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2 posts from January 2013

01/03/2013

The Bogside

Our trip to Derry-Londonderry may have been one of the best moments of my CIEE study abroad experience. Meeting with the Apprentice Boys of Derry was fascinating. Their impact on Northern Ireland –– indeed all Irish history –– cannot be undermined and they have proven to be far more mature than the Orange Order in their reception to the peace process. Furthermore, seeing their closing of the gates parade was a valuable cultural experience. We’ve read so much about parades in Northern Ireland and we finally got to see authentic melody bands and hear the crash of the blood and thunder drums in person. Culminating in the burning of Lundy the traitor’s effigy, the trip managed to teach us far more about Protestantism in Northern Ireland than any book.

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The most important part of the trip to me, however, was our tour of the Bogside. Nearly forty years ago Catholics in Northern Ireland were clamoring for civil rights. Their struggle was akin to the American Civil Rights Movement in the Jim Crow South. The movement mirrored everything from the inaction of the National Government to the resilience and determination of the protestors. Unfortunately the analogy is broken by the brutality of Bloody Sunday. Under the stress of a largely imagined threat the well-trained British paratroopers cracked and ignited a blood bath.

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(Students Abraham Nelson and David Huff standing by bullet holes in Glenfada park)

The walk through the Bogside was overwhelming and deeply touching. I stood in Glenfada park where Michael Kelly was shot in the stomach. I saw the murals. I touched the bullet holes from the British Enfields. I almost cried looking at the faces of the dead and wounded at the memorial next to the Free Derry City wall. It made me appreciate the reality of the Troubles more than anything else since arriving at Queens. The people who were tragically murdered on the 30 January 1972 weren’t characters in a movie or morbid statistics in a book. They were mostly kids (five of them only 17) as well as friends, neighbors, fathers, United Kingdom citizens and human beings. Most of them chased girls, listened to music their parents didn’t like and had hopes of a bright future outside of their home town. Other than their situation in deeply divided society they were not so different from me now. Yet they were murdered because they dared to demand the most basic of human virtues from a supposedly progressive state. In turn, untold numbers of Nationalist dissidents into the opportunistic talons of the IRA and ensured the continuance of the Troubles. If anything that hour, which felt like a lifetime, proved there is no price tag on truth as a part of reconciliation. The Saville Inquiry cost  £200,000,000 (when’s the last time you saw a number that large not associated with deficits), but it brought a degree of closure to a black mark on the UK’s past. David Cameron referring to the events of that day as “unjustified and unjustifiable” was the long sought after apology that came far too late –– but at least it came.

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I am so thankful that I had this experience. Even in Belfast it’s easy to dismiss and forget the significance of where I am. Going to Derry jolted me awake. It reminded me of the most important aspects of my last three months here and more importantly made me think about my future. I don’t want the Derry field trip to be a nice story I tell my kids one day. I want it to be a reminder of what true empathy of past events feels like. I want it to be something that motivates me to be more passionate and understanding. I want it to be something that makes me fight for a better future. I’ve stood under the Derry City walls and I never want to forget.

Abraham Nelson, Kenyon College

Spring Semester in Belfast

Living and Learning in Belfast

As of my writing this, I've been in Belfast with CIEE for roughly nine weeks. It's really surprising how different life is here from the USA, the shared English language can make you overlook
the fact that you're going to a totally foreign country in the time leading up to the semester abroad, but the little things tend to add up: the cars, people keeping to the left side of sidewalks, the massive amount of regional slang, the clothes (track pants everywhere).

Then there are of course the big differences that come with being in Belfast: the murals of guys with ski masks and AK-47s on the sides of houses, the massive “peace line” walls dividing catholic/nationalist and protestant/unionist neighborhoods, the marches, and parades.

Mural 8

Even the university system here is different (and its taken me ages to get used to). I am in no way saying that different is bad, I chose to do a semester abroad because I wanted something different. I
love the sense of, I suppose you could say, adventure that comes with settling into a new culture. Belfast has been far from a disappointment in that regard.

One of my biggest fears about studying abroad was that I would wind up trapped in what I call the “American Bubble” where I spend my entire trip around other Americans and don't really spend time with the locals. You see this happen with students who go abroad all the time, but that thankfully hasn't happened to me. Nearly all of my friends here are Irish (or English or Scottish as Northern Ireland is part of the United Kingdom). There are only a few other American students I know of in Northern Ireland at all (if you went to Dublin that would be a totally different story).

It was easy to integrate here, the shared language obviously helped, and beyond that, the people here are really friendly, the friendliest I've ever known to be honest. If I meet someone here I almost always like them, and thats not something I could say about back home.

Queens University itself is great. The university is massive, with over 20,000 students, so coming from a small college of only 2,000 I was a little bit worried about getting overwhelmed. Queens handles its size well though, all lectures have a “tutorial” each week which is a small discussion class of about twelve to sixteen students each week.

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The smaller size gives you a chance to actually ask questions and have more face-to-face time with your professors. Class can sometimes get confusing though. My field for example, anthropology, is taught completely differently
here in the UK then in the USA. But for any problems that arise, I have my own CIEE director here at Queens.

All-in-all I'm having the time of my life here. I just wish the weeks would stop passing by so quickly and that I could stay longer!

Silas Owings, Millsaps College.