Exploring the world, from the Snoqualmie Valley to Ireland | Guest column

My love for the Valley has not disappeared, but instead has grown significantly as I have told my own stories to those I meet.

By Benjamin Floyd, Guest column

For the past year, my life has been in Ireland, working through the first year of an English and communications degree at University College Dublin. My decision to pursue education on the other side of the world comes informed by a breadth of reasons. For the sake of this account, the most important reason is that, as an aspiring journalist, I wished to acquire a wider worldview and challenge my understandings of how things are and how things should be. And, upon reflection, I am incredibly fortunate to say that the world has delivered me just that.

I have had the pleasure of connecting with people from each corner of our shared planet, each person a new opportunity. My university is the most international university in Ireland with around 9,000 international students from 130 countries, and Dublin has grown into a truly international city since the 1980s. Be it through dance, song, or family cookbook recipes shared in a dorm kitchen, my palate for culture has expanded tenfold. I have learned how to laugh in many languages.

Of course, this is all good and well for warm stories to share with proud relatives, but to only return with a shining image of my time abroad would be committing an injustice. The world beyond the U.S. cannot be something to pack home like a magnet for the refrigerator, and it cannot be something to wear proudly like a medal. I would be a fool to think myself better than anyone else solely because I was lucky enough to go to university at all, let alone university out of state.

Instead, it is my responsibility to recognize the web of privilege and power that connects my life here in the Valley, in the United States, to the rest of the world — the same web that delivered me to where I am today. I cannot see fellow classmates simply as people with interesting tastes and songs, but instead as people whose homes have been (and are being) shelled with bombs paid for with my parents’ taxes. It is hard to look at things the same, and it ultimately should be.

This newfound awareness hasn’t pitted me against my own home — no, far from it. My love for the Valley has not disappeared, but instead has grown significantly as I have told my own stories to those I meet. I’ve become something of a coffee table book about Washington. I diligently answer questions about the unrelenting rain, “Twilight,” overpriced coffee, and “Grey’s Anatomy” — mostly about “Grey’s Anatomy.” And, in a way, I have finally been able to admit I am from a small town. My mates get a good laugh when I tell them Carnation has one stoplight. When I was 4,500 miles away, I never felt more connected to here.

Instead, this newfound awareness has allowed me to see my life in Ireland not as something tacked on to what I already know and love, but as an alternative and equal love that has developed in less than a year. In Dublin, the access to public transit, fresh produce, and live music everyday has greatly altered how I approach my own health. The trust in the political system and national direction is unlike anything I have seen in my lifetime here. Success is measured in dedication to community and happiness, not dedication to wealth or social standing.

I have come to realize that there are things so essential to life there that simply do not exist in the same form here. Today, and for the next few years of my university education, I will continue to exist somewhere between here and there. Once university ends, I will have to decide where I wish to live and work, be it Ireland, Washington, or some other place I have yet to love deeply. Until then, I will continue to enjoy what both of these incredible places have to offer and seek to understand the ways in which the world connects.