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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.

Last week the other Mitchells and I gathered for our last Irish adventure.

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First, we had an event at Farmleigh, once the home of the Guinness family in Dublin, where we received rings commemorating our year in Ireland.  The President of Ireland, Mary McAleese, was on hand to present them to us.  It was a lovely reception, and President McAleese was a wonderful speaker and very warm in person.

The next day, we headed to Glenstal Abbey, a monastery in County Limerick.  The Abbey is situated on some gorgeous grounds with glens, conifer forests, and gardens.  We were given a guided tour by one of the monks, who told us the history of certain trees, and wove in thoughtful reflections on humans, their environment, and life in general.  We also got a chance to visit a small chapel that holds a number of old Russian and Greek icons, complete with explanations of icons and the Orthodox church from a monk who has written books on the topic. Afterwards, we visited the Abbey’s library, which holds a number of rare and antique manuscripts, including texts from the 1400s and first edition Irish novels.  Oh, and how could I forget the tea and freshly baked cakes and pastries that awaited us when we needed a break!  All in all, the most perfect way I can imagine to spend an afternoon.

The remainder of our final retreat was spent in the town of Listowel and at the gorgeous Glin Castle.  We were in Listowel, in County Kerry, for the annual Writer’s Week festival, which brings in authors and poets and playwrights and artists for readings, discussions, and plays.  Two of the highlights for me were seeing The World’s Wife, a play based on the poetry of British Poet Laureate Carol Ann Duffy, and hearing Irish author Roddy Doyle read some of his work and answer questions.  I also had a lot of time just hanging out around town with the Mitchells, which was nice.

I hadn’t thought too much about the goodbye at the end of the weekend.  So I was not prepared for the dread and sadness I felt as we pulled up to the Limerick train station at the end of the weekend, where I hopped out to take a train back to Galway.  Although I know that I’ll be seeing my Mitchell friends pretty frequently in the years to come – both at official Mitchell alumni events and wherever else we happen to be – suddenly I realized that this goodbye marked The End of our year in Ireland as a group.  This makes me acutely aware that it is almost time to say goodbye to everything else in Ireland – our gorgeous apartment, my wonderful Irish friends, and beautiful Galway.

Before the goodbyes, though, I have to finish a draft of my thesis. I’ll be trying to focus all of my energy on that rather than mourning my departure.  Hopefully I’ll be able to turn some sad emotions into positive outcomes… Wish me luck (I’ve got a week and a couple days to go for the thesis draft)!

Bill and I getting ready for a rollercoaster ride in Bremen, Germany. October 2009.

The Mitchell Scholars’ third set of reflections about our time in Ireland has been posted.  I’m re-posting mine here, but you should definitely check out the other scholars’ writing too!

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What do you want to be when you grow up? It’s a question that you are asked a thousand times as a child, and with less frequency as an adult. At various points in my life, I’ve known exactly what I’ve wanted to be (in no particular order): an archaeologist, journalist, Broadway actress, Vanna White, neonatologist, gymnast, explorer, or rainforest researcher. I’ve been asking the question to myself lately, trying to decide what my next step should be in my quest to become someone who does international development work for a living. But as I ponder what I hope to become, I can’t help but think about who I want to become. It’s a subtle difference, but an important one. The what is about profession and the who is about character.

My time in Ireland as a Mitchell Scholar has introduced me to a number of people that give me insight and inspiration into what and who I want to be. I’ve encountered them at Mitchell events, in my program here at NUI Galway, and in my daily life in and around this beautiful country.

Let’s start with someone pretty easy, and fairly obvious: George Mitchell. Although I haven’t met him, this year has given me a lot of exposure to his life and work. The sheer number of roles that Senator Mitchell has taken on is inspiring – judge, Senator, peace broker, Chancellor of Queens University Belfast… the list goes on. Although I could probably write a dissertation-length essay about how Senator Mitchell inspires me professionally, I’ll just highlight one point here. After a life filled to the brim with public service, Senator Mitchell has certainly earned a relaxing retirement on the golf course in Arizona. Instead, he said yes when he was asked to take on arguably today’s most challenging issues: the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. His life-long commitment to service is something I will always strive to emulate in my own career.

