I landed in a nearly vacant airport with a stern voice warning of the pandemic over the intercom. I had come to Ireland on a nearly vacant plane and had slept on the flight with my mask on. I sat on a bus with ten rows between me and the one other passenger and recounted moments from last I was here as we drove through Dublin to the university. The welcoming committee stood behind glass. I zigzagged through the rope course where crowds were meant to queue, unsure of when to acknowledge the gazes of the biding staff.
Life is constructed in such a self-centric way. “I” am the subject, always. And from such vantage, each reality is formed. However, in these moments, I am pulled from my pinhole view. The world expands rapidly and panoramically. It was naive to see this pandemic as my issue, or America’s issue, or any derivation or combination of the two. But I am naive, and experience is my teacher. And so Ireland has taught me to step back and observe how connected and interdependent the world is.
It is obvious, but I will state anyways, that my experience here has sidestepped expectations. I haven’t met an Irish person. I haven’t been to any buildings on campus. I haven’t spoken to a classmate. I haven’t even seen all of my professors’ faces. I feel, in many ways, like a perpetual tourist. As a tourist, I have strolled streets and peered in windows that spill gold onto the sidewalk and wondered what dinner the dwellers will have that night. I have eavesdropped on conversations and made a mental note of where my witty comment would fit. I have showered and dressed and sat alone, hoping for a pair of eyes to find me and confirm my existence. To remind me I am real.
From these moments, I have grown. I have found deeper reasons to study in the absence of validation. I see that my knowledge is my power and I will forge and yield it. I have unearthed a bolder self in the absence of recognition. A will to exist and be good anonymously. Most of all, I have affirmed my passion. The work of ethics in machine learning is the work of the observer. Observation of a field, of its effects, of who controls the data, from whom it has been taken, and toward whom it will be applied. I must release myself from all of these roles and yet know them all equally. I see now the beauty in this solitude state. Perhaps a twisted trick, but one that has pushed me in ways I could not push myself. It has forced me to face the uncomfortable self-lackings that constant companionship conceals.
So, while Ireland has not spoken to me, she has taught me. I will stay steadfast in pursuit of my passions. I will walk the streets and wonder. I will think critically and question before accepting. I will step back and widen my view. I am a tourist, perpetually. And yet, this place has begun to shape me.