This week, I travelled to Belfast in Northern Ireland to complete a three-week intensive course at Queen’s University. I was been beyond excited about this trip for months, and so far I’m having an amazing time.
I’m having so much fun, in fact, that I’m finding it hard to believe our first week studying ‘Conflict Transformation in Northern Ireland’ is almost complete. Let’s just say it’s been a busy (but fantastic) week full of luggage, learning and lots of laughter. The journey to Belfast was long, with a total of 30 hours spent flying and transiting through various airports, but in the end it was definitely worth it.
When I arrived at Belfast airport, I was fortunate enough to locate another girl from my program. We decided to brave the foreign city of Belfast together by sharing a taxi to our accommodation. Once we arrived at Elm’s Village, we found and introduced ourselves to other students from the course. With rumbling stomachs and curious minds, we all stored our luggage and set ourselves the mission of locating Belfast’s best lunch cuisine. We soon discovered this was impossible, as although we enjoyed hearty meals and delicious smoothies from our chosen restaurant, Belfast doesn’t disappoint when it comes to its abundance of food.
The first official day of the program was definitely a memorable one. The conflict resolution students and the Irish studies students all met at Queen’s University, which is one of the most impressive buildings I have ever seen. We then learnt a bit more about the program and did a series of quizzes to help us learn the basics. I was pleasantly surprised to discover there were students from all over the world participating in the course, and the atmosphere was alive with culture. Australian, American, African, German, Israeli and Irish accents could be heard throughout the room as we all excitedly got to know each other.
After we undertook a brief walking tour of the beautiful (and extremely large) Queen’s University, we all piled on buses to complete a guided tour of Belfast. Our program coordinator, Dominic, was a very knowledgeable tour guide. He took us to some of Belfast’s famous murals, which are well-known symbols of Northern Ireland. These murals tell the stories of the region’s present and past political and religious divisions, which we are learning about in class.
To wrap up a perfect first day, we all gathered at the night’s introductory wine reception to mingle with other students. After the reception, a few of us decided to test out the local pubs. We purchased Irish Guinness beers, which I admittedly didn’t quite enjoy, but my friends shared their appreciation for the acquired taste. With that ticked off the bucket list, we succumbed to retirement for the night.
Over the following days, we had more classes and learnt a lot of information in a short period of time. The lectures were interesting, interactive and we had the opportunity to ask questions and contribute our opinions. It was particularly fascinating to learn about Northern Ireland’s past, as many people, including myself, had limited knowledge of this prior to arriving in Belfast.
On the third night of the course, we all met and had plenty of fun trying traditional Irish dancing. Our instructor was incredibly helpful, but unfortunately I have two left feet and never quite got the hang of the “toe throw” dance manoeuvres. My first attempt resulted in a laughing fit, and not many improvements were made following that. Nevertheless, I had a lot of fun. Some of the other students were quite good, which I’m still jealous about.
On Thursday, we visited the Irish Centre for Migration Studies. This was a valuable learning experience, as we had the opportunity to explore the outside museum, which consisted of the Irish migrants’ 1700s and 1800s homes. It was interactive, and we were encouraged to enter these homes and learn about their origins from the site’s tour guides.
This program has been a great experience so far, and I’m glad I decided to take part in it. Although the first week may be drawing to a close, my friends and I have a lot planned for the weekend. We’re going to explore Belfast as much as possible and then engage in some serious retail therapy. To top that off, we’ll probably end our nights with pub-crawls and dancing (hopefully not Irish dancing, though!)
Stay tuned for more updates!