Where Exactly Was I?

Alright. I think it’s about time to get something straight. Contrary to popular belief, I haven’t spent the past three months in Ireland. Yes, I did travel to Ireland, but I’ve actually been living in Northern Ireland. What’s the difference?

Before I explain, I’d like to point out that I’m not an expert. I can only relay what I learned in my politics class and what I learned through personal experience. I hereby make the disclaimer that anything I say is what I observed, and not an attack on or defense of anything that has happened in the region. With that out of the way, let’s get started.

Northern Ireland is a part of the island of Ireland. You can see it is the dark part shown below. Even though it’s on the island, it’s technically a part of the United Kingdom. In case you didn’t know, the official name of the UK is the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. In all, the UK has four parts: England, Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland.

Image from BBC

So that means I was really living on British territory the whole time? Yes! But what about the rest of the island? The rest of the island is what we commonly think of as “Ireland.” It is officially called the Republic of Ireland.

Now you’re probably wondering how on Earth Northern Ireland came to be a part of the UK. Let me give you a brief history.

In the beginning, of this history lesson at least, Ireland was an island ruled by various clans and families. There was no centralized government and Ireland wasn’t really a country; however, across the Irish Sea was England, a powerful neighbor.

So do you remember that crazy English king that had all those wives? King Henry VIII was his name. If you’ll recall, he was desperate for the same thing all kings wanted: a male heir. The problem was, his wife, Catherine of Aragon, didn’t give him one. So, Henry VIII asked the pope for a divorce which was denied. Obviously, that didn’t make the king happy and led to England’s separation from the Roman Catholic Church.

As a result of the separation, England is a Protestant country. You probably remember a certain saint, St. Patrick, who was one of many missionaries in Ireland. So by this time, most of Ireland had been converted to Catholicism.

At the beginning of Henry VIII’s time on the throne, England had already established their rule in some parts of Ireland, including Ulster where I was studying. Henry made the decision to conquer all the rest of Ireland during his rule. Like I said, there wasn’t a central Irish government and there certainly wasn’t an Irish Army, so after some fighting Henry actually did manage to conquer all of Ireland.

Now, add colonialism. At the same time that Jamestown was being established in America, a plantation was also being established in Ulster. In Ulster, there was a strong loyalty to England, so some declared themselves Protestants as a show of loyalty. Being Catholic was to be against the king (you know, especially since the king was still mad about that divorce-rejection thing).

As you have probably figured out, this leads to the concentration of Protestants with British loyalty in the northeast part of Ireland with the rest of Ireland remaining solidly Roman Catholic and against British rule.

Fast forward through history a little and we arrive at World War I. The Irish, who were still ruled by the British, were sent to fight in the war. Fighting side-by-side resulted in a temporary stabilizing effect for the duration of the war. After the war, especially with all of Woodrow Wilson’s talk about national self-determination, the Irish wanted more than ever to address the issue of their nationality once and for all.

Britain took a look at the island of Ireland and thought, well, overall the majority of the island wants to be their own nation. In six of the northern counties, however, the majorities wanted to remain a part of Britain. Thus, we have partition in 1920 with the Government of Ireland Act. This effectively said there will be a Northern Ireland and a Southern Ireland, each to be governed separately with their own Home Rule, but still a part of British territory.

As you can imagine, the Irish in the South still weren’t happy, and they launched an Irish War of Independence. This eventually led to the Anglo-Irish Treaty which made the South their own Irish nation in 1922. In 1949, it officially declared itself the Republic of Ireland, which is what we are familiar with today.

But… What about Northern Ireland? Like I said, they were majority Protestant, loyalists, unionists. (Okay, majority by gerrymandering.) Most of them wanted to be ruled by Britain instead of this Home Rule stuff they were being given. So no, they weren’t happy either. But it wasn’t just that simple.

The minority was Catholic (this “side” was also referred to as nationalists and republicans), and they wanted a united Ireland. In reality, though it seems like the problem was solved, it was really just being managed and ignored with some easy solution that neither side was really happy with.

Enter Northern Irish Conflict, otherwise known as “The Troubles.”

Mural in West Belfast featuring Bobby Sands.

There was a lot of turmoil and unrest, and in Londonderry / Derry on 5 October 1968 tensions finally boiled over at a civil rights march. Marches and parades were common during this time, and the riots and violence they caused eventually led to the British Army coming to Northern Ireland in 1969. With things getting ever worse, in 1972 Northern Ireland returned to Direct Rule by the British.

At this point the Provisional Irish Republican Army, a nationalist paramilitary, was in for “the long war,” willing to accept nothing other than British withdrawal and a united Ireland. So, a period of several decades of violence ensued. There were bombings, open warfare in the streets, and other horrible acts of violence.

