My Experience in Ireland

Vince Bella

My STEP Signature Project was capped off with a trip to Ireland to study the writers James Joyce and William Butler Yeats in their native country. During the 2018 spring semester, I was enrolled in a class where we read Joyce’s Ulysses and Yeats’ poetry, as well discussed many aspects of modern Irish culture. At the end of the semester, we spent ten days in Ireland, visiting locations mentioned in the texts, the James Joyce Center, and the hills of Ben Bulben under which Yeats is buried.

Me at the Martello Tower, the location of the first chapter in Ulysses

While completing my STEP Signature Project, I learned much that I did not know before about Irish and European culture. Before this year, I had never left the United States. I needed to apply for a passport, learn how to convert U.S. Dollars into Euros, and pack a suitcase for ten days of travel. I was not sure what to expect once I arrived in Ireland. I knew much about Irish politics up to about the mid-twentieth century when Yeats and Joyce stopped writing, but the modern social scene was not my area of expertise. I was also not confident with my ability to travel alone; although I was in a group of eleven other students, the transportation to and from Ireland—and in many cases, within Ireland—required me to be on my own.

My STEP Signature Project was transformational in many ways. I had assumed about myself for many years that I did not like to travel long distances, mainly because I had not traveled far in my lifetime. Flying on airplanes, while not something I did often, was my least favorite method of transportation. I also had never considered traveling abroad while in college. I had incorrectly assumed that I would not find a source to fund one of these trips, and thus did not believe that I could ever participate on one. STEP allowed me the opportunity to challenge the misconceptions I had about myself and the wide variety of life experiences within my grasp.

Personally, I changed my own understanding of how much I like to travel. Although I still do not love flying in airplanes, I developed new strategies for making myself more comfortable. After all, the flight to Ireland was about 8 hours long, so I had plenty of time to make adjustments. As long as I drank enough water and did not sit with my neck in an odd angle, I was much better prepared to fly. I also discovered that an education abroad experience was within financial reach. Thanks to STEP, I was able to gain a deeper understanding of the wide range of opportunities available to Ohio State students. I changed from someone who stayed relatively secure in his comfort zone to someone willing to see the world and take full advantage of the time that I have as an undergraduate student. The interactions and relationships I had with faculty mentors were able to precipitate this transformation.

I don’t know that I would have even considered the Literary Locations: Dublin experience without being urged to apply for the program by my English professors. While in a survey British Literature class during the Autumn 2017 semester, my professor, Clare Simmons, encouraged my to apply for the Literary Locations trip to Ireland. She would end up being the faculty advisor who accompanied us on the trip. During my time in Dublin, Professor Simmons acted as a valuable resource for travel tips in Europe. Without Professor Simmons’ guidance and leadership, I would have had a harder time navigating the streets and bus routes of Ireland.

Another faculty member that assisted greatly in my preparation for the project was Professor Sebastian Knowles. Professor Knowles taught the course on Irish literature that I was enrolled in during the Spring 2018 semester. In that class, we read extensively from Joyce’s Ulysses and Yeats’ poetry. Professor Knowles is an expert on all things Joyce and Yeats–he has published multiple volumes of literary criticism about Joyce’s Ulysses. Having someone as well-versed as Professor Knowles guide me through a text as massive as Ulysses made my experience in Ireland much more meaningful. He fostered a great community in our Ireland cohort, and that we tackled the lengthy novel together was a more profound accomplishment than if I had tried to get through it on my own. Professor Knowles taught us how to be readers of Joyce, which was extremely useful when visiting the James Joyce Center in Dublin.

To help me overcome fears of flying and any uncertainties of traveling internationally, I credit the help provided by Louise Yahiaoui from the Office of International Affairs. Yahiaoui visited our cohort in the Literary Locations course several times during the Spring 2018 semester. She gave us many valuable pieces of information, like how to apply for a passport, which sites to buy a plane ticket from, and how much money to bring with us. Yahiaoui mapped out the most effective way to maximize my brief experience abroad. While the Literary Locations course equipped me with the “book smarts” to appreciate Joyce’s Dublin, I earned my Irish “street smarts” from Louise Yahiaoui.

Of course, the STEP cohort meetings themselves provided me with the most transformational connections and relationships. Led by Dr. Scott Jones, my STEP cohort met every other Wednesday and was composed entirely of people that I had lived and worked with my Freshman year, as we were all Arts Scholars. Dr. Jones’ meetings gave us a space to voice ideas and seek advice from each other. After learning about the Literary Locations course, I asked my fellow Arts Scholars if this experience seemed like a good fit for me. We worked through the all of the STEP application processes together, and if not for the guidance and direction of Dr. Jones I would have had a much harder time vocalizing why an experience such as this was important to my personal and professional development.

Over the course of my STEP Signature Project, the most prominent personal discovery was that I have a great passion for studying literature outside of a traditional classroom–particularly in the real locations in which the novels are set. Reading Ulysses in Dublin is an experience that cannot be emulated anywhere else in the world. Particularly, the visit to the Hill of Howth (where the final chapter of Ulysses is set) was the most transformative moment of the entire trip.

After a long and exhausting day traveling through Dublin on foot, I needed some inspiration. The weather was unseasonably hot for Ireland in May, and although I was happy that the infamous Irish rain decided to pause for a day, a thorough walking tour of the city called for some serious cooling off. We were to make an excursion to Howth, a hill overlooking the Irish Sea on the northeast coast of Dublin, but we ran into some transportation issues. The train that was supposed to take us directly where we needed to go was under renovation; the bus stop that we thought was right was wrong; the bus was hot and crowded. This hill had to be worth the hour-long commute—and it was.

While hiking along the coast, we paused to enjoy the view of the sea and the clear skies. We read the final passage of Ulysses, and I gained a deeper understanding of not only that scene but the entire novel. Dublin, an old city with a history of tension and occasional tragedy, has its moments of indescribable beauty—just like Joyce’s novel. This transformative experience simply could not have happened in Columbus, so far from the epicenter of the novel’s action.

Howth, the location of the final chapter in Ulysses

As a student of English Literature, I have recently been spending much time discovering my area of specialization. I know now that I best enjoy studying modernist literature, which is spearheaded by Joyce’s exemplary novel Ulysses. The more I dive into my study of Joyce and his writing, the more I appreciate my experience in Dublin. I had the chance to walk the same streets as the characters in the book—as Joyce himself did while writing. Professionally, I gained an understanding of the work I want to do as a future educator. As a result of this experience, I began conducting my own independent research on James Joyce. On November 17, I will be presenting a paper on my findings at the Midwest Modern Language Association Conference. To have conference experience as an undergraduate student is valuable, and this is another opportunity that would not have possible save for my STEP Project and all of the transformational mentors I encountered along the way. As I continue my journey as an undergraduate student, I will always value this experience in Ireland. I am extremely grateful to Ohio State and the STEP Program for making this trip to Ireland possible.