Each semester, one student from each HECUA program abroad takes on the role of student blogger, sending regular dispatches from the field. Giorgia Piantanida will be HECUA’s student blogger for the Northern Ireland program this spring semester. Giorgia is a junior at Swarthmore College, double-majoring in Peace and Conflict Studies and Environmental Studies. Read on for Giorgia’s second post!
Have you ever had that feeling, deep down in your gut, that you are in exactly the right place, at the perfect time? Like even though you still have your responsibilities, worries and problems, everything in that moment, that place in your life, has lined up just right and you can’t help but be unbearably happy? I had heard of such feelings before I came on this abroad semester, but never really believed them. After all, I had recently been someone who always managed to focus on the more negative side of things, and struggled to see the positives in situations upon first glance. Recently, however, things seem to have taken a turn.
During the last week of March, we spent a week in Dublin and the south border of Northern Ireland. We were there to understand the language of remembering, and how it can differ depending on where you are, but before real class started, we elected to travel down a weekend early, to get a better grasp of the city.
We had just two days with no responsibilities, and a self-proclaimed duty to explore the city to our heart’s desire. Our itinerary included tons of gardens, parks, museums and obviously, shopping, and we were so excited to get away for a bit.
Dublin is a big city, and we knew there would be absolutely no way for us to get everything that we wanted checked off our lists. Although we tried to stay together and explore as a group, it more often than not became pairs and trios. We didn’t mind though, we were just thrilled to be exploring a city that was much bigger than Derry/Londonderry! One thing that we found ourselves constantly drawn to were the plethora of parks scattered around the concrete streets. Parks with big, green, leafy trees, and huge lawns we could sprawl ourselves out on and read a book or two. And it was as if Ireland knew we were there and wanted to make our trip even better – there was a bright, warm sun out every day that week (the myth is, sadly, very true – there is too much rain in Ireland).
Phoenix Park, which was about a mile walk from our hostel, was the first of these green spaces we came across. As soon as we walked in, we saw flowers blooming, as if welcoming us to the Republic, and puppies that were all too ready to play catch. We strolled down the seemingly never-ending path and came across families who were just out, trying to soak up the warmth and sunshine. Even though we knew we were tourists, it felt like we were part of the community, just strolling about and trying to make the best of a rare sunny day. And that walk was the first time I felt it – the feeling of sheer happiness, with worries and fears tucked away in a remote corner of my thoughts. However, I was too distracted by the lively conversation and amazing views to pay much heed to it, and chose to just accept it for the moment.
St. Stephen’s Green was the other green space we ended up meandering to while searching for a spot to sit and eat our packed lunches. In the midst of the hectic city this green space was serene, offering a sort of escape from the fast paced world that lay outside its boundaries.
We sat on a stone platform, where all sorts of people were also enjoying a light lunch break. The sun was shining, we were laughing, and pigeons were constantly surrounding us, trying to get our food. It was a scene that perhaps belonged in a movie, a comedy where the main characters end up with happy little lives. And I could feel that feeling bloom again – the happiness was intoxicating, and it was hard to pretend the feeling wasn’t there this time. The sun, the scenery, the city, the birds, the people – it was everything coming together at once in an almost perfect way. I couldn’t have planned it any better if I tried. Then someone said it.
“I’m so happy right now. Like genuinely, really happy.”
I heard the words and realized right away that was it. It wasn’t just regular happy – it was a heightened version of it. We all agreed quite quickly, recognizing our happiness didn’t exclude responsibilities, worries or fears, but it was just more powerful and more prominent than them. And as soon as we recognized it, I felt a twinge of sadness. The very real realization that we would never again live that moment, perhaps never be in that city with that sun and those birds ever again, was very sad. I had a sudden urge to make everything stay, almost a desperation clawing at my throat to shout, “Stop!” and hope it would freeze that scene for me. But I knew it would be fruitless. The beauty of that moment was in part due to the fact that we could never recreate it – we had just been lucky enough to stumble across it. And I knew not to take that for granted.
What we have been learning this semester has been, no doubt, very tough. There have been days I wound up crying more than I thought possible, days when all hope is gone and it just feels like there’s nothing left to work towards. There have been days I’ve questioned humanity, questioned my belief that humans are good, and almost always come up with a very negative answer. I’ve had days I’ve argued with a fervor I’ve never experienced for a place I can never truly understand, and realized that perhaps, it was all futile. But that moment, that one moment, was the one confirmation I needed that all of it was worth it, and will continue to be. So maybe every day isn’t rainbows and smiles and sunshine. Maybe it feels like there is more bad than good. But you have the opportunity to wake up again tomorrow and make something better. You have the chance to laugh until you cry tomorrow, to draw up plans for a future you’ve always wanted, to get closer to the person you’ve always wanted to be.
Our HECUA group here is small – we’re only in seven. And two months ago, we had just met and yes, things were very awkward between us. But now, after almost two thirds of the program, we have shared laughter, cries and memories I doubt we’ll ever forget. I came on this semester just to learn more about peace and conflicts, and ended up finding out more about myself and meeting people who have transformed the way I see and experience the world.
Dublin was brilliant, and the memories and moments we had there will be forever emblazoned in my mind. That happiness is something I can never forget, and as we enter the last month of our semester, I hope to feel it again, even amongst the tears I’m sure I’ll be shedding.