I won’t sugar coat it. This time of roughly thirty years (up to 1998) was awful. If you don’t know anything about the history of the conflict, I would encourage you to do some reading on it, watch some videos, and be ever mindful of the prejudices from both sides while doing so.

From the Troubles, on display in Linen Hall Library.

This period of conflict was a horrible cycle of “you bombed us so now we will bomb you” on both sides. Paramilitary organizations were often the local “protectors,” acting as police, jury, and executioner all at once. Parades continued, as did the riots.

A couple of stabs at peace were made, including the Anglo-Irish Agreement in 1985. In this, the British government and the Irish government agreed to work together on containing the situation in Northern Ireland, work on issues of reconciliation, and provide international support for the region. It held up, but it didn’t bring peace.

It wasn’t until the Good Friday Agreement (also known as the Belfast Agreement) in 1998 that the peace, or at least a framework for it, seemed to have arrived. Even with the agreement, there were still considerable issues to be addressed, including rights and equality, policing, parades, prisoners, victims, and decommissioning of weapons.

There are some successes here. Decommissioning is complete and the permanent disbanding of the paramilitaries has occurred. A police force, called the Police Service Northern Ireland (PSNI), is functioning fully today. Many prisoners have been released, with limitations. And in 2007, Northern Ireland was able to finally have a devolved government again.

However, many questions still remain. Who counts as a victim? What about the prisoners who were treated unfairly? Is the PSNI actually better, or is it just the same people who were active in paramilitaries performing the same discrimination as before? Which flags do you fly, and when, and where? Who can have parades, and is it okay to do them along the historical routes, even if they go through areas that aren’t of the same community? Should the peace walls come down? How should issues of housing be addressed? Should the school system be integrated?

Yeah, Northern Ireland isn’t perfect. But as a foreigner who lived there for several months, I can tell you that it’s gorgeous, the people are the nicest I’ve ever met, it’s safe and it’s recovering. It hasn’t even been ten years since Northern Ireland got a devolved government, and not yet twenty since the Good Friday Agreement, but I would definitely say it’s healing and well worth a visit.

Beautiful Belfast, capital of Northern Ireland, in the background.

Which side was ultimately right? I’ll let you decide that for yourself.

Cheers!

One Month Gone Already

Today marks one month since I arrived. I can’t believe that it’s just gone by like that. I realize that the rest will probably pass just as quickly, and that makes me even more desperate to cherish every precious moment that I still have here.

In celebration of being here one month, I’d like to address some things that flat out confuse me, bewilder me or make me genuinely wonder about myself.

No. 1: Cheese

What is with the cheese here? I wanted to have a little on hand to use, to make a quick little quesadilla snack or to put on bread with lettuce for a quick and easy bite when I’m busy. Problem is, all they have is this white cheddar. It’s everywhere! You can also find a small selection of what I’m guessing are all some kinds of French cheeses, but absolutely no colby jack. No queso fresco. Just white cheddar.

No. 2: Automatic Doors

It seems to me like every door in the main building of our university is an automatic door. So what’s the problem, you ask? The problem is you have to push a button to open it. And I walk past this button often. Or worse, the door is already open, and right when I try to walk through it the door starts to shut… And I do most certainly at that point run into it.

No. 3: Different Sizes of Currency

This one is actually ingenious. Differently valued bills have different sizes. For example, a 5£ note is smaller than a 10£ note. Don’t ask me why this amuses me, because it just does….

No. 4: Driving

Not that I’ve been driving around the UK, and I know that they drive on the left wrong side of the road here, but it’s still strange to actually be in a taxi and be on the left side. Especially if you are sitting in the front seat.

No. 5: Obsession with Fire

This one is just plain weird. I really don’t understand it, but the Northern Irish have some kind of obsession with fire. It goes something like, “You must keep the doors closed at all times because they are fire doors. Fire is very bad. Fire is dangerous. Fire will kill you. So you will keep the doors closed, or you will die.”

We have heard so much about fire safety here, and I find this somewhat ironic because it rains a lot and is super humid here. Therefore, wouldn’t the logical thought be that there is a very low chance of fire?

No. 6: Race

I don’t think I was prepared for this one. When I went to Oaxaca, I knew going into it that I would be part of the racial minority. Mentally, I was ready for that. However, Northern Ireland is different. I know that I am part of a racial majority in my home community, but there is at least some kind of diversity. I also knew ahead of time that there is far less racial diversity here.

