Langston is one of our US students who is in his fourth year in Trinity. Here he lets us know about his experience of moving to Ireland to study at Trinity.
Over the past four years that I have been studying at Trinity, the most persistent question I am asked by Americans and Irish alike is precisely why I chose to attend.
I have yet to find a satisfying answer.
Unlike many of my expatriate peers, I had no Irish heritage, had never visited the country before submitting my application, and had no preceding love for Irish literature or culture. Instead, I chose Trinity because I wanted to be in Europe, wanted to study amongst places that had a tangible history, and—perhaps most importantly—was immensely charmed by my first emergence from College Green onto the rounded cobblestones of Front Square.
The small high school I attended in Seattle, Washington proved itself to be of little help when deciding where I should spend the next four years of my life. It was rare that any of my predecessors had chosen to leave the country to pursue their undergraduate degrees and nobody in recent memory had ventured to Ireland for longer than a semester abroad. With no one to consult, my decision eventually fell between the safe and comfortable colleges of my homeland or one that was unknown but perhaps enriching and certainly adventurous.
Figuring I could always transfer, I opted for the adventure and found my college experience quickly beginning to diverge from that of my peers. While they were planning for bonding outdoor trips, I was researching visa requirements and beginning to pack spare kitchen supplies. Their first weeks seemed to be highly-structured regimens of group activities whereas mine took the form of three tutorials with room numbers on a paper schedule and the directive to be there. All Seattleites, they were introduced words like “bou-gie” and “janky” or what it truly meant to be preppy. I instead learned “craic” or “hoover” and the vital importance of inserting the tea bag before the hot water. Not only were the two experiences different but they seemed almost incomparable, for while the American college experience appeared to be the natural conclusion to high school, the Irish was a full-throttled introduction to adulthood. Those of us placed in the dormitories were required to cook for ourselves, clean for ourselves, and tend to our own laundry which we did with varying degrees of success.
While it was far from easy, my first year at Trinity was certainly exciting and left me a far more capable and independent person than I think I might have been otherwise. Particularly for us international students, the new experiences we encountered seemed to be endless during that year. As my subsequent semesters became more comfortable, the European college experience continued to offer ways to expand itself and so I decided to further complicate my visa status but applying for an Erasmus year abroad. As a prestigious section of the university, the Trinity English Department maintains a number of exchanges across Europe under the supervision of the E.U. Erasmus+ program and only a day before the application deadline, I decided I wanted to take advantage of them. While making a goulash and watching Wes Anderson’s Grand Budapest Hotel, I submitted my written essay to spend a year at Charles University (Univerzita Karlove v Praze) in Prague at the post-Soviet heart of Central Europe. Weeks later I received an email informing me that Prague was mine if I wanted it and almost without hesitating, I wrote back that I did.
Though Charles University was neither as beautiful nor as friendly as Trinity, I think it’s Gothic origins (Trinity’s are only Renaissance) must have appealed to me and in the following October I found myself on a flight bound first to Frankfurt and then to Prague. Dublin to me will always be a home but I think there is no question that Prague is the more beautiful city. As a student of the history of art, six free state galleries and an architectural environment representing the high points of eight centuries (and one dollar a pint pilsner) made for a memorable year. What the experience has meant to me so far and what it will come to mean in the future is something I’m still realizing but I am extraordinarily grateful for the opportunity to have had it.
While others ask why I chose to attend Trinity, my parents who saw me through the decision ask only whether I still believe it was the right one. I—ever quick to injure—immediately defend my own decision making power with an instantaneous “yes.” In truth however, I believe my college education has been a profoundly interesting one marked by people and opportunities that would not have presented themselves to me had I chosen otherwise.
As I write this, I’m nearing the tail end of a gap year (or year “off books” in Trinity parlance) which was taken to pursue a job experience/internship in the US that seemed like it wouldn’t present itself again. Of course, it’s impossible to judge the future that would have been had I attended a more conventional college however September is only five months away and I am already excited to return to Trinity.