September 16, 2013 at 9:05 am

Letters from Ireland: Transitions

By Stephen J. Scanlan, Fulbright  Scholar
National University of Ireland Galway

Greetings from Galway, Ireland.

It has been far too long since I have traveled abroad.

Steve Scanlan River Corrib with Galway Cathedral

Steve Scanlan River Corrib with Galway Cathedral. Photo by Nicole Yandell

I have too often lived vicariously through the stories students and colleagues have shared with me.  I am thus drawn back to the simplicity and novelty of it all for starters.  Thus:

Vincent Vega: . . . you know what the funniest thing about Europe is?

Jules Winnfield: What?

Vincent: It’s the little differences. I mean, they got the same (stuff) over there that we got here, but it’s just . . . it’s just, there it’s a little different.

Although I have no intention of going to McDonald’s and finding out what they call a Quarter Pounder here, as I dive into my experience as a Fulbright Scholar at the National University of Ireland Galway (NUIG) I cannot help recall the above conversation from the film Pulp Fiction—a mainstay of my graduate school years. In Ireland so far the little differences—some familiar, most new—are providing a quaint introduction to my transition to what I look forward to as being a wonderful few months.

Galway market. Photo by Steve Scanlan

Galway market. Photo by Steve Scanlan

For example, French fries are chips, chips are crisps, and an Imperial (British) pint is 20 fluid ounces versus 16 in the U.S. When I go running I wear my trainers (sneakers) and if I need pain medication from doing so I go to the chemist (pharmacy). Pennies are coppers while the police are the gardai. Thank you is cheers, and cheers is Slainté (slawn-cha).

Hollister is Hollister, however, and the college students here seem to love it just as much.

I could go on and on . . .

Letters from IrelandBut to focus on the “same stuff” that is a little different would be to miss a big point of my experiences ahead, and I truly embrace the opportunity to explore the differences that the unique culture, history, and politics that Galway and Ireland as a whole have to offer.

My getting to know the subtleties and differences has come over the last couple of weeks as I have gotten settled in to my temporary home away from home. For starters, finding an apartment available for a short-term lease has been a challenge (HGTV’s House Hunters International makes it look so easy!), but a fun and meaningful one nonetheless as it dominated my initial conversations with the locals. From their insights came my introduction to a number of issues including the impacts of the financial collapse and slow recovery in Ireland, perspectives on higher education, Ireland’s past and present, and its language and wonderful people.

Galway street musicians. Photo by Steve Scanlan

Galway street musicians. Photo by Steve Scanlan

After hopping between a couple of different places, I am enjoying settling into my flat and all of its urban Irish charm.

And of course there are the other things to figure out that come with life in a new place: banking, currency, groceries, phone service, utilities, transportation, and simply finding one’s way about. I have been particularly intrigued in exploring the Irish language, which is used far more in the western part of the country than elsewhere. And of course, a new university adds an additional layer of discovery as well.  Students back home and in Galway as well (a college town itself) are all too familiar with these things. As a Fulbright Scholar and foreigner on a work permit, I have also registered with the gardai and immigration services and am now officially “documented.”

It is taking all of this in stride—especially when the experience is an international one—that helps one learn, adapt. I have often found that the best travel experience has been one where I have found myself lost or uncertain, taking me to a place or creating a memory that I otherwise never would have had. I intend to “get lost” on many occasions, or at least not know where I am heading every now and then.

Galway Bay from promenade. Photo by Steve Scanlan

Galway Bay from promenade. Photo by Steve Scanlan

I will be in the School of Political Science and Sociology at NUIG where I will teach a “third year option” course on international development and global inequality. I will also be conducting research while here, focusing primarily on gender and development considerations pertaining to global sustainability and the ecological footprints of the world’s nations. I intend to explore broader connections from this, including other development, social change, inequality, and environmental sociological concerns that have been part of my ongoing research program. I look forward to my exchanges with colleagues not only within my department but across campus given the interdisciplinary nature of my work.

A large part of my Fulbright experience, however, will also be that which extends beyond the academy—those explorations that make for a meaningful learning opportunity as I become immersed in the local culture and my surroundings. Be it a visit to the countryside or partaking in one of Ireland’s many festivals, reading the daily news or sharing a conversation, enjoying the shops and farmer’s market, or walking about with no real destination in mind and reflecting on the observations from daily life, these will be among the most meaningful moments that my Fulbright Award will provide.

I expect it will be a brilliant (great) time!

Dr. Stephen J. Scanlan is Associate Professor of Sociology at Ohio University’s College of Arts & Sciences.

This column is not an official Fulbright Program communication. The views expressed on this site are entirely those of its author, Stephen J. Scanlan, and do not represent the views of the Fulbright Program, the U.S. Department of State or any of its partner organizations.

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