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Student Ambassador Post: First Weeks in Northern Ireland

This is a guest blog post from our student social media ambassador, Kathryn. Currently studying abroad on the semester program, “Conflict, Peace, and Transition in Northern Ireland” at our newest location in Derry-Londonderry.

Hello everyone! My name is Kathryn, it is my third week here in Northern Ireland and I am having such an amazing and fulfilling experience. We spent the first week exploring the coast and getting familiar with the culture. The scenery is so breathtaking and the locals are so friendly! The past two weeks have been focused on learning about the history of Northern Ireland, specifically the 30 year conflict that started in the late 1960s, and the impact it has had on the current society. The conflict, commonly referred to as “the troubles”, is an incredibly complex topic. Fortunately, through our program we have had the opportunity to meet with many speakers, from a variety of backgrounds and expertise. Meeting with these people has helped us to better understand the complicated history and related issues.

cliffs along the northern ireland coastlineSomeone who has made a lasting impression on me was a woman whose brother was killed on Bloody Sunday. In 1972, British soldiers shot residents of Derry during a protest march, killing 13 people. Last week, we visited the Museum of Free Derry which heavily features this event in their exhibit. There, we had the privilege to meet with a woman, whose name I’ve chosen not to include out of respect, she spoke to us very candidly about her experience of losing a family member in the conflict, how it impacted her, and how her feelings have changed over time.

Walking through Derry you can see the lasting impact of the conflict. There are murals all over the city depicting the troubles, moments of justice, and declarations of hope and peace. There are peace lines and walls still up, dividing communities. For me, hearing this person’s story tied everything together. When learning about history, it’s easy to keep everything in the past, which doesn’t make it less important or significant, but it can make it harder to connect to. But, here I was speaking to someone who was directly impacted by the history of this place, someone who lived through it and was now sharing it with me. She was honest and human and I could connect to that. I really admired how she acknowledged that every person who was affected by the conflict will have different feelings and opinions about it. She stood strongly in her attitudes even if she knew that other people didn’t agree with her or feel the same way. This has helped me as I try to understand the conflict. Being able to examine it from multiple perspectives helps navigate and try to make sense of such a complicated topic.

I am very thankful to this woman for sharing her story, as well as to all the other speakers who have met with us. It has been incredibly rewarding and helpful to learn about and from this place and its people.