Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Studying Environmental Engineering in Kraków Poland

My time as a Fulbright Fellow living abroad in Kraków Poland has been incredibly rewarding. Over the past year, I have come to more truly understand the people of Poland and what it is like to live amongst them. I lived in Poland twice before (1989 and 1998) as a child because my father was a Fulbright Scholar, and he worked as a guest lecturer at the Cracow University of Technology. Each time I have come back, the country has change dramatically, and I have also changed much from when I first lived here at the age of two. Returning as an adult in the Fall of 2009, I fully integrated myself into Polish culture. I arrived two weeks early to enroll in an intensive Polish language course at Jagiellonian University. This is one of the oldest schools in Europe, established in 1364, where actually Copernicus studied. The city of Kraków has an ancient magical feel to it, and it was pretty incredible to take language classes next to the grand Wawel Castle. These intensive language classes jump started my Polish, and they allowed me to quickly integrate into society. I obtained an apartment near the city center, enrolled in Argentinian Tango courses, attended a local Catholic church, and joined a gym because I wanted to fully experience life in Kraków. I figured that the best way to become apart of a society is to do what people do in this society. Participating in these things that only a local would do exposed me to a group of people I never would have met as a tourist.
I continued my Polish language courses, and this allowed me to gain a comfortability with the Polish language. This garnered me huge respect from Polish people I met because most Americans who know Polish, unlike me, either have Polish parents or a Polish spouse. My proficiency grew quickly and I was speaking at a conversational level about four months into my stay here. This proved very useful in my day-to-day life and later opened up many doors for me with my project. I hope also when I return to the US, my language skills will sustain my link to Poland and allow me to interact with Polish-Americans on a different level.
My project here at Politechnika Krakowska has been to statistically model the water infrastructure of the city of Kraków to predict failures. This proved not as straightforward as initially expected. The situation in a country changes a lot from when you write your proposal to when you are actually able to carry out the project. When I arrived in September, the partnerships in place a year previous had dissolved, and my expected sources for sewer-network data no longer wished to pursue this project. I changed course immediately and shifted towards another source focusing on the water-supply network of Kraków. This also proved a challenge because I corresponded with my source for data at the water company via my advisor and not directly. This was when my language skills became so necessary because they allowed me to take my project into my own hands and directly pursue these data. One of the things you learn quickly about a Fulbright is that it's really what you make of it, and things you want to do, you have to do yourself. The next thing you must learn is to be very persistent. There are reasons why no one has done this project that you proposed previously, and you must overcome these reasons to complete what you originaly set out to do.
In addition to taking language classes, I also took classes in environmental engineering. These courses were taught in English with both Polish students and European students studying on the Erasmus program. This exposed me to students from all over Europe, and the people I met were fascinating. With the United States being in the spotlight of the world and it's recent wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, many people are interested in hearing what my perspectives are. This is, at times, a lot of pressure being a representative of the US, and sometimes political conversations will come up about American policy, past and present. I highly recommend to future Fulbrighters to be abreast of current events and past history.
Whereas my project here will eventually be completed, the relationships I have made both professional and personal will be the things I carry with me. I kept a blog of my travels, and one of the culminating experiences where I truly realized all of the relationships I had made over the past year was when I ran in the Cracovia Marathon. On the 25th of April after 16 weeks of training (many in the snow), I ran my first Marathon. In attendance were my parents with my aunt, our Polish family friends from Kraków, my professors at Politechnika, and my good friends here in Kraków. After a long 26 miles, 3 hours 40 min 5 sec, I crossed the finish line to the loud cheers of my family and friends who had all come together to see me, and I realized how lucky I am to be living here with all of these people from many parts of my life supporting me. I am very thankful for all the tools that Georgia Tech provided me to put me here today. Tech gave me a great education for which I see no limits. Thank you so much to Dr. Adams for all the help she gave me in preparing the application. Also, thank you to Dr. Goldberg for the advice on the necessity to learn Polish. It has truly enhanced my experience. Additionally, thank you to Professors Jim Dai and David Goldsman at Tech and Dr. Patrick Lammie at the CDC for writing me great letters of recommendation and for all that you have taught me. Finally, I must thank my parents for their unwaivering support and love. Their brave choice to live in Poland with their family twice before has given me the confidence to take on the world, and for that I will always be grateful.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Life of a Working Girl in Mexico City

Here I am (in the funny glasses) with my coworker Sai at my company Christmas party.

