I rode a lot of buses in Ireland, crisscrossing the island many times (occasionally in other modes of transport). Some people really dislike the sometimes 4+ hour rides along windy, curvy roads, around and over the hills, stopping to drop off and pick up people at seemingly random points along the way—but I always enjoy the journey. I usually spend the entire ride looking out the window at the lush landscape and charming town centers and thinking about the beautiful stories of generations of people who have lived in this remarkable part of the world, and their ongoing connection with it.
Returning home, to America, I find difficulty explaining to friends the profound effect my year in Ireland has had on me. This inexplicable feeling—sigh, what a feeling—is of months of wandering throughout towns and cities, sharing opinions with other people, and riding the bus with simply my thoughts to accompany breathtaking views. Classroom lessons this year made a meaningful impact on how I think about certain issues in our world, surely, but those extra-curricular lessons are the ones I regard as transformative and special.
People are central to the powerful effect of this year. I have had countless interactions and conversations with folks across Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland that all have, in some way, further shaped how I think about some of the most significant matters in my world: good governance and democracy, identity, how best to help our fellow human beings, and the foundations of a good and meaningful life. I thank these anonymous teachers (some in the classroom, most outside of it) for sharing their genuine thoughts and growing along with me, nourished by each other’s ideas, and grounded within the dynamic communities and societies spread across the island.
Beyond the Emerald Isle, exploring places across Europe and meeting the peoples that call these places home has deeply influenced my own identity as an American. I have been blessed to visit so many places, and I am so grateful for the Mitchell Scholarship for encouraging this travel and making it possible—all across the island of Ireland (of course) as well as the Scottish Highlands, London and Oxford, Edinburgh, Madrid, Geneva, Berlin and Potsdam, Amsterdam, Brussels, Paris, Prague, and Vienna! Each city and country has its own fascinating features and nuances, while there is also something very significant in the great similarities of our humanity. Next year, I am heading to Cairo, Egypt, to continue learning from people and communities that are organizing—politically and socially—to create better lives for themselves and future generations.
Multi-dimensional perspectives on the world through travel has made me ever more proud and humbled to call America my home and my nation, especially in the countless ways that the good people of the United States influence the world for the better (to me, Europe leaves much to be desired). As anything, there are negatives (sometimes huge) and shortcomings, and conversely, downplayed achievements. Yet, nowadays, I can see more clearly than ever the roads and challenges ahead, and the ways in which I hope to be part of making our communities, our country, our world, and all the living things that share this existence flourish—with peace, freedom, equality, dignity, and justice for all.
I cannot neglect to mention the power of people once more, in the peers I met through the Mitchell Scholarship program that have affected my life in very distinct ways:
- Deirdre and Paul have been such a generous duo in countless ways, and role models of ways I want to work to protect justice for all people.
- Kyle, ever the optimist, has a rare fearlessness in identifying problems in our society (with the classic “explain that to me, it makes no sense!”), and an equally-rare stamina in his ability to continue asking important “why?” questions of both problems and proposed solutions.
- Fagan, with all the makings of a political leader of the highest caliber, has taught me how to situate problems by asking plenty of questions, mainly the tough ones, and utilize the power of others to find a plan for resolution.
- Steven is a wonderful and warm human being, and almost immediately, I began to understand the long list of why others trust and follow his leadership into the most difficult of struggles and battles.
- Stephen has affected how I view the process of change, and combines his exceptional strengths both at the hands-on and political levels to be relentless in the defense of the health and wellbeing of people across the globe, a foundational element of empowering communities.
- Ryan, always a joy to be around whether in Belfast or Brooklyn (as I’ve already seen him here twice in the past two weeks), motivates me with how much he is able to get out of every day and how effective he is at connecting people to get important work done.
- Joey is never timid about speaking his mind or speaking with straight-edged honesty, something that may sound simple, but makes an immense difference in exchanging ideas and meeting goals.
- Yongjun, as he does with so many, inspires with dreams of ways to make the world a better, more egalitarian place, and combines this with a proven praxis of translating hope into reality.
Thank you all for the countless lessons you have all taught me; thank you to the Mitchell Scholarship (and program leaders Jennie and Trina) for your belief in investing in me with this experience; thank you to all my teachers and mentors, both named and unnamed; thank you to my family, friends, and loved ones for bearing the distance; and thank you Ireland for the limitless hospitality and memories.