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Well, our final Mitchell reflections have been posted – marking the official end of my year in Ireland.  As always, check out my fellow scholars’ reflections about the year and our time on the Emerald Isle.

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I’m famously terrible with goodbyes. I get teary in the days leading up to a big goodbye, and everything sets me off – the mere thought of a final farewell, the symbolism of a sunset, etc., etc. It’s a bit of an embarrassment when I find myself reduced to tears so easily. So I knew that my last month in Ireland would be rough: many opportunities to publicly humiliate myself with goodbyes to the Mitchells, my Irish friends, and #24 The Waterfront (our lovely home in Galway on the River Corrib).

The Mitchell goodbyes went better than expected. After a great week of activities – meeting Irish President Mary McAleese and receiving our class rings, becoming one with nature at Glenstal Abbey, participating in Listowel Writer’s Week, and enjoying time in the beautiful Glin Castle – we had one last big group hug in the parking lot of the Limerick train station. I held back my tears and laughed at the antics of the group as we said our goodbyes.

Saying goodbye to Galway and my friends there was another story. Once, in the days leading up to our departure, my husband Jon just said the word cry and I burst into tears – apparently unable to stop myself. As we packed up our belongings (…miniature Eiffel Tower from Paris, leggings I purchased at Dunnes for only €3, books on gender and economic development…) I thought about the many things I’d miss about Galway. First and foremost, my friends Laura and Avril, who share my interests and now know my quirks enough to tease me mercilessly; not to mention the community of friends I’ve built over the past year. But also: the swans, the Saturday market, the guy on Shop Street that sculpts a sleeping dog out of sand, the habit of taking tea four times a day, the discussions of local politics and the recession on Galway Bay FM. After days of preparations, Jon and I gathered our things and boarded the train. I thought about the loss of our happy little Galway life as we pulled out of the station and began to miss Ireland even though I was still within its borders. Just as expected: at least one public show of tears.

*****

When we arrived back in the United States, my dad welcomed us home with bottles of Guinness. He wanted us to have a little piece of Ireland when we returned. Over dinner with my grandpa and grandma, we cracked open the bottles and poured them the proper way. Grandpa took a couple of sips and asked, “Do any of you actually like this stuff?” He was right: Guinness from a bottle is not as good as it is from the tap. This was not a surprise, but Grandpa’s comment made us all laugh. The funny interaction between an American and something Irish reminded me of all the other interactions between the two cultures that I’ve seen over the past year.

There was the time, a couple weeks before we left Galway, that I checked my email and received a poem. Avril, who was sitting beside me, exclaimed, “I LOVE this poem!” The poem was one about summer by Carl Sandburg, a poet I have come to love from living in Chicago. Avril read it aloud, her Donegal accent filling the room, and I reflected on the beauty of finding an Irish friend who appreciates a Chicagoan’s poetry as much as I do.

I remember another time, months earlier, when my classmate Grainne happily informed me that her uncle was also from Chicago. “Maybe you’ve heard of him?” I laughed, reminded of the many times that Irish friends have asked me hopefully if I know their cousin who lives in Idaho, Pennsylvania, or Texas. “Chicago’s a big city, Grainne!” She defended herself by responding, “Well, he’s involved in politics. He’s worked really closely with Governor Quinn.” Oh, I thought, that’s different! It turns out that Grainne’s uncle is well known in Chicago, and Grainne was quite knowledgeable about Chicago politics. I would have never expected that one of my Irish classmates would have hosted the future Governor of Illinois at her home in County Mayo – but, she did!

I think back to an American Bluegrass festival held in Galway, conversations about American politics with the parents of Irish friends, and the time I explained the meaning of Thanksgiving to my classmates. In the US, I’m bombarded by Irish flags hanging over pubs in every city I visit and the ubiquitous Claddagh rings on women’s fingers. We spend our time reconnecting with friends and family, and talk to them not just about the ancient beauty of County Kerry, but also of the immigrant communities that we encountered in Galway, how the Irish educational system is different than the American one, and our peers’ viewpoints on social issues like gay marriage.

*****

As all of the thoughts of the connections between the US and Ireland flash through my mind, a truth emerges. Ireland has become a part of me more deeply and permanently than I expected. When I took the train out of Galway at the end of June, it didn’t represent the end of anything. My relationship with Ireland, as well as the other Mitchell Scholars, is far from over. It’s just beginning.

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Last weekend, I finally got to do something I’ve been looking forward to for almost a year: spend time with my fellow Mitchell scholars.

Adam, Sarang, Shane, Jon, and Michael

After months and months of preparation, emails, and waiting, we finally got to just hang out and get to know one another better. Well, that, and hear from a variety of speakers on topics relating to contemporary Irish life, experience a couple of Dublin tourist must-dos, and spend some time in the American Ambassador’s residence in lovely Phoenix Park. We were busy!