My New Years resolution is to begin this blog por fin. I should have begun ages ago, but I’ve been so busy that when I actually have time to sit down and write I am at a loss for words or for where to begin. I want to start by thanking all of the people at Tech that made this scholarship happen for me, Michelle Dion and Jennie Lincoln for writing my wonderful recommendations, Karen Adams and Phil McKnight for guiding me through the application process, and most of all Vicky Galloway for introducing me to the beauties of Mexico and encouraging me to return as often as possible.

I can honestly say that this trip has been incredible since the moment I arrived in late August. We started with a kick-off orientation the first week, learning about Mexican history and culture, speaking with past grantees, visiting cultural sights and getting settled in (unfortunately I got horribly sick and had to spend a whole day in my hotel room ordering chicken soup and watching TV). It was interesting to meet all of the other Fulbrighters and learn about their projects, one studying city planning, another researching pine tree genetics. I met an artist/writer who spent her previous grant walking down Insurgentes Sur, the longest road in México, speaking with locals from different zones of the city and documenting her experiences.

There are over sixty US Fulbrighters living in Mexico this year, ranging from English Teaching Assistants to researchers to professors. I am among a group of ten who received Binational Business Grants to both work and study in Mexico. I chose to apply for the business program because I wanted to gain some work experience before starting law school. Since the beginning of September I have been working at Volaris, a Mexican low-cost airline that follows the business model of Southwest. I chose to work for Volaris because I had studied the Mexican low-cost airline industry in one of my economics courses at Tech.

The atmosphere at Volaris is exciting, because it is one of the first low-cost airlines to take off in Mexico, and since 2006, has risen to become the third largest airline in the country. I work within the marketing team as a commercial strategy analyst. Since I began, my bosses and coworkers have entrusted me with a high level of responsibility and high-profile projects. I started off working under my immediate supervisor Manuel, with whom I get along very well. My first assignment under him, a competitor analysis, resulted in our CEO’s decision to open up new routes to compete with a rival airline. One of my proudest moments so far was hearing him announce the new routes at a marketing luncheon.

The project I am working on now, aimed at increasing customer loyalty, will change the face of the airline forever, bringing it onto the global stage. My partner and I presented the project to the CEO and he gave us the green light to move forward. In a few months I will have the opportunity to work with our in-house lawyers on negotiations for this project. I am excited about the prospect of getting some legal experience before going to law school. From the very start, Manuel has made a serious effort to involve me in projects that will help build my professional skills.

Aside from my internship position, I have been taking classes at the business school of ITESM, which has a campus in the Santa Fe neighborhood where I work. The first semester I took a finance and accounting class, and next semester I will be taking an economics course with another business Fulbrighter who also works at Volaris.

I live with two girls from the business program in Colonia Condesa, a beautiful art deco neighborhood close to the center of the city. The neighborhood is full of green spaces, restaurants, book stores, and just about everything one could need to pass the time - if only I had endless amounts of it. I work in Santa Fe, a business and financial district in the far western part of the city. While the commute can be up to an hour each day, it has been worth it to work for Volaris. I started off riding in to work with my boss Manuel, but now I catch a ride with a friend who works close to my office.

