Through impeccable foresight on my part, I arrive in Ireland at 5am on the day of my program’s orientation. Air travel and I have an on-again off-again relationship, and after that flight we were not on speaking terms. For the rest of the morning I’m feeling my way around with the lights off. I find the bus! I quickly get off the bus (it’s going to Belfast). I find the correct bus. I arrive at UCD. How do I turn off the heater in my room? Never mind, I need to shower. I flood the shower. I take a nap. Oh, there’s a knob on the side of the heater. I take another nap, this time during the orientation. Afterwards, I get to chatting with my future classmates. We investigate a social event hosted by the International Student Society, and that’s when the drowsy fragments converge back into cogent thoughts: they have board games.
Backstabbing is the best form of bonding. Not to mention, it’s much easier to remember someone’s name when you’re accusing them of secretly betraying the group’s quest in Avalon. We demolish three hours like this, interleaving talk of hobbies and home with strategy and swindling. It hasn’t stopped in the two months since. These days, when we’re finished comparing notes on Boltzmann machines and the thoughts on optimizations for backpropagation subside, the conversation transitions to the whereabouts of our next game night. The UCD population at large seems to share the enthusiasm as well; nearly every society invites prospective members to game nights during Freshers Week. I wind up playing Cards Against Humanity with several Russian students, one of whom intensely enjoys reading Bond villain quotes in the thickest accent he can muster. Turns out this was an Irish version of the game, brimming with references to Irish politics and popular culture – I don’t think I’ve learned more about Ireland in one sitting since. At another event I get outplayed in Exploding Kittens, yet another teaches me Sushi Go. Each time I’m making friends, planting my roots, and making my home away from home a little warmer.
Naturally, I try to rope the other Mitchell Scholars into the gaming bonanza too. Teresa, Michael, Allie, and I play Ghost as we explore the Museum of Literature. Vivek joins the UCD group and double-crosses with the best of us. Vikram is happy to crush me in chess. Allie and Rabhya make the hours in a hospital waiting room fly by with crosswords, and on our return bus from Derry Teresa, Rabhya and I shatter my record for the Sunday puzzle with a time of forty-seven minutes. When we play games as a group, personalities emerge in full. Alexa isn’t falling for anyone’s crap, and Alex is standing his ground even though four people are each desperately lobbying for him to take the action that will help them. Michael’s keen logic is the consistent demise of my plans, and Zoha is just horrible at lying. Rabhya loves a good debate so much that she will gladly dispute me (her teammate) just because she thinks I’m full of it (I am, but we were absolutely going to win because of it).
The GMB game nights, cafe card games, hostel showdowns, bus trip crosswords, and city street wordsmithings are among my fondest memories of my first two months in Ireland. They have become stories to reminisce on and the foundations of numerous inside jokes that I can share with all the wonderful people I have met since arriving. I feel overwhelmingly lucky to have met everyone who sat around the table and spent time beating me at my favorite hobby.