The day before I left for Ireland, I spent my morning as most not-so-religious 25 years olds do prior to leaving home for a year: having a coffee date arranged by my Nana with the priest from my local parish. Father Dan is originally from County Kerry, but has been a staple in our community and family for as long as I can remember. That morning he wanted to hear about my upcoming Irish adventures and share some advice. As we wrapped up our time together, he left me with an incredibly important lesson for anyone entering a new space: to be respectful, open to new experiences, and to remain humble. After our talk, I began thinking about how best to prepare myself to sit in the discomforts and uncertainties that will inevitably arise as an outsider in a new country.
Well, I can certainly tell you that I did not plan to sit in that seat so soon- yet there I was, not even 48 hours later- standing in the Dublin airport at 6am as a customs officer stared at my documents and said, rather loudly, “Well, what is so compelling about you?” I was taken aback. In my head all I could think was, “Nothing sir, literally nothing, I am so sorry goodbye.” Before I could respond or get on the next flight home, he continued, “This letter here from the Mitchell Scholarship says there is a compelling reason that you are here today, well, what is it? Why should I let you into this country?” Halfway through awkwardly explaining my course of study at University College Cork and interest in Ireland’s criminal justice system, he stamped my passport and declared me “compelling enough”.
This question, “what is so compelling about you,” haunted me my first few weeks here in Ireland. While my transition to living in Cork has gone rather smoothly, I’ve felt at ease living here in a way that has not come as naturally in other places, I’d be lying if I didn’t acknowledge that my transition back to being a full time student presented a new set of personal anxieties. The self-imposed pressure to pick the perfect classes, dive in headfirst with student groups, and hit the ground running with research, all weighed heavily on me. For someone who hasn’t been a student in over three years, returning to school felt more like unchartered territory than something I would easily get back into the swing of. When things didn’t click right away, different versions of that question of being “compelling enough,” crept into my psyche and filled me with doubt.
While discussing some of these anxieties with my professor, he asked, “Kathleen, have you considered taking the scenic route?” At first, I was perplexed by this. However, after thinking more about this, the lessons from Father Dan about being open during my time here filled my mind. I realized that this was not only my professors polite way of telling me to calm down but also that his advice applied to how I should spend all my time in Ireland, both inside and outside the classroom. Over the past two months, I have come to appreciate what taking the scenic route really means: slowing down, opening up, asking questions, and practicing patience with myself. I am finding that each day here in Ireland is an opportunity to discover new routes to enjoy and lessons to learn. My cup overflows with gratitude and excitement as I look towards a year of learning, exploring, stumbling, and growing along the way.