Looking back over the past four months, I have to say that one of my favorite aspects of working in Mexico is the business culture itself. Granted, the minimum 9 to 6:30 schedule is tiring, but the work environment is very relaxed and welcoming. In the morning everybody greets everybody else on their team, giving hugs and kissing cheeks and asking about their night or their weekend. The first hour of work is devoted to getting coffee, chatting, and settling in for the day. Lunch is taken late, usually around two, but often lasting an hour and a half or more. My team often goes to lunch as a group, but not to talk about business. In Mexico, coworkers are friends that you enjoy seeing every day, and often see outside of work, rather than people you complain about to your "other" friends. In a word, the work atmosphere is very warm, just like Mexican culture as a whole.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

A High School English Teacher in Indonesia

Since the end of this past August, I have been living and working in Medan, Indonesia as a Fulbright ETA (English Teaching Assistant) in Northern Sumatra. When I found out last summer that I had been offered a scholarship, and signed the paperwork to accept, I wasn’t quite sure what I was getting myself into. Having lived the experience for four months now, I can say that it has been nothing less than life-changing.
One of my reasons in coming to Indonesia was to learn another culture, and there is no better way to understand a different way of life than total immersion. I teach in a Catholic senior high school (not being Catholic, that has been a new experience unto itself), and I am amazed every day at the level of respect afforded to teachers in Indonesian culture. You are addressed by students and fellow teachers alike as “Bapak guru,” which translates literally to “Father teacher.” I’m only 22 years old; before Indonesia I had never been called “father” anything. When you enter a classroom, all of your uniformed students will rise from their seats, bow politely, and greet you in unison on command from the class president with “Good afternoon, Mister!” They are polite, respectful, and eager to learn. I have never had classroom teaching experience before coming here, but I cannot imagine a better environment to learn in. Teaching here is a joy and a pleasure, and I look forward to coming to work every day. The students are like sponges for the English language and American culture; they want to know as much as possible, and they take in everything. I had a student last week at the end of class raise his hand, and ask, “Mr. John, next week, can you teach us about Abraham Lincoln?” From my own high school days in the United States, I can’t recall very many times the students requested extra lessons.
Being an American in Indonesia is a very interesting experience, and a little like being a local rock star. Foreigners are a rarity in many parts of the country, and most Indonesians never leave their island. I have had many complete strangers just come up to me and touch my arm to feel my skin, as if they didn’t believe I was real. This also has to be one of the friendliest places I have ever been. I cannot go anywhere without people coming up to me out of the blue and starting a conversation, and complete strangers will drop anything they’re doing to help you if they think you need it. The culture is extremely generous, and being invited home for dinner is both a very common occurrence, and a special treat. The sense of community here is amazing, and even in very poor areas, you never see homeless people in the streets. There is almost always someone in the community willing to take them in before they will let them live without a roof over their head.
The Fulbright program affords many opportunities outside of the classroom as well. There is plenty of time to travel, as Indonesia has the most national holidays of any country in Asia. Besides the many cultural events I’ve seen, along with my fellow ETAs and Indonesian friends, I’ve climbed some of the many volcanoes of Indonesia, hiked through dense jungle, enjoyed relaxing hot springs straight from the ground, surfed the beaches of Bali, been SCUBA diving in some of the most diverse marine environments on Earth, and spent weekends relaxing at nearby Lake Toba, the result of an ancient super volcano that is now a lake bigger than Singapore.
However, and thankfully so, not everything here is an easy vacation. Personal growth is the result of rising to meet challenges, and there are ample opportunities in Indonesia to overcome obstacles in your path. Learning Bahasa Indonesia (literally- “the language of Indonesia”) is not required, but if you put in a little work and study it during your time here, your experience will be greatly enriched. The language is often described as very “economical,” and with no articles, tenses, conjugations, or gender, it is actually very easy to pick up quickly. Learning the language is a reward in itself, and the best way is to simply go out and talk to people. Everyone here is always eager for a conversation, and are always happy to help a beginner practice.
For anyone that is at all considering applying for this scholarship, I cannot possibly encourage you enough. This has been one of the best experiences of my life, as well as one of the most educational. For whatever field you choose to go into afterwards, you will enter that field as a stronger individual than you otherwise would. You will learn a lot about Indonesia in your time here, but even more so about yourself.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Adam Tart - Mitchell Scholarship 2008-2009 - November 18, 2009

