Northern Ireland Reflection

We encourage Honors students to find a defining experience by traveling abroad for study. The Honors College sponsors a number of trips, from the 2016 program in Bolivia to the ongoing Discover Medicine in Italy program. In the summer of both 2017 and 2018, a group of Honors students traveled to Northern Ireland. Student Kayleigh Conroy, who traveled in 2017, offered this reflection.

"One of the huge draws of this trip, for me, was the work we did with youth within the city."

"Rolling hills, greener than any pasture I’d ever seen in America, dotted with sheep and splashes of yellow flowers, dropped into the waves that crashed against jagged rocks. Behind me flocks of sheep bleated softly, their voices the only noise beyond the distant ocean. Cotton-candy pinks and regal purples bled across the sky, chasing the sun in its descent towards the ground. Inching towards the edge of the cliff, my breath caught in my throat. The spray of the sea couldn't reach me, but the air smelled of salt and sand.

"Everywhere we drove on the coast Northern Ireland was a new sight, each turn revealed a new piece of the world that was more beautiful than the last. Small, sleepy towns where the currency seemed to be beer and sheep were few and far between.

"However, we didn’t spend all of our time admiring the views. The majority of our weeks were spent in Belfast, a bustling city with a dark past, bloodied by prejudice. We met with leaders of the community over the course of three weeks to learn about the struggles of the past, the present, and the solutions to future problems for the citizens of Northern Ireland. One of the huge draws of this trip, for me, was the work we did with youth within the city.

"Distant shrieks and laughter drifted from the tiny, worn down building. Graffiti decorated the walls outside, climbing the chipping bricks and onto the faded sign that read 'Holy Family.' There are dozens of these youth centers in Belfast. They serve as places for children to go after school and on the weekends to get them involved in the community rather than in gang violence. While in Belfast, we met with numerous representatives of the surrounding area, learning about the dissonance between the Protestants and the Catholics, and what effects this conflict has had on the country and on future generations. Countless groups across Northern Ireland are working to bring these opposing sides together. Ending the decades of fighting rests on the shoulders of children. While in Belfast, we played with them, connected with them, and tried to understand how they saw the world.

"As we were ushered into the youth center, we were immediately overwhelmed by a crowd of kids, the youngest only coming up to my knee. They chattered away in thick Irish accents, laughing as we tried to understand them and asking us countless questions about America. They were fascinated with us. “Where are you from? Are you really from America? Have you ever met Lady Gaga? Do you know Donald Trump? Do you like Donald Trump? Have you ever been to New York? Do you know anyone famous? What grade are you in?” They were all absolutely enthralled with the idea of America, and we spent our hours there telling them about our lives (which were very similar to their own, much to their disappointment), doing crafts, and playing football. One night, we even made cupcakes, ending with many of the kids covered head to toe in icing and sprinkles.

"Standing on the edge of the world, on a cliff overlooking the sea stretching out farther than the horizon, can humble you. More humbling, though, is seeing families and communities thrive in spite of old prejudice and hate, and witnessing a new generation putting aside the discrimination of the past."