Upon moving to Ireland, I made a resolution (one of many) to use this year as a time to extend my interests and experiences to those I have spent less time on in the past. My reluctance to seek out organizations and opportunities similar to those I loved in college was motivated in large part by expecting I’d try, and subsequently fail, to re-create my undergrad experience in an environment where student life was bound to be different. In the fall, this led me to kickboxing, Irish dance, and an assortment of lectures and seminars on topics I’d never even heard of.
As an avid Marie Kondo enthusiast, and someone prone to taking stock of life whenever it slows down for a brief moment, I spend a fair amount of time thinking about what brings me joy. Kickboxing was exhilarating and dancing turned out to be as much a mental exercise as an aerobic one, as I built up my mental Rolodex of towns in Ireland by learning the names of ceili dances.
The abundance of unstructured time I’ve had these past several months has been a happy consequence of my program holding classes only two days a week. When I picked up fiddle lessons halfway through last semester, I realized the activity bringing me the most joy was the one most similar to what I’ve done before— and it wasn’t because I was re-creating years of classical violin lessons in a new country. How could I be, in a different time and place, and shaped by a perspective changed even from last fall?
Around the time this realization struck, my professors and classmates began to talk about thesis projects. I emailed a few potential supervisors and sat down with one on a rainy Thursday evening to discuss ideas. I asked him if he could tell me a bit about his impressions of rural health in Ireland and highlight some major challenges I could consider a project around.
He paused for a long beat before replying, “In some regard, all health in Ireland is rural health.” It was an oversimplification, no doubt, but his comment reframed my perspective on what I thought I already understood.
It’s impossible to understand the nuance of an experience without stepping into it and looking around from the new vantage point, and I’m re-learning this lesson over and over these days. That same night, I sent an email asking to join the Cork City branch of the Irish Red Cross, where I now spend my Wednesday evenings in the company of Corkers who are as excited by vacuum splints and ECGs as I am. After three and a half unforgettable years with MIT EMS, the pull towards another ambulance unit was irresistible.
I’m tempted to lean into the cliché that one again being involved in emergency medical services feels like home. In all honesty, it doesn’t quite feel like my old service. Routine operations are different in small ways that sometimes catch me off guard and I don’t think I’ll be driving an ambulance down the left side of the road any time soon. All the same, I’ve officially submitted my paperwork requesting an Irish EMT license and entirely shaken the feeling that drawing upon what I know and love will hold me back from learning as much as I can about my new community. Somehow, this milestone feels like a natural, wonderfully inevitable extension of the life I have found here in Cork.
I took a surprisingly circuitous road to realizing continuity can be challenging and eye-opening in a tremendously rewarding way. But when I ask myself what brings me joy, the Red Cross is high on my list. Sometimes it’s just that simple.