Nearing the Halfway Mark

I’ve been back in Dublin for two and a half weeks now, after a very good and lengthy visit with my family and friends back in West Virginia. Finals went very well, provisional grades have been released, and this semester’s classes are starting.  It’s shaping up to be another great semester, and I can’t believe that it’s already February! Before I go on to things that I’ve been up to and am planning, I’d just like to comment on how beautiful Dublin is at Christmas time—it’s a very celebrated holiday here, and the number of lights and festive decorations were unlike any I’d seen before. The city of Dublin and its residents get excited about Christmas, and the Grafton Street area especially buzzes with holiday cheer. The displays were absolutely magical on cold nights with the happy sounds of child-sized carolers cutting through the crowds. It’s too bad I didn’t really get to experience snow in Ireland, although it did snow on December 16, the day that I left for home. After last year’s heavy snowstorms (which apparently stopped all activities for several days!), my friends here were so glad that this winter has been more typical.
Being back after my winter break is a bit surreal, for a number of reasons–primarily the fact that my experience here is nearing the halfway mark. With that in mind, I’m moving on to things that I absolutely need to do before this experience comes to a close. I’ve got a lot of things planned this semester in the way of traveling, especially after classes end in April—I’m planning a few trips to places I’m very excited to visit, both in Ireland and elsewhere in Europe. I’ll also be traveling a bit in the next few weeks: the Mitchell Scholars are having a mid-year retreat in Belfast, and in March we are traveling to Belgium for a few days kindly organized by the Irish Mission in Brussels. The trip to Belgium will be my first time on the continent, and that’s very exciting. I think I am going to take a few days on the end of that trip to explore more of the area and perhaps take the train to Paris. La ville de l’amour! I’m also determined to see more of the very active Irish theatre community during this “half,” and I’m off to a good start, with three great performances lined up in these next few weeks—a great amount compared to the single show I took in last semester.

Since I’ve returned, I’ve been busy trying to explore more of Dublin—a goal that may seem a bit strange since I’ve been living here for several months. But I am conscious of time, and I want to have as many experiences in this lovely city as I can before I go. A friend and I are back to what we have lovingly dubbed our “Saturday explorations,” which we began in earnest at the beginning of last semester but which were seriously derailed toward the end of the semester—visitors and reading and exams put a definite crunch on the amount of time we could spend together. The first weekend back, though, we made our way downtown to shop for necessities and look around streets and shops we’ve never been to before. We enjoyed strolling around in search of ethnic food markets (there are several interesting stores off the O’Connell Street area) and visiting the Temple Bar markets, where we are well-known for our indulgent enjoyment of the Good Life’s spit-roasted delicacies. Even with our long absence, we’re known as regulars, and it’s a great feeling to have something like that in this place. I’m looking forward to finding even more special places and things before I go.

In addition and related to the abstract concept of “time,” I’ve been thinking a lot these last few days about service and the dreaded “career.” Yesterday, fellow Mitchell Mohammad Modarres and I met with two representatives from UCD’s Ad Astra Academy scholarship program. The Academy has approached us to share our experiences as competitive undergraduates and as Mitchell Scholars with first-year students in the program, which offers opportunities for students who excelled academically, in the performing arts, or in sports while in secondary school (high school). Although no date has been set, I’ve certainly been thinking about “after” Mitchell and “before” as a way to to connect the things that you are passionate about with things that are beneficial (both for you and for others). This opportunity for reflection comes at a time when I’m looking toward my own post-Mitchell future, and I think it will be a great way to organize my thoughts and expectations while helping one of these first-year students create their own map for the future.

I’m aware that this entire blog entry makes it seem as though I’m counting down the minutes until my Mitchell year is over, but in reality that is far from the case. Most days I simply try to live as they come, and it’s only at times like these when I pause in deliberate reflection, aware that the clock appears to be ticking toward some great impending change. These last few days, however, I’ve been reading a lot of Irish and Appalachian poetry while preparing to organize my thoughts into what will hopefully be a reasonable thesis proposal, and I’m comforted by a few of my favorite lines from West Virginia’s poet laureate, Dr. Irene McKinney. As I think of them, I’m reminded of the friends I’ve made here, the friends I’ve left behind, and, as I said in my last entry, the places we’re all going:

Listen: there is a vein that runs
Through the earth from top to bottom
And both of us are in it.
One of us is always burning.

–Irene McKinney, “Deep Mining”

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