Let me start with the obvious highlight: the other scholars. Mostly, I’m just impressed with how complex, intelligent, and kind I found everyone in the group to be. I discovered that I’m not the only one with an interesting family background. And everyone seems to be so well-rounded and active! I’m excited for what the year will bring in terms of what I can learn from these 11 amazing people…

The weekend was scheduled to the brim. We started it all off with a visit to the American Ambassador’s residence in Phoenix Park for a reception. This building is widely known amongst the Irish – many say it is even nicer than the Irish president’s residence! Indeed, the building proved to be an architectural gem inside.

During the following two days, we met with Irish experts in the fields of journalism, theater, and economics. We visited Kilmainham Gaol and learned about the Irish struggle for independence from the British. We saw a devastating, occasionally funny play by Irish playwright Enda Walsh called The New Electric Ballroom. And we got to visit one of the most incredible museum exhibits I’ve ever seen – an exhibit on W.B. Yeats at the National Library of Ireland. If you’re interested, check out their website which basically recreates the museum online – really incredible use of technology!

By the time Sunday morning rolled around, I was happy but exhausted. If every weekend was this full, I’d be blessed indeed. And REALLY behind on my homework.

Mitchells learning about life in Kilmainham Gaol.

Mitchells learning about life in Kilmainham Gaol.

Sometimes I forget where I am. It’s not early Alzheimers, or even just ditzy forgetfulness (which I am prone to), it’s the sheer amount of change and movement that’s been a part of my life for the last couple of years. I wake up in the morning and spend a few confused minutes trying to orient myself. Even my dream last night had me in Ann Arbor, Michigan visiting my sister and my friend Matt, and in Philadelphia, visiting friends (newly married!) Katherine and Sean. In each city, I was desperately looking for a place to stay the night, to eat a meal, to settle down a little.

In the mornings when I finally do realize what city and country I am in, I remember that I am in Galway, Ireland. And I am beginning a new life, again.

This past summer was a wild roller coaster ride of time with friends, precious moments with family, travels around the United States, and mental preparation for another move across the ocean. And then, two weeks before leaving for Ireland, my world was turned completely upside down with my most intimate encounter with death to date. My stepfather Greg, lovingly known as Paco, died of natural causes while canoeing in Canada. To say it was unexpected would be the understatement of the year. Paco was one of the most active, healthiest people I have ever known.

I wish I could just write this blog, with my observations and commentary on life in Ireland, without having to acknowledge his death. But I feel that I have to, if I am to be honest about my life here. Because it is not as if I am only beginning a new life in a new country. Not anymore. Now, I am beginning to learn to live with the knowledge of the existence of death in a way I never had to before. I am having to re-teach myself to trust that the people I love will, in fact, be around tomorrow; that I’m not about to lose another person. I am constantly reminding myself to savor the good moments, and to follow my dreams, and to carpe diem! – and all of those cliches. I am doing all of these things, while at the same time, beginning a life again in a new country.

And thank God that country is Ireland. It is a place that practically forces you to feel things more deeply. Its sad history – the oppression, the famine, the poverty – is all around. The constant reminders of it are never far away and are as permeating as the English language, the language of colonization. And at the same time, the good things are somehow so much more sweet. Fast, joyful discussions about anything and everything shared over a pint of beer or a glass of wine. The comfort of a cup of hot tea taken inside a warm house while the wind and rain pound the trees outside. Swans gracefully drifting along the riverbank. Rainbows, the ocean, and so much GREEN. Ireland is so full of life. So it makes for an excellent place to begin again, and to live out a few of those cliches.

And this is where I will leave you for now. After all, I am supposed to be a student, and I have reading to do. I promise more on what my new life here is actually like. And I promise it soon – we should have internet in our place as soon as tomorrow. Until then, slan go foill (bye for now).

Beautiful Galway Bay on a sunny afternoon.

Beautiful Galway Bay on a sunny afternoon.

After a few months of writer’s block, technical difficulties, and a lot of traveling, it is time to be back blogging about our lives in Uganda.

This blog will follow us wherever we go from now on. From Uganda, from the US of A, from Ireland, and from wherever else we find ourselves in the coming months and years. We hope to post photos, short videos, stories about our daily life and not-so-daily adventures, and thoughts on what’s going on in the world. Please follow along and leave us lots of comments!

Me and my friends, saying hi from Palabek, Uganda.

Me and my friends, saying hi from Palabek, Uganda.

welcome…

Welcome to our blog! Follow along with us as we travel and experience life as a couple of 20-somethings - with all its ups and downs. We hope to post photos, short videos, stories about our daily life and not-so-daily adventures, and thoughts on what’s going on in the world.

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