“Haven’t I driven you before?”
I’d just gotten off an eight hour flight and a two hour bus ride, heaved my overstuffed carry-on into the trunk of an Uber, and collapsed into the backseat, bleary eyed and barely sentient. The driver, punching the address of my dorm into his navigation app, examined me through the rearview mirror. He’d recognized me. And, after a long, groggy moment, I’d recognized him. He was the same driver who’d picked me up when I first moved to Belfast four months earlier, what felt like a clichéd lifetime ago.
I watched the gray Belfast landscape go past on that rainy January day, dimly aware that I was returning to familiar surroundings. It was a far cry from the night in September when the same driver had picked me up from the Belfast airport (complete with Tayto-themed taxi stand) and brought me through the night to see my new home for the first time.
I had no idea what was waiting for me on that first Uber ride. When I think back now on how nervous I was to move here, it feels almost silly – but there was so much I didn’t know then. I didn’t know that the second I stepped into my dorm building I would be greeted by two of my housemates, and that we would spend hours talking before I even opened my suitcases. I didn’t know how quickly my classmates would become my friends, or how much laughter we would share about everything from Derry Girls to kitchen mishaps. I had briefly met my fellow Mitchell scholars already, but I didn’t know if I’d be lucky enough to form lasting friendships.
I was, indeed, very lucky. My fellow Belfast Mitchells Asha and Gil have become a fixture in my life here (along with our friend Ellie, who has now been mentioned in these blog posts enough that she should get her own). Our friendships have been forged through late nights in study rooms, being sick together in Edinburgh, and inside jokes involving eyebrows being burned off.
I got lucky in terms of my academics too. The Trinity program in Belfast is a unique experience, and I never would have gotten to study conflict in a small-group setting like this if I hadn’t found this opportunity through the Mitchell Scholarship. The bespoke nature of the program means that I have more flexibility to make what I want out of it, and I’m taking advantage of that by tailoring my dissertation topic to fit my specific interests. I plan to write about the role of misinformation in the United States, which will bring me full circle to the type of work I was doing for the Surgeon General before I started my Mitchell year.
All of this was going through my head as I chatted with my Uber driver on my way to start the spring semester. “Last time I picked you up, you were just starting your course,” he said. “How have you been liking it?”
I looked outside as we passed the Queen’s campus, where I spend so much of my time, then back at him in the rearview mirror.
“It’s been wonderful.”