Disclaimer: I don’t want this to come off as gloating, but I have been feeling so consistently happy here lately.
Any and all attempts to trace exactly why have fallen flat… and there’s also a kneejerk reaction to not analyze the trend too long for fear of it scurrying away. That being said, in light of the general reflection that colder weather and drawing closer together seems to foster, I have narrowed it to a few possible factors:
Eating well. I could talk for hours about the truly exceptional food finds in Galway. This city has made beauty out of all things edible—right on the coast, they have access to fresh seafood, but the Irish tradition of land-food is also strong. Because Galway is a college town, that youthful energy drives up-and-coming chefs to branch out and work to create new taste sensations; there are two whole Michelin star restaurants here! (Not that a student like me has ever set foot inside either, but in theory it ruffles my culinary feathers.)
Every weekend I try a different bite at the Saturday market—this time around was madras potato curry with candied mango chutney. I’ve been exploring Irish pub food in all its stew-y glory. I tried gnocchi on Friday that I immediately wanted to live inside, and… do you sense a common thread here in that all of the above contain the hallowed Irish potato?
Being spatially removed from the U.S. news circuit. For those of you whose eyes are glued to your newsfeed, you don’t know how much it’s weighing on you until you look away. There’s a fine line between a privileged shutting out of the world, and a measured intake for your own sanity. To put it in short, I’ve finally started to find that balance and I’m feeling much healthier.
Making friends with housemates. Apartment 19 has become an Americano-Irish team to be reckoned with. We recently celebrated Christmas in November (NUIG tradition) and here’s a few of us in Christmas jumpers with our houseplant Merta done up in lights. Rest-assured that when you reach out to/befriend your housemates, any drab space can quickly start to feel a lot more like a home.
Becoming one with nature. This is mostly just an excuse to include a picture of my footprint smack dab in the center of a cow pie. (Fun fact: at the location of said cow pie—the ceremonial plain of Magh Adar—ancient Irish kings apparently set their foot into a mold to cement their claim to the land, so I could have accidentally assumed leadership of an early-medieval, kin-based society.) It happened on my very last archaeology class excursion so I suppose it was just the universe finally braking in those boots. But in all seriousness, this class plus the weather here has given me a newfound appreciation for the strength of the elements as well as the beautiful indifference of the land. In the society I’ve known, we measure our success in distance from nature. The moral of my misstep is that it might not have been a misstep at all—it was both a humbling experience and a reminder to sometimes immerse myself in my surroundings.
Academic relaxation. I believe I’ve already mentioned this, but school in Ireland is a lot calmer than the academic rigor I have personally experienced at Whitman. It is a fact universally acknowledged that Whitman students do too much—the drive for a maintaining a 4.0 along with community and club engagement, all while fostering a healthy, socially conscious lifestyle is a lot to balance. Having some distance from that racing world has opened my eyes to what academia and study abroad could be. I understand that what I’m doing is study abroad, however there is something to be said about taking the foot off the gas pedal to understand day to day life. It’s more than just agonizing over how can I frame my semester away to look good on job/internship/grad school applications. It’s about finding a balance between fast and slow, work and play, and sometimes letting the river take me a bit out to sea before I land back on my feet. Dog-ear a page in the Irish book of poorly cited wisdom bits: it’ll all work out tomorrow so why stress about it today?
So, as the Whitman students trickle back to Walla Walla after their weeks of giving thanks, (or simply not observing the holiday out of understandable objections), I’d like to put down in words what I am grateful for at this junction, because life is short and one key part of it is acknowledging what makes it worthwhile.
I am grateful for the friends I have made here and those from home who are always a phone call away. I am grateful that my house across the Atlantic is free from fire, and I am grateful that we live in a community without a fifty-foot high peace wall running through the center. I am grateful for family who thinks to visit me, and for the funds which enable them to do so. Lastly I am grateful for having this amazing opportunity to explore another part of the world while still a student. I am grateful to be here and learning from this green sunspot I’ve inexplicably stumbled into.