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2016 Press Releases

Dear Cork, I love you...

18 Oct 2016
Nora Shychuk has just completed the MA in Creative Writing at UCC.

When you grow up in a tiny town in northern America, where everyone knows everyone and nobody ever really leaves, the last place you expect to find yourself is Cork, Ireland. 

But as fate would have it, I ended up there in an apartment just off Oliver Plunkett Street.

            I was admitted to the Master's programme in Creative Writing at UCC which came as quite a shock because I never expected to get in. It was a dream for me. Ireland. The land of resplendent greens, stout, misty, rain-soaked mountains and poets. Surely, I would be an imposter. I was a romantic, idealistic kid from Pennsylvania who had spent the last four years of my life living in sunny, humid Florida. I didn't belong across the ocean.

            Even if I was accepted into the programme, I'd never figure out how to make it happen.

            But I was and I did. I worked out my rental agreement and part-time job from afar, online. I packed up two big suitcases for the year and decided to commit to the change.

            I couldn't run away from it. I couldn't defer my acceptance or weasel out, even though a part of me wanted to because it was such a gigantic step. There was nobody to talk to about it because nobody I knew had done it before. I felt alone—and there were many times I nearly chickened out and stuck to what was normal and what I was comfortable with.

            But, deep down, I knew why I applied in the first place. For change. For something more. Ireland was calling.

            Some friends and family warned me of Europe. Of terrorist threats. Of the weather. Of financial strain and loan debt. They told me not to do it. They told me I should be more worried and scared and practical. One family member subtly hinted that I was too unrealistic, that I needed to learn how to be “happy” where I was. Why couldn't I justsettle down? Home was near. She didn't understand my need to move four-thousand miles away.

            Still, away I went.

            I arrived in Cork on September 1st, 2015. The first day was filled with sunshine, blue skies, and green, rolling hills and it all flew by in a multicolored stream outside the car window. I was 24 and in the cab from Cork Airport to my new apartment, I realised I was very afraid. I had been out of the US once before, but not like this. Cork would be my home for the next thirteen months.

            And it was.

            I learned some things you might expect, like how to navigate bus and train routes and the change in currency. The time difference was an easy adjustment and I bought wellies to deal with the rain. I became a regular at certain pubs, memorised trad music sessions and developed quite the taste for fish and chips. My writing improved and I learned how to take creative criticism and channel it into making my work better.

            UCC  helped me to grow as a writer and a person. I actually sent out  pieces for possible publication! I received way more rejections than acceptances, but learned that's par for the course, and I kept going. You made me brave, Cork.

            I also learned that “What's the story” actually means “what's up” in American slang. My personal favorite, saying “I will, yeah,” means absolutely no chance. Guinness is not the Cork drink, it's the land of Beamish and Murphy's. I learned the secret to the best chippers in town. You can never have too much tea, the River Lee is prone to flooding, George Boole rules the university area, and, yes, fruit and brown scones are best served warm with butter, cream, and jam. But hurry! The fruit scones always run out first!

            I gained some unexpected things, too. I realised that I'm capable and much more independent than I ever imagined, travelling around Ireland mostly by myself, to the ancient east and wild west, to the rugged, historical north and the (sometimes!) sunny south. I developed a taste  for exploration and took trips outside to France, England, Scotland, Italy, the Netherlands, Sweden and Denmark. But Cork was always my favorite place to come back to.

            Most importantly, Cork opened my eyes. It helped me to see that people are largely kind, helpful, fun, and good-natured. In America, there is an inherent mistrust, an almost irrational paranoia of “the other”, but Ireland was an immediate breath of fresh air. You will never meet more welcoming, warm, trusting people than the people of Cork. That's a promise.

            Cork helped me to see that there is so much else out there apart from my own country. Literally, a whole world. America could stand to learn from Ireland, its people and their practices, from the landscape and the lore...

            And I don't care what my American friends and family might think of that statement. The US is huge and prideful and guess what? Sometimes it's unwarranted. Sometimes, we should be quiet, listen, and learn from other cultures and people to better ourselves; we need to open up to new experiences, even if they're different—especially if they're different.

            Never in my life have I felt more alive or at home than in Cork. Ireland, a little emerald island, helped me to grow into a better, happier person. It helped me to grow into myself. 

             The big adventures I had abroad will help me to find the little adventures every day. I will see and feel more beauty in everything and will always have a heart full of love and gratitude for everything Cork has taught me.

            I handed in my graduate thesis last month. I was relieved, sure, but a bigger part of me was torn open. I thought when I marched into the School of English at UCC that I'd be filled with pride when I handed in my thesis, but, instead, I was deflated and depressed. I was proud enough of my work, but I was distraught over my time in Ireland drawing to a close.

            How do you say goodbye to something you love? Maybe you don't. Maybe you can't. No matter what, you probably won't ever be able to let go completely.

            Last week, I landed in JFK and it felt more foreign and shocking to me than when I first arrived in Cork. Everything was bigger. Louder. I cried during my connecting flight and cried in the airport when I hugged my partner as he kissed my forehead and handed me flowers.

            I'll be hurting for a long time. Adjusting back to life stateside will be hard, and I don't think I'll ever get used to it fully. How could I? Everything has changed and so have I.

            All I can do is welcome the pain and remember the source. I'd rather feel and hurt over having had a wonderful year than be stunted, numbed, and too afraid to try anything new. Life is for those who think and search and chase and try and feel and worry and cry and attack the days with all their heart. I think every day you should wake up with the intention of falling in love all over again. Cork, you taught me that.

            If I could give you one piece of advice, readers, it would be to submit to your dreams. I did, and it was more than beer and music and writing and even travel; it was a year of investing in myself, of making lifelong friends, and being free. 

By Nora Shychuk

Originally published in the Evening Echo on October 14. 

University College Cork

Coláiste na hOllscoile Corcaigh

College Road, Cork T12 K8AF