It has been over a year since I first stepped foot on Ireland for my year-long adventure, and I just wanted to say that the Mitchell Scholarship continues to provide interesting opportunities, connections, and experiences, even months after I’ve returned home to America. The scholars have continued to stay in contact with each other, and now that we are spread about the country (and world), I have a wonderful network of friends to visit and stay in touch with. Trina Vargo, the US-Ireland Alliance’s president, continues to keep us in touch with scholarship- and Ireland-related news, information, activities, and she reaches out to connect scholars of different years with each other. I have come to realize that this adventure was really so much more than just an education abroad. Rather, I have become a member of a huge, caring, unique, and inspirational family, consisting not only of Mitchell Scholars but of all Irish people everywhere. Incredible. Absolutely incredible!

Adam Tart - Mitchell Scholarship 2008-2009 - June 30, 2009

As I expected, my ten months on the Emerald Isle are over before I knew it. Wasn't I just writing my first journal entry yesterday? I can't believe my time in Ireland is already over! Time really does fly when you're having fun! Well, where one door closes, another opens.

Eh... actually, none of these or any other nostalgic, reflective clichés really does justice to the way I feel about saying good-bye to Cork and hello (again) to America. (But they sure do provide a nice crutch to fall back on, right?) It is no stretch of the truth for me to say I've had the best time of my life over the course of this past year. I've made fantastic friends, traveled extensively, and made a palpable connection to a gorgeous, exciting, and culturally rich country. I've made the most of my time here. And that feels really good to say.

Perhaps that's why I'm so much looking forward to going home; I'm not leaving behind missed opportunities -- just my newfound second home that I know I will return to many times throughout the rest of my life, come hell or high water.

And the year couldn't have ended on a sweeter note with which to leave fond memories of my time here at the forefront of my mind. Since my last entry, I underwent an ordeal of six straight weeks of almost nothing but work on my thesis and studying for exams, day and night, weekends included. Then followed four weeks of actually taking the strenuous exams. But this made the rewards that followed all the more worth it: the end-of-the-year Mitchell Scholars retreat at Parknasilla (amazingly relaxing and delicious is the best way to describe it) and a month of relaxation and traveling, including trips to Iceland (the most amazing place I’ve ever been in all my travels), Amsterdam, Athens, and even some Ireland sightseeing that I had not previously gotten around to (e.g., kissing the Blarney Stone and driving the Ring of Kerry).

The retreat at Parknasilla was so outstanding that it really deserves some further explanation. I mentioned in an earlier entry that the Mitchell Scholarship gave its scholars the royal treatment. This fact was raised to a fine art on a whole new plane of existence on this retreat. Parknasilla is a resort on the beautiful Ring of Kerry in west Ireland, with a luxury spa, a golf course, and 500 acres of forests, trails, rivers, and sea. Its director is a friend of the Scholarship, and he decided to allow us to stay there for a few nights. We got to stay in private chalets, gorge ourselves on incredible food, enjoy a relaxing massage and spa treatment, and explore the nature of Ireland at one of the country’s most beautiful and serene locations. Then, to top it off, we trekked back to Dublin for a day where we got to stay at the 5-star luxury Westbury Hotel off the famous Grafton Street. The following morning we were treated to a visit to the U.S. Embassy where Ireland’s Prime Minister, Brian Cowen, presented each scholar with a commemorative class ring. The “extras” that come along with this scholarship are seriously mind-boggling. All the places that we the Scholars got to go, the people we met (especially Senator Mitchell and Ireland’s President and Prime Minister), and the treatment we received were completely and unlike any experience I’ve ever had. It was as if we were true ambassadors from America to Ireland. And this trip at the end of the year really topped it off in the most amazing, once-in-a-lifetime-opportunity kind of way.

