It’s said that “you don’t know what you don’t know,” and five months into living in Ireland, that is becoming more apparent to me every day.
One of the most enjoyable parts of studying public policy at UCD is the diversity of the students that I am fortunate enough to study with. My program is not terribly large with about 20-25 full-time students enrolled this year. We’ve gotten to know each other well over the first semester, challenging each other’s viewpoints in class and learning the ins and outs of public administration, evidence based policy-making, statistics, and research.
About half of my classmates are Irish, but other students are spread across nationalities from fellow Americans to Canadian, British, Belgian, Norwegian, Chinese, and Australian students. This wide diversity of life experiences, native countries, and views on the policy-making process has helped to challenge what I thought I knew about public policy, and about my own country and community. Viewing the nation and community where I grew up, their policy decisions, and their cultural norms from the lens of an outsider has allowed me to see both the weaknesses and unique strengths of America that I didn’t or couldn’t see when I was home.
This personal growth has also been enhanced by being able to travel to other European nations. Social norms in Greece, Portugal, and Italy, three countries I have been able to visit thus far, vary greatly and it has allowed me to see how societies can and do operate entirely differently, with both improvements to learn from and detriments to be wary of. Traveling has also allowed me to see my true passion, urban policy, played out in different settings. Seeing how the housing crisis impacts Dublin, how steep population decline has impacted Venice, and how the debt crisis has impacted daily life in Athens has affected how I see the issues of challenged communities at home. Visiting these communities makes me all the more confident that many of the issues faced by urban communities in the United States are not aberrations, but challenges faced by communities across the globe, with solutions that we can learn from.
“You don’t know what you don’t know,” couldn’t be truer, and getting to learn what I don’t know and, more importantly, to learn this with people from around the world who bring a wealth of personal experiences and beliefs to the table has been an experience that will shape me for the rest of my life. Ireland and Europe provide a welcoming and challenging arena from which to learn about how to address the most pressing policy challenges of our day and to see urban communities operating and responding to challenges in different ways. By the end of August I hope to have learned how to better work with diverse groups of people to improve the community and country I call home from those around me here that are so passionate about and active in improving their own.