What I wasn’t prepared for is how much less diversity there really is. Only 2% of the population is a racial minority in Northern Ireland, and I wonder if anyone here is really aware of their white privilege. Judging from the conversation I heard in the kitchen last week, I know that at least one local is not.

No. 7: Single Rooms

More than anything, I am grateful for this. I have my own room! In the US, you always have at least one roommate if you live on-campus except in extenuating circumstances. But here in Europe, they value privacy (thankfully).

I really enjoy having my own room. Also, having a full communal kitchen which I share with only four other people is really nice. At Baldwin, in the last several dorms I have lived in, the whole dorm shared one kitchen, and in the last dorm that I lived in this kitchen only had a microwave, not even a stove. Go figure.

No. 8: Co-Ed Living

For most of the people here, this probably doesn’t even cross their minds. However, this is a new one for me. In high school, I hung out with basically all guys. Then, I chose to go to a women’s college. Which means that this is the very first time I’ve ever lived in a co-ed dorm.

How do I like having males around me again? I LOVE IT. Having friends again who aren’t just women is fantastic! Being here has made me kind of wish I’d gone to a co-ed college in the first place….

No. 9: International Student Perks

Being an international student means that I get to mix with the other international students. So basically, I know very few locals, but I have great friends from a lot of different countries!

This, I think, is even better than having a lot of Northern Irish friends because I am being exposed to so many more cultures. Either way, everyone who isn’t American has some kind of accent that makes it difficult for me to understand them, so every conversation is a (good) challenge!

No. 10: Tea and Chocolate

I’ve known for a while that I have a chocolate addiction, but let me explain to you how bad it really is. I have four boxes of butter biscuits, three bars of Galaxy with caramel, a bar of Cadbury chocolate with caramel, two bars of Swiss chocolate brought from southern Germany by another international student, and a box of Turkish Delight (ginger stuff covered in dark chocolate).

All of this chocolate is all in my room. I’m going through it rather slowly, and it will be quite a while before I buy more. Just note that I do admit to having a serious chocolate problem.

Not only this, but I’ve developed a tea addiction. Right now I have three different types of tea in the kitchen, and I probably drink at least one mug of tea every day. One day recently I even drank five. I never have liked drinking tea in the States. How did this change come about?

7fd41-teaedit
All the tea…

In conclusion, I’m learning more and more about myself, how I think the world should work, and how some people actually try to make it work. Some of these things (those automatic doors) are frustrating, but a lot of other stuff is intriguing and has been a good learning experience for me.

Cheers!

My Solo Adventure in Belfast (& Apple Day)

Before I really get going with what I want to say, I’d like to let everyone know that I’m not sick anymore. I have defeated the acute bronchitis! I’m too excited about this. Moving along now….

An interesting thing happened on Friday. It rained. Yes, I was surprised that it rained in Northern Ireland. I realize that this is the climate, but it was just so strange because the weather has been so nice, and we had not had a proper rain since I arrived. Just thought I’d share that with you all.

While I have been recovering I’ve been working on my thesis so I didn’t exactly get out much last week. While I was being wildly dramatic and dying from my illness, I managed to work a lot on my thesis. By Saturday, I was absolutely losing my mind and just had to go out.

Twin was in Dublin so I couldn’t con her into coming with me to the city and everyone else seemed to be gone or already have plans. Therefore, I just grabbed my stuff and took myself on a date!

It’s nice to just relax and spend time by yourself sometimes. I think I definitely needed that, especially after staring at all the data for my thesis for so long…

I arrived at Belfast Central after a train ride that nearly put me to sleep, and I remembered that St. George’s Market was open. I hadn’t been yet and figured it was a good time for me to go scope it out, since I’m definitely planning to return several more times to try to enjoy it as much as possible.

My Solo Adventure in Belfast (& Apple Day)
St. George’s Market

The market was inside, which really surprised me. When I think market, I usually think outdoors. Although, I suppose that this isn’t too far off from the covered markets that I visited in Oaxaca.

My Solo Adventure in Belfast (& Apple Day)
Inside the market.

My Solo Adventure in Belfast (& Apple Day)

At St. George’s Market, they had quite a few food stalls out. Not that food is a bad thing, but I wasn’t exactly about to stuff myself and then walk around the city. I got to going around the craft stalls and there were a lot of locals with things that were handmade in Belfast or elsewhere in Northern Ireland. This place has Christmas shopping written all over it!

After perusing the market, I walked up towards City Hall. While I was walking past, a group of three women approached me. I could tell they were foreign (American to be exact), but apparently they didn’t recognize that I am as well. They asked me if I was from Belfast, and we all had quite a laugh when I said, “No, I’m from the States!” (Do I look like I’m Northern Irish?)