Another person that I have taken career inspiration from is Naila Kabeer. Dr. Kabeer is one of the preeminent scholars on women’s employment and empowerment in the Global South. My department hosted her for a public lecture last week, and she also facilitated a private session with my classmates and me earlier in the day. Dr. Kabeer has spent her career trying to understand how women are able to make decisions in their lives, and her research directly impacts what development agencies do on the ground. Dr. Kabeer’s explicit link between academia and the lived experience of marginalized people is something I hope to be able to bring to my career as well, no matter what role I am in.

While Senator Mitchell and Dr. Kabeer have taught me a lot about what I want to be professionally, others I have met in Ireland have reminded me of how I want to live my life. Of course, it goes without saying that I am constantly learning from the other Mitchell Scholars and taking inspiration from them. I still cannot get over how energetic and ready to learn the group is – constantly open to new experiences and new ideas. And I could extol their virtues for another dissertation-length essay. I will spare you the mushy stuff, this time, but please know that the Mitchells are a well of perpetual inspiration for me.

My Irish friend Bill has been a model for me in terms of the kind of person I want to be, as he is one of the most hospitable people I have ever met. Hospitality may seem a minor thing – that is, until you are lost and alone in a new place and don’t know who to turn to for help. Michael met Bill right at the start of the year and introduced Jon and me to him several days after we arrived in Galway. From the start, Bill has been warm, welcoming, and helpful. Anytime we have had a stupid question about Irish life, we’ve known that Bill is the person to ask. He always gives great advice and doesn’t make you feel like a fool for asking about the tipping protocol at a café or where to find reasonably priced office supplies. Bill’s ability to take in total strangers and treat them as equals and friends is something I would like to practice in my own life. Although I think that Irish people generally do welcoming and hospitality quite well as a culture, I still think that Bill wins an award for the best!

If you’ve been reading the other Mitchell scholar’s entries already, I have a feeling you’ve stumbled across a character known to us fondly as Sir John. Sir John is a 94-year-old aristocrat from Monaghan and a man who has lived a very full life. Growing up in Castle Leslie, a glorious estate on the border of Northern Ireland and the Republic, Sir John led an exceptional life from the beginning. He went on to fight in World War II and was held as a prisoner of war. Sir John later traveled the globe, and settled for 40 years in Rome, rehabilitating old buildings to their former splendor. When he returned to Ireland 15 years ago, Sir John decided to focus his energy on something new: dancing. Not just old time Irish step dancing, but clubbing. Weekly, Sir John gets dressed in his Saturday best and hits up his two favorite Monaghan spots, the Squealing Pig pub and the Forum club. We were invited for a night out with Sir John during our midyear retreat at Castle Leslie and danced alongside him while he jumped enthusiastically to Lady Gaga. It really was a sight to behold. After meeting Sir John, I have taken a new approach to thinking about aging. Now, I don’t want to age gracefully, but I want to age the way that he has: with reckless abandon and complete joy.

These examples represent just a handful of those I’ve taken inspiration from this year. I know that I will always look back to my year as a Mitchell Scholar as hugely formative – not just professionally, but personally as well.

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A little over a week ago, 10 of the Mitchells and I boarded flights headed to Brussels.  We were going with the intent of learning more about the many, many workings of the European Union.  We were graciously hosted by the Irish Permanent Representation to the EU, the group of people representing Ireland in all parts of the European Union.

During our official tour of the EU, we got to sit in on the proceedings of the European Parliament, enjoy a lunch with the US Ambassador to the EU, learn about the many different committees and groups that make up the EU machine, and get to know some lovely Irish people in the civil service in Brussels.  The European Union gets a bit of a bad reputation for its unwieldy nature, and it’s hard to disagree with that in some ways.  The decision making process is long and complicated – but that’s part of the point.  The EU system is designed to ensure that decisions are made with a high level of buy-in from all member states.  It also tries to walk the oh-so-fine line between bringing Europe together around shared interests and becoming the United States of Europe.  It was great to learn about all of this from a closer perspective – and now I will understand so much more when reading the news about what’s happening in the EU.

