Now that the program in Dublin is in full swing and halfway over, I can reflect upon my progress in accomplishing my personal, academic and professional goals. Personally, I have made a few new friendships with the students in my study abroad group and I could not be happier with how things are going for me socially. I never feel alone because I am always able to find someone to get lunch with, study with or just play a game of pool with in the lobby. There are still members of the group I would like to develop more personal relationships with, but I am definitely on track to achieving my goal.
In terms of professionally fully understanding how the culture is different from that in Pittsburgh I have not been able to answer my question. I am constantly being thrown new information and new experiences which can be extremely overwhelming at times. Yesterday the group took a day trip to Belfast and learned firsthand about the troubles in Northern Ireland between the Catholic and Protestant population. We were able to hear firsthand from survivors about their experiences in paramilitary groups and how the conflict is no longer violent but still in full effect in parts of Northern Ireland. It was shocking to me how two groups of people who cannot be told apart by their physical appearance live completely separated from each other by a forty-foot wall to prevent so much hatred. I am still working on understanding Irish culture and the dynamic of various relationships between groups of people here.
Perhaps the most rewarding experience of the entire trip would be the fact that academically I feel like I have gained a much deeper understanding of Ireland and Northern Ireland’s history. The class we took here was called “The Troubles in N Ireland” and it dealt with the incredible conflict that arose between the British loyalists and Irish republicans in Northern Ireland throughout the twentieth century. Our teacher, a local Irishman, Nial Gilmartin was an excellent professor who portrayed the conflict in a non-biased way even though his family had clear connections to one side of the conflict. We learned about famous paramilitary organizations such as the IRA, UVF and political groups such as Sinn Fein which are still around today! The most important thing about learning about Irish history is that it will stay with me forever and I will at least have a brief understanding of what went on this side of the world in the twentieth century and will be able to use that information and relate to people who come from this area of the world.
Apart from obtaining my goals, I have had some wonderful sight seeing experiences. Being able to tour Belfast and learning from a local tour guide at the same time was incredible. Walking around Dublin and taking the modern transportation system while seeing impressive forms of architecture such as St Patrick’s Cathedral, Trinity College and Dublin College has given me a greater sense of respect for how much history this great city really has. Next up for me is touring the financial district of the city which I have heard is magnificent!