Hey all! I’m Christian Pfeifer, and I spent my Spring semester in Cork, Ireland studying the Culture and Politics theme. Classes I took in Cork include Political Economy and Democratic Utopias. They were fun classes, but I feel like my biggest takeaways had to do with the cultures between countries, and also how much difference there is between American and European education.
I was glad to be away from the U.S., though I made friends with plenty of Americans while I was in Ireland. I made friends from Texas, Germany, England, China, and Eastern Europe (Though one of the biggest friends I made was my fellow UM traveler, Sami). The biggest change I noticed from America to Ireland was the attitudes. Ireland has a lot of friendly people in it. I definitely met some hostile individuals here or there, but for the most part people felt unguarded and willing to speak their mind. It reminded me how much more conservative the U.S. is as a country. Americans aren’t as trusting of one another and there is a resistance to emotional openness. You can see this in the politics, as well. Despite the rise of an historically contentious party, many people in Ireland accepted the change without a lot of outrage. I wish the U.S. could think as amiably about its politics.
One of the ways I made fast friends was through the International Student’s Society. I eventually became a lot more comfortable with organizing people I didn’t know, especially in groups like the Rover Scouts, which had weekly meetings. The passion that I encountered in other students helped push me out of the malaise I’d felt for all of junior year. There were plenty of surprising perspectives on the U.S.’s problems, which I didn’t expect to be a point of contention in Ireland. When it came to my theme, I came to wonder how many other perspectives I don’t think about when I’m in the U.S. How much insight have I lost when I don’t listen to other people? I hoped that having courses in Ireland would lead me to a new way of looking at politics.
I was blown away by my classroom experiences. The quality of lectures was a great break from what I remembered in the U.S. I ended up coming away from those classes with a newfound interest in China, Conflict resolution, and how Beowulf is such an interesting work in relation to English history. You were expected to read, but there was little to no homework. Some of the most life changing visits in Ireland come from driving through the countryside, seeing the formations, or taking a look at old estates. Ireland is full of a lushness and life, with a stillness unique to an island that always has rain. It gives a lot of time to pause and reflect on how you have been and what’s next for you. It had been the most stress-free experience I’d had since starting University.
In the end, everything I learned about myself and what I wanted to do for the world made me want to return home.What I took away was a new enthusiasm for being an academic. I had a greater desire to excel in my field, and to chase my interests instead of reacting to life. As I left Ireland, I wondered how I could get better at chasing opportunities and thinking of my goals. I already feel a need to help people, but how could I push myself to make those opportunities for myself? These questions grew bigger for me over the summer, but I’m sure they’ll stick with me as I finish my college career.