As I start to write this, it’s around 3 AM. The National Championship game is on in the background, and I’m once more reminded that Bama did not make it to Pasadena this year (sniff sniff, wipes tear). Football woes aside, both professional and collegiate, the year is going swimmingly so far – doctoral program applications were completed, projects were submitted, culture and linguistic quirks were absorbed, trips were taken. Thanksgiving weekend was spent in Dublin, enjoying the company of other scholars and friends of the program. This was quickly followed by a weekend jaunt to Belgium to explore Brussels, Bruges, and Ghent. I cannot begin to tell you how fabulous the chocolate was; let’s just say the treats I bought as gifts may not make it back to the States.
Christmas was spent in picturesque Galway with Tom’s wonderful family, who were gracious enough to host Marian and me, as we could not make it back to the States. We soaked in plenty of the beautiful Irish countryside on our long, long bus trips from Belfast to Dublin to Galway and back again. New Year’s, or should I say Hogmanay, was occupied with a trip to Scotland to see the Highlands, Glasgow and Edinburgh. Fireworks with a backdrop of a medieval castle and thousands of Scots singing Auld Lang Syne in its native dialect was a fabulous way to welcome in the new year. I certainly have been racking up the miles and passport stamps. I cannot wait to go hillwalking in the summer, both here in Ireland and hopefully in Scotland as well. Yes indeed, everything was going swimmingly – or so I thought until this stretch of chaos hit.
One of the stranger aspects, to this American at least, about Queen’s is that final examinations for the semester take place after the winter break period. As one professor put it, this gives us more time to revise, but as another said (who obviously understands the student mind better), it’s clearly a plot to torment us. No matter what the reason, it definitely gives students something to bond over as we launch into a campaign of revision and term paper writing in the aftermath of the holidays. Studying with my classmates has truly been a cultural enlightenment. We have compared so many things, from drinks to education systems, and for the first time in my life I miss getting grades on homework. I’ve been corrected on my pronunciation of many words, though we are still fighting over “aluminum” versus “aluminium” (I refuse to give in on that one). The imperial system of units has thoroughly been taken to task, as has my calculator for some odd reason. Apparently, no one uses TI-83s in this part of the world.
But what I’ve enjoyed most has been the wonderful contrasting senses of humor and national pride. Americans, in the eyes of the Irish, have a tendency to be over-dramatic, especially when it comes to patriotic things. Whereas on this side of the ocean, self-deprecatory remarks about one’s country are the norm, but there is a fierce pride hidden beneath the surface. To some extent, this sort of humor reaches beyond a national level into personal interaction. Sarcasm and light jabs are not meant to hurt, but are simply a different way of bonding. You know that you are building friendships when you can both give and take those remarks with a laugh. And after this crazy stretch of final exams, I am certainly going to be in need of many laugh and some good craic.