But don't let me convince you that these year-end trips were enjoyable only because my previous time in Ireland was not. No, I know I'll savor and treasure every moment I had this past year (a relatively simple task with my 4000+ photos).

Actually, that inspires the most-probably-best way to think about my time here: regardless of whether I was doing something adventurous, every moment abroad felt adventurous in one way or another. That's something I'll miss when I return to the familiarity of home. But hey, all the more reason to come back. And that day won't come soon enough.

Adam Tart - Mitchell Scholarship 2008-2009 - April 1, 2009

In the two months since my last journal entry, my daily amount of schoolwork at UCC has increased tremendously. Thus my last two months in Ireland have had a very different character than my previous five -- but don´t think that that´s a bad thing! One of the main reasons I was excited to move to Ireland and pursue a master´s degree in computer science was that I couldn´t wait to study the field I knew I was so passionate about but had yet to pursue in my previous degrees. (I was passionate about my previous degrees, too, though!) School has been much more difficult lately, with most weeks including at least three all-nighters of coding. But whereas most people would shudder at the thought of such a situation, I´ve never been happier with the way school has been going. I´m proud (albeit unfortunately, depending on my mood!) to say that I could easily be happy sitting at a computer for days on end solving complex programming problems, fine-tuning programs until they work juuuuust right. And the Mitchell Scholarship and UCC have given me that opportunity. I feel so lucky to have had this taste of a career I know I will be passionate about. I´m really looking forward to getting started with computer science work and research in the "real world" and through a PhD (once I narrow down my specific research field of choice).

Of course, as much as I love programming computers, my life would be pretty unwell-rounded if sitting in front of a screen was all I ever did. And my experience in Ireland and elsewhere abroad would certainly not, in my opinion, have been spent to the fullest. So I have made every effort possible to travel and experience the outdoors in my free time. One of my favorite recent travels was to Venice for Valentine´s Day. Neither my girlfriend nor I had been before, so we were incredibly excited to experience one of the world´s most romantic cities on one of the world´s most romantic days (according to Hallmark, at least). The city certainly did not disappoint! The twisting, narrow alleys, devoid of cars, and bordered by gently flowing canals was absolutely enchanting, made moreso by the delicious food and wine, beautiful weather, and all-around pleasant atmosphere, architecture, and environment. And, lucky us, we arrived at the beginning of Carnival, Venice´s annual special holiday where everyone wears masks and costumes and overflows their parties from the bars and restaurants into the streets and squares. If you´ve never been, you must go. I´m so glad I did and can´t recommend it enough!

If you´ve read any of my previous entries, you would know just how much I have enjoyed the mountaineering club at UCC. Well, I wouldn´t want to disappoint my faithful fans by not mentioning it in this entry as well. One of my recent favorite trips other than Venice was a 3-day weekend hiking excursion to the southwest of Ireland to a city (rather, a small town) called Portmagee in County Kerry that overlooks the Atlantic. The trip was by far my favorite hike with the club and provided possibly the best scenery I´ve seen yet in the Emerald Isle. The highlights included giant, Celtic crosses atop a mountain shrouded in mist, smooth green hills rolling out into the ocean, and some of the best craic (Irish for extreme fun) with tons of great new friends I´ve had in recent memory. I´ve said it before, so why not say it again: if you attend UCC sometime in your life and enjoy hiking, join this club!

