Wednesday, May 8, 2013

"Every goodbye makes the next hello closer."

The SIT Spring 2013 Group during Orientation

I don’t know why I have such a problem with goodbyes. I’ve only noticed this about myself in the past few years. That urge to push the thought out of your mind until the last possible moment when it sneaks up on you. You feel it slowly bubbling in your stomach then all of a sudden it smacks you hard in the face when you begin to realize that you are not only saying goodbye to people, but also an experience.

I knew my experience of studying abroad would be amazing wherever I ended up. But I ended up in Ireland and for four months, that was my world. I saw incredible sites from the cliffs of the Aryan Islands to forests of Glendalough to the beaches of Donegal. I learned more than I could ever imagine about Irish history, the Northern Ireland conflict, and myself. I met some amazing people along the way: my Dublin host mother Carmel, the Lyttles – my host family in Derry, my academic director Aeveen, and many experts and lecturers who challenged us to look deeper into everything we studied.

But this is not just MY experience. I shared it with seven other students and this will forever be OUR experience. As John Donne said, “No man is an island, entire of itself. Each is a piece of the continent, a part of the main.” In my mind, it is impossible to separate these people from Ireland because it was with them that I experienced it. When I think of Ireland, I will always think of each and every one of them and remember how we all progressed through this journey together. So Arnela, Katie, Sean, Tyler, Holden, Danny, and Mike, I want to thank you for some of the best few months of my life. I hope that our group hug in the streets of Galway was not our last. We must remember, “Every goodbye makes the next hello closer.”

The group the day before we went our separate ways.
Picture was taken on Innismore, Aran Islands in front
of a fort built in 2nd century BC

Monday, May 6, 2013

Bridge Across the Divide

Again, I have been horrible at blogging over these past few weeks, but I’m sure you can understand that the end of the semester is always a whirlwind. Especially when you are writing a 45-page paper in one week!

After spending three weeks in Derry~Londonderry, and one week in Dublin to write, I have officially completed my Independent Study Project. As I said in my last post, I researched the Peace Bridge in Derry~Londonderry. I was skeptical of the bridge at first because it has been advertised as a physical facilitator of peace within the city. I didn’t believe that a bridge could unite a city divided by decades of political turmoil. However, I was pleasantly surprised to find that the bridge has indeed helped to increase interactions between members of both groups within the city.

Peace Bridge

I’ll leave you with a small excerpt from my conclusion:

With the weight of history and memory upon the city that has lasted for generations, it may be difficult to understand how a bridge could help a community overcome an inherited historical memory. The success of the Peace Bridge in overcoming the hindrance of history rests with the creation of a new historical narrative for the city and the introduction of shared space. The new bridge is free of the symbols that so often mark the territory of one group or another throughout the city. The bridge also connects the city center to Ebrington Barracks, a space that had been closed to the public previously. The story of Ebrington as a base for the British Army during the Troubles is quickly fading as the lost history of Ebrington’s role during World War I and World War II, reemerges; this is a history that the city as a whole can share and embrace together.  Because of the creation of this new historical narrative, the city of Derry~Londonderry has been able to redefine its identity and project a message of a forward progress that acknowledges a fresh start. At the center of this new identity is the Peace Bridge and its symbolic bridging between not only two groups, but also the past and the present.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

This Little Light of Mine

Sometimes it’s hard to believe what is going on in this world. This week in particular has been difficult. Back home we’ve had the tragedy at the Boston Marathon, attempted attacks on elected officials, and the explosion of a plant in Texas. Here in Derry, we’ve experienced heightened violence and protests in response to Margaret Thatcher’s death. It’s so easy for us to get bogged down in what seems to be a world of overwhelming tragedy and hate.

