It was mid-May, always a busy time at USD. We were closing out the academic year, wrapping up final exams and orchestrating the Herculean task of preparing more than 400 students to study abroad during the summer. We were also welcoming several new international students to campus.
And still, a sense of work left undone nagged at me.
I remembered the words of Provost Julie Sullivan earlier that fall when she inaugurated our International Center. She laid out our mission with clarity: “To develop international programs that would meet the diverse curricular and professional needs of each and every faculty and student on campus.” We’d certainly been working on it. Much of the year had been spent fine-tuning existing programs and developing new affiliations in underrepresented areas of the world.
Earlier in the spring, I’d received an invitation from the University of Ulster in Northern Ireland to discuss possible collaborative efforts. The timing was excellent, as Dean William Headley was exploring various new options for both graduate and undergraduate students to participate in Peace Studies programs in “cooled-off places of the world.” Northern Ireland might be the perfect place for our students to get first-hand experience of conflict resolution and mediation.
Arriving in Belfast, Northern Ireland reminded me of previous visits to Israel and the Palestinian territories. While the region is much calmer, the residue of previous clashes remains. The charged and complicated history between Catholics and Protestants was immediately present in the discourse of the local people.
As a linguist, I always pay particular attention to accents, intonation and speech patterns, and the driver assigned to take us from Belfast to Port Rush had one of the most charming — yet difficult — Irish accents I had ever heard. As we discussed the itinerary for the campus visits in the coming days, the driver was quick to correct me when I told him I was going to Londonderry to visit the Magee campus. He explained that only the Brits called it Londonderry. No God-fearing Catholic would ever refer to the town as anything but Derry.
While at Derry’s Magee campus, we were greeted by Nobel Peace Prize winner John Hume (who currently holds the Tip O’Neill Chair of Peace Studies) and Professor Paul Arthur, as well as many others interested in helping to develop one of the most unique programs in the world. Driving around, the vestiges of the conflict between Catholics and Protestants were still visible in the many murals around the inner city and the different colored roadside curbs that indicated territoriality and demarcation of one side or the other. Depictions of the “Bloody Sunday Massacre of 1972” were juxtaposed by peace marches as we entered the most conflicted part of the city.
Most of our visit was spent talking with colleagues and local students as well as citizens in the streets of Derry. There was a consensus that although the Peace treaty had been signed, in Derry — as in much of Northern Ireland — everyone had to work very hard to maintain a sustainable peace. Most said that “tolerance” was the primary goal; clearly it was going to take more time to transition from tolerating one another to respecting one another.
Still, in many ways, the conflict that’s plagued Catholics and Protestants for the past 35 years was over. Political struggles are almost always ethnically or religiously motivated, and Northern Ireland is no exception. But disentangling the political from the personal is how sustainable peace is accomplished. Their experiences now lead them to other parts of the world to serve as models for sustainable peace in the Sudan, Rwanda, Kenya, parts of Latin America and Israel and Palestine.
And we’ll be helping them build this model for peace. Soon USD will sign a Memorandum of Understanding with the University of Ulster. We’ll be developing undergraduate programs in Peace Studies and International Relations, as well as internships for graduate students studying mediation and conflict resolution. A small cohort of Irish exchange students will come to USD, and we’ll be looking at developing programs for faculty research grants and exchanges.
Of course there are many challenges ahead of us, but this trip has left me even more confident that we will continue to expand our international offerings at a rapid pace. And as we do so, USD will become a recognized world leader in international education.
Looking ahead, I still feel a nagging sense of work left undone. But that’s OK. Nobody said it would be easy.
Associate Provost for Internationalization Carl Jubran clocks over 36,000 miles a year spreading the word about USD’s efforts worldwide. Reach him via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.