After the EU portion of the trip was over, we had a couple days of free time to enjoy Belgium on our own.  A small group of us took a train to the neighboring city of Bruges, which is a huge tourist destination.  We wandered the cobblestone streets, watching boats cruise down the canals and tourists wander in and out of souvenir shops.  It was a lovely, sunny day and we celebrated that fact by eating outside and meandering in the sun; no big to-do list for us.  That night, we explored a bit more of “real” Brussels (the non-EU part), and got to see the beautiful Grand Place all lit up at night.

On Sunday, there was more wandering around – a farmers market, checking out some of the cool Art Nouveau architecture around town, eating fresh bread.

We took the tram out to see the Tervuren Africa Museum, which was a museum created by King Leopold to create interest and support for his “project” in the Congo, around the turn of the century.  Of course, King Leopold’s Congo project was essentially to force the Congolese people to work as slaves, with Leopold taking the profit from the vast amount of rubber and ivory exported out of the country.  All done without Leopold so much as stepping foot on the African continent.  (I highly recommend the book King Leopold’s Ghost for the story on the Belgian Congo.)  For this reason, the Tervuren museum is really interesting, as they have maintained the exhibits as they were originally designed.  We only had one short hour in the museum before we had to rush off to the airport – but I was really glad I got to visit.

All in all, a productive trip!  Made better with lots of Belgian chocolate, Belgian beer, frites, and the company of the Mitchell crew!

My quarterly reflections on my time in Ireland are newly posted on the Mitchell Scholar website, along with the reflections of my friends, the other Mitchells.  I’m cross-posting mine here, for you all to read, but do check out some of the other scholars and what they have to say about their experiences in Ireland!

*****

I expected that making friends … real friends … in Ireland would take time. That it would be a delicate process, and subject to awkward exchanges and uncertain social cues. During my first few weeks in Galway, I fearfully imagined leaving Ireland feeling like I had made no real friends whatsoever. The strange events of a single day have led me to believe, though, that those fears were completely foolish.

This is the story of how what should have been my worst day in Ireland turned out to be one of the best.

It was 1 pm on Saturday, January 16. I was sitting in my pajamas (I know, 1 pm and still in my pajamas?!), hoping to gain some inspiration for this Mitchell reflection by reading some of the past scholars’ writing, when a knock came at the door. I sheepishly shuffled over to answer the door. Two of my Irish classmates, Avril and Laura, were waiting outside. They both looked alarmed.

Immediately, Avril asked, “Are you ok?”

Ok? Why would she ask that? I thought. Sure, Jon was back in the US, leaving me all by myself and a little lonely, but hopefully I didn’t give off such a fragile flower vibe. “Of course I’m ok. Why?” We moved inside to the living room and sat down.

Avril explained. She had received 6 blank text messages from me throughout the morning. When she called me back to see if something was wrong, an unfamiliar, incoherent man’s voice picked up the phone. Avril panicked. A million terrible thoughts went through her head. She called up Laura and they marched over to my place, half expecting to find me held hostage. During the walk over, they (seriously) devised a number of attack plans for my rescue.

Tickled that they took my personal safety so seriously, I went about the business of figuring out what I had done with my phone. The last time I had seen it was the night before as Michael and I headed to the corner Spar to pick up the ingredients for chocolate soufflés. I thought it was in my purse… but then where did I put my purse? I searched the house. It was in none of its usual spots. The notion that my entire purse was not lost but…stolen…started creeping into my consciousness. I logged onto my credit card account online and sure enough, found a brand new $86 charge to Vodaphone that I did not make.

Throughout the next couple hours, Laura, Avril and I became the best Private Investigators we could. We swapped theories, brainstormed methods of tracking “our man” down, and watched a couple of youtube videos for a laugh when we got sick of the serious stuff. Laura made grilled cheese sandwiches, Avril put the kettle on for tea, and I Skyped banks and credit card companies. We finally came to the conclusion that the thief snatched my bag from my unlocked apartment’s entryway while Michael and I were focused on the soufflé baking in the room next door. Despite my frequent reminders that they did not have to stay with me, Laura and Avril didn’t leave. Instead, they kept me company all day long.