I made my way away from City Hall and towards the water. The wind was starting to pick up, and it was quite cold. At least the sun was out in full force. I walked along the water front and just enjoyed the day until I decided that I was hungry and ready to catch the train back to Jordanstown.

My Solo Adventure in Belfast (& Apple Day)
Titanic Belfast

My Solo Adventure in Belfast (& Apple Day)

My Solo Adventure in Belfast (& Apple Day)

I had a pretty good day out in Belfast and I’m glad that I went because the next day was quite cold and miserable. Then, the wind picked up and sheets of rain were falling down on us. My flatmate who is a local said that this is typical Northern Irish weather. I guess I’d better get used to it.

One more thing! I missed my very last Apple Day at Mary Baldwin yesterday. In order to still participate, I grabbed a few apples and went down to the beach with Twin. The tide was out and we walked out quite a ways. While we were out at the end, we noticed a seal hanging out on a rock sticking out of the water a bit away from us.

My Solo Adventure in Belfast (& Apple Day)

Finding our seal friend was a nice surprise and Taylor also got a great shot of me for Apple Day. A little while later I sent it on to MBC with a “Happy Apple Day from Northern Ireland” note and they shared it. It’s fun to do little things like that sometimes.

Cheers!

My Solo Adventure in Belfast (& Apple Day)

Day One, Two, Three….

Day one.

Wake up, go to “History of Economics.” The lecture is only two hours followed by a one hour tutorial. This day was a short one. What did I get out of it? Economists like to argue.

There were only five students in my class, and I was the only female. This felt so weird. Sick with a cold, so I then spent the afternoon relaxing and met our final mysterious flat mate. Went for a few groceries, followed by a mandatory residential services presentation. Then I crashed into a deep sleep.

Day two.

Sick still. Went to “Fractals, Chaos, and Complex Systems.” Listened to a quite hilarious applied mathematician poke fun at pure mathematicians, especially topologists. One of my professors in the States is a topologist so I found this extremely amusing. Once again, only five students were in this class, but it was a mix of genders. This is a three hour lecture with a three hour lab on select Fridays.

After class, Twin and I went to the library to get our “fish and chips” textbook, along with my economics textbooks. I’m pretty happy with the fact that two out of my three classes thus far do not require me to purchase any textbooks.  (In case you’re wondering what a “fish and chips” book is, you’ll need to check out the cover of William Flake’s The Computational Beauty of Nature. I thought it was a clever nickname.)

I then spent the rest of the afternoon relaxing, still attempting to conquer this cold.

Day three. Today.

Surprisingly, I have no classes on Wednesdays. This creates a nice relaxing rest day right in the middle of the week, and who couldn’t dig that? So what have I done? Well….

I met up with Twin and three of the German guys to head into the city. Once we arrived, Twin and I signed up for yLink cards, the youth discount system for the train and bus system here. I’m looking forward to having that in 7-10 days.

We also went to the Visit Belfast store and I bought myself two mugs for tea (lots of chamomile with honey right now) and hot chocolate. One of them has the filming locations from Game of Thrones in the shape of the Iron Throne.

Then, we went towards the shopping district and, at long last, purchased some phones. So yes, I am back to being connected to civilization! I wasn’t planning on it, but it seems that the benefits (telling flat mates that I’m not dead, coordinating meeting points, getting a late night taxi, etc.) outweigh the cost (£70).

And then… There was this thing I did… Well, I think it will surprise quite a few people… But…

I got my cartilage pierced! Did you see that one coming?

No, you didn’t see it coming. And neither did I. I’ve been wanting to do it for a while, but I didn’t think it would be today! I’m still letting it sink in.

Anyway, we wandered around Belfast, took in the murals, ate dinner, saw a giant fish, and then came on home.

It’s been a pretty chill day, but now I need to get ready for more studying and my next class tomorrow.

Cheers!

Two Weeks on the Emerald Isle

I’ve now been in Northern Ireland for almost two weeks. Strange, right? It most definitely doesn’t feel that long. However, in this short amount of time I’ve managed to get around to quite a few places on the Emerald Isle.

When I arrived, I was surprised to find the weather quite favorable. I expected rain, but it was sunny and has been since we arrived. Each time I think that, I realize that surely at some point our luck will run out, and we will have miserable rain for weeks on end.

The second thing I noticed, before I even made it through customs, was the wind turbines. I cannot even begin to explain to you how happy I was to see wind power. The fact that I continually see this makes me ridiculously at peace.

After finding one of the staff members from the International Department and the other international students who came on my flight, we loaded up and went to campus only to find that we could not get into our rooms until 14:00, which was a problem as it was only 9:30. Instead, as a first activity, the other students from my flight and I went to the nearby seaside park.

