At Queen’s University in Belfast, Northern Ireland, the days are packed full of lectures, field trips to various buildings and landmarks, visits to incredible sights in and outside of the city, and exciting new activities for international students. In the summer session, each week has its own theme (the first week’s theme is “Northern Ireland and the local and global platform”), and each session has its own focus. The program Education for Social Transformation concentrates on Northern Ireland’s educational system and the barriers still in place that have divided the society. There are new professors each day who provide new insights and background knowledge as well as firsthand experience in their lectures.
In the morning, I wake up and walk to The Treehouse (the café at the dorms) for the free Irish breakfast, consisting of bacon, sausage, beans, scrambled eggs, and toast. I will usually sit down to eat with my friends, and then take some toast with jam for the road, and start walking to campus. The walk is approximately 20 minutes from the Queen’s Elms (our dorms— they are all named after trees) and there are a number of cafés, shops, and parks along the way — most notably the Botanic Gardens next to campus.
A typical morning session consists of two lectures. Our first class focused on the history of Northern Ireland from 1920 to 1998, and was an incredibly useful introduction for those of us who were not aware of all the details of Northern Ireland’s complicated history. Next, we learned about the different political parties – unionism/loyalism and republicanism/nationalism. These courses both provided necessary and valuable context for our program.
After the morning classes, there is usually about an hour for lunch. Delicious cafés and restaurants surround the campus, making it easy for students to find a quick option nearby. Some options include paninis or sausage rolls at the Clements Café at the Students’ Union, all day breakfast or sandwiches (and amazing milkshakes) at Maggie Mays, or some wood fired pizza at The Parlour.
The afternoon of the first day was the beginning of the focus on education in Northern Ireland. We learned about the education system, including the segregation of students based on religion, the tests required of students prior to entering secondary or grammar schools, and the structures of the schools and curricula. Additionally, we learned about the cultures of Northern Ireland and the roles they play in conflict and peace. Northern Ireland has a history of turmoil, and though some social conflict still remains, the region has become incredibly safe and peaceful since The Troubles. I was amazed to have learned so much about the history and current events of Northern Ireland in only the first day.
Our classes ended at 4:00pm, and we were all invited to a traditional Irish dancing lesson in the evening. We learned the Cèilidh and danced all through the evening! The program is full of cultural events and lessons, and I cannot wait to experience more. I already know that my experience in Belfast will be an unforgettable one.