After we had visited the Garda station a couple of times, searched through the foliage in front of my apartment, and eaten some cookies, we called off the investigation for the evening. Avril invited us to walk along the Promenade towards Salthill, a ritual that she performs every single day. Laura and I agreed, threw on a couple of extra layers, and we were off.

As we reached the bay, the salt in the air was thick. The tide was in, and the waves were crashing against the rocks menacingly. The wind picked up, and suddenly we were in the middle of what felt like a hurricane. Laura and I struggled against the wind, and tiny, cold pellets of rain assaulted us from the sky. Avril pushed forward. “THIS IS WHAT IT FEELS LIKE TO BE ALIVE!” She shouted, skipping onward. Laura and I, half laughing and half terrified that we were about to be swallowed by the sea, followed along until we noticed a sprightly old woman coming straight for us.

“Grab on to me, girls!” She cried. “I’m going to be blown into the sea!” Laura grabbed the small woman (“She must’ve weighed 4 stone!” Laura later remarked) by the arm, and the four of us turned around and walked back towards town. After the wind died down, our older friend insisted we let her continue on her own. Laura and Avril then realized that they had “rescued” not one, but two people in one day. Not bad for a random Saturday in January.

While Laura and Avril certainly rescued me that day, they weren’t the only ones worried about my wellbeing. After the walk through the hurricane, I was home drying off and foraging for dinner, when there was another knock at my door. Jada, another classmate, a peppy, talkative American, was standing outside. “How are you doing!? What happened? Are you ok?” Jada bounced into the apartment. I told her my ordeal, she sympathized, and we moved on to a more important topic: her date with a very eligible Irish lad.

Some time later, after Jada had left, another knock on my door. It was Michael, who had given up a fun night out with his class to come to provide me with a little extra security. He threw down his overnight bag in the guest bedroom and joined me in the living room.

It was at about this moment that I realized: I have somehow managed to acquire this incredible support network. In a new city, a new country. In a matter of months. Irish friends, American friends, and of course, my reliable Mitchell crew. All ready to lend me money until my new laser card arrives, sit with me while I deal with banks over a lousy Skype connection, and just spend time with me so the house feels less empty. Avril and Laura were ready to literally save me from an evil kidnapper if they needed to. (I found out later that Avril had quickly devoured a bowl of cereal just before leaving her house to rescue me. Just in case she was going to be in a hostage situation without food for a long time. You know.)

And that’s just the kind of realization that can turn a bad day into a brilliant one.

some of Galway's Christmas decorations

Merry Christmas from Galway!

On this, our second Christmas away from home, we tried to celebrate as best we could. Last year, at least, Jon and I had my dad, uncle Cliff, and friend Matt with us to celebrate. So it was still a family affair. This year, though, we were on our own. Lucky for us, Shane (a Mitchell scholar who studies in Limerick) took a bus up to Galway on Thursday to join us in our celebration.

Just before Christmas, Ireland was hit with a little bit of snow – which is quite rare. We were hoping for a white Christmas, but instead we got a frosty and foggy Christmas eve.

fog on Christmas eve morning

It was really a beautiful day. The ice/snow had frozen to the still-green leaves of plants and to barren tree branches, making the world around us feel a little more magical and Christmas-y.

To make up for the fact that we were away from home, we attempted to do as many fun Christmas things as we could. On Christmas Eve night, we lit a fire in the fireplace, opened gifts from my mom (which is our tradition from that side of the family), and baked Christmas cookies. We headed over to a midnight church service at our local Anglican church (where Christopher Columbus is reported to have once prayed), and welcomed Christmas with candlelight and carols.

Shane and I bake cookies on Christmas Eve.

On Christmas morning, we woke up and opened presents. Shane was wise and brought his gifts from his family to our place, and so we all had something to unwrap. We opened gifts in the tradition of my family: from youngest to oldest, one at a time.

After the gifts, we made a big brunch of crepes with all the fixings: berries, bananas, nutella, lemon and sugar, and whipped cream. After recovering from the big meal, we went for a long walk along the ocean with Michael (another Mitchell scholar) and his family, who are visiting him.