Another highlight of the past two months was getting to meet Senator George J. Mitchell himself, an incredible opportunity provided by the Mitchell Scholarship. (Though, technically, HE provided the Mitchell Scholarship… Chicken and egg, anyone?). All of the scholars who could attend met up in Dublin along with Trina Vargo (the US-Ireland Alliance´s founder, president, and dignitary-extraordinaire) and eagerly awaited Senator Mitchell´s arrival. He soon sat down with us and spent the next hour and a half or so telling us some great stories from his life, including his experiences with the Ireland/Northern Ireland troubles and with his new role as the U.S. envoy to the Middle East. His resolve, passion, and intelligence (all of which were easily evident in our rendez-vous) make him a true inspiration, and I feel privileged both to have met with him and to participate in a scholarship program in his honor. (My raise in funding will arrive any day now! Hah... Just kidding!) And as if meeting Senator Mitchell weren’t amazing enough, we were subsequently privileged to meet Ireland’s President Mary McAleese at Ireland’s version of our White House. Similar to our meeting with Senator Mitchell, President McAleese sat with us for a while just sharing some stories and thoughts, and the whole time I just kept thinking to myself, “I can’t believe I’m talking with the president of Ireland right now.” The sheer excitement of opportunities like this through the Mitchell Scholarship was matched only by their surreal quality.

One other very important highlight from the past few months was the Mitchell Scholars’ Belfast retreat. Like the previous fall retreat, the twelve of us met up, though this time in Belfast in Northern Ireland. We got to stay in the infamous Europa Hotel, and our activities included sit-down meetings with representatives from each of Northern Ireland’s different political parties, a tour of Crumlin Jail by former prisoners (held there as criminals during the “Troubles”), and a driving tour of the city’s divisive murals. It was truly an eye-opening experience to the strife and hardships Northern Ireland has faced over the years due to political and religious differences. On the lighter side, we also made a trip to the northern coast to see the Giant’s Causeway (a fascinating geological structure surrounded by myth and mystery), the Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge from whose dizzying heights fisherman once reeled in massive quantities of salmon, and the original Bushmills (whiskey) Distillery. In spite of all its turmoil, Northern Ireland remains one of the most beautiful places I’ve seen. (And it is in large part thanks to Senator Mitchell that the turmoil has all but disappeared!)

I´m in Barcelona writing this now (another FANTASTIC destination), so I will close this entry and continue to enjoy the rest of my time here. My time in Ireland really has flown by, but I´m so glad that I´ve had experiences like this one and those mentioned above and in previous entries, and I´m so glad to met the people that I have and to have formed a lifelong bond with one of the most amazing countries and peoples in the world. Excitingly enough, I know that even when this program is over, because of the bonds I have formed and the memories I have made that have made such an impression on me, I know I will continue to strengthen them and make more throughout the rest of my life. And I can´t wait! Adios!

Adam Tart - Mitchell Scholarship 2008-2009 - January 21, 2009

Wow, where to begin... I left off my last "Reflection on Ireland" with anticipation of all the new activities I could enjoy after my shoulder healed, so I suppose I should start by saying now that my shoulder has healed (from its dislocation during my second week in Ireland), I have been even more thoroughly enjoying my time here on the Emerald Isle than before! This is due largely to the following three factors:

1) I am no longer injured.

2) I am actively participating in the UCC Ultimate Frisbee Club, which is loads of fun and provides a great opportunity to meet people and travel around the country (for tournaments).

3) I am actively participating in the UCC Mountaineering Club.

I think the third one is perhaps the most important. If there is one thing I can recommend above all else to do with your time in Ireland, it is to join the mountaineering club (if one exists at your university)! The experiences with the club have so far been absolutely, incredibly, superbly rewarding. So far I've gotten to hike up the Galtee Mountains in Ireland's "Golden Vale" region, Purple Mountain in the Macgillycuddy's Reeks in County Kerry, and the Knockmealdown Mountains on the border of Counties Tipperary and Waterford. Each hike I go on, I fall in love with the country more and more, as the views from the mountain tops overlooking the Irish countryside below are some of the most breathtaking, inspiring, and, dare I say, magical sights I have ever seen.

But it is not just the rewarding views that make the Mountaineering Club so wonderful. Rather, the fact that each hike is more of an expedition/adventure/bonding-experience carries more weight in my high opinion of the Club. Unlike the hikes that I'm used to (mostly in the Southeast and on the Appalachian Trail), the hikes here have no trails, no trailblazes, no paths. I couldn't believe my ears on the first hike when the guy leading the group looked at his map, looked to the top of the mountain, looked back at his map, then looked up and said "Well, I guess we're just going to have to find some way across this river here and then go up whichever way gets us to the top."

