Today’s guest blogger is Mysterious Ways assistant editor Daniel Kessel.
What’s the most unusual place you’ve celebrated Saint Patrick’s Day? The year after I graduated from high school, I took a “gap year” and taught English in Argentina.
I’d studied Spanish since middle school and always wanted to do a cultural exchange program. So when I found a trustworthy program, I was thrilled.
My family was happy that I would have the opportunity to see a different part of the world, but they had their reservations.
“It’s not very practical,” my parents said. “Shouldn’t you go straight to college?”
“We’ll miss you for your birthday,” said my grandfather. “And Easter!”
“And Saint Patrick’s Day!” my grandmother chimed in.
My grandmother has always been proud of her Irish heritage. Her own grandmother, Alice Dunn of County Clare, came through Ellis Island in the early 1900s. Every Saint Patrick’s Day, my grandmother invited the grandkids over for a traditional corned beef and cabbage dinner. She also gave us little green envelopes with cartoon leprechaun cards inside (and, for good luck, a little bit of pocket money). It was a holiday we all cherished.
I flew out in early March. “It’s only for a few months,” I reassured my parents. “We can Skype every day.” And I told my grandmother not to worry–I’d find a way to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day there.
Truth be told, I had no idea how I’d celebrate an Irish holiday in the middle of Argentina! I had other things on my mind the day I arrived in Buenos Aires. During the cab ride to the exchange program’s office, I started wondering… what would my students be like? Would I have a good host family?
The program director greeted me at the office. “Hello, Daniel!” he said. “Are you ready for orientation week? Your colleagues are waiting for you in the other room.”
Orientation week? I guess I’d skipped that part of the brochure. I followed Fernando into another room and found myself face to face with an animated group. My fellow English teachers. “Hi,” I said. “I’m Dan.”
“Hey there,” said one of the guys, shaking my hand. “My name is Mark.” His accent–the sharp, elongated “a”–was easy to place. Irish.
A girl with blond hair stood up and smiled. “I’m Kate,” she said–the stress on that final “t” a clear sign of her Irish nationality.
Siobhan. Paul. Fionnuala. As my fellow teachers introduced themselves one by one, it dawned on me that I was the only American teaching this semester. Everyone else in the program was Irish. That’s what I call luck!
Or was it something more? I hadn’t planned for it, but orientation week became a highlight of my trip. We learned the essentials about Argentina, and I got to know some warm and funny Irish people my own age, too. I even found out that one of them, Linda, was from County Clare–just like my ancestor, Alice.
Homesickness? A wee bit, but my grandmother could rest assured knowing that I’d fallen into good hands, especially on the final night of orientation week: March 17th, Saint Patrick’s Day.
Do you have a Saint Patrick’s Day memory where you felt God’s presence in your life? Send us your story!