I just finished submitting my second scholarship application. I haven’t been the most proactive in this process but luckily, UCD continues to dump opportunities in my lap. The first one came after I had been admitted and awarded the first 3,000€ for having graduated from a partner university (U of Maryland system, who knew?). It was for a UCD in-house scholarship for North American Masters students. The app was relatively painless: 5 questions, limit of 100 words for each. Why I chose UCD, why I chose Dublin, why I chose my course of study, etc. I finished it in an evening and sent it off. About five days ago, I received an email blast from the university notifying the applicants that we would hear back on the results mid-March.
BUT in the meantime, the email went on to say, there’s another scholarship offered through a study abroad website that pays out an even sweeter prize: full tuition, $8,500 living stipend, and airfare. This application asked for a bit more yet was still manageable. They wanted a creative, Ireland-related photo and an essay of 500-2,000 words on why you want to study in Ireland.
For anyone who knows anything about me, I can wax poetic for hours when it comes to this magical island. And since it has been so long since my last post, I’m going to use this scholarship essay for a ‘two birds, one stone’ type situation. I’ll even post the photo I submitted (created in Word in 20 minutes, then saved in MS Paint — yep) for the full effect.
I sat on the bus, en route to the west coast village of Miltown Malbay, mentally turning over memories of a year teaching English in Madrid. I was exhausted in all the ways one could be; it had been an emotionally taxing year of ups and downs. Before returning to the life I left behind in Baltimore, Maryland, I wanted to take refuge in the place that revived me. It was no coincidence that this was my third time back on the Emerald Isle. The gentleness and soul of Ireland had won my heart time and again.
As we rounded a bend in the winding road that led to the tiny town, the hills opened up to a breathtaking view of the cliffs just beyond. Like the breaking of the waves against the rocks, the scene crashed down on me, almost sending me reeling. The sheer size of the cliffs, the vastness of the ocean, the vivid blues and greens of the landscape are frozen in my memory like a photograph. In that moment I was in awe. I was fortunate. I was happy.
I picked Miltown Malbay not because of its locality close to the sea in County Clare. Its size, or lack thereof, was what drew me to it. After treading through the immense sea of people in Spain’s mammoth capital city, I needed something that had since become a commodity: quiet. I looked forward to a slower pace of life, if only temporary. When the bus rolled to a stop, I shouldered my backpack and stepped down onto the narrow street.
Not only did my time in the small town yield a satisfying number of pots of tea, pages turned, and aimless daytime walks, it introduced to me a colorful cast of characters who were quintessentially Irish. I was a conspicuous outsider there but did not feel self-conscious because of it. My presence was met with curiosity and warmth.
One of the most impactful experiences occurred my last evening in the town before heading back to Dublin to meet a friend. I was relaxing at the pub beneath my hostel, The Central, drinking tea and reading — the calm after the raucous craic of the previous night. The owner, perched on a stool, browsed the newspaper behind the bar. It was a quiet night; few had drifted in and out as the sun went down. An hour or so passed before an older man joined us, eager for a pint and a chat. He struck up conversation and upon hearing my accent, asked me a series of questions about my travels, my plans, and how I had ended up in the little town. For his part, he was a truck driver stopping to rest for the night between shipments. By the way he talked, it was evident that he enjoyed his job and the opportunities it provided to see his beloved country.
The three of us exchanged stories and laughs for an hour more before I expressed the need to head up to bed in preparation for an early departure. However, before I bid them adieu, my friendly fellow traveler inquired as to whether or not I had picked up many souvenirs along the way. I confessed that I had not, that it had not really been that sort of trip. Without a word, he removed his jacket and proceeded to strip off the shirt underneath. The owner and I exchanged somewhat confused, and on her end, alarmed, glances before he handed the garment to me. It was a Dublin Gaelic football jersey. “Here’s your souvenir,” he said with a grin.
My last visit to the island reaffirmed the feeling I had the first time I beheld it; simply traveling there is not enough. I want the chance to live amongst and connect with the country’s culture and people. For me, Ireland is a place where a stranger will not hesitate to literally give you the shirt off their back. It’s a land of epic storytellers and musicians. The home of historic legends and everyday people, quick to lend a hand and a smile to an outsider. Above all, it’s somewhere I feel welcome, inspired, and alive.
So now I wait. I’m sure the applicant pool is more than competitive, but I won’t be disappointed either way. I’ve already been awarded 3K more than I thought (more than, uh, none) and I’m on my way to securing a future life in an incredible place. I’d say that’s quite enough, all things considered.