January 4th, 2010 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by
I’m back in Austin and not too jet lagged. It was sad saying goodbye to everyone, even though I know it won’t hit me until later. Right now I’m just so grateful to be home after a horrifying three-day travel experience where I was trapped in Heathrow airport. Snow and Christmas don’t go together well in terms of travel. It helps to say, “I’ll see you again.” I know I will be back in Europe soon. I have so much to look forward to though: Christmas with my family, seeing my boyfriend for New Years, my wonderful school and the friends I have there. I know it will really hit me in February.
I’m going to answer my expectations and oracles that weren’t answered well in other posts. Queen’s has tons of international students and certain classes are only once a week, so I didn’t end up being the token American in a group of Irish friends. I also lived with freshers and international students, so that didn’t foster that kind of interaction. I met a lot of interesting people, including Belfast natives, but I was usually with my North Americans…(who I love!) Planning and figuring out travel is an amazing experience I think everyone should have. It fosters an entirely different level of independence.
The Irish are friendly and welcoming. Some make the joke that they are only mean to their own people. I was definitely misled when someone told me that people don’t like to talk politics, as you can see from my other posts. There weren’t as many redheads as I’d expected.
While there are aspects of my experience that disappointed me, I value the opportunity of living in a place at such a momentous time in their history. Even though I’m glad to be home it’s all I’ll talk about for a long time to come.
December 14th, 2009 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by
In the center of Belfast there is a huge shopping area where people come together to buy from all sects of sectarianism. This has been a successful way of keeping downtown thriving, and shopping is something everyone does. Suburbs and the malls that accompany them have done irreparable harm to tons of U.S. cities, and in Belfast malls of this nature would further segregation.
Note on Irish Cinema: There is a whole subset devoted to “Peace-Process” films. This isn’t what you’d think. It delineates a time, rather than films about peace. I read a small portion of “Film, Media and Popular Culture in Ireland,” by Martin McLoone that referred to the gentrification of downtown, and he explained:
“The continuing violence of working class Belfast and the sectarian nature of this conflict cannot be ignored politically and no amount of trendy urban regeneration will disguise the fact.”
I asked a friend I met, who is from Belfast, if he likes living here. He told me he had left a few years ago to travel and write, and that Belfast was all he thought about it. “We are the generation our parents and grandparents always hoped for!” he said excitedly, pointing to the pub-goers around us. “We are not defined by that anymore!” I asked him about intolerance being handed down to new generations. He agreed that it existed, but shook it off, “Everyone knows those guys are assholes.”
Another friend told me about the work he does with protestant youth groups, taking them down to Dublin to hang out with people their age. I heard about this theater group who takes kids from east and west Belfast and puts on plays with them. I read an article about a former IRA man turned yoga instructor, who helps former paramilitaries manage their anger. I watched a few minutes of a documentary about how the punk movement brought people together. A few months ago, I searched the internet for groups like these to get involved in, but couldn’t find any. They exist, if you’re coming to Northern Ireland I suggest you try to find one.
Everyone you meet has a story about the Troubles or the legacy of the Troubles. A man was beat up by soldiers on his way home from school. Rocks were thrown at a little girl’s school bus, she learned to duck because the windows broke all the time. My friends from “the south” (Republic of Ireland) feel unsafe going into certain pubs because of their accents. A police officer of 30 years never once hit anyone with his baton. Queen’s students for the first time are playing sports with people from the other side, and making friends. A classmate told our tutorial without apprehension, “I’m an Irishman, I’m an Ulsterman, I’m a citizen of the United Kingdom…I’m Northern Irish. It’s a thing all in itself.”
December 1st, 2009 in College Study Abroad | 1 Comment by
I missed the pumpkin pie and the days off from class, but Thanksgiving weekend was full and enjoyable. One might say I saved the best for last, only now seeing Northern Ireland’s most famous tourist attractions. Our tour bus drove along the coast stopping first at the Carrick-A-Rede rope bridge. Crossing the Bridge Fortunately, the weather was for the most part dry, and the bridge only shook from the clomping walk of the person in front of me. It was made out to be scary, but I wasn’t scared. While my friend was encouraging her bravery by saying to herself, “Don’t look down,” I attribute looking down to my calm. It was so pretty that it distracted my fear. (I also expected it to be longer.)