Christmas morning breakfast

Christmas dinner was another big cooking adventure – red wine, prune, and thyme chicken, with garlic green beans, carrots, and mashed potatoes. Everything turned out well, despite the fact that most of it was a first-time attempt.

Throughout both Christmas Eve and Christmas day, Shane, Jon, and I all made frequent use of Skype to be a part of our families’ Christmases far away. I opened my presents in front of the video camera so that mom could watch. Jon was a digital participant in his family’s gift unwrapping session as well. Between the three of us, we chatted with numerous uncles and aunts, grandparents, siblings, and nieces and nephews. What a relief it was to have the technology to help us feel a little closer to those we love and miss.

This year’s Christmas was peaceful, full of sweets, and full of love, despite the fact that our families were an ocean away.  As much as I look forward to spending Christmas with my family next year, I think I will always look back at this pleasant Christmas fondly.  Nollaig shona duit (merry Christmas!) to you and yours this week.

Last minute shopping on Shop Street in Galway.

Part of my “job” as a Mitchell Scholar is to write quarterly reflections on my experiences in Ireland.  Our reflections were published last week.  You can read mine, reposted below, and what the other scholars have to say, here.

I have a thing for birds. Last year, while living in Uganda, I became obsessed with identifying every weaver, hornbill, and crane that crossed my path. And although the birding is a bit less thrilling here in Ireland, I swoon every time I see a swan gently paddling down the canal that feeds into the River Corrib. So back in September, when Michael (Mitchell scholar), Jon (my husband), and I stumbled across a flock of 40 (yes, 40) swans while on a walk through the Claddagh, I knew that living in Galway would make me very happy indeed.

This year in Galway marks my second year living as an expatriate, and I find myself constantly comparing my life in Kampala to my life here. I’m sure you can imagine the many differences: in Galway, I wash our clothes in a spiffy little machine that resides in the kitchen. In Kampala, laundry was a chore I spent hours doing every week by hand (although, believe it or not, I rather enjoyed it). In Galway, every time the sun shines, I soak it in, because I know it won’t last long. In Kampala, I was constantly seeking out a patch of cool shade. In Galway, the language is English, and I manage to blend in, despite my painfully American accent and fashion sense. In Kampala, I struggled to use my hard-earned Luganda (the local language) correctly and became accustomed to the feeling of being watched. The similarities between my two adopted homes are apparent as well. In both Galway and Kampala, drinking tea is an important social custom, the soccer fans are zealous, and the people are so warm that you are immediately put at ease. Both Kampala and Galway have made their mark on me, and in Galway, I know that the process is still just beginning. Galway, with its twisty cobblestone streets, omnipresent street musicians, and sweet salt air, affords me with somewhat of a fairytale existence. It is easy to while away a day exploring the passageways near my apartment, in the center of the city, window-shopping when the weather is dry and escaping into a café when the rain inevitably begins again. And since Galway is a big tourist city, it’s easy to forget that I’m not actually on vacation; that I’m here to do work.

Work is definitely a big part of my life in Galway. Although at times it is frustrating to have my laid-back vacation bubble popped, I am so grateful that my program is turning out to be exactly what I hoped it would be. The MA in Gender, Globalization and Rights is a part of the Global Women’s Studies program at NUI Galway and is introducing me and my 10 classmates to the intricacies of feminist theory, the Bretton Woods institutions, the UN’s Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, grassroots development methods, and how they are all connected. In other words: more than I bargained for, but in a good way. I am confident that what I’m learning now will be useful in the near future, and that’s a good feeling.

Although I love Galway, I have used the majority of my weekends to escape to other places in search of adventure. Traveling throughout the island of Ireland has been a main feature of my travel thus far, and I’ve spent time in Belfast, Cork, and Dublin with the Mitchells. In fact, tomorrow I’m taking a day trip to Limerick to learn more about Irish Aid and to pay a visit to Shane. I’ve also had the chance to visit London with friends from home, and Bremen, Germany, with Irish friends, Michael, and Jon. All of the travel has given me an excuse to improve my photography, a hobby I’ve kept up since my Uncle Cliff taught me how to use a darkroom in the fifth grade. Meanwhile, I am watching Jon and myself become more and more Irish as the days go by. Jon is starting to add “like” at the end of his sentences. I prefer “Dja know?” as it is awfully close to the old Minnesotan saying, “Dontcha know?” I’ve stopped complaining about the rain and started drinking tea several times a day. The familiar process of acquiring the idiosyncrasies of a place is beginning to happen to me once again.

