“We’ll just stop here,” I suggested to my father after walking through downtown Maynooth for the first time after an eleven-hour flight from California during move-in. We were unfamiliar with the town (or country), but the distinct, bright orange columns and smell of coffee and pastry lured us into a hole in the wall called “Coffee Mill Bistro.” A few weeks (and many cups of coffee) later, I have realized that the Coffee Mill has been the location of many firsts: my first meal in Ireland, my first exchange using Euro, my first between-class cup of coffee with classmates, and the first restaurant I think to show my friends who are visiting me from across the pond.
My program at Maynooth has introduced me to the warm and remarkable company of my classmates. Though it only contains thirteen students, it boasts tremendous diversity: I have been fortunate to share the company of two Nigerian, one Canadian, one German, and eight Irish students, and we have started to become quite close. One aspect of the year that I am looking forward to most is building on these connections and forming friendships that will last a long time after I leave the continent.
Maynooth is also incredibly well-connected. Though located in County Kildare, one short train ride takes me into Dublin’s city center, and this has been very conducive for getting to know the other Mitchells in the area. I have spent nearly every weekend with them, working on homework together in Accents Coffee & Tea Lounge, drinking Guinness at Pillar Bar, or lounging on St. Stephen’s Green. When I talk to my friends or family back in the US and they ask me for some highlights, I inevitably bring up my experiences with my friends—American, Irish, or other–that have been afforded to me by Maynooth.
Living in Maynooth has also made me privy to experiencing Ireland from a very particular perspective. A relatively small town with a population of around 35,000, Maynooth boasts a surprisingly robust downtown with dozens of restaurants, four banks, three clubs, two shopping malls, two universities, and even a castle. As I walk around town, I have noticed differences in people with whom I share the streets: of course there are approximately 30,000 students also at NUI Maynooth, but there are also elementary/middle school students, bankers, restaurant workers, tourists, and members of the clergy. On several occasions, my conversations with new acquaintances have revealed that they come from Dublin, small neighboring towns such as Trim, or even other counties such as Cork. But the metropolitan aspects of a bustling college town on the periphery of Ireland’s largest city juxtapose with its history, exemplified by the Maynooth Castle (used in wars but now a tourist attraction) and the church (used to ordain priests but now part of South Campus). It is on my walks downtown when I see the Coffee Mill share a wall with Maynooth Castle that I reflect on my gratitude to be here, where aspects of traditional Irish culture and history meet a cosmopolitan college-town.