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Recently I’ve discovered that in Ireland, one of our beloved American comfort foods is simply non-existent. At my school, we do an exchange program ever four years with a secondary school in Bunclody, Ireland. I discovered the absence of mac’n’cheese and many other differences between American and Irish culture that made me realize how different we all see the world.

The Irish students were as polite, approachable, and outgoing as any American I have ever met. You would just want to be friends with them no matter how different they are. To us, they look the same, but culturally are very different. When eating lunch during a school event, one of them turns to me to say, “Can you believe we’ve never had macaroni and cheese?” To me this was mind-blowing, who has never had mac’n’cheese, I thought. Not having mac’n’cheese is like a sin to me, unthinkable, unheard of, and uncommon! As a kid, I had Kraft Mac’n’Cheese almost every day for lunch, let alone my mother’s famous homemade baked mac’n’cheese. My Irish friends were so amazed by all the different foods, let alone the mac’n’cheese. They would be eating something and say in their Irish accent, “I don’t know what half this mush is, but it's good.” The funniest thing though would be when one girl was eating a cupcake and goes, “What is on this, it’s too sweet. Look it turned my finger pink!” She was referring to the cupcake frosting. In her opinion it too sweet, and being Valentine’s Day themed, had turned the finger with which she was carefully prodding the cupcake a orangey-pink color. He remark was simply hysterical because as she spoke I inhaled one of the cupcakes myself.

The accents of the Irish people had been so amusing. When saying the word sugar, they would pronounce shoogar. I couldn’t help but laugh. One of my newly made friends Tara had bought gummy whips when she had visited a candy store in Boston. Gummy whips are long strings of chewy sugar coated in pure cane sugar. She kept asking everyone, “do you want some shoogar?” because she had no idea what the candy was, just that it tasted good and she wanted to share. Sean, another one of my Irish acquaintances, was asked to spell out the word zebra. I tried to hide my laughter as he spells, “zed-e-b-r-a.” He didn’t even realize when he said zed, that we pronounce the letter as zee. Now, looking back on that experience, I realize that to them I have the accent. When they say, “I went to bed at half nine,” and I counter with, “no, it’s 9:30,” I’m actually the foreign, strange, and different one.

Besides amazement with American food, the Irish were overall just astonished by America. Frequently, they chanted “USA, USA,” as a group with us countering with a cry of their school name. When the school hosted a mass for the Irish in the gym, they thought Fr. Charlie, the school Chaplin, was so “cool.” He had said the word awesome during the mass and praised the Irish enthusiastically. “Yeah,” exclaimed one of the Irish, “he is so much cooler than the priest at our school.” Also in one of the pieces at the concert we played with the Irish, one of the Irish students, Mamobo, sang Amazing Grace. She was terrific; I’ve never even heard a student from my own school, let alone my own country, sing the song that superbly. Later in the week, during the Irish farewell dance, the Irish discovered through demonstrations by Mounties that helium makes your voice switch from a low monotone voice to a high squeaky one. Mamobo, the student who had previously sung Amazing Grace, tried some of the helium and sang the song again. Everyone around who heard burst in laughter, some laughing so hard they started to tear up. In the ten minutes following Mamobo’s outburst, all of the red and blue balloons in the room were gone.

In my opinion, the Irish students probably enjoyed the Providence Bruins game the best. Apparently, hockey in Ireland has no fighting and they were looking forward to witnessing their first American hockey fight. Despite stares from the other fans in the Dunkin Donuts Center in Providence, the Irish stood, jumping and screaming, “Fight, fight, fight, fight!” Naturally, we Mounties followed their example, screaming back. Together both schools attempted to start the wave and soon the Irish started to shout a traditional Irish chant. One of the tallest Irish boys would yell “Ogi, Ogi, Ogi,” followed by the rest of the Irish students belting out, “Ei Ei Ei.” They didn’t even care that we were only at the Providence Bruins game, in crammed uncomfortable plastic seats and seated in the upper corner. Typical American hockey fans would rarely make such a big deal out of a Providence Bruins game. The Boston Bruins are the team to see in New England, but this didn’t even faze the Irish’s excitement.

The most amazing fact about the entire experience though was the total acceptance of all the Irish people into our lives that week. I personally made an effort to talk to them, and found that they were accepting also. All of us just wanted to be friends with them. In a week’s time, I made very close friends and learned so much about some people. Mr. Blanchette, the Mount band instructor, told us a story about one of the drummers who in Ireland was a “nobody.” This boy came to the U.S. this year with the Irish band and said he had never been liked by so many people in his life. Experiences like this really go to show that we can be accepting if we want to.

Through my recent pastimes with my new Irish friends, I have grown to realize how different we all can be. Despite our cultural differences I see there are many more similarities between the students at Mount and the Irish than I had ever thought possible. The Irish have taught us at Mount that differences don’t define you and you can be yourself and still find a place among others.





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