Our next stop was the ruins of the Dunluce Castle. A romantic epic situated on the edge of a cliff. A cave underneath the house served as a garage for ships. The kitchen once collapsed in the late 17th century and the seven cooks were swallowed by the sea. I was giddy to climb around the ruins.
Our last stop was the Giant’s Causeway, a mysterious geological formation of basalt hexagons that fit together like the pattern of a soccer ball (excuse me, football). Legend has it that an Irish giant challenged a Scottish giant to a fight, and had built a bridge so that they could meet. The Irish giant soon realized that the Scottish giant was significantly larger than him and ran to his “mammy” for advice. She dressed him up like a baby. When the Scottish giant came she told him that his opponent would soon be back from the fields. While he was waiting the cooing babe bit his finger off. He decided that if the baby was that large and fierce he didn’t want to fight the adult version. So he ran away throwing the bridge behind him, piling the rocks as we see them today.
November 17th, 2009 in College Study Abroad | 1 Comment by
I normally frame a scene by what I’m eating and what music I’m listening to. But this time it didn’t fit. My sandwich wasn’t good, the music was normal for me; the two criterium separate, and not enhancing. I was on the train to Derry for Halloween. The sign that lists the stops calls it London Derry/Derry, the British name slash the Irish name, the Protestant name slash the Catholic name. The only walled city in Ireland. Out of the left side of the window are farm fields, on the right steel cold coastline. And while the structure of my words matches, it’s an anti-symmetry.
While much of Europe is unimpressed with Halloween, Ireland celebrates Halloween. A Celtic pagan holiday where the boundaries between the living and the dead fall for a night in autumn. The lighter half of the year transitions to the darker half of the year. People dress up all week. I think about masks and the strangers sitting next to me.
We are led on a tour by a Buddhist. From the walls I see that a cannon is pointing at a butterfly intended to symbolize peace. Underneath us is the Bogside, a site of the Easter Uprising with a 1972 massacre bearing its name. The murals embalm their past in black and white, glimpses of what has happened. The present slash future is in color; rainbows, doves, Mother Theresa, Martin Luther King.
This past week I traveled from Prague to Berlin to Amsterdam by train. I got to Berlin on November 9th the 20th anniversary of the wall being torn down. I step out of the metro down the street from Brandenburg Gate and hear Hillary Clinton’s voice. There was a huge crowd standing in the steel cold rain watching the ceremony. Giant dominoes that have been painted by people in places torn by walls line the street. Mexican artists. Palestinian artists. The Berliners knocked them down. I will come back to Belfast when the Peace Line topples.
November 3rd, 2009 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by
Looking back I realize I haven’t said anything about my actual classes. I am taking “Contemporary Cinema,” “Current Irish Cinema: Debates and Contexts,” and “Deeply Divided Societies.” My film classes take place in the “Queen’s Film Theater” or “QTF,” which is an actual theater playing regular features at night. It is a full sized screen with plush red seats that have mini pull-out desk tops. If only I had a light-up pen! These classes combine a lecture, a screening, and a discussion once a week. In “Contemporary Cinema” we just finished our unit on Asian cinema (Hong Kong, Thailand, and South Korea), discussing what is new, what makes the films contemporary. In my Irish cinema class I’ve learned about Ireland’s economic history and we’ve discussed outside views of Ireland verses internal identity.
My politics course has two lectures a week plus a tutorial. We have studied South Africa, Yugoslavia, Israel and Palestine, the nature of violence, and nonviolent activism. It is a large class and I have been disappointed in the loose communication between the three lecturers and my tutorial leader. The reading, lectures, and discussion don’t overlap much, and I feel I haven’t gotten to “unpack” what I’ve learned.
