The picture above perfectly encapsulates my rowing experience – me trying to poke my head above a taller, stronger, and more superior athlete. You can see my wee glasses over a shoulder near the middle. In all seriousness, joining the Dublin University Boating Club (DUBC) has been a big part of my time in Ireland. From the 6 AM morning sessions on the river to the 12 pubs of Christmas, the Trinity rowing team has been a constant part of my daily routine and an incredible opportunity to meet and get to know a broader array of Irish people.
When I first received news that I was heading to Ireland, I knew I was going to row. For the longest time I couldn’t recall why the heck I wanted to take up the sport, but a light bulb went off recently. During my senior year I was talking to one of my old colleagues at the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation who had spent a year at Oxford after law school and he had mentioned that he had loved his experience rowing while abroad. At the time it seemed like a good idea, so here I am.
I can tell you now that rowing is not the easiest sport to try and take up from scratch. Each stroke is a technical nightmare – the blade has to enter the water at the right angle, you need to lift the blade out of the water at the correct time, and everyone on the boat needs to be in perfect synchronization. One mistake and your oar is caught in the water, the boat grinds to a standstill, and you have just lost the race.
The most impactful part of my rowing experience, though, has been outside of the boat. Coming from a very ethnically diverse community in California, Ireland has been a bit of a shock. Though Dublin has changed quite dramatically over the past 10 years, Ireland remains a relatively ethnically homogenous society. To put it bluntly, you don’t see a lot of brown people on the street in a given day, and you definitely don’t see many on the rowing team.
It is quite possible that I’m the first person on the Trinity rowing team that is Indian (though full confirmation would take a lot more research than I’m currently willing to do). Walk around the DUBC boathouse and you can see many pictures of past teams in full competition glory. What you don’t see, however, are any people of color. On the current squad, I’m 1 of 2 out of a group of 30+ athletes.
While I’ve received nothing but respect on the crew, I can also say that I’ve never quite felt truly a part of the group. Granted, this can be attributed to a whole host of other factors: I’m American, older than the other new rowers that are all first years, and in a different point in my academic career. That being said, there were other first years from a host of different background that all dropped out from the team over the course of the year. From my conversations with them, it seemed like the social dynamic was a key motivator of that decision.
The main takeaway for me is that a true commitment to diversity has to extend far past slogans from Irish universities or the government – it has to be a value that is ingrained in the hearts and minds of people throughout society. Embracing diversity means just that: a true love of engaging with other cultural identities as opposed to tacit acceptance. Hopefully that is a conversation that will continue to develop in Ireland long after I’m gone.
My dream is that 30 years from now I’ll come back to the DUBC boathouse , look up at the list of captains, and see a name like Girish Ahuja alongside David Butler.