An experience cut short
I remember it as if it was yesterday. I packed my bags, woke my parents and set off for the airport. I’d barely slept a wink and what lay ahead of me was a tiring 8 hour journey to the ‘Big Apple’. I had been waiting for this moment for weeks, if not months, and it was finally here. I couldn’t wait to leave my boring repetitive Irish life, and go off to america to ‘live the dream’. I had finished my final year exams and had nothing to hold me back. The summer of a lifetime was waiting for me and I couldn’t wait for it to start. My parents gave me the typical speech heard by every J1 student setting off on their travels; ‘Be safe’, ‘don’t do anything I wouldn’t be happy about’, and many more. I told them I’d be as good as gold and set off on my travels.
I landed in New York and was immediately captured by its brilliance. Tall buildings, 24hour lights and loud noises, It was a far cry from the quiet suburban streets of South County Dublin. I managed to find a job opening doors for the rich and famous, on 5th avenue. I remember at one point in June thinking to myself and saying, ‘this is the life’. I had a relatively stress free job, good working hours, a nice house and even nicer company (I even managed to find myself a lovely young girl who went on to be the love of my life) It was the time of my life and I encountered very little problems along the way.
I came home in late August dreaming of going back and promising myself to live life to the fullest. It’s a pledge I have largely stuck by. I can firmly say that my J1 experience was a truly defining period in my short life. Most people will think I’m too young to say stuff like this, but I know in 50 years I will still look back on the time I spent partying 50 floors up in the New York City skyline, or the time I went salsa dancing in Central Park with Sarah late one Friday night.
It was a period in my life that defined me as a person and gave me a true experience of what life is like being out by myself, in the big bad world. It’s a right of passage for thousands of Irish students and an experience of a lifetime that sticks with people for the rest of their lives.
On the 16th of June 2015 news reports began to break all over Ireland of a tragedy that had struck J1 students enjoying their summer over on the West Coast of America. As the day concluded, the extent of the tragedy had struck every heart in Ireland. It’s a tough thing to hear of people dying while enjoying themselves on holidays, but it’s an even worse thing when it strikes home as hard as this tragedy has. Ireland is a small island, and it’s brought into reality just how small it is when you hear of how many people this tragedy has affected. I know of several people who knew the casualties personally, and my heart goes out to them. The 6 casualties were too young to go this way, and it almost seems unfair. ‘Why them?’ Is a question I’ve seen floating around the social media sites. It’s a question I have asked myself. Why did 6 gifted and beautiful individuals experiencing the time of their life have to have it cut so short? Only time will tell us what actually happened and who, if any, is at fault.
However, until the answers are revealed, it’s a brilliant thing to see the outpouring of heartfelt messages from all over the world and within our beautiful little country. Everyone feels some sort of loss from this incident. Some feel it bigger than others but it’s the fact that everyone is banding together that fills me with joy. It’s true that when tragedy strikes, people grow closer together. It’s fantastic to see an entire country banding together in order to help everyone involved. Whether it be a poetic post on Facebook or a physical action, it all has a similar effect to the families involved. It shows the families that everyone is behind them ready to prop them up if they fall. We, as a country, will all be there beside them helping them every step of the way as they continue to grieve for their loved ones. I urge every person in Ireland to continue to stick together and show that while we’re a little nation, we’re also a nation with a huge heart.
It’s a tragedy that these young people had the summer of their lives cut short and it will hurt many people for many years to come, but let’s not let it overcome them. It sucks that a brief second has changed an entire country but I believe it has changed us somewhat for the better. It’s shown the willingness of the Irish people to grieve together and to support one another like a large family. I know what I say will never comfort the families of those directly involved but I want them to know that an entire country is there for them, supporting them whenever they need it.
Much has been said about ‘Irish behaviour’ and it seems to have been thrusted into the spotlight since the idiotic New York Times article. The Irish behaviour is no different from any other group of young individuals from any other specific countries dotted around this planet of ours. Yes youths like to drink and yes they like to party, but this all stems from their desire to socialise, to make friends and to experience new things. The fatalities and people injured were all college students who were potentially going to go on and do great things in their lives. Some were aspiring doctors, others were aiming to be world leaders but they all shared one thing in common. They were not ‘yobs’ or ‘drunks’, they were simply normal young adults doing what every other adult has done before them. The post was a misjudgement by the New York Times, and one that I hope they will retract. However, until then we should embrace the fact that faced with this tragedy Ireland has come together to offer solidarity and support. Just as we did with the gay marriage referendum, we have come together to show our overwhelming support for all those affected.
It’s brought into stark reality how short life can be. One minute you’re having the time of your life and the next you’ve been plunged into utter chaos. It’s important that we, the country of Ireland, remain strong to support these families but also to show our strength to the rest of the world. Yes the tragedy has rocked us, and yes people are upset, but we’ve also shown strength and character to be able to come together In our droves to show an act of unity that most countries will never be able to achieve. We are a small, minuscule country in a tiny corner of the Atlantic but my god we make bigger waves than most. I hope we, as individuals, learn from this experience that its ok to grieve, because even when you feel alone you know there will be an entire country willing to show their support to pick you back up.
Ireland has proven itself over the past few days and will continue to prove itself over the next coming weeks. What have we proved people might ask? We have proved that nobody is alone in this country of ours. We may be small, but wherever you turn you can be sure to experience a friendly face and a kind gesture. No longer will the drunk stereotype be mentioned! Instead it will be replaced by a stereotype of strength, support and kindness. This tragedy as shocked us too the core but it has also awoken a strength that nobody knew we had. Ireland is a great country, filled with genuinely supportive people and I hope in the coming weeks this support continues for those families involved. I know my words can’t change what happened, or bring back their loved ones, but I want everybody involved to know that wherever they turn the Irish people will be there to offer them anything they need. It’s at times like this that the Irish show themselves as truly magnificent people.