to elated text messages from home.  Soon, my Facebook news feed was filled with status updates and photos of celebrations in the streets in the USA.  This was undoubtedly a momentous occasion.

I was 13 and in eighth grade on September 11, 2001 and in the aftermath of that day, Osama bin Laden became the ‘boogeyman of the 9/11 generation’, according to CNN. I’d say CNN was pretty accurate – he was the face behind the terror that marked the turning point in our lives. Because of him, our generation is more politically engaged, and engaged in general. We are more patriotic, more aware, and in many ways more fearful as well. The death of bin Laden on May 1, 2011 was the fulfillment of promises made a decade ago to a generation of grade school students. At the age of 23, I now understand that bin Laden’s death does not mark the end of terrorism. It does not bring promises of peace and prosperity for the decade ahead, and it does not give closure to the thousands of families who lost loved ones on September 11th.  But for many of us, it does bring fulfillment of a promise and a renewal of pride. It sends a message to us and the world that you can’t kill thousands of American citizens and get away with it.  I think the celebrations in the States, however appropriate or inappropriate they may have been, were representative of that fact.  In a way, I am disappointed I missed them, but observing the events from Ireland and experiencing Europeans’ shared joy in closing that chapter of the war on terror has been an invaluable lesson in international relations.

I have roughly one month left in Ireland, and although I am looking forward to moving home and beginning medical school, I will miss this place.  I have made incredible friends that will last a lifetime.  As soon as I step foot in Atlanta, I am sure I will be anxious to return to Dublin to visit them and drink a quality-controlled Guinness. Until then, we will continue arguing about American foreign policy, and they’ll keep teaching me how to speak English “properly”.  Admittedly, however, I may never understand the difference between a biscuit “scone” and a scone.  Obviously I would not like a cookie with my eggs.

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