By: Agape Deng (M.Phil in Speech and Language Processing)
I started pondering whether my soul was dead when I was fourteen years old after reading a patriotic poem by Sir Walter Scott titled, “My Native Land.” In it, the narrator asks if there exists a man who is so soul-dead that he has never loved or longed for his homeland. He warns readers that “if such there breathe, go, mark him well,” for he is, in short, a proud, vile wretch doomed to die alone in shame. So there I was, a little Chinese girl living in Russia learning this English poem about what it is to love your country and feeling, on one hand, guilty that I possessed no such loyalty, and on the other hand, forlorn that I had no country to call my own.
Such was my state of mind when I arrived in Ireland and was greeted by some of the friendliest, funniest and most talkative people I had ever met. There seemed to be an unusually high percentage of kind bus drivers who will wave you on despite not having enough change and ice cream shopkeepers who will let you try every single flavour without losing their smiles. Never have I had so many interesting, provocative conversations with strangers, ranging from topics like education, pigeons, and the linguistics of Irish, to history, beer, the history of beer, and the arduous art of apartment hunting in Dublin. It felt like every neighbour and stranger I talked to was a kindred spirit, and the ones that I didn’t talk to were friends, simply not yet acquainted.
Here I would like to insert my one and only piece of advice for the prospective student who is interested in not only succeeding in school but in living a vibrant, fruitful life with an ever-widening perspective: make a habit of talking to people, not just fellow classmates and professors, but the Aldi cashier, the bus driver, the other person on the pavement who is walking in the same direction as you. It was by talking to people that I caught up on my Irish history lessons, learned what Dublin meant, and discovered why Irish words had so many seemingly unnecessary vowels (it turns out that there is an order to the chaos; the vowels function to inform the pronunciation of adjacent consonants.) It was by talking to people that I gained a general appreciation for Irish humour, wit and resilience, and a specific appreciation for the perspective, narrative and intelligence of the individual I was speaking to. And it was by talking to people that I fell in love with Ireland.
Sure, the city is full of historic charm, the grass on this side is literally greener, and there are breathtaking views of cliffs and castles everywhere, but what has touched me the most since my first day until today, is the warmth and humanity of the people of Ireland. I don’t know if it’s the fire in their hair, or because the dreary weather gives people reason to commiserate and bond, or because they grew up on milk from happy cows, but the Irish have cultivated and maintained- in the face of unusual adversity throughout history and a universal trend towards suspicion and exclusion- an atmosphere of astounding welcome and warmth. If ever a people had reason to be downtrodden, bitter, and suspicious of foreigners, it would be the Irish. But what one finds here is exactly the opposite. The forward-thinking spirit of the people can be characterized by the words of Saint Paul, “Forgetting the things which are behind and stretching forward to the things which are before.” This is their strength, and this, more than many historical artefacts, is what I feel is precious and worthy to be preserved, maintained, and proudly displayed. Finally, it is this spirit and these people that have reassured me that my soul is indeed not dead and that I do have a place at last to call home: Ireland!