Today was the first official day of the Queen’s University Belfast Irish Studies and Conflict Transformation and Social Justice Summer Schools. All of the Summer School participants were orientated today. Most of them are from the states, but there a quite a few from different places in Europe, Brazil, Southeast Asia, Australia, and probably some other places that I am forgetting. I was not looking forward to it at the beginning of the day because these kinds of situations stress me out, but I had such a great day. The beginning of the morning was a bit of a repeat, since we had already heard the Queen’s University marketing spiel, and the Summer School overview, but it was nice to hear the information again since most of our brains were not at a processing capability the first day in Belfast. After those information sessions, we were divided into groups and had a quiz tournament ( a popular occasion in the UK that I think is just wonderful!). We had questions about Northern Irish politics, famous people, pictures, etc. Our team came in second place, which was exciting! There are about fifty students participating in both summer schools (Irish Studies & Conflict Transformation and Social Justice). The primary focus of the Fulbrighters is Irish Studies, but conflict transformation is obviously a huge part of Irish Studies, so we’ll get some of that information as well.
After the quiz, we had another tour of the University. The campus isn’t big, but there are some beautiful buildings. The main building, Lanyon Building, kind of reminds me of the Admin building and U of I. Architectural similarities related to power is a fascinating topic. Once the tour was completed, we had a lunch break, which was wonderful because I had not had enough coffee at breakfast. I had chatted with her a bit beforehand, but lunch was really the first chance that I had to talk to a girl named Jana (pronounced Yonna) from Switzerland. She is great! We have a lot in common, and I love hearing all about where she lives in Switzerland. Jana is very interested in politics in the states, so we have great conversations. We really clicked, and I’m looking forward to getting to know her better. Honestly, I haven’t met a single person here that I didn’t like. Everyone is so personable and passionate about this summer school program, and 99% of the people here are game for a good political discussion, which I LOVE! Especially since we have people here from all over the world, the political discussions are phenomenal. Jana, Sarah (from Austria), and I had an exceptional chat about police forces in different parts of the world, and how they view the public, and vice versa. Sociology is so cool.
After lunch we had another bus tour of Belfast. There were two buses this time. One with Dominic, and one with Gordon Gillespie, who is another professor in the Institute of Irish Studies. The fulbrighters went on Gordon’s bus this time, so that we could get a different perspective of the city. One of the most memorable things that we talked about was all of the flags throughout the city.
The flag culture here is different than it ever has been before. First off, flags are so cheap now a days. You can get a full sized flag in Belfast for less than 5 pounds. Because the flags are so cheap, there is less of a push to take them down after major holidays, so they stay up until they disintegrate. In Belfast, flags are an important way of marking territory, but also a way of instigating certain behaviors. There are a lot of Union Jack flags up right now because of th recent parades on July 12th. At Easter, there are a lot more Republic of Ireland and Republican flags up as a way to commemorate the Easter Rising of 1916. Along with Union Jack and Republic of Ireland flags, the flying of paramilitary flags increases around these holidays. Flying these flags is illegal because the IRA (Irish Republican Army), UDA (Ulster Defense Association), UVF (Ulster Volunteer Force), etc. are groups not recognized by the state. Technically there are categorized as terrorist groups – similar to ISIS. There are also a lot of memorials around the city that have been put up illegally by these paramilitary groups. The interesting thing is that the police won’t take down the flags or memorials because the consequences would be too much. What’s worse, a memorial or a riot? Regardless, it is encouraged that flags be taken down within ten days of the commemorative holiday. Gordon mentioned that Unionist flags tended to stay up a lot longer than Irish flags for some reason, so I asked him why. He said that he wasn’t quite sure, but a couple of his ideas were that 1) the Republicans tend to be more organized. Their main group is Sinn Fein, and they hold a lot of power and credibility in Irish neighborhoods. The Unionists have a few more groups like the UDA, the UVF, Orange Volunteers, etc. Since there isn’t necessarily one group that dominates protestant neighborhoods, it’s a little harder to organize. We also talked about how different the flag culture is in America and in the UK. Because flags are so cheap in the UK, there isn’t much push to take them down right after holidays. Leave them up. It’s so cheap that it isn’t necessarily worth the effort to take them down at all, even if they are a bit tattered. In the states, even though flags are cheap, you would be hard pressed to find a tattered flag, much less one that is nearly rotten on the flag pole. U.S. flags are supposed to be disposed of in a very ritualistic way, but no one worries about properly disposing a flag here. It’s an interesting thing to think about.
I also learned that in Catholic areas of the city, there is hope to strengthen the native Irish language, Gaelic. Just like in Dublin, a lot of places in the Catholic parts of Belfast have both English and Gaelic signs.
Remember this wall? Protestants on one side, Catholics on the other?
Well, today I learned that there is a bigger demand for Catholic housing than there is for Protestant housing. Right underneath this wall is a sidewalk, then a road, then another sidewalk, then some houses (the following picture). On the other side, you will see the backs of houses right up on the wall. This next picture shows how far the housing is removed from the street, but most especially, from the wall. This picture was taken from the opposite sidewalk.
Do you see how far back these houses are? That’s because the demand for housing in the protestant sections aren’t as high as in the Catholic areas, so they can afford to be further away from the walls. Houses are right up on the wall on the Catholic side. As much as I hate to admit it, economics is in everything. I can’t escape it.
After the tour we went back to our apartments and made some dinner. We only get 70 pounds a week for food, and that isn’t enough if we are eating out all of the time, so we decided to cook some meals in our kitchenettes. We don’t have a lot of cooking utensils, so we had to be creative. I’m sure I’ll have some funny stories for you with kitchen creativity in the coming days. After dinner, we walked back to Queen’s for a wine reception with the Vice Chancellor of the university, Irish Studies faculty, and the other students. I think Chancellor is the ultimate title. Doesn’t Chancellor Staben sound so much cooler than President Staben? I’ll have to write to the U of I and see if we can get that changed. The wine reception was great. Meeting people from other countries has been amazing. Hearing their perspectives about America has been invaluable to my understanding of what it means to be American. Again, I am finding myself more conscious and aware of my identity as an American. Additionally, why are we limited to one identity? I have an identity as an American, as an Idahoan, as a historian, as a student, etc., and they don’t always relate to one another.
The next stop was a pub because we didn’t want to go back to the apartments yet. We were enjoying talking to each other too much! We all had a drink and some of us played pool, and we had another awesome conversation about accents and language and how that relates to our perception of the world. I met a guy who is majoring in social anthropology (HOW COOL IS THAT?!) which I hadn’t heard of before, and after reading about it, it sounds like it would be cool to major in. That leads me to the question, how many times will I change my major before I stick with one? Now I’m back at the apartment, writing about my day, which makes me really happy. I was encouraged to record my time here, and I was a bit worried that it would become a chore, but I am finding that writing helps me to remember the days more clearly, and it also helps me to think about and process what I have learned. I think I am getting a lot more out of the program with this time to think about all of the information because I’m viewing it all as an experience rather than facts, if that makes any sense at all. The next few days have a lot of lectures lined up, so I probably won’t have many pictures, but hopefully I’ll have some good questions to think about. Still trying to understand and formulate a legitimate reason why apathy is even a thing that exists in this world…life is hard.