The semester officially ends in January. The spring semester at my home university starts in early January, so I will be completing “alternative assessment” before I leave. For my politics course, instead of an exam I will be writing two essays, and for my film courses I have to turn in my papers early. This worries me, for in the UK school system one exam or essay usually constitutes 90% of your grade. In my program in the states I receive written evaluations instead of letter grades, so these three grades will be my entire GPA. And not all learning is done in the classroom!
So I’m trying to balance school work, travel, and keeping in touch with home. I read my homework on jolting trains and buses. So it goes.
October 23rd, 2009 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by
What a crazy life I lead! That’s the first thing I can think to say. The last few weeks and until the end of this semester I am traveling every weekend, and studying hard during the week. (Four of these trips are with IFSA, the rest are self conceived and funded.)
The Eiffel Tower of course!
Paris was beautiful and I finally was able to place buildings and paintings I’ve read so much about. Accordion music was the literal soundtrack. It was exciting to attempt to speak French, and feel surrounded by a language foreign to me. I was a little dissatisfied though with all the “tourism,” yet how could I return from Paris and say, “I didn’t see the Eiffel Tower,”? I saw what I knew I needed to see, to have said I had seen. I enjoyed getting to do things stereotypically French, like drinking coffee in the outdoor seating of a café. It was such a whirlwind of a trip though, and I didn’t feel like I got to know the city. (Although I do know the metro system well!) It made me appreciate living in Belfast.
The next weekend (last weekend) I traveled by ferry, train, and bus to Scotland. Edinburgh was an entirely different city from Paris. I saw one of the first skyscrapers, and the vaults beneath the city on a ghost tour.
The view of the Edinburgh castle from JK Rowling's table!
I toured the castle, where I discovered is the resting place of Scotland’s crown jewels. Edinburgh is one thousand years old, and it feels old. I felt history in Paris, but it’s too fancy to be described in that way. There’s an enchanting blend of archaic crumbly-ness and the pride that goes along with it. On a contemporary note, I also saw the café where JK Rowling wrote Harry Potter, and being a big fan, I was giddy.
October 12th, 2009 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by
The Botanic at 5:30 p.m.
My 21st birthday was on September 24th, and it was less a celebration than an adventure. It started in my kitchen with Mimosas at 4:30, or as the Canadians call them, “BAM and Orange.” Then we went to The Botanic for the Arthur Guinness Day Celebration. This was Irish New Years. In 1759 Arthur Guinness signed a 9,000-year lease for the property his storehouse still rests on. The pub was packed when we got there. Two projector screens displayed the television program with a clock counting down to 17:59. There were cheers all around. The program had a few interviews afterwards including one from Bono. Everyone booed Bono. I’m not a big fan, but I was surprised the Irish hated him. Not only did they boo Bono, they went wild for Tom Jones. At this I laughed outright. “It’s not unusual to be loved by anyone…dah dah dah dah dahhhhh!” My last four birthdays have been marked by music. My eighteenth birthday my brother flew into town and surprised me with Sufjan Stevens tickets. My nineteenth birthday my friends took me to Of Montreal. Last year I went to Austin City Limits. This year…Tom Jones. Fortunately the night and the music didn’t end there.
On a quest for live music we found the end of a set at The Globe. The Northern Irish love 90’s pop-rock. The other night someone was raging so hard to Eagle Eye Cherry that they broke their glass. This was the music of my childhood and I was surprised to learn I still have plenty of lyrics memorized. Because of this, my friends and I keep giving musicians the best shows of their lives.
The next leg of our journey involved traditional Irish music (flutes, fiddles, and lie-dee-dies) in a backroom of a pub. Traditional Irish bands always cover at least one Johnny Cash song and one Bob Dylan song. And they work! Reminds me a lot of school (home) in a sweet sad way. Next we walked to my favorite pub area. In a historical alleyway four pubs founded for sailors in 1865 meet. People pour out into the alley and mingle. So we took a break from sound and dance.
