Blog Post

Of Poetical reflections and reflective poetry.

It’s the weekend, I am staring mindlessly at a blank word document -which, in actual fact should be filled with typed letters seeing as it is an assignment due for quite the looming date- whilst I wearily down a mug of black coffee.

Yes, I am living the college life. Just not the standard one. Rather intriguing, I’m living the American Dream: College life edition, for I am a traveller from an antique land. (Ozymandias I am not, sadly. But I can invite you to look upon my works. Whether you despair or not, well, that is a different story.)

I come from a small town outside of Belfast, Northern Ireland. I flew over 3600 miles in seventeen hours via two flights and multiple delays to reach my host city of Cedar Rapids, Iowa. Apart from internships in London, the various family holidays in which you end up coming home in a more exhausted state than you left in, a volunteering stint in Malawi and a summer school in Croatia, I have spent the vast majority of my life in that weird and wonderful Emerald Isle.

I had never set foot in the United States until the middle of August. Should you ever ask me how I felt that moment when I stepped out of a plane to be hit by the sun in Atlanta, I would confess to not remembering much. ‘Jet lag’ is not an accurate description for the confusing state the weary traveller finds oneself in after a long-haul flight. ‘Jet Coma’ is a far better term. But I digress.

I had always dreamt of going to America. The ‘Land of the Free’, a place of freedom, of unlimited opportunities and exciting experiences. Back home, the very word ‘America’ is rarely said without a gasp of wonder and anticipation. In a time when we suffer from unemployment, a lack of economic growth and restless young people eager to grow into their place in the world, America seemingly offers us a chance to realise our aspirations. Indeed, whenever has she not offered us a chance to start afresh? I was – I am – no different than most young people from back home. Having completed two years of a Law degree in a country with a competitive graduate market saturated with Law graduates and declining training spots in many law firms, I knew that if ever the chance arose for me to acquire new skills and knowledge, but also challenge myself by leaving for unchartered territory, I would do so. And in December 2013, I did just that.

It was during that month I was called to interview for an opportunity to be awarded a ‘Study USA scholarship’ from the British Council. If successful, I would be placed at an American college for a year to study Business and Finance whilst acting in an ambassadorial capacity for Northern Ireland in a country which has a deep relationship with my own. After completing the application form in November, I was naturally thrilled at the opportunity to be interviewed. In typical a Northern Irish manner, I engaged with my interviewers for some forty-five minutes; to this day I am convinced they gave me the scholarship because they were worried I would proceed to filibuster them had they not. Anyway, I can recall excitedly screaming down the stairs to my parents when I received the email offering me a scholarship – I had thought my heart would explode from my chest in true Alien fashion from nerves prior to opening the email! America, I would whisper to myself from then on. America, America. My dream was finally coming true.

The months passed and although I had more interviews to complete, university classes to attend and general shenanigans to participate with my friends in, I suppose that whilst the thought of America never left my mind, I had not realised quite exactly the enormity of what I was undertaking. I would be leaving behind family and friends I was used to seeing every day, a way of life that I was so used to that it was second nature, a whole culture and society which I had been born into and brought up in – all these and more besides, and for a year at that.

Nothing is quite as surreal as the thought which enters your mind upon waking up in your own bed for the last time for ‘X’ amount of months.

Or driving down to Dublin with your parents and realising that you will not be in the car when they make the return journey home.

Or when you write the flight number and address on multiple luggage tags the night before, mouthing the words ‘Coe College’ or ‘Iowa, USA’ under your breath in disbelief.

Or when a border guard stamps firmly into your passport your date of entry into the United States and you scarcely listen to any questions he asks you. (I thankfully did pull myself together at some stage during that pre-clearance process in Dublin, otherwise I would not be here at my dorm room desk to tell the tale.)

And let me tell you something – for the girl who woke up every morning with Cavehill by her bedroom window and countless green fields within close proximity to her house and who believed Belfast or Derry to be reasonably big cities – America is staggeringly huge and an utter contrast. It is not that I feel so lost and very far from home. It is that I am conscious I am not at home.

America, Iowa, Cedar Rapids, Coe College: all have welcomed me warmly with open arms. Friendly smiles and words were – and still are -everywhere and I easily settled in. I have made friends and have wonderful roommates; although I worry sometimes about our antics heralding the Apocalypse. Everything is different, from food to classes, from exam format to language (oh believe you me, the language barrier is alive and kicking) but change is good and I like it.

I am a self-confessed adventurer; I have this unexplainable urge to travel and see the wide world for myself. I have left my home for the year for the adventure of a lifetime; an opportunity for which I shall always be truly and sincerely grateful.

But the curious trait that we Irish have in common is this: we never stop hearing the song of home that calls for us to return. Which is why I often remember Katharine Hinkson’s haunting and lyrically poem and smile.

I smile because it is heart-warmingly precise. I smile because when I read it, I can close my eyes and see home. I smile because whenever the leaves soon change colour to all wondrous shades of gold and rust here, I know that the streets back home are also paved with the colours I tread upon.

I am an adopted daughter of America and it is here that I happily live for the time being. But I never doubt that I am Ireland’s child and a part of me shall always stay there.

The Wind that Shakes the Barley
Katharine Tynan Hinkson

There’s music in my heart all day,
I hear it late and early,
It comes from fields are far away,
The wind that shakes the barley.

Above the uplands drenched with dew
The sky hangs soft and pearly,
An emerald world is listening to
The wind that shakes the barley.

Above the bluest mountain crest
The lark is singing rarely,
It rocks the singer into rest,
The wind that shakes the barley.

Oh, still through summers and through springs
It calls me late and early.
Come home, come home, come home, it sings,
The wind that shakes the barley.

By Leah Rea

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