Wake: Up to Poetry
American Students in Ireland: Perspectives from WFU Press
Two of our new WFU Press interns recently returned from a seven week internship program in Dublin, Ireland. Below, they recount their unique experiences and reflections from their time abroad.
The day I arrived, I went tired, a bit smelly if we are being honest, and with the look of the lost to Trinity college. It was close to my hotel, and I knew I needed to get out and walk about. The school wasn’t as grand and intimidating as I thought it would be. The campus had similar concrete buildings and its student center was just like any other major university. The beauty of the old buildings was almost an afterthought when confronted with the life of the campus.
I wasn’t prepared for the cold of the day. Sunny yet windy, I still felt the need to draw my jacket closer around me. Alas, the Texan in me was showing as I waited in line to see the Book of Kells.
Before I left I had watched an animated movie called The Secret of Kells. One of the lines repeated throughout was from the poem, “Pangur Bán.” The line “turn the darkness into light” repeated itself in my mind as I walked through the museum to see the book. Its beauty, which I had studied in art history, and the imagery in the movie didn’t compare to how beautiful I found the book when viewing it in person. For me, a bibliophile, seeing such a magnificent book in an equally beautiful college library felt like coming home.
I honestly wish I could describe how terrifying it is to start work in a foreign country without knowing anyone. I have never experienced anything like it. I had absolutely no schema for how my day would go.
My first working week was mostly a crash course in the cultural divide between me and my co-workers. I found myself trailing off quietly and then having to explain myself when I started to use Texas idioms by accident. Not only did I need to learn how to “speak” Irish in my word usage, but I had to learn the ins and outs of public transportation. The buses in Dublin were both a blessing and a curse. As long as I made it onto the right bus and got off at the right stop, those moving Wi-Fi hubs were a true oasis to me as a foreign student. Of course, I often found myself asking people around me where the bus went and whether I was on the right one.
O’Connell Street became the central axis for my movements. That first week I was as adventurous as I could be while remaining safe. Our program leaders scheduled a Gaelic games event for us to try. In very simple words it made me feel like an uncoordinated idiot. But, it also gave me a huge appreciation for Irish sports and introduced me to a part of Irish culture.
One weekend we made a trip to Glendalough; I didn’t know anything about it (thank Google and its reviews). The trip ended up being one of the most fun parts of my summer. The trail we hiked ended at a lake nestled between two green hills that looked unreal. Actually, most of the scenery in Ireland is indescribable. None of my pictures do it justice.
To understand the Irish, you must first attempt to grasp their love of their emerald island. Although the weather isn’t particularly good most days and the winters are harsh, those fleeting moments of sunshine turn the landscape into paradise. Even with the gray storm clouds and the wet winds, the island feels charmed. The land is something out of a story, a fairy tale, if you will.
The Irish are extremely proud of their island and its beauty (although they may not say it up front). I truly don’t think anyone can understand the Irish without first understanding and loving the landscape.
This summer I interned at C.J. Fallon, an educational publishing firm located just outside Dublin, Ireland, that specializes in primary school Mathematics, Irish, and English textbooks. After traveling over 3,500 miles across the Atlantic Ocean I was surprised to find that, whilst looking out the window of my taxi from the airport, I felt as though I could easily be in America. The U.S. corporate coffee monster that is Starbucks greets early morning commuters on just about every street corner. The oddly familiar Eddie Rocket’s City Diner offers American food at nearly all hours of the day, and accomplishes a business feat that is nearly as genius as their Oreo milkshakes by cutely avoiding patent laws. Burger King, McDonald’s and Subway also play starring roles in the buzzing metropolis that, at first glance, could be any major city in the United States. Though ever-fascinated by the interesting commonalities between U.S. and Irish culture, I eventually formulated an idea of exactly what it means to be Irish based as much on the aforementioned similarities as on the differences that, initially, may not be as obvious.
Ultimately, I found that the unique identity of Irish culture formulates an extremely salient image in the forefront of my mind. A nation largely based on the fumes of resilience, famine, colonialism, and habitually horrible weather spanning the course of generations, have formed a peoples that I found to be largely approachable, agreeable and ever-ready to extend a helping hand to a foreigner such as myself. Within the work place, I noticed a similar willingness on the part of my coworkers to offer advice regarding a myriad of topics ranging from bus routes and hostel plans to instructions on the best way to go about using the office printer. The accommodating and friendly nature of the Irish people will continue to resonate with me as an exemplar of what, perhaps, represents a better means of approaching both daily life and work than the sometimes colder, cyclical nature of American corporate life and work.
On one of the last weekends, a couple of friends and I made the obligatory trip to see the famous Cliffs of Moher. Standing there on the precipice, sans the fences and safety railings that likely would have been in place had these cliffs formed in America, I became aware of how hugely metaphorical these beautiful cliffs really were. Here I was, in Ireland, living as a “local” for a period of seven weeks. However, my accent, mannerisms, and lack of knowledge regarding accepted cultural practices and customs (improve as they might over time) again and again caused me to stick out in a crowd of native Irish. It was a marvelously humbling experience that helped me to understand how difficult and challenging the road to acclimation (or even semi-acclimation) really is.
I slowly came to understand what it feels like to live and work not only in a foreign place, but within the more figurative realm of “the foreign” or in other words “the uncomfortable.”
Each step of the way, my journey and overarching experience in Ireland inspired in me a sentiment that mimicked not only the terrifying and awe-inspiring feeling of standing on the edge of the Cliffs of Moher, but even reminded me of my personal views toward poetry. It is the goal of poetry, like any journey, to transport us to the realm of the uncomfortable and unfamiliar. In removing our schemas for everyday life and work, we enter a space in which we are all equally welcome to create, explore, and evolve. I feel forever indebted to Ireland for providing me with a similar environment in which I could reach new levels of heightened experience and growth as an individual.