Mountaineering, Polar Plunge, Tattoos, and Liberian Hip Hop

“There’s a race of men that don’t fit in,

    A race that can’t stay still;

So they break the hearts of kith and kin,

    And they roam the world at will.

They range the field and they rove the flood,

    And they climb the mountain’s crest;

Theirs is the curse of the gypsy blood,    

And they don’t know how to rest.”

The Men That Don’t Fit In

– Robert W. Service

Perhaps my airplane reading of Life Lived Wild, an autobiographical account of the journeys of world-renowned mountaineer and friend, Rick Ridgeway, inspired me to seek adventure during my Mitchell year. Though instead of being the first American to summit the tallest mountain in the world, I scaled an E3 via top rope at The Burren in County Clare, which is of comparable rigor.


  1. The Yank

Like many Galway Mitchell’s before me, I decided to join the Mountaineering club at the University of Galway. After two weeks of training, I became an assessed climber and was let loose on the campus indoor rock wall. It wasn’t long before I was set to embark on my first outdoor climbing experience. The encouragement of my new Irish friends motivated me to join an outdoor climbing excursion in The Burren, a beautiful area of County Clare along the west coast of Ireland. After the top rope was set, our climbing leader asked if I wanted to go first.

Perhaps this was due to my excitement, or my expendability as the only America (the Yank) of the group. Regardless, I obliged. You see, in the wild, nobody went around drilling brightly colored plastic holds on the wall, so the climber is left to their intuition developed over years (in my case weeks) of climbing experience. But through the encouragement and guidance of my fellow climbers, I eventually reached the top.

Left: My first ascent

Right: Moments before my first fall.

2. Mitchell Scholars The Youngers & The Elders

I got really lucky. Housing accommodation in Galway is challenging to find, especially for international students. However, Elder Mitchells Ali and Sam already had an accommodation on the water with two available rooms. Throughout the duration of my first few months in Ireland, the Mitchell community truly brought me out of my comfort zone. My first encounter with Sam was not “let’s have a drink,” or “let’s grab lunch,” instead it was “let’s jump off the tower into the ocean.” Sam is the definition of a visionary, and his creativity and ideation is truly boundless. If we don’t start a business by the end of the Mitchell, it would be time wasted. Ali is also a wealth of knowledge, especially when it comes to travel. If you’re looking for travel recommendations, nobody does it better than Ali. I also live with Alexa, a current Mitchell colleague who accompanied me on a Galway 5 km running race. It was to raise money for the Heart & Stroke foundation, on Friday the 13th, and was my first time running in nearly a year since my heart attack.

What could go wrong?

Left: I survived

Right: Sam and I’s first conversation

3. Travel Tattoos

Usually when people travel to new places, they might purchase a souvenir like a shot glass, an ornament, or something to symbolize the experience. In my case, I permanently memorialize the experience on my body in ink. I mentioned this tradition to former Mitchell scholar Sasha, who replied that having visited over 20 countries during the scholarship, he would be covered in tattoos.

What have I gotten myself into?

Nonetheless, I have acquired two new pieces of art since my arrival in Ireland. For Galway, I commissioned a Celtic tree of life from a local award-winning artist, symbolizing strength, endurance, and the beginning of my life in Ireland. Galway motifs such as the Galway hooker ship and Dunguaire castle are present in the backdrop, opening up the opportunity for an abundance of “Alex has a hooker tattoo” jokes for undoubtably the rest of my life. The second tattoo was an interpretation of the Tarot card “The Fool.” Traditional symbolism of this image is new beginnings, inexperience, and improvisation. Completed by an Irish apprentice artist in Derry, my fool is a reminder to maintain an intentional naivety about the future.

Left: Northern Ireland

Right: Ireland (Galway)

4. JZyNO is my new favorite artist

The most transformational part of my program thus far has been my classmates. Not only am I the only student from America, but many of my classmates are from various African countries and other nations in the global south. Every day in class, I’m enlightened by the different perspectives on climate change issues faced by my classmates and their communities. Going into this program as a business undergrad, I knew I was in store for brand new subjects, but I could’ve never anticipated the brand-new perspectives I’d also learn. A tight-knit group of 15, we take the time at least once a week to explore the nightlife in Galway.

Before we head to the pubs, we often meet at a house for a home cooked meal. My classmate from Maharashtra, the tiger capital of India, prepared a feast of homemade biryani and panipuri for myself and the program. The feast is usually followed by dancing and the exchange of music taste from around the world. Webb, my classmate from Liberia, introduced me to the Liberian hip hop artist JZyNO, who is now a regular in my Spotify rotation. As fan of American hip hop, I returned the favor and introduced Webb to the likes of King Von and YungManny, as he was already familiar with prominent artists like Tupac and Kendrick Lamar.

A staple of a MScCCAFS night out includes a prominent Kenyan drinking song and accompanying dance, intended to accelerate the consumption of my Heineken 0.0%. Ange, a Nairobi native and mountaineer, taught us this dance and many others to deploy during out nights out. No matter how long the night goes, you’ll still catch Garjay, a “Bassa man” from Liberia, and I in the gym lifting together the next morning. Developing a strong global competency involves more than gaining knowledge, it also means gaining friends.

Pictured Above: Our first meal

Pictured Above: The best Indian food I’ve ever had

Pictured Above: Our group together after a study session at my house

Pictured Above: A night on the town

Pictured Above: Post arm day led by Garjay

This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *