Paul Asta is a graduate of Indiana University Bloomington where he received his MFA in Creative Writing: Poetry. In 2016, he came to Ireland on a Fulbright Award and completed a masters degree in Creative Writing at University College Cork.
“Now I could tell my story. / It was different / from the story told about me.” - Eavan Boland - Mother Ireland
"When I received the email that I’d been selected for a Fulbright Student Award to Study Creative Writing at University College Cork, Ireland, I had a lot of mixed emotions. I felt excited that I’d been given this opportunity to continue working on my craft; being selected gave me a sense of validation. But I also felt great anxiety. Anxiety to commit so much time to a place I’d never been to before, a place far away from my friends and family. Anxiety about being a minority living in a country where I had no ties. Anxiety about all the unknowns I was sure I’d come across.
But during the Fulbright orientation, we were all given a small piece of advice: say yes. It was a small moment, but something I took to heart. It gave me confidence and calmed my anxiety. I realized I needed to make the most of my experience, and what I ended up with was an experience that changed my life; an experience that means everything to me.
As I began to settle in Cork, I took comfort in knowing that what was being asked of me in terms of my program was familiar. I’d been in academia for the past three years finishing my Masters of Fine Arts at Indiana University Bloomington. I knew this opportunity would give me time to work on my poetry and hopefully finish working on a manuscript to send out for publication. These are the things I knew how to do.
But over the course of the year, I found that I learned so much more outside of the classroom. I said yes to *almost* every opportunity that was presented to me, even when I was tired. Because I said yes, I got to do poetry readings at the Ó Bhéal Reading Series in Cork, and the West Cork Literary Festival in Bantry. I climbed mountains. Stared off cliffs. Walked miles in the rain just to go to the chipper. I attended numerous festivals around the city. Festivals on: Jazz, Trad Music, Whiskey, Film, etc. It was inspiring to say the least.
More than this I learned how to travel alone. I took a lot of day trips around the country. Occasionally, I’d travel with other students from my program and people from my Fulbright cohort. And it was during these trips as I watched the country unfold before me, I began to unfold myself. I learned that I needed to leave the comfort of myself, my identity, and my community—the safety nets I’ve always had, in order to grow. The Fulbright gave me the opportunity to displace myself, to learn what I’m capable of in the face of uncertainty and the unknown.
Often I’d come back from these weekend excursions exhausted—my notebook filled with new notes—and as the bus would pull into Parnell Place, I’d look out across the River Lee and have this feeling like I was home. I didn’t know this experience would affect me like that. That I’d find comfort in a place I’d never been before. I miss Cork in ways I’d never imagined. I miss sitting in the pubs near the fireplace and having my clothes smell like peat. (I miss stout that actually tastes good.)
I feel like so much of this experience is hard to put into words, which is ironic considering I am a writer.
But alas, here I am out of space. Let me say this though:
Thank you, Fulbright. Thank you Ireland. I hope to see you again soon. I think of you often, and am forever grateful."