A cactus and a sheep make an odd couple. Let me explain. I began the new year very far away from Ireland, visiting my best friend who is doing research in Buenos Aires. We took a road trip to the northwest region of Argentina, traveling through unbelievable landscapes where red rock mountains peppered with enormous and sometimes hilariously shaped cacti quickly transitioned into lush green hills. Spending our first year out of college in new places far from our homes, we spent much of our trip talking about our different abroad experiences and our attempts to understand and become a part of our respective homes for the year. Despite the differences—she spends her days conversing in Spanish as a lone researcher in a sunny place where dinner begins at 9 PM (and there are alpacas, but no sheep)—I was most struck by our similar feelings that speak more to where we are in life than to our physical surroundings. One year out, we both have a never-ending list of questions about what we want to do, what will make us happy, and how best to contribute to the world and to engage with the people we care about. We are both loving our time abroad but acknowledged how hard it was to be away from the people in our lives and the worlds we had formed in the past four years (and, Mom and Dad, the last twenty-two as well!).
Following my trip, I spent a week at home surrounded by my family and friends. I admit that I was a little sad to leave them and return to Dublin, but back to the Emerald Isle I went. Greeted by the irreplaceable and incomparable Sam, I quickly perked up. During that first week, I made plans with a classmate, booked two trips with fellow Mitchells, and found a weekly traditional music and poetry event that has since become a staple in my time here. The phrases “What’s the craic?” “That’s deadly,” and “Your man” no longer sound foreign to me and, at least in my head, I no longer sound bizarre saying them. To cap it off, I even introduced an Irish friend of mine to a pub he had never heard of, much to his surprise.
With this new sense of comfort and familiarity has come an inability to comprehend that my time in Ireland is halfway done. Rather than sequestering myself in the library, which I have a tendency to do, I have made it a point to explore as much as possible. My recent trip to Galway with Chelsea (where we saw Katie in an awesome play!) has proved to me that my love of cliffs, water, and sheep will never wane. I am also very happy that I can travel with friends and family who will be visiting me in the next month so that I can enjoy Donegal, Connemara, and Belfast with a bit of home thrown in, as well as act as a tour guide in Dublin.
In addition to personal reflection, my time away abroad has allowed for thought about the States and the perhaps unavoidable comparisons that come from living in another country. In the past few weeks, my inbox has been flooded with New York Times updates and subsequent e-mail chains about the ongoing battles over women’s health. In Ireland, I attended a Seanad debate with my classmates about a controversial bill that was recently introduced, which would mandate that women comprise at least 30 % of candidates put forward by political parties in the next general election. If parties fail to do so, their funding will be halved. Ireland would join a number of other European countries if it passed this gender quota legislation. The United States ranks 71st in the world for women’s political representation and Ireland ranks 79th. To me, these statistics are astonishing and reveal a tremendous amount about what issues get swept under the rug in both countries. Although I feel removed and yearn to participate in the debates and advocacy happening in the States (and hopefully next year I will figure out a way to do so), it has been interesting to speak with feminist actors here whose sentiments and frustrations I’ve both heard expressed at home and share. I am very appreciative of those who have taken the time to enlighten and involve me over here and those at home who read to the end of my long, sometimes rant-like e-mails.
As the days pass, it becomes increasingly clear to me that my world is expanding to include new places, new language, new knowledge, and new people to think and care about. I suppose part of the fear of post-college life is that everyone scatters, people’s routines change, friendships shift, and uncertainty becomes a way of life for at least a little while. This year so far has allowed me to expand on the new and reflect on and appreciate the old. It has also enabled me to pursue a balance that I did not quite achieve in college (according to past Mitchell blogs, I’m not alone!). The image of the cactus and the sheep – one resilient, resolutely anchored, and sharp and the other relaxed, nomadic, and, well, fluffy—does not quite capture the yin and yang that I am trying to describe, but I feel that (prepare for cheesiness) no symbol would really do this year justice.