By Kristine Haroldson
I recently returned from a visit to Ireland, where my aunt moved after marrying an Irishman. I made the trip to surprise my cousin, who was celebrating her 10th birthday. When I arrived at her school in Ireland to pick her up, the look on her face was priceless and made the whole trip worth it.
Ever since my cousin, Aine, could talk, she has been saying the words, ” I am Irish!” Even though technically she can be an Irish, British or American citizen, she has always considered herself to be Irish. The Emerald way is all she knows; she was born and raised there. She enjoys her visits to America, but when it is time for her to go home, she’s ready.
However, the children at Aine’s primary school see things a little bit differently. Since Aine isn’t pure Irish like a majority of kids in her class, she is considered a foreigner. In America, this just seems silly because we all have different cultural backgrounds; but the majority of those living in her small Irish town of Derrylin were born there and will never leave. She is having a hard time with this — I think it’s the first time she has realized she isn’t just like everyone else.
The school structure in Ireland is much different than in America. They are all parochial schools, and the teachers also seem to expect much more from their students. My cousin would come home from school and some nights we would spend three or four hours doing homework — math, writing, reading, history and religion. Since Aine doesn’t have that many friends, she has focused more on her school work, making her an excellent student. The schools also focus on teamwork in sports — Aine swims once a week and plays soccer twice a week. She has become a very strong and talented swimmer, and may even start to swim competitively.
Aine’s upbringing and education in Ireland has given her not only book smarts but street smarts. The history of her hometown has helped her to understand how to treat people with kindness. Growing up in Ireland is much different, not only because of the school but because of the culture in general. In her rural town, the school is connected to the community church and therefore everyone knows each other. It has taught her respect and compassion that not very many 10-year-olds in America have.
Because of her problems being seen as a ” foreigner,” Aine feels more at home in America than in Ireland. Her favorite holiday is the Fourth of July. She realizes that when she visits us she doesn’t feel like an outcast; she has a lot more friends in America than she does in Ireland. Maybe in the future, she will want to go to university in America but her upbringing in Ireland has helped her become a strong, independent and compassionate.
My Edmonds News intern Kristine Haroldson is a recent graduate of Seattle University, where she received her bachelor’s degree in journalism. She attended Meadowdale High School and the Edmonds Home School Resource Center (now Edmonds Heights K-12).