This adventurous spirit, combined with the relentless rain and the ubiquitous bog-like terrain, makes the hikes more like expeditions than hikes. (In fact, on that same first hike, we got so high up the mountain that the rain turned into hail, and the wind was literally blowing people off the mountain. We had to huddle behind a rock for thirty minutes to stay warm until the storm passed!) After trudging through six to eight hours of bog, rain, hail, wind, rain, stunning views, fresh air, rain, and more rain, we then all head to a nearby pub to enjoy great conversations over some Guinness or Murphy's.(Murphy's is a stout local to Cork, even tastier than Guinness in my opinion! If you ever come across it, give it a try!) It's almost like once per week heaven comes down to Earth for a day.

Well, now my journal entry looks like one big advertisement for the Mountaineering Club. But I can't stress enough how awesome it is and how much it has made me feel like I've been enjoying this country to its fullest!

Of course, I'm making sure to enjoy the other countries in Europe to the fullest, too. I have done so in particular by undertaking one of my greatest achievements to date: a roadtrip across Europe. Over the Christmas break, Jose (one of the other Mitchell Scholars) and I joined one of his friends, Berni (who is from Vienna), on a journey from Dublin to Vienna, a distance spanning more than 2100 km, and a trip covering a total of ten countries! We took a ferry from Dublin to Wales, then drove through Wales to England. We explored London for a day, then left from London to Dover (as in, the Cliffs of Dover!) where we boarded another ferry to Dunkirk, France. Then we drove through France, Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany (where we got to experience the glory that is the autobahn), and finally Austria (Salzburg, precisely). Six countries in one day! Wow! Then we explored Salzburg for a day before driving to Berni's home in Vienna, where his mother made us homemade Kaiserschmarrn, and then Wiener Schnitzel the next night. Berni drove us to Bratislava, Slovakia the following day where Jose and I said goodbye to him and caught a flight to Rome, where we had the delight of seeing the Pope come out on the balcony to say Merry Christmas! Then the following day, I was off to the Netherlands. My girlfriend flew over, too, and we got to celebrate the New Year in Amsterdam!

All I can say is: Phew! What a trip... A roadtrip is DEFINITELY the best way (at least that I've come across so far) to see Europe. We got to see so many different countries and cultures and had so much freedom in our travels. Three straight weeks of living out of one carry-on-sized bag with great company and plenty of sites seen and fun had... It was an irreplaceable, simply fantastic experience.

Aside from these travels, two memorable experiences stick out in my mind that were direct byproducts of being a Mitchell Scholar. The first (which I forgot to mention in my previous entry) was the ability to attend the U.S. Election Party, sponsored by the U.S. Embassy in Ireland, at the Guinness Storehouse. All of the Mitchell Scholars received private invitations, and we got to witness the Presidential Election while drinking free Guinness all night. It was a great way to make up for not being able to be home in America for such an important historical event. Then, later in November, all the Scholars got together at the home of one of the Scholarship donors for a home-cooked Thanksgiving dinner. There we got to have a wonderful meal with several Irish men and women, and the conversation flowed as sweetly as the red wine on the table and as richly as the gravy on the delicious Thanksgiving turkey. (I have learned that such is the case with nearly any conversation with someone from Ireland.) Like the Election Party, it was a great way to make up for not being home for Thanksgiving.

Now a new semester is upon me, and it's back to school and homework. I've got plenty of adventures left ahead of me, though: Venice with my girlfriend for Valentine's day, ten more hikes with the Mountaineering Club, trips planned to Switzerland, Sweden, and Portugal, and plenty more Murphy's to be had in Cork's many wonderful pubs. Hopefully my next "Reflection" journal entry will be even more exciting than this one! Slainte!