Emerald Isle departure grows near

    “”Go n-eiri an bothar leat….”” ‘May the road rise up to meet you,’ begins a famous Irish blessing. It has taken a year’s worth of studying through two courses of Modern Irish Gaelic to be able to translate this simple wish. Now, with this blessing being directed at me by Irish friends, it is a daunting reality check. My Irish education is finished and my trek from Corcaigh back to San Diego is merely weeks away.

    I knew it would seem like a short year. However, bracing for the end months beforehand doesn’t quite prepare you. As friends leave, my mood becomes nostalgic and reflective. I suppose then it’s natural to try and categorize the lessons, skills and memories obtained from a emotionally rigorous, but unparalleled year.

    Looking back, I have had the extraordinary fortune to be in Ireland this year. As far as imparting my political beliefs as I have often attempted in this column, it could not have been a better year. Before I left for my host country, I was told not to worry too much about how I would be treated. As examples, I was given testimonials written by students who traveled abroad last academic year, some of whom were in foreign countries on Sept. 11, 2001. It must have been wonderful to be embraced by the international community, who all felt “”American”” during our darkest hour. However, this year, we were given the opportunity to witness the broad divirsity of beliefs and world views brought about by intense debate and controversy.

    I saw the truth of what others think of America. While everyone understands that we are hated somewhere in the world, it is much different to be faced with it personally. Knowing your accent will affect how someone treats you gives me a better sense of the anger that the world has felt this year. I have a much better appreciation of those who still love America and show their support when it is the unpopular thing to do.

    Consequently, I have had a poignant glimpse into the definition and ramifications of patriotism. My political ideology has not changed a great deal. I am still incensed by staunch socialists, who have gained control and then destroyed the Irish health care system, but I am also angry to hear about compatriots at home who think that dissent against the government is unpatriotic. I still believe that collegiate leftist protesters are myopic, hypocritical and are biting the hand that feeds them, but I refuse to take part in the anti-French sentiment that is supposedly sweeping U.S. conservatives.

    I love America now more than I ever have, but I have learned to question it while appreciating that ability to question — which is what we call freedom. Understanding the European perspective has led to some paralysis in opinion making, but I can live with that in return for understanding my friends’ and enemies’ viewpoints at the same time with the same validity.

    My realizations were not all political. There are some social illusions whose disappearance is bittersweet. My infatuation with the Irish accent has disappated, which is both sad (I no longer swoon over Irish girls while they speak) and encouraging (I no longer stereotype people by the pitch and tone of their voice). I have listened to so much Irish traditional music that it has lost its fairy tale magic, but in its place, I have a respect for its history and an appreciation for a year’s worth of proximity to its musicians.

    Some losses are not so easily assuaged. I am leaving a place where the pubs are friendly, the music is fantastic and the beer is spectacular. I will have to settle for canned Guinness, which no self-respecting Irishman would drink. I will lose friends and my ability to have interactions every day that broaden my cultural views and offer my mind ideas of travel, research and future occupations. I am leaving a culture, which I am now accustomed to and will have to re-adapt to American life.

    Many skills are lost in the transition. Irish Gaelic will be useless in California. The ability to tell a good pub from a bad pub will be irrelevant as the only Irish pubs in the U.S are knock-offs. Even the ability to calm a drunk anti-American and the subsequent ability to explain the American mindset, will not be as necessary. These will serve only as good memories.

    But then, I think of the things to which I am returning. Last summer, I had to say goodbye to close friends. I will now reunite with these friends and spend long hours over coffee (and beer) discussing the various stories and events of the year. To my friends at home, I cannot be more excited to see you again after such a long and often painful absence from your company.

    Also, I will be back in San Diego, which is paradise according to most Irish. The sun is friendlier than it is in Ireland, and I may try to restore my tan, after blinding my friends by my sheer loss of pigment. I will be back in the land of In-N-Out burgers, which I have yearned for like a faithful Lent follower abstaining from meat for a month. These aspects, both deep and shallow, get me through the nights as I await my departure.

    I am heading back to the rat race of the American college system after a year of personal training with friendly, accessible professors. My experience in Ireland is only truly meaningful to me, and though I can share stories with students who traveled the world, my story is really my own, which is both heartening and cause for despair. And in the end, despite all the angst and frustration that we are told to expect, under no possible conditions would I give up the events and memories of this year.

    To everyone who has read this column and to all the friends I have made, lost and will reunite with along the way this coming year, I say: Go n-eiri an bothar leat, go raibh mile maith agat, agus go bhfaga Dia an tslainte agat. Slan go foill.

    This American in Europe can be reached between pints of Guiness at [email protected].

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