Brian Martinez, a 24-year-old Mexican studying for a master’s in education at Mary Immaculate College (Mary I) in Limerick, has been having something of a love affair with Ireland. And despite COVID and everything it has brought, he is continuing to enjoy it every day.
In August of 2019, I was selected to become part of a Mexican student-teacher group to come to Ireland for a one-month inclusive education programme. We were called the Saint Patrick scholars. It was an unbelievable experience, but honestly, I didn’t know anything about this country before coming here.
As part of the programme, we had the opportunity to visit different parts of the country. Killaloe in Co. Clare was the first one we visited, and I surely fell in love at first sight with it. I was amazed by the view and by the colour of this small town and all the others I visited at that time. I remember telling myself that sooner or later I would return to this great and beautiful country.
When I heard that I was accepted to study for my master’s in Ireland back in April 2020, I was in shock. I could hardly believe that I was about to chase my dream and come back to study in this beautiful country.
I came back in early September. After self isolating for two weeks due to the COVID-19 pandemic, I was able to go around and finally see the fantastic city of Limerick. Later that day, I walked by the Shannon river, and I couldn’t believe what I was seeing I remember telling myself how beautiful this place is and how eager I was to share it with the world.
One of my favourite things about this country is how green it is. The balance between nature and the city is exceptional. It is unnecessary to go outside of Limerick to find peace and incredible places to walk and get away from the city’s hustle and bustle. Just a couple of streets from my location in O’Connell street, this hidden place can be found. It might not be the largest, but is a place I love to go and walk, to disconnect from the routine and connect with nature.
Another of my favourite place to connect with nature, and at the same time not go too far from the city centre, is the Boardwalk. Walking beside the Shannon river, admiring how the city has been changing with time, appreciating King John’s Castle and enjoying the fresh breeze, is an indescribable experience. It has to be lived firsthand. I love coming here and getting lost for a while.
Of course, COVID brought about urgent changes in the way people live, and in-person classes were no different. The switch to online has affected many other college students as well as me, but “Mary I” saved me.
Even when Mary Immaculate was not allowing students to have face-to-face lessons, they still managed to open study rooms for those who live nearby and need an academic space to continue their education; of course, all the safety protocols are in place. From day to night, I worked there because there wasn’t time to waste, and it was all worth it. Without that, I am not sure if I would have been able to continue.
One bright day when I was discouraged by everything (COVID, college and so on), I found this heart painted on the wall on my way to the school. It gave me hope and encouraged me to continue with my day and my assessments and life here in Limerick. I felt like it was a gift from the city and Ireland. Limerick is full of street art hidden all around the city, just waiting for someone to find them and be inspired by them.
Of course, things change with COVID and Christmas was no exception. Parties, dinners and celebrations had a different version this year, but it was still lovely to see Christmas spirit everywhere. The city was decorated as well as people’s houses. People were happy. Even when they were still using their mask to protect themselves from COVID, it was still appreciable that they were glad to have Christmas this year.
COVID meant that coming to this country wasn´t what I expected. However, the Irish people, Limerick, Mary I and Ireland have made outstanding efforts to share their best version of themselves with me and have made me fall in love with them all.