I can’t write a about my first couple of months without mentioning my fellow Mitchell Scholars. So many words come to mind when I think of the group: energetic, social, well-read, empathetic, hilarious, loyal, open-minded. I’ve already had so much fun with the group, as well as with people one-on-one, that it’s exciting to think that we have much more in store this year. I feel especially lucky to have Michael in Galway with me, to share the joys of our Mitchell year, and look forward to having Rebekah join us here in January. To my fellow scholars: Here’s to many more weekends where we all sleep on the floor, meals that are cooked communally, days exploring whatever locale we end up in, and nights dancing to a certain Black Eyed Peas song.

I think it’s pretty clear that my life in Galway, and in Ireland more generally, is turning out to be pretty fantastic. Between the traveling, the perfection that is Galway, the Mitchell scholars, and my program, I’ve basically got it all. It is truly humbling to be a member of the Mitchell class of ’10, and I’m so grateful for this incredible opportunity. But the cherry on top has got to be this: a flock of swans lives less than a kilometer from my front door.

Me & Matt at the Mitchell Thanksgiving. Note I am eating a TOMATO!

I, along with the two other Americans in my 11-person class, have spent the last couple weeks sharing the excitement and tradition of Thanksgiving with our Irish classmates. We’ve been retelling the Thanksgiving story (well, the version we learned as Kindergardeners, maybe not the most accurate version), describing our family traditions, explaining the importance of the central idea of giving thanks, and reminiscing over the food. The Irish girls were probably sick and tired of hearing about how great Thanksgiving is by the time it rolled around last week. But no one can say we didn’t try to share its wonderfulness!

Jon and I love Thanksgiving so much, in fact, that we celebrated it three times last weekend!

On Thanksgiving day, the other Mitchell Scholars and I had the chance to visit the Irish Dail (their Parliament), sit in on some proceedings, and meet a couple of Senators, including the wonderful David Norris. We also spent some time with staff members at the Department of Foreign Affairs, Anglo – Irish Division, talking about the current state of affairs in Northern Ireland. It was a great way to spend the day. That evening, me, Jon, Michael, Matt, and Neil shared a lovely Thanksgiving dinner at Neil’s friend Sophia’s house. It was a casual night, filled with amazing food cooked lovingly by Americans missing home. We were lucky to have a couple Spanish, Irish, and English friends present for the big event.

Friday evening was Thanksgiving #2, and a big highlight of the weekend. We were invited to Irish entrepreneur (and tv personality) Niall O’Farrell’s beautiful home in Dublin for a home cooked meal. He graciously welcomed us with delicious wine and a multi-course dinner. When the final plate was set on the table, for the cheese course, I wondered if I was going to make it out alive. But you know me, always a corner of my stomach reserved for cheese. I left feeling beyond stuffed.

Saturday’s dinner was the official Mitchell celebration. Trina, the president of the US-Ireland Alliance, cooked a big ol’ turkey and the mashed potatoes, and we all brought something to share. One thing about the Mitchell Scholars: We really know our way around a kitchen! The Mitchells contributed amazing yams and sweet potatoes, lovely salads, beans, and of course, homebaked pie. Matt, an avid beer lover, even brought a variety of microbrews from his recent trip back to the States.

Christina and Bre, the bakers of pies.

If lack of wonderful food was a theme of living in Uganda last year, overeating may be the theme for this year in Ireland.

It was a wonderful Thanksgiving weekend which reminded me of the many things I have to be thankful for: good friends, amazing opportunities, my lovely husband. And of course, good food.

