13 years ago
Aaron Rathbun

Editor’s Note: In conjunction with the Office of International Education, The UTD Mercury is helping publicize study abroad opportunities for UTD students. Any student who will be travelling abroad can contact The UTD Mercury at editor@mercury.utdallas.edu with pictures and a description of a study abroad experience for potential publication.

Belfast, Northern Ireland – One month ago I stepped on a plane heading out of DFW and into the Emerald Isle of Éire. I still remember how the sun slipped easily into the world, waking the waters of the east Atlantic and stirring the mists enshrouding green mountains like a dreaming land. That first weekend could have lasted a lifetime, and I still wouldn’t have seen all this island has to offer.

Already I’ve hiked up a mountain, explored three castles, run along cliffs overlooking the sea, traversed ruins both old and new, been caught in many a gentle rain and listened to madrigals sung by Renaissance maidens at a fantastic banquet in a perfectly preserved 19th century village. The wealth of Ireland lies not in its industry, but in the fading heritage of its people.

One of the classes I’m taking at the Queen’s University of Belfast in Northern Ireland is Beginner’s Irish, but it is a dying language spoken less primarily and in a diminishing number of areas. In the Republic (of Ireland), educators struggle to teach their children through a mandated curriculum that may be countermanding their efforts. In the North, mixed feelings about the language reflect the possibly irreconcilable divide between those devoted to England and the people desiring a United Ireland.

Belfast, meanwhile, is a healthy mélange of living Ireland. From the scars of past terrors to the beauty of its sanctuaries, memories of sorrow and pride date back hundreds of years, marked in monuments added to by the passing of lives. As technologically on par with the world as any major American city, part of Belfast’s appeal lies in the fact that you may have classes in a Victorian mansion, take tea in an old converted cathedral and still be within walking distance of a nightclub or natural park for socializing and bouts of study.

A good portion of Ireland retains its natural beauty, however, and with a total population half the size of Dallas, there’s lots of room to go wandering off and exploring lost castles. Almost every town has some ruins to speak of, and it’s not uncommon to come randomly across the remains of some cathedral or tower while driving along the road.

For me, the grass and waters, mountains and castles are enough to make me feel like I’ve stepped through a doorway into a new land, like the proverbial C. S. Lewis writing about a lion, a witch and a wardrobe. For others, what appeals might lie elsewhere in the form of midnight deserts or ice-graced fjords. While it did take a bit of planning and worry, the point is I made it here. Ireland. An ocean away; a culture apart.

I’ve made friends here and found a new vitality in myself I never knew existed. I’ve crossed shores and bridges, both literally and inside, that have made my heart thunder like I was being born anew. I’ve made my dreams into reality.

What’s so special about me that I should be here writing this about a land most Americans have only seen in movies? There’s not. I’m just a student, like you.

P.S. – oh, and legal drinking age is 18 over here.

Aaron Rathbun has a web site set up at http://disscordia.topcities.com where he keeps an online journal along with pictures of his trip.