The last stop of the evening was our Irish friends’ apartment where a jam session commenced. They harmonized the song from “Once” together. Authentic. At 4:30 I looked at my phone and realized we had been celebrating for my birthday for twelve hours. We went home and in the morning we made French toast.
September 28th, 2009 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by
The biggest shocks came from taking a Black Taxi Tour. A Black Taxi Tour goes to west Belfast and explains historic sites of the Troubles and all the murals that have been painted. The “Peace Line” is actually a twenty-five foot wall that stretches over three miles and has remained longer than the Berlin Wall.
Cages protect the back of the houses from rocks or worse thrown over the wall.
Bobby Sands was the first of the hunger strikers to die.
It is common to see barbed wire or broken glass attached to garden walls. The last of the British military left only a year ago, and there are still road checkpoints to enter the Shankill areas. I was surprised to see this as present, not relics. The first stop on the tour was to see the murals on the Catholic side. The images inflected the tone of martyrdom including Bobby Sands and the hunger strikers.
On Falls Road stories of occupation around the globe serve as a human- rights-current events-newspaper…in art. The famous George W. Bush mural was painted over when Obama got elected, and a mural on Gaza went up before January. Next I saw the Peace Line up close. On the protestant side was a graffiti wall with messages of peace. Further from the wall are murals on the sides of houses commemorating William of Orange a militant protestant monarch whose participation in The Battle of the Boyne solidified the persecution of native Irish Catholics, paramilitary men with snipers, and British flags everywhere.
The connotations reeked and my stomach turned a little bit. To be fair, it is the same as the celebration Columbus Day in America.
Oliver Cromwell Mural
The sniper follows you around the neighborhood, pointing at you from each different angle.
I don’t want to choose sides or commend violence of any kind, but in the states it is taught as unification with Ireland vs. with Britain. This is true, but it was also an issue of civil rights. Catholics couldn’t get jobs, were often denied voting rights, and even forced into internment camps.
Northern Irish people keep asking me, “Why did you come here?” Witnessing and getting to know the people of Belfast is exactly why I came here. One Northern Irish man made the joke to me, “History is current events.” And where has it ended up? Peace? Apathy? Fear? Separation? Unification? Are they into it? Are they over it? The magic eight ball swirls and shakes. The answer is not yet clear.
September 23rd, 2009 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by
I’ve been here over a week now. I once heard the advice, “When traveling, take note of what surprises you.” This is the format I will take in catching you (my readers) up on my adventures. In my premonitions post I hesitated to say that I expected the UK to have bad food even though that is the stereotype. The food is heavier than what I am used to, but because of the Troubles farmland hasn’t been developed into agribusiness. Local, organic, cheap, and tasty all go together when grocery shopping. There is a proper way to eat with a knife and fork and it is much more efficient than how I learned to eat in the U.S. I was surprised that classes do not start until the 28th. The international students have had orientation, and now we just wait. Because of orientation I have met more Germans than Irish students. This is changing though as more local students move in. People walk everywhere. I knew there would be walking, I just assumed buses would be used daily. The city is small enough that you can get most places within thirty minutes. I expected Europeans to dress highly fashionable. Belfast women wear sparkly, revealing outfits that would be called “tacky” in the states. But these are just small surprises. My next entry will continue with the chief astonishment.
September 15th, 2009 in College Study Abroad | 1 Comment by
September 11, 2009
Made it to Belfast! Not sure what time my body thinks it is. I started in Austin on the 10th leaving late morning. I couldn’t keep my eyes open. Then I was quite the insomniac from Newark to London. It gave me a chance to read a good portion of “Belfast Diary” a journalist’s account of the Troubles. I feel more oriented with both the history and geography of the area. At Heathrow I had to make a mad marathon to recheck my bag for Aer Lingus. I was hiking with all my stuff on me going through customs and immigration, then back through to security. The gate was in a far corner of a hallway that would be cut by sliding glass doors that were locked. I made it in time, bought a cup of coffee, then was told I couldn’t bring it on the plane. I slept most of that flight too, but had a window seat/birds eye view of the island. It’s beautiful. There was another success of my route, even with the stressful airport experience. Instead of taking a cab I found a bus for seven pounds that dropped me off a block from the orientation hotel. IFSA-Butler reps were right there when I walked in, and within a few minutes I was cleaning up, resting, and getting acquainted with my roommate.
