First day of Maymester, navigating public transportation, and the Irish Fulbright Commission

IMG_0578What a wonderful first day! The students all slept well after a long and exhausting travel day, and we met at 7am for our delicious Irish breakfast. They were all famished and I’m pretty sure the hotel is going to lose money on this group at breakfast! They loved (as predicted) Irish rashers (well, really, who doesn’t?!) and seemed very content and eager to start our day. At 8am we left to catch the No. 7 bus towards Loughlinstown (Stop ID: 4725) on Upper O’Connell Street, using our brand new LEAP cards. We were all able to scan our cards and quickly move to the upper deck for a great ride to a beautiful part of Dublin, Ballsbridge, Dublin 4. After 10 stops, we got off at Elgin Road (across the street is where the US Embassy is situated), headed southwest on Pembroke (went a bit too far, turned around and righted ourselves), took a left onto Shelbourne Road and arrived at Brooklawn House where the Irish Fulbright Commission is located.

IMG_0583The very nice guard at the front desk let Colleen Duby, the Executive Director, know we were all there, and after a few minutes, she came to collect us. It was great to see Colleen again, and so lovely that she was able to take time to meet with my students and me. We were set up in a lovely conference room, with tea, coffee and biscuits, and my dear friend Sonya Guinness from my Fulbright days stopped in to say hello.

Colleen was brilliant – she gave a marvelous overview of contemporary Irish cultural, economic and political history and presented multiple perspectives – from the days of the Celtic Renaissance in the early 90s through the rise and fall of the Celtic Tiger in the late 90s, the crash of 2008, the bail out of 2011 and the current prediction of a Moody’s upgrade to B+ and a new Celtic Phoenix on the rise! She posed the questions about Ireland’s identity as a Republic or a Dominion, a smart or a creative economy, and an export nation or a nation of people and products.

IMG_0579Next, Colleen provided a great overview of and introduction to the Irish Fulbright Commission and the concept of the Fulbright Family – underscoring what I tell students about the importance of this program and how transformative it can be – not only for the Fulbright student or scholar, but for the Irish host institution and friends and colleagues met along the way. These are professional associations and friendships that continue to grow and develop, and last a lifetime.

Students have been very curious about all of the political posters papering the city centre, and Colleen gave us a great overview of the upcoming local elections. Students asked about gender and racial representation, and now have a little bit better understanding of some of the posters they’ve seen and the particular Irish rhetoric and political catch phrases they’ve heard. We all learned about the extraordinary founding of the Irish Fulbright Commission, the only commission that has legal status and funding from both the US and Irish governments. We briefly discussed ‘The Troubles’ and the tensions/dualities that still exist in some sectors between the Republic and Northern Ireland, specifically related at the moment to the recent arrest (and release) of Gerry Adams and what is seen as the likely political rise of Sinn Féin in the upcoming elections. It will be interesting to spend time in Belfast and Derry, given this particular timing of political events.

IMG_0581_2It’s my opinion that Fulbright is needed more than ever in this world – the work that the Irish Fulbright Commission does is extraordinary and crucial in helping humans from across the globe connect, create, collaborate and communicate ideas, projects and research which illuminates and engages the human mind and spirit. I am so proud to be a US Scholar Fulbright alumna (Irish World Academy of Music and Dance, University of Limerick, 2006-2007) and a Fulbright Ambassador emerita (2010-2012). I hope the morning inspired these students to think far beyond traditional American graduate education possibilities and that they can begin to see themselves as cultural ambassadors and citizens of the world. A warm thank you to Colleen, Sonya and everyone in the Irish Fulbright Commission, the IIE/CIES and the US Department of State, and Andy Riess in the Washington, DC office.

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Students have all arrived

IMG_0547This is a Protestant church around the corner from our hotel, across the street from the beautiful and somber Garden of Remembrance on Parnell Square. It’s being refurbished so I can’t go inside, but it is a lovely building and a beautiful sight on the way to and from the hotel.

All of the students have now arrived and we’ve met for a brief orientation. They’ve all had a long travel day plus – some of them flying from Denver to Chicago to London Heathrow to Dublin, others flying from Denver to Chicago to Toronto to London Heathrow to Dublin! Then, taking a bus from the Dublin airport to a bus stop a few blocks away, and a short walk to the hotel.

A few of them have traveled and/or lived internationally, but most of them have not and this is their first trip abroad. Navigating all that this kind of travel entails is not for the weak of spirit, and they’ve done beautifully on this first leg of our Maymester!

I am re-reading a favorite book on this trip, Frances Mayes’ beautiful travel memoir, A Year in the World: Journey’s of a Passionate Traveller. I adored her inaugural memoir about starting a new life in Tuscany, Under the Tuscan Sun. In this new memoir, with Mayes’ beloved Tuscany as a home base, she travels to Spain, Portugal, France, the British Isles – and to the Mediterranean (Turkey, Greece, the South of Italy, and North Africa) – it is a delectable and beautifully written book. After a particularly harrowing series of travel disasters on one trip (it happens, but you learn to just go with the flow), Mayes’ husband, Ed, says –

“Not for nothing is that etymological connection between travel and travail.”

My friend, Dr. Susan Wheatley, loves to travel but her constant good-natured refrain when discussing the subject is “travel is hard work”. Too, too true. And worth every hardship – every sour bus driver, every lost piece of luggage, every sinus infection, every delayed or cancelled connection, and every would-be (but always foiled) pickpocket.

Mayes and her husband decide to give up their tenured professor positions in the Bay Area of San Francisco (not an easy decision) to travel and explore the world. How lovely. She writes –

“Travel releases spontaneity. You become a godlike creature full of choice, free to visit the stately pleasure domes, make love in the morning, sketch a bell tower, read a history of Byzantium, stare for an hour at the face of Leonardo da Vinci’s Madonna dei fusi. You open, as in childhood, and – for a time – receive this world. There’s the visceral aspect, too – the huntress who is free. Free to go, free to return home bringing memories to lay on the hearth.”

I’m so eager to see what these honors students will choose and receive – what they will learn and experience and carry home with them – lessons and treasures to be explored and enjoyed again and again in the years to come.

Tomorrow, our first day, begins with a public bus ride south to the Ballsbridge area of Dublin and a visit to the Irish Fulbright Commission. The wonderful Executive Director, Collen Duby, has arranged a tour of the facilities and a visit with some Irish Fulbright students. This will be a great opportunity for my students to engage with Irish students their own age and exchange ideas about what it means to pursue an education and academic and cultural experiences in the world. Colleen is a good friend from my US Fulbright Scholar year based in Limerick, and I am exited to see her and the Dublin office staff again! They were all so wonderful and helpful during my Fulbright year. I am excited for the students to begin thinking of themselves as practicing cultural ambassadors.

We’ll then walk to the Grafton Street area for a group lunch at the famous and fabulous Bewley’s Café – a personal favorite. We’ll have a lovely place to enjoy a delicious meal and share first impressions. After lunch, we’re all hopping aboard a Hop-On Hop-Off bus to enjoy a restful birds-eye view of the city and get a mapping overview of the layout of the city centre.

After some rest, we’ll all meet back up at the hotel to have a learning/research session where we reflect on the day, discuss what’s been seen and experienced, draw connections and make initial inquiries, do some cybersleuthing and research, contextualize, re-reflect, and write blog posts.

How wonderful does that sound for our first day in Dublin?!