It seems that lately alot of good things have been happening to bad people. Corrupt politicians get to stay in office; failed businessmen get bonuses; loud, self-important media personalities get million-dollar book deals; warlords get paid off. And the good person – hardworking, humble, kind, honest – finishes second, just a step behind everyone else.

However, the recent successes of two friends challenge this reality and give me hope.

Tom Lee, a 2006 Northwestern graduate, got a big break last month when his photos for a story on the tuna fishing industry were used on the cover of the November 9 TIME Magazine. I met Tom while working on the Global Engagement Summit in 2005. Tom took photos for the Summit and was instrumental in the creation of the OpenShutter project – an annual student art project that seeks to challenge the stereotypical narratives we use to talk about ‘other’ people and places. I always cherished the time I spent with Tom. He exuded a combination of raw talent and down-to-Earth manor that I had never quite encountered before. You never hear Tom talk about his many awards or accomplishments. His interest is in listening and learning from whoever he’s with. He can talk to an amateur photographer – or someone like me with virtually no artistic sensibilities – and get genuinely excited about the incites they have to share about the topic of photography. In so doing, he makes you feel legitimate and equal. Tom is that kind of good person that you want to succeed, not just because he’s your friend, but because it gives you a sense that there is some justice in the world.

Matthew Baum is someone I’m just recently getting to know, but who invokes the same sort of sentiments in me that Tom does. Matt is a current Mitchell Scholar with Lauren that studied mollecular and cellular biology at Yale and initiated research that led to an important discovery in the field of Fragile X syndrome and the transformation of short-term memories into long-term memories. In his spare time he is a published artist and was captain of Yale’s wrestling team. But, meeting Matt, you would never know these things about him. He carries himself with a humility and humor that makes you feel welcomed, not threatened…no matter who you are or where you’re from. Last week Matt was awarded a prestigious Rhodes Scholarship. In all its preoccupation with status and the self-promotional, its heartening to know that the Rhodes felt attracted to someone like Matt.

If people like Matt and Tom are allowed to hold positions of leadership in the world over the next several decades, there is reason to hope.

You’ll have to excuse the tardiness of this post – I have a number of posts I want to write on some of the traveling I’ve done in the past couple weeks and haven’t yet had the chance to actually write them. The rest will come soon, promise.

A couple weekends back, fellow Mitchell scholar Michael and I made the long trip from Galway to Belfast. The trip was organized around the opportunity to see the play The Beauty Queen of Leenane and to meet the show’s star, Geraldine Hughes. The Mitchell gang gathered from all corners of the country for the show, which was just about as devastating (maybe more so) as The New Electric Ballroom, which we’d seen a couple weeks prior. In addition to the play, the Mitchells explored Belfast and had a lovely fall weekend. One of the big highlights was our trip to St. George’s Market, a Victorian-style, indoor market with all the fixins: fresh produce, meat, cheese, fish, crafts, plants, and more. Additionally, a variety of curries, crepes, smoothies, and chocolate was sold throughout for eating on the spot and musicians played throughout the afternoon. We wandered around the market for hours, and all the non-Belfast kids got really jealous that the Belfast people get to experience it every weekend.

belfast spices

just one of many stands in St. George's Market

We spent hours wandering the city of Belfast, and it was interesting to note the subtle differences between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. In the North, you rarely see the Irish language, and you definitely never hear it. Very different than Galway, which is in the heart of the Irish language region of the country (called the Gaeltacht region), where Irish is often seen and sometimes heard as well. Additionally, protestant churches are much more visible than in the Republic, as is a more evangelistic ethos. Belfast has a bigger-city feel than I was expecting, and while there were some of the quiet signs of a post-conflict area, it was hard to see much evidence of the Troubles.

One of the legacies of the conflict that is visible, however, is the use of murals throughout the city. Belfast is known for its murals, which signify support for various political groups active in the conflict. We took a walking tour around Belfast and caught a glimpse of some of the murals around town.

basque mural

one of a group of murals dedicated to solidarity with other "underdog" groups, including those in Basque country.

paramilitary mural

mural showing support for a paramilitary group.

The weekend in Belfast came to an end with a night of dancing. A perfect way to complete a weekend exploring a cool city with a group of my newest friends.

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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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