September 3rd, 2009 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by
I thought it might be interesting and humorous for me to write what I expect, what I’ve been told, and my questions surrounding studying abroad, Northern Ireland, and Belfast, then later compare it to what I find.
- Studying through IFSA Butler will allow me to have a deeper close cultural experience by getting set free in the regular Queen’s University mix. It has been awhile since I took French in high school, even though I’ve been watching Jean Luc Godard films. I didn’t want going abroad to a country that speaks English to be a “comfort zone.” I figure this way I won’t solely be around international students, and will get to know Northern Ireland through getting to know its people.
- I will get to travel on some weekends and holidays to Ireland and other countries in Europe. I know I will get lost, confused, and I will make a fool out of myself. I’m excited to get to figure out traveling; not have it planned out in advance for me.
- According to the Belfast Telegraph, going to clubs is very popular. I feel I’ll be a pubs not clubs kind of girl.
- I heard from friends who have studied abroad that the Irish are the friendliest and most fun people they met.
- Beautiful countryside. Sheep.
- I’ve heard the city described as “revitalizing” but not fully healed, and the citizens of Belfast have the attitude that everything is possible. Summer riots may have dampened this.
- People only talk politics with their own kind, and it is rare and rude to bring it up in public conversation. I want to hear what people think. I’m curious to see how my class on Irish politics and identity in literature will be taught.
- There are political/religiously divided neighborhoods sometimes complete with walls. I’m unsure on how this will affect my urban hiking.
- New is not taking over old in Belfast. It is either head-to-head or bi-partisan coexistence.
- The graffiti and murals will be fascinating.
September 2nd, 2009 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by
Most of the juniors in my program at the University of Redlands are going abroad this fall. Our conversations loom into January, a magical place not just a measure of time, the first month of the year. There is a level of presumed homesickness present in those discussions, but I don’t think that is all going through our heads in our mutual experience all around the world. We can’t plan for the next four months, so we plan for what we can accurately imagine. We can pack warm clothes, read the local newspapers, buy phrasebooks, register for classes, talk to people who have studied in our programs, but we won’t know what it will be like for us. I don’t mean for this to sound dire, it is quite valuable in fact. When I was eighteen I went to India. Nothing could have prepared me for the swarm of the city of Mumbai going strong at three in the morning. My attitude is in leaving my adventure open minded. I know I want to visit other countries in Europe, but I’m not going to stress about seeing certain things, and financially affording reaching those goals. I won’t get to see it all, but I’m going to see a lot. And I’m not going to waste the opportunity. In other words, John Steinbeck’s words, “we do not take a trip; a trip takes us.” I feel confidently in the result. I’m going to have an amazing experience. I just don’t know the roads (light rails?) that will take me there yet.
September 1st, 2009 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by
I hope that I find a better way to address you, or else I might just drop the title all together so that you know I’m not just copying my diary onto the internet. Some sort of greeting I feel is necessary though before I share my journey, before I compress you down pocket sized and take you with me.
Today is August 26th. Today finally feels like going abroad is not just a dream or a porch talking point. I said good bye to my boyfriend yesterday, and am finishing up the final projects of my summer internship. This has been my longest summer. My college friends are heading back to school or have started classes, and the roads are clogged with elementary school and UT traffic. (I’m from Austin, TX by the way.) Yet for me, it is still summer until September 10th. Honestly, I haven’t done much to prepare for my trip yet. Once I’m finished with my job I’ll be cramming in doctor appointments and errands. I’ve thought about packing, does that count? After living in the desert of southern California and dry central Texas I do not own a coat, let alone a waterproof one. So that will be my big search among other things before the iPod is synced and I’m heading out the door suitcase in hand. I’ve started a list.