Northern Ireland has experienced its fair share of tragedies. Not too soon after we heard about the Boston bombings, my host mother told me about her experience in the Omagh bombing in 1998. She was taking her children to the park in Omagh that Saturday afternoon and happened to pick up a hitchhiker on the road. Instead of dropping him off in the city center like they agreed, she offered to take him all the way home. On their way back through the city, they were diverted by police officers. The bomb had gone off roughly a half an hour before they arrived killing 29 people and injuring 220. By some stroke of luck, or perhaps fate, the detour to bring the hitchhiker home saved their lives. It is terrifying to think how close we are to events such as this.

But one of the things that I’ve learned in the past few years is that a bit of good, no matter how small can shine its way through the darkness. A picture I heard about in a podcast I was listening to reminded me of this. It was a projection on a wall in NYC of a famous MLK quote: “Darkness cannot drive out darkness, only light can do that.” The words alone are moving, but below the quote, the universal NY font was connected the Boston Red Sox “B”  with a heart, uniting the symbols of rivalry.

It is small gestures like that keep me going. We saw that in the aftermath of the Boston Marathon: runners rushing to hospitals to donate blood, locals opening up their homes for complete strangers, and even just messages of support from across the whole country.

Sometimes all you need is a small example of hope to keep you going. I was privileged enough to hear the Dalai Lama speak today (you can read more about it here) and I don’t think it could have come at a better time. The Dalai Lama was invited by Derry’s own, Richard Moore, who has developed a special relationship with His Holiness over many years. A British Army Officer shot Richard in the face with a rubber bullet when he was a child and was blinded as a result. Despite this, Richard has met the officer who shot him and given his forgiveness. The Dalai Lama said that Richard is his hero for his ability to live a compassionate life.

The Dali spoke today about the importance of living a peaceful life. I could tell you about the inspiring things he said or the jokes he told, but I know that these are things that will fade from my memory with time. What I will always remember is the feeling I had, sitting with 2,500 other people, many from the city of Derry, listening to one of the most prominent symbols of peace in the world today, and applauding his every word. It did not matter if we were Protestant or Catholic. We were all experiencing the event together.

Peace flags on the Peace Bridge
welcoming the Dalai Lama to Derry

Dalai Lama speaking in Derry

Here in Derry, things are looking up. Yes, there have been petrol bombs thrown into the Fountain (a small Protestant community on the cityside) this past week, but this is a small minority of people behind such actions. The Dalai Lama called upon us to take action, and I certainly think that the city of Derry-Londonderry is headed in the right direction. In the words of His Holiness himself: “The last century was the century of violence. This must be the century of peace. My generation's century is now gone, but the future is still in your hands.”

Let us all work towards creating a century of peace. We have seen the affects of war and violence. It is our responsibility to do everything we can to make this idea a reality. I think Eleanor Roosevelt said it best: "It isn't enough to talk about peace. One must believe in it. And it isn't enough to believe in it. One must work at it." Time to roll up your sleeves, people. 

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

The Iron Lady

The death of Former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher has sparked quote a controversy over these past few days. Here in Derry, people took to the streets in celebration, graffitiing walls with slogans such as: "Ding dong the witch is dead," and "Rot in Hell Maggie Thatcher." Petrol bombs were thrown as people waved the Irish tri-color. 

Check out the video below containing some pictures of the celebrations in Derry:

Here is a statement released by Gerry Adams, Sinn Féin politician and alleged IRA member, who holds a seat in the Dáil Éireann (the lower house of the Irish Parliament):

April 8th 2013
Death of Margaret Thatcher

Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams commenting on the death today of former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher said:

Margaret Thatcher did great hurt to the Irish and British people during her time as British Prime Minister.

Working class communities were devastated in Britain because of her policies.
Her role in international affairs was equally belligerent whether in support of the Chilean dictator Pinochet, her opposition to sanctions against apartheid South Africa; and her support for the Khmer Rouge.

Here in Ireland her espousal of old draconian militaristic policies prolonged the war and caused great suffering. She embraced censorship, collusion and the killing of citizens by covert operations, including the targeting of solicitors like Pat Finucane, alongside more open military operations and refused to recognise the rights of citizens to vote for parties of their choice.

