Front of Stormont
Upon arriving in the city and catching a taxi to Queen’s, fumbling about with my suitcases and my newly appointed key to the student village building, I navigated my way over to the spot I was shown on the little diagram and hoped for the best.
As one of the first to arrive here in Belfast on Sunday, the 24th of June, it was quite the spectacle to observe several Australian students roll in off the back of 24-plus hours of flying, dazed and confused, as we soon realised the AIM students had been placed in the same building (with a few American students thrown in). The next whirlwind of a week was already in motion.
As we banded together in a swarm of slight social awkwardness at a local pub down the road, we soon learned hometowns and names; discussed mutual friends and political matters; and shared worries or concerns. Over the first drink that night, we established quite the epitome of Aussie culture; a friendly, banterous nature that I’m glad to say has continued with the group since.
Republican Memorial in Crossmaglen, South Armagh
The Monday was a process of registration, welcome packs, tours of the gorgeous university buildings and a wine reception that night, which gave us a chance to meet the teaching professors, as well as other students that had come from across the world to study Conflict Resolution.
Tuesday began the first day of full lectures on Northern Ireland politics and identity, with a history of the state and its people and their loyalties to either the Unionist groups (those who want to stay with the UK), or the Nationalist or Republican groups (those who want to leave the UK or become more independent).
This extensive day of lectures grounded us in the course and gave a segway into the conflict and resolution processes, which filled our next day of lectures also. With guest lecturers, panellists and professors alike, we were taught about the policing and governance of Northern Ireland and other examples of Conflict Transformation.
Guide Mr. Glendinning giving a tour in South Armagh
Mr. McEvoy giving a guided tour in South Armagh
A sign attached to a post in South Armagh
As we opened our eyes to the city throughout the week, we soon began to realise the differences in not only Irish culture to Australia, but also the ramifications of Northern Ireland’s history and ongoing disunity within the state.
Tall walls and security fences line certain areas, as sides of buildings are painted in tributes and murals from the Troubles. Flags line the streets of ‘designated’ Protestant and Catholic areas, with either the Union Jack or the Irish flag outside the front of people’s houses.
Police cars are older adapted armoured Land rovers from the conflict, and look abnormal to us as outsiders, but are normal police vehicles to the locals. It was the slight differences here that did make us reflect especially on how important our time was here in Belfast.
The end to our week was capped off with two tours; the first to South Armagh, a region and border county to the Republic of Ireland with a historical notoriety for smuggling and violence during what is known as ‘the Troubles’ in Northern Ireland.
On the Friday we travelled to Stormont, the Parliament house in Northern Ireland. The looming building is nestled back in well-kept gardens, overlooking the city.
Looking out from Stormont
Stormont Parliament House
Our tour of the ornate structure was begun in the house of assembly rooms, where the process of ‘normal’ government proceedings was explained; an ironic situation given the current coalition in Northern Ireland has refused to sit together for 18 months here over party disputes.
We concluded with a panel of these very same politicians, known as MLA’s, (Members of the Legislative Assembly), a rare opportunity for questions to be asked to these varying members of the major political parties in the state.
Our week had begun in a whirlwind of confusion and chaos; as we had come to discover the many quirks of student life here at Queen’s.
Our discovery of potato bread at breakfasts was the first of many unusual finds, as well as discovering the innards of our local Tesco’s, and scrambling to Primark after class to stock up on summer clothes given the unusual state of the weather. Dazed and confused by the light sky until 11pm most nights, the conversion rate, and the strange way they seem to make espresso coffee, I am glad to report that our group of AIM students have banded together over this past week in an effort to survive our stay and enjoy it too.
Until next time,
Lauren Dinning is a Journalism and International Relations student from Adelaide, South Australia. A lover of crime shows, books, and cute animals, she is excited to step outside her comfort zone and explore a new part of the world through AIM Overseas. This is her first solo trip overseas.