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.