In my last couple of blogs I reflected on politics and identity in Northern Ireland. My thoughts on those subjects are developing, but as the end of my time in Northern Ireland draws near, I’ll pivot toward personal reflections on this past year.
The Mitchell Program offered me and my fellow scholars the opportunity to meet politicians, journalists, civil servants, and artists; travel within Ireland and across Europe; and, importantly, get to know each other. For me, the single most significant gift given by the Mitchell Program was separation. Let me explain.
Like many college graduates, my undergraduate experience was, in a word, frenzied. There was always something happening. I loved the fast-paced, deadline-filled, adrenaline-rush environment that was college. I did a lot of work that I am proud of and would change very little about my four-year experience. That said, there wasn’t a whole lot of time to reflect in between exams, papers, weekends, organizational responsibilities, and trying to figure out a major. I stopped doing a lot of little things: reading, playing pick-up basketball, sitting down for lunch. Hobbies get cut and, unfortunately, so do passions and dreams.
I was, for the most part, happy with the path on which college set me. Sociology PhD, professorship, tenure. That still may wind up being my trajectory. But you know what? I remembered that I like writing and, given enough time, could be good at it. Out of the demanding college environment for a mere six months, I let go of the plans I had carefully laid for years. With the support of a couple of professors, I rushed through applications to creative writing MFA programs. Lady Luck came to my aid: come September, I’ll be attending Rutgers.
Without the Mitchell year, I would be in a PhD program somewhere. Don’t get me wrong — I would be happy. But part of me would always wonder what could have happened had I pumped the brakes for a minute, looked around, and thought, “What else might there be?”