By Jay Varney
I first met Professor George Dugan 9 years ago. I was in his Drawing 101 course at Binghamton University. I was young and stupid, but I was smart enough to know how little I knew. This self awareness has helped me throughout the years. Over the next few months, George taught me proper perspective and rule of thumb. I was starting to see how my presumptions and beliefs were affecting how I saw the world. Without the ability to objectively measure and analyze, perception is a transitory wave of confused emotion.
He told me about the study abroad program he hosted in Ireland and he suggested that I go. I agreed. I didn’t realize at the time how big of an impact that trip would play in my life and future. I had seen images of George’s work on his website. He obviously knew something I didn’t, so I was willing to do whatever he suggested. He saw things I couldn’t see. How could two people look at the same thing yet see something completely different?
That summer, at 19 years old, I left the United States for the first time. Before that flight, I had only been on a Cessna once, as a child. I was scared by the idea of flying. I was scared of the lack of control and I was scared of landing in a new country where people might not understand me. I would have liked to turn back, but I had already seen behind the curtain and I needed to see more.
As the plane took off, I had a feeling of exhilaration. My face was glued to the window for the entire seven hour flight. The sky was never so blue and the clouds never so white. As the Western-most point of Europe rose above the horizon, it shone as the brightest Emerald I had ever seen.
I spent the next month in Ireland learning oil painting through plein air. Two years later, in 2009, I returned as George’s Assistant Professor. Every minute spent abroad was a dream. I learned to see as an objective and sensitive observer. I fell in love with the world around me and I made friends that will last forever. Seven years later and living in NYC, my heart still remains on the West coast of Ireland.
A few months ago, Emily Gibbons, one of my classmates from the study abroad program contacted me. She explained that as Executive Director of the Cultural Council of Cortland County, She would be organizing an exhibition featuring the work of former students from the Ireland program. My friends and I jumped in my Jeep and took a road trip to Cortland for the opening reception. I would have never imagined what a crazy adventure that little road trip would be. We had a blast and met a lot of interesting people. We saw some beautiful countryside and had great conversations. On our way home, the engine gave out on my Jeep. We had to get towed to a garage near a Metro-North station and take the train the rest of the way home.
Life is full of surprises. Depending on your perception, this world can be a desert or an oasis. Find something you can believe in, find someone who’s footsteps you can follow in, and make sure your friends don’t get left behind in the process.