Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Adam Tart - Mitchell Scholarship 2008-2009 - November 17, 2008

When I arrived in Cork, Ireland, the first thought that came to mind as I stepped off the airplane onto the tarmac was, "Is this really what Cork looks like? Or is this some big landscaping project that was performed to make the airport look nicer?" Right by the airport were beautiful, green, rolling hills and an expansive sky with clouds dramatically thrown across it. After going through customs and hopping into a taxi, I realized along my way to my new apartment that it wasn't just some landscaping project; there was beautiful countryside everywhere. I couldn't believe it. (And I've since realized that this countryside isn't even the most breathtaking in Ireland!)

Before coming to Ireland I had heard that it would be beautiful. The country has far surpassed my expectations. (I still can't decide if the grass here really is greener than in Georgia, where I'm from, or if I've just convinced myself that it is.)

The countryside is not the only beautiful aspect of Cork: University College Cork's (UCC's) campus is outstanding! And not just for its aesthetic qualities: I REALLY enjoy my classes. My professors are fantastic (and most of them are Irish, which makes me feel especially like a part of the Irish culture), and the course material is interesting and challenging. As fascinating as my Statistics program at Georgia Tech was, it's nice to finally be taking classes again in a subject I'm especially passionate about (computer science). Surprisingly, my program (M.Sc. Mobile Networking & Computing) has only seven people in it, and only one guy is Irish. It looks like some international friends and I are going to become a tight-knit group!

The realization that I am satisfied and content with my being matched with UCC in Cork is profoundly important to me in such a positive way. See, the Mitchell Scholarship allows twelve U.S. students to study in Ireland each year, but we don’t have complete control over which university we get to attend. Instead, we submit a “top five” list with our scholarship application, and the following factors determine which Scholar attends which university: which programs are offered at each university to provide a good match for each scholar, how many scholars each university is willing to accept, and the scholar’s interview performance. I had some reservations about being matched to UCC and Cork since it was such a small city “in the middle of nowhere” (by American standards) with a university I hadn’t heard of prior to applying to the Scholarship. I have come to realize, however, that I actually got the best deal I could have hoped for. The university provides a wonderful academic and social environment (and is very highly ranked internationally to boot), and the city itself is a dream come true. Cork is the perfect compromise between Irish countryside and city-life: the hills and pastures are a stone’s throw away (unlike the industrial Dublin), while the city center provides an incredible downtown experience with seemingly unlimited choices of shops, restaurants, bars, pubs, clubs, and cafes. I have the best of all worlds in Cork. Serendipity at its finest.

I've tried to get involved in a few things on campus to meet new people and get the most out of my experience here, but for the past couple months or so it seems as though fate has been working against me. I joined the Ultimate Frisbee team, and at the end of the very first training session, I dislocated my shoulder. If you've never done this before, I can't recommend trying it. I had to be rushed to the hospital, and I was placed in a sling for four weeks. This prevented me from doing the activities on campus I was most interested in (ultimate frisbee, mountaineering (a hiking club), and running). But of course, I did not let this prevent me from making the most of my time here! Sling or no sling, I've been sure to get in plenty of traveling, including trips to Prague, Paris, Barcelona, London, and all over Ireland. Traveling around Ireland is especially great since I get to visit the other Mitchell scholars and see what their experiences are like. I'm so glad we all get along so well. I feel very fortunate to have been picked for the Mitchell Scholarship when I see what amazing people they are.

I felt like I really got to know the Scholars well, and realized how close we could potentially come, on our fall retreat. One of the greatest advantages of the Mitchell Scholarship is the plethora of opportunities that it provides beyond just the education, travel, and stipend. Our fall retreat is one fantastic example. Soon after the twelve of us arrived on the island, we each hopped on trains to Limerick and proceeded to travel around the west coast, see some common and not-so-common sights, meet some locals, and get introduced to the Irish way of life. This included a trip to the staggeringly impressive Cliffs of Moher, an Irish cooking class at a local lodge, and a stay at the five-star Doonbeg Golf Resort where we got to meet several of the benefactors and donors of the Scholarship after the US-Ireland Alliance’s annual golf tournament there. I couldn’t believe the royal treatment we received! I feel like there was no better way to begin to fall in love with this country.

Similar opportunities cropped up as time went by, such as the chance to see famous Irish actress Fiona Shaw’s portrayal of Samuel Becket’s “Happy Days” play at the Abbey Theatre in Dublin, including the chance to meet her after the show. I would never have had this opportunity had I not been on the Mitchell Scholarship here!

I can't believe I've already been here in Ireland for two months. The time has just been flying by, and I've been having so much fun. Getting to be a part of Irish life, seeing all of the beauty, history, and activity this country has to offer, getting to meet so many amazing people, and getting to travel so many places has really been a dream come true. And, now that my shoulder has finally healed, I can't wait to get started on all the other things I've been looking forward to so much. I'm having a blast, and it looks like the rest of my year here is going to be even better. I can't wait!

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