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.
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.
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.