Hailey Hughes is a graduate of Marshall University in Huntington, WV. As a Fulbright Awardee, she completed an MA in Creative Writing at University of College Cork. While attending school, she engaged with disability communities within Cork and the U.S., to promote mutual understanding and self-advocacy skills. She is an essayist and disability rights activist.
"The months leading up to my departure to live in Ireland, daydreams of green hills and standing on my ancestors’ land for the first time clouded my head. I had no real concept of Ireland other than what I gleaned from film, photographs, and clichéd stereotypes. My goal was to foster a sense of community with a wide variety of people, to understand the country and its people with more nuance. I set out to use my love of literature and storytelling to bring people together, to acknowledge and celebrate, not transcend, differences.
I wish I could list all of what I learned during my year abroad that I couldn’t have if I stayed in United States, but there are several that come to mind that enriched my experience. I wouldn’t have joined a wonderful church, Cork Baptist, whose congregation embraced me from me from the beginning. During our Bible study meetings, we ate around a large kitchen table and joked with each other about cultural differences: they taught me about chicken fillet rolls, slang, and growing up in Cork. I found a spiritual home there: the congregation prayed with me, brought me medicine when I was sick, and a family brought me to their home during bank holiday Mondays. I remember hiking out to a cliff overlooking the sea and eating a meal together with this family, earlier that day we played dominos and chopped ingredients for the meal. Every Monday night, I walked to the Long Valley pub to participate in O Bheal, a night of poetry led by local Cork poets. It was there that I read my poetry in front of an audience for the first time. These nights exposed me to beautiful, winding narrative poems and quaint haikus. I had never thought my poetry was worthy of reading in public until those Mondays when I read about growing up in Appalachia, or the pink flower on my windowsill in Cork. I traveled to different parts of the country with friends or solo: learned Irish history in a myriad of museums and art galleries. My roommates carved a turnip at Halloween (which led to me learn the Irish origins of the holiday) and taught me how to make a proper Tayto sandwich, among other important skills.
I reflect on my Fulbright experience and continue returning to the words peace and community. Through Fulbright, I earned a master’s degree at UCC, attended international conferences, and learned so much about Ireland and myself, I fear that I’ve only offered a slice of my experiences. I currently serve my community through my work in a local public library. Still, every day, I wake up knowing that I experienced a life-long dream to experience Irish culture and promote friendly relationships. My gratitude to Fulbright Ireland, for affording me this opportunity, knows no limits.
More about Hailey Hughes and her Home Institution: https://blog.fulbrightonline.org/all-it-takes-is-one/