“There was music there in the Derry air
like a language that we could all could understand…
Those were happy days in so many many ways
in the town I loved so well.”Phil Coulter, The Town I Loved So Well (1973)
Despite the many threats I made to my family about “accidentally” missing my flight home, I’m back in Philly. I’ve never been heartbroken before, but if I had to try and bottle the feeling I’d imagine it’s pretty close to the one I had as I caught one last glimpse of the Peace Bridge while leaving Derry. I cannot believe how quickly a month in Northern Ireland flew by — it feels like just yesterday that I touched down. There’s something magical about landing in a new place for the first time. All routine, all habit, all sense of comfort is thrown out the window as you trade the familiar for the unknown. For an adventurous soul like me, I couldn’t imagine a better feeling.
For all my sadness at leaving Derry, however, I must admit that there is something perhaps just as magical about going far away and then coming home. Philly hasn’t changed much in my absence — the summer humidity is just as oppressive, SEPTA is just as disorganized, and the pile of things to do that I left at my job is just as big. And yet while so many things here feel the same, I feel different. This is the real magic.
After two experiences abroad now, I will assert to my last breath that there is nothing more valuable to one’s education than time spent studying in a new place. Especially coming from an Irish-American family, studying in Northern Ireland challenged my preconceptions and made me rethink my assumptions, ultimately making me more open-minded and understanding. My intellectual horizons have been broadened as I’ve delved into new subjects, moving away from my STEM background and Americentrism to gain an intimate understanding of Irish culture, politics, and history. Best of all, in my opinion, I think that some of the best qualities of the Irish might have rubbed off on me, namely their friendliness. My typical Philly attitude (at best ambivalent, and at worst, downright hostile) could definitely have benefited from some tempering, although I’ve had to remind myself, somewhat ironically, upon landing in the City of Brotherly Love that it’s now weird again to talk to strangers.
While I might have spent the past month studying Irish culture, the STEM major in me still deals in the currency of numbers: my wonderful class and I hiked upwards of 40 miles through the stunning highlands and headlands of Donegal and Antrim, heard from 12 experts on Irish music, literature, history, and politics, tucked into at least 6 portions of chips a week, and indulged in a number of pints that is probably best left up to the imagination. And while I have Northern Ireland to blame for a drained bank account, a surprisingly nasty sunburn, and the fact that green might never actually look as green to me again (unless, of course, it’s an Eagles’ jersey), it was the perfect month. When can I go back?