Each semester, one student from each HECUA program abroad takes on the role of student blogger, sending regular dispatches from the field. Becca Carcaterra will be HECUA’s student blogger for the Northern Ireland program this spring semester. Becca is a senior at St. Olaf College, majoring in English with a Race and Ethnic Studies concentration. Read on for Becca’s final post.
So this is it. The end.
In just a few days, I will leave Northern Ireland, possibly forever, and head back home.
The Irish know their way around a good ending. Maybe it’s because of this island’s troubled history of migration and battles, but there are a lot of songs and blessings and poems full of longing and yearning, of sending loved ones away and looking back and promising to remember. If I decide I want a moment of good old-fashioned Irish angst before I leave, I could go watch the River Foyle flow under a cloudy sky and listen to “The Parting Glass.” This land is is a good place to be bittersweet.
So with that in mind, for my final blog I’m going to tell you a story.
In a lot of ways, storytelling is what brought me here. As my friends and I have explored Northern Ireland, we’ve traveled through bogs and misty mountains, through daffodil patches and slow rivers and rocky bluffs where horses graze and waves crash. It feels like we’re roaming through a fantasy world. And for good reason: this little island has birthed some incredible writers and poets, whose words managed to make it across oceans and tug at all of our imaginations. There’s something in the air that makes this island incredibly fertile ground for storytelling.
So here’s my story: I picked out this study abroad program years ago, but life arranged a very hefty bump in the road for me in the form of a diagnosis that delayed my trip until my final semester of college.
While I was sick, I had a calendar made up of pictures of Ireland. It was one of those rip-away calendars, where you rip off a page every day. I could flip through the days with my hands, and pinch a thick segment of time. Ten centimeters of time until I was done with radiation. Twenty centimeters of time until I was done with chemotherapy.
Everyday I would rip one of those pages off, and uncover a new picture of Ireland. The Giant’s Causeway, the Cliffs of Moher. I wish I could go back in time and empty out that wastepaper basket of days now, so I could see how many of those scenic snapshots I saw in real life. I dreamed of this place when I sick, I made a recovery, I lived in this place when I was healthy. The story is one of triumph.
But it’s complicated. This semester is, by design, not all sunshine and rainbows. To go away full of simplistic triumph and blind optimism seems almost disrespectful. Not that hope and optimism aren’t deeply necessary, but Northern Ireland is complicated place. Even though it has very good music and very good writers and very good tea, it’s also full of anger and bitter hurt. I found happiness and peace here, but also fear and a very specific kind of pain: the pain of loving a place that is hurting.
This program was fun, powerful, and one of the best times of my life. But it also asked us to look very closely at Northern Ireland’s melancholy and resentment and the undercurrent of pain and anger beneath the laughter. I’m grateful for that. This place may look like a storybook, but there are very real, gritty problems here, and a lot is at stake.
Northern Ireland is more complicated than an escapist pastoral fantasy, and it’s also more complicated than a string of bad headlines and violent acts. It’s beautiful and fragile and scary and comforting. And for a while, it was home.
I don’t know what my future holds, or Northern Ireland’s future, or if they will ever intersect again. But I do know that I had an incredible time during my time here in Derry/Londonderry. No matter what happens, it will always be a part of my story.