New to the Parish: ‘Ireland is culturally different but it’s not a shocker’

Jazmen Boone was often apart from her US military parents growing up, so she jumped at the chance to study and play basketball in Waterford

Jazmen Boone: “I’d heard Irish people were super-nice and they actually are. Every house we enter they offer us a cup of tea.” Photograph: Patrick Browne

Jazmen Boone: “I’d heard Irish people were super-nice and they actually are. Every house we enter they offer us a cup of tea.” Photograph: Patrick Browne

 

Jazmen Boone: arrived from the US, 2015

Jazmen Boone (23) always imagined she would follow in her parents’ footsteps and join the military when she finished university. Everyone in her family was in the naval branch of the US military, so it seemed like the obvious path to take. Most of her friends at home in the city of Virginia Beach on the east coast also came from military families.

As a child her mother, father and stepmother were often posted abroad and spent months away from the family. “My dad went to Kuwait, Bahrain, Korea; my mum’s been to Scotland, Spain, Djibouti; my stepmum has been to Honduras. They’ve seen a lot of the world.”

Under US military regulations, if both parents are members of the service and one is deployed abroad, the second must remain at home to care for the children. However, being in the navy meant even when they were at home, Boone’s parents worked long hours.

“They had really early hours and a lot of the time during primary school I had to wake myself up, take myself to the bus and feed myself. You have to grow up quickly.”

Boone began playing basketball with her father aged five and often joined the Navy Seals for practice. “It was a big influence in my life, using sport to help me focus on other things aside from school. A lot of my friends were sports friends. You mesh well because you share a common love.

“I love basketball so much; it’s competitive, it challenges me in so many ways and it teaches me things about myself that I don’t think anything else in life offers you. You learn about your strengths and weaknesses. It gets me away from studying. It’s a great way to feel free and in my comfort zone.”

Boone volunteered in the local community through her basketball club at university, where she studied economics. “It’s a unique experience, knowing people who care for the community. It makes you realise how much of a role model you can be for anyone in the community.”

A change of plan

It was during her studies at the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, Virginia, that a teammate suggested Boone apply for the Sport Changes Life foundation, which offers young sports enthusiasts scholarships to study abroad. She had been considering focusing on a career in the military, but decided to apply for the scholarship.

“They were looking for someone who had a strong academic record . . . who is actively engaged in the community, someone who wants to use sport to make a difference and change young people’s lives.”

She was selected for the programme during senior year of her undergraduate studies and learned she would spend a year living in Waterford.

“I didn’t know much about Ireland before arriving. I’d never even been out of America. But I was extremely excited to get out of my home and embrace a new culture.”

Boone arrived in Ireland in August 2015, where she was partnered with another female basketball player from the US. “The good thing is they partner you with another American. It gives you a sense of home, a common denominator between the two of you.”

She is now studying global financial information systems at Waterford Institute of Technology and plays basketball with the WIT team and the Waterford Wildcats. She misses her family and calls them a lot, but says her parents’ work overseas prepared her for spending time far away from loved ones.

“They were a little worried because I’d never left the country before. They gave me tips, as they’ve travelled around the world with the military. They do miss me but it’s not as hard as for most families. We’re used to leaving for six months at a time.

“I like living in a small city like Waterford because it’s got enough and it’s not overbearing. I think it’s the perfect fit for me. It’s calm and peaceful, but you’ve still got a town aspect and it’s not a complete city like Dublin.”

Boone was pleasantly surprised to discover Irish people approach sports differently to back home in the US.

“When I got here I thought the basketball culture here would be very different; it’s a powerhouse in the America. Basketball in the United States is more like a business, whereas here it’s more about the fun. I got my love back for the game here and feel more at ease.”

Watching people dedicate themselves to sport on a voluntary basis is inspiring, she says. “It shows their commitment and dedication to sport. In the US there are more materialistic promises. People play college sport in the hopes of getting a college education.

“In America everyone expects money, whereas here it just shows your dedication to sport, and I really admire that.”

Boone loves the lush green of the Irish countryside and is slowly developing a taste for Irish tea. “I’d heard Irish people were super-nice and they actually are. Every house we enter they offer us a cup of tea. Even our roommate always offers us a cup of tea at the end of the day.”

New-found appreciation

When she returns to the US in June, she will bring back more than a new-found appreciation for basketball. “I’ll tell friends they have to try Irish chocolate and brown bread. At first it was different because I’m so used to bread being soft, but now I love it. The butter, the milk, the little things you don’t realise growing up in America that are way better in Ireland.”

Boone spent her Christmas break travelling around Germany, the Czech Republic, the Netherlands and Scotland with friends from WIT. However, Ireland has become her new home away from home.

“It’s the perfect place for someone who has never been out of the country. It is culturally different but it’s not a shocker. It’s a great way to broaden your horizons but it’s not ‘Oh my gosh’. It’s baby steps.”

  • We would like to hear from people who have moved to Ireland in the past five years. To get involved, email newtotheparish@irishtimes.com
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