Have you ever noticed that when a group of people try to enter or exit out of double doors, there is usually a bottle neck effect? This occurs whenever classes let out at NUI. Students pour out of one of the five or so auditoriums in the Arts Concourse building and immediately make their way for the exit, like passengers jumping from a sinking ship. However, every one seems to have a mild case of the Lemming-effect, prone to following the person in front of them. Maybe this was bred into us as a survival technique from days long gone; following the more skilled guide through the dangerous night around you. Still, now that we have killed off most of the animals that could hunt us to extinction, it doesn't seem to be that effective of a habit. Even with two doors available, each student will use the door that's been pushed open by the person in front of them. Sometimes the single file line with stretch back ten, twenty meters in the corridor, a winding human snake of complacency.
So what is it that makes people so unwilling to forge their own way? Does it just not occur to them to try an alternative route, or is there something deeper that makes them hesitate?
Classes at NUI do not function the same way they do at Cornell. Instead of having class every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday in the same lecture hall at the same time, the schedule spins and winds like an acrobat on Ecstasy. Sometimes my Comparative Public Policy class will meet in Kirwan Theater, sometimes in Oh'Eocha. At times it's at 3 in the afternoon and then the next day it will switch to 4. In keeping with this nontraditional system, each class runs for a different period of time, several starting as late as three weeks after the semester has begun. Most classes run for a mere two months total, and instead of continuous assessment, each class has either a final exam or a 3,000 word paper.
Lucky me, this means that I have six 3,000 word papers to finish by the end of the month. After the end of May, I'm one final exam away from being done for the semester. However, this knowledge hasn't been helping me to start my papers. What is it that helps us paralyzed, that makes the beginning so much more difficult to face up to? There's a kind of solace in inaction, a refuge in the knowledge that even if you're not accomplishing anything, at least you're also not messing anything up. This kind of thinking works pretty well until it comes up against the idea of deadlines. Still, you've already gotten yourself into a bad habit, and so, instead of a weekend spent putting your nose to the grindstone and getting assignments out of the way, you find yourself justifying just one more hour watching Scrubs (because really, that JD holds all the life wisdom you ever need.)
Every day I walk the forty minute trek back from school. It's long, and tedious, and I now know exactly which landmarks are halfway (the hospital) , two thirds (Tesco), ten minutes to go (McDonalds). Five minutes away from my house there is a building slowly going up. In the two months that I've been here, I've watched the construction transition from a muddy pit in the ground, to a twenty foot high stone wall (stemming from a muddy pit in the ground). They must work on it for hours each day, but since I spend a mere couple seconds passing it, the site seems to spring up from the ground. It's always fascinating to me how little pieces can add up after a while. My life in Ireland often seems to be like that, a favorite coffee shop, a right turn on the way to school, knowing about the computer lab on the bottom floor the Arts Concourse...and suddenly you have a routine, and you're already halfway there.
Have you ever heard the story about the man who rebuilds his ship? He starts after a bad storm destroys half his hull one day. Years go by and he replaces board after board, strengthening a part there, a sail there. Finally there comes the day when the whole shop is composed of new pieces. The question is, when, if ever, did that ship stop being the vessel he initially had?
Sometimes, I feel that Ireland is merely stripping me down the most elemental pieces. Some things remain the same; my procrastination on papers for example. Other times, I feel like the abroad experience is changing me, seeping into my bloodstream to subtly alter each of the cells it comes in contact with, and it scares me, to look in the mirror in the morning and not know if the same person will be staring at me that night.
Yesterday, when I was leaving the Arts Concourse building, I got stuck in the same old herd of students trying to leave. I was shuffling along, content with my place in the crowd...until suddenly I wasn't. I walked forward, pushing my way through the throng, and exited through the other door. It's not much, but it's a start.