The sea is only a few minutes walk away from my campus.

That first day I was really just happy to get into my room and relax. The highlight of moving in was finding out that one of my flatmates happens to also love Rise Against.

The next several days brought about a pretty tedious orientation schedule, in which I learned that classes actually start a whole week later than I had previously thought. This was great news, because it means more time to explore!

Two days after arriving I joined some of the other international students in Belfast for the first time. On this trip, I met “Twin,” who is also a double-major in math and economics. Why is this worth mentioning? Because I have never met anyone who is also interested in both of these subjects and the type of work I’d like to do after college. It’s crazy to think that we found each other here even though she is from Minnesota and studies in Iowa (not so far from Missouri).

Anyway, we walked around Belfast for the evening, passing both the illuminated City Hall and Merchant Hotel, and dining at the Alley Cat which featured some interesting graffiti decor.

Belfast City Hall
Merchant Hotel
Inside the Alley Cat

The night went pretty well, but I was still clearly exhausted. Twin and I caught a taxi back to campus. I have to say the next night was much more enjoyable, as I met more international students who weren’t American, and I had some pretty good conversations with a few Germans who seemed baffled that I am a woman studying mathematics. I guess there are a lot of things I don’t notice while going to a women’s college….

Saturday was my first excursion out and about in Northern Ireland. All of the international students went to Giant’s Causeway and the Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge. I definitely preferred Giant’s Causeway. The views were stunning from the start. Instead of trying to narrate the day, I’m just going to share some photos. Though, I must advise you to keep in mind that these photos absolutely do not do it justice!

Carrick-a-Rede was interesting, but I was unimpressed by the rope bridge. I thought it would be longer or higher up. It’s also gorgeous, but was less gorgeous than Giant’s Causeway in my honest opinion.

Thus concludes week one in Northern Ireland! Sunday night was a good dinner at SoZo’s. Monday was generally uneventful. But Tuesday, Tuesday it got real. I went up to Portrush with a friend. While he was surfing, I read The Essential Gandhi on the beach. Yeah, surfing is a big thing there, with wet suits of course. And yeah, I was reading Gandhi’s writings on a beach… Typical me.

Surfers under a clear sky at Portrush’s West Strand.

When the beach adventure concluded, we went to Dunluce Castle, a recommendation from a friend who previously did the same study abroad program.

We took a bit of an adventure around the castle and the cove below. One thing that struck me as interesting is that people here are more likely to just jump a fence and do as they will, but leave no trash and take only photos with them. In the States I feel like people are more likely to trespass just to destroy things and break the law. It’s interesting to think about how Europeans seem to live in harmony with their surroundings whereas Americans just fence them off and destroy them despite the barriers in place.

As beautiful as the ruins, beaches, and general countryside are, the city of Belfast and its people are just as unique and vibrant! Friday night was Culture Night, and I must say I’ve never seen such a party. Everyone just seemed to be having a good time together as historic and modern Belfast became one.

In one area, I couldn’t help but to get way too excited about the graffiti art covering every surface. There were several local graffiti artists even creating work in the midst of the celebration.

I had a great time running around the city with the other international students. One of the best gems we found that night was a bar filled to the brim with Guinness memorabilia. It was really something to look at.

Twin and I in the bar… or pub? I don’t know Irish lingo…

There were other events filling the evening including…

One thing I noted during Culture Night is that it was a pretty open event. People were drinking, dancing, and having a really good time as children simultaneously ran around. I don’t feel like I’ve even been at an event in the States where it was acceptable for adults to consume alcohol if children were present.

I find that I am enjoying this laid back Northern Irish culture much more than the uptight American culture. People here were also just drinking for leisure whereas at home, I feel like Americans drink to excess more often than not with the goal of getting drunk. There is definitely a drinking culture here, but I’m surprisingly enjoying being around it.

To round out my story of my first two weeks in Northern Ireland, I have to share what I did yesterday. I went with three other international students to hike Cave Hill. Situated at the base of Cave Hill is Belfast Castle. When you get to the top, you can see the city of Belfast to the right, up to Jordanstown (including my Uni) on the left, and the sea. On a clear day you can even see across the sea to Scotland, though we didn’t really have quite that much luck.

Belfast Castle
Twin and I at Belfast Castle, pre-hike.
Finally made it to the top!
View of Belfast

So, in summary, I am still alive up here. I’ve been enjoying my free time these past two weeks, and earlier today I had my first class, in which I was the only female. Feels weird after going to a women’s college, but I’m dealing with it.

Cheers!