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In Bruges

Time December 8th, 2010 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

Bruges first became a popular tourist destination in the late 1800s after a novelist penned a few words about the city, condemning it as a poor, dirty, and desperate place.  Word of its reputation soon spread, and people from all over Europe and the United States flocked to the small Flemish city in northern Belgium.  A little over a hundred years later, the Irish playwright-turned-director Martin McDonagh makes the city the hideaway spot for his two Irish hit men in the award-winning film In Bruges, whose main character, played by loveable if not lewd Colin Farrell, endlessly rips on the sleepy city.  Again, after Bruges is insulted, people from all over the world flock to it, and in 2002 it was named the European Capital of Culture.

I couldn’t have cared less about it being the “Cultural Capital of Europe” or anything else; I went to Bruges because of the same reason as everyone else: I really loved In Bruges and wanted to go see all the same things that I saw in the film.  I do want to try and justify my obviously tourist-like decision by saying that I’m a big fan of McDonagh’s work in general and not just his movie.  In other words, the terrible “I liked it before it was popular” argument. Read More »


Waiting For My New Life To Begin

Time September 15th, 2010 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

In a few short hours I’ll make the long drive to the airport with my parents, say those bittersweet clichéd goodbyes, and then board my first flight of the day that will eventually get me to Dublin, Ireland.  My clothes, my face, and my hands are covered in sweat and dust, fragments from my last night here in Minnesota working at a kiln, firing pottery with family friends.  My bags are all packed, not with my whole life but with just enough necessities for a year that I can carry easily with me across the pond.  I’ve done my goodbye’s to the few friends remaining here at home, the rest having already headed off to their own respective colleges and universities around the country and world as I normally would have done.

I’m going to Dublin for the year to study at Trinity College, under which halls the likes of Oscar Wilde and Samuel Beckett once walked, and through the same streets that James Joyce and many of his character’s treaded.  I’ll be honest and upfront and say that I know relatively little of Irish culture and history outside of what I gleaned from reading Martin McDonagh plays and watching reruns of Father Ted on BBC.  What attracted me wasn’t a familial connection, I don’t have a drop of Irish blood in me, nor was it some desire to be in a particular place, though the reality of tracing the footsteps of Leopold Bloom through Dublin does grab my nerdy bookworm-self as rather exciting.  No, what the draw was for me were a few different factors.  Partly it was for academic reasons, Trinity being a fantastic institution, so I hear.  Looking through their previous year’s course catalogs made me feel giddy with delight at the possibility of taking classes ranging from Shakespeare, Ulysses, to a class that focuses on the modern American novelist and essayist the late David Foster Wallace, all at the same time.

The other big pieces that helped me choose Ireland and Dublin were a mix of personal wonders and desires.  Beyond the tried concept of trying to find myself in a foreign land, à la Eat, Pray¸ Love, I want to look for and find the natural beauty in the rolling green hills of Ireland and understand how that contrasts with the seemingly unending struggles that the country faces, whether in the form of famine, war, economic downfall, or the emotional struggles people of a rainy nation must face.  The country has a rich history of prose, poetry, lyrics, music, and theater that comes from those that face such plights and then use them in a creative outlet.  I find great admiration and awe in those that understand their troubles and can use that suffering to create something beautiful, and if I can learn that skill to unlock my own soul then I will be a better man for it.

I’m saying goodbye to my room like I do every year.  My books and my record collections, to my cats.  My clothes are sealed in vacuum bags looking like beef-jerky now.  Everything’s set and ready to go.  Nothing else to worry or be anxious about, and everything that I could worry about is either in the hands of the airline companies, Butler’s International Office, or the gods.  So I release myself from conscious worry and let my subconscious find ways to make its anxieties known, like nibbling away at my fingernails.

I’m lost somewhere between being excited and being nervous.  I’m used to being far away from home and dealing with culture-shock; I think college should help you prepare and deal with that pretty well so I’ve gotten past that fear.  At the same time I’m also not excited because I’m leaving a home, my home university, that took a year and a half of struggling to make my niche, and in doing so finding a family in my friends at my college here in the US, and while I had an amazing time this past semester and I look forward to two more when I return in a year, I fear the old adage, “You can’t go home again.”  It’s certainly proved true for my home in Minnesota, where most of my connections to the place have burned away and I know I probably won’t return again for quite some time.  I’m excited for all the opportunities that I have ahead of me and the memories waiting to be made, but a doubt has surfaced in my mind about what I might be missing here.

I’ve been trying to deprive myself of sleep so I can slumber for most of the way to Dublin, an attempt to realign my body clock to its new time zone.  My record player is coming to its end which is my signal to finish writing this and then catch a few hours of sleep before I begin this journey.  The deep smell of smoke from the kiln is lingers on my body still and the memory of this night holds fresh in my mind.  Closing my eyes I think of the stars shinning bright as if to wish me a safe voyage across the ocean, the half-moon lighting my way home, and the heat of the kiln slowly fading from my body as I venture away from the bosom of the Mississippi River to the hands of the Dublin on the horizon.