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!