Her failed efforts to criminalise the republican struggle and the political prisoners is part of her legacy.

It should be noted that in complete contradiction of her public posturing, she authorised a back channel of communications with the Sinn Féin leadership but failed to act on the logic of this.

Unfortunately she was faced with weak Irish governments who failed to oppose her securocrat agenda or to enlist international support in defence of citizens in the north. 

Margaret Thatcher will be especially remembered for her shameful role during the epic hunger strikes of 1980 and 81.

Her Irish policy failed miserably.

It is an interesting time to be in Derry~Londonderry. We all have personal opinions about politicians and sometimes we tend to demonize them and confine them into polarized symbols. I can sympathize with the people who disagreed with her overly-forceful actions throughout the world.  Perhaps it's the idealistic American college student in me, but I would hope we could have these discussions in a respectful way that recognizes that she was an individual who had her own virtues and vices. Many Northern Ireland politicians have publicly condemned the celebrations of Thatcher's death including the deputy First Minister or Northern Ireland, and I hope others will follow.  

Friday, April 5, 2013

You can tell it’s ISP time when…

Well it certainly has been awhile since I have blogged! These past few weeks have been intense in terms of workload. I wrote a politics paper, a reflection on my Northern Ireland experience (totaling 12 pages), decided on the topic for my final project, wrote a proposal for my final project, and organized the logistics of my field study.

So now I am off to Derry (I’m typing away on the bus) to complete my independent study project. This is the unique uniting factor of all SIT programs: a one-month period to conduct a field study and produce a paper analyzing your findings. I have chosen to complete mine in the city of Derry in Northern Ireland. I have been fascinated with the topic of commemoration and memory in terms of the Northern Ireland conflict.

At first I thought about doing a project on the murals in Belfast as a form of commemoration that can provoke or hurt opposition groups, but this has been the focus of many other SIT Ireland ISPs and I wanted to do something a bit different. Then, my Academic Director, Aeveen, suggested I look into the Peace Bridge in Derry. The bridge opened in 2011 and is a pedestrian and cycling bridge that connects one bank of the River Foyle to the other. This might not seem significant, however, like many communities in Northern Ireland, Derry is a divided city. The Catholic majority stays on one side of the bank (with the exception of a small protestant community referred to as “The Fountain”) and the Protestant community lives on the other side. There has been very little interaction between these two groups, but in the past few years Derry seems to be making great strides in terms of the peace process. The bridge is meant to be a symbol of peace, but also encourage cross-community interaction. My project will be to examine if this bridge can overcome centuries of sectarian memory.

Peace Bridge in Derry

I have no idea where this project will take me, so I’m just going along for the ride!

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Craic All Around

Last weekend was St. Patrick's Day and Dublin was transformed into one big party! We returned from Derry on Friday and the festivities had already begun. It was a weekend full of great craic and good friends. I'll let my pictures of the parade and other activities speak for themselves!


NYPD Bagpipers made the journey
across the Atlantic to celebrate!

St. Patrick himself!

I really have no explanation 

They told us they were spinning tops.


Toy soldiers dishing out some free high-fives

Awesome Steampunk costume

More Steampunk

It snowed in the city...for a minute at least!

Scenes from Dublin: Day and Night

The girls and the lights 

Katy, Elena, Tyler, Holden, Arnela (Photo cred: Arnela)

Katy and I enjoying some music at
the pub (Photo cred: Arnela)

Monday, March 11, 2013

Giant's Causeway

As part of our "relaxation weekend" before we start planning our big end of the year projects, we took a trip to Giant's Causeway. We were walkin' on a bunch of sixty million year old basalt columns. Legend has it, the giant Finn McCool wanted to have a rumble with another giant across the North Channel in Scotland. Finn began building the path, placing each individual stone. Scientifically speaking, the causeway was formed from an ancient volcanic reaction.

The causeway

Sean on top of the world


The whole group!

Sean and Katie on Finn McCool's shoe

Arnela navigating the rocky terrain