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International Experience in North Ireland: A Student’s Perspective

Written by Barbara Gallego

As I prepare to start my last semester it is hard not to have mixed feelings about completing my masters and journey at SOLES.  One would say that I should feel ecstatic about finally completing my degree and I do, but as a commuter student, I never thought I would have the opportunity to have meaningful moments with the faculty and staff of SOLES. Boy was I wrong! My journey at USD has exceeded my expectations of what going through a masters program would bring.

My trip to North Ireland proved once again that my decision to attend USD is one of the best and most impactful decisions I have made in my life. I am a mother of two children, who have been on this incredible ride with me from the very beginning. At times it has been incredibly challenging to continue with my studies, so when I made the decision to fulfill my international requirement with a trip to North Ireland and leave my children behind for 8 days or so, I was filled with anxiety and doubt. Nonetheless, I said to myself, “when will you have another opportunity to travel abroad as a student and experience a culture and country that you otherwise would probably never visit?” and so I decided to embark on what turned out to be one of the most beautiful, transforming and meaningful experiences I have had at SOLES.

The period of “The Troubles” in North Ireland is one that I remember hearing about as a young adult: the conflict between Catholic and Protestants. Our trip to North Ireland was the perfect balance of history, culture, scenery and real-life stories of resilience, perseverance and struggles of a country to find peace. Our trip was immersive and full of unforgettable and meaningful moments.

Like when we heard 8 year olds from Cranmore Integrated School tell us about the importance to be inclusive and welcoming to all cultures and beliefs.

Like when a 10 year girl from Cranmore wrote her thought on the peace wall that said: “Look at it from a different eye, try the peace eye”.

Like when a former IRA member painted a vivid picture of what it was to grow up in Belfast as a child, whose mother was a young widower with four sons, forced to live on government aid because no one would give her a job because she was Catholic.

Like when we learned about the “The Troubles” by visiting neighborhoods in Belfast where peace walls still separate catholic and protestant neighborhoods to avoid conflict from arising.

Like when we visited Derry where murals in the city made the conflict palpable and real.

Or when in Derry, we toured The Museum of Free Derry, where we were given a tour by the brother of Michael Kelly, an unarmed 17 year old boy killed on Bloody Sunday.

Like when we toured The Crumlin Gaol, where prisoners were incarcerated in cells without plumbing during “The Troubles” and where we learned that women and children where incarcerated during in the late 1800’s.

Or when we were building community and making new friends while touring the beautiful scenery of North Ireland.

So thank you Linda and Lea! You both made our North Ireland trip an unforgettable and meaningful experience.