Halfway through a year in Ireland – a journey from small-town Ontario to the Emerald Isle.

If you’d told me a couple years ago I’d be doing a Master’s in Ireland, I’d have been surprised. But sometimes it’s the things that aren’t according to plan, the fortuitous digressions that put the pieces together.

The way it happened is, I ended up in Dublin in 2015 for the Undergraduate Awards. From dinner in Dublin Castle to shaking hands with the president of Ireland, this trip was a series of extraordinary events. This sense continued with another key encounter, a chat with Uversity.

I was delighted to discover I could piece together courses to combine my interests in literary studies, philosophy, and creative writing. Student-centred learning is a growing trend, but this level of personalisation surprised me. The programme’s flexibility and interdisciplinary approach perfectly fit my diverse interests.

I’d graduated in 2015, but rather than narrowing my academic interests the final year of undergrad had expanded them exponentially. I didn’t know what direction to take and so decided to take a break from academics. During the next year while I gave a lot more energy to writing poetry, the Pandora’s box of intellectual questions that had opened continued to haunt me. I didn’t quite know how to go about it, but I was determined to develop both my poetic work and my philosophical inquiry.

With Uversity I discovered an innovative institutional context designed to foster the breadth of my interests and that entailed no worries about having to fight the grain of strict departmental requirements. Having encountered a programme that would let me tailor my ideal course of study, I decided to apply.

And now I’m halfway through a year in Ireland. My studies have included writing a play, reading phenomenological texts, keeping a journal, and studying Ulysses. I have a mentor with whom I talk weekly about poetry, the world of writing, the universe. Sometimes class looks like going to plays and arts festivals or having chats and workshops with amazing artists from a variety of fields.

I’ve ended up staying in Dublin for the fall and spring semesters, and have been relishing the city’s vibrant energy and the many interesting random-stranger conversations that happen, some of which have turned into friendships. I’ve also been feasting on a rich variety of theatre just not available at home. And because the creative arts community here is so tight-knit, forming connections with local professionals is easy.

The accessibility of places here has been a welcome contrast to Canada’s vast spaces. Dublin is a quick flight from other European cities, and it’s been a treat to be able to travel easily to cities such as London and Rome. But there’s no need to leave Ireland with its rich space to explore. Within a few hours by train the country’s varied and beautiful landscapes are in quick reach. From the rocky expanse of the Burren to the crashing waves of the west coast’s surfing spots, from edgy contemporary theatre to an ancient culture reaching back thousands of years with monuments older than the Egyptian pyramids, Ireland provides an extraordinary space to explore, a superb space to expand any creative practice.

Having lived in Ontario my entire life, the prospect of taking off to live on the other side of the Atlantic was exciting and a little intimidating, but the transition to life here has been as smooth as I could have hoped. I’ve felt at home here from the get-go, and I could have wished nothing better than to have ended up here.

Blog post by Shelly Harder
Uversity student 2016/17

Shelly Harder