What 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.
The 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.
Next, 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.
It’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.