By Kerri Blanchard from the US
Explaining to an Irish person what brings me to Cork always gets me an interesting reaction. If I am met with a blank stare while telling a new acquaintance that I am at UCC doing a Masters in Irish Studies, I will joke that I am studying him or her – yes, I’ll say, I’m taking meticulous observations all the time, so one had better be careful around me. Of course, in an attempt not to be incredibly creepy, I’ll laugh and explain a bit about my modules, but really, the joke is not far from the truth. I am studying everything and everyone around me, even if unconsciously.
It’s the little things that make it absolutely essential to live in Ireland to pursue this kind of degree. When I write my final dissertation, my topic will be narrow, but how could I write about one aspect of a culture in isolation from the rest of it? Living in Cork means that in some ways, I am always on the clock.
Culture and identity are concepts far too subtle to be contained within history books or journal articles. My programme, “MA in Irish studies: Identities and Representations” is designed with that fact in mind, and part of the course involves excursions and fieldwork. We are encouraged to attend plays, listen to trad music, and go on trips around the country, etc.
Surprisingly, though, I have found that a huge amount of what I have learned has come from unplanned, day-to-day interactions:
When I listen to my friend tell me about the poverty and prejudices of the children she teaches on the north side of the city.
When my roommate makes a sectarian joke that could be explained by his family’s political history.
When I stumble upon something like competitive sheep herding on TV.
Okay, so maybe none of that will feature directly in my dissertation, but every little bit of culture I absorb is like a puzzle piece slotted into place. Going out to the shop is a field trip; having a conversation is an interview; watching “Nationwide” is research. The bits and bobs of everyday life give colour to what I have learned in lectures. In an environment where everything is relevant to my studies, I am receiving the definition of a well-rounded education.