Alyssa Santa Cruz from Arizona State University shares the story of her final week of the International Summer School in Irish Studies...
I am sad to say that this was my last week in Belfast. While my four weeks are over, I will never forget this amazing experience I’ve had! I’m saying goodbye to Queen’s now, but I have a feeling this won’t be the last time I visit!
Our Week started off with an amazing discussion panel called ‘Dealing with the Past.’ We had a panel of victims and survivors of the Troubles. It was both fascinating and chilling to hear their first-hand accounts of the different events that occurred in the Troubles. We had learned about these events in the classroom, but to hear the personal stories made it feel more real and impactful. After this, we went to a short meeting with our Fulbright Advisor to talk about our experience here thus far. We had a short lunch before another discussion panel with representatives from former political prisoner groups. Like the first panel, I learned so much from their stories and got a deeper understanding of what really went on in this time. We ended the day with a debriefing session before going to the Parlour for dinner. I had to do laundry, which takes a long time, so I stayed in the rest of the night.
On Tuesday, we had an immersive experience in learning the Irish language and about some of the Gaelic traditions that still exist in Belfast. In the morning, we learned about the different dialects of Irish that are present around the island and even got a chance to practice some common phrases. After a short break, we then went down to the Gaeltacht Quarter to take a walking tour of Falls Road. Our tour took us past many landmarks and we ended at the Cultúrlann McAdam Ó Fiaich, an Irish language cultural centre. We ate lunch there, one of the best meals I’ve had, and it was so cool to see the menu in both Irish and English. There was even a small gift shop there with books in Irish and souvenirs. After lunch, we went upstairs to see a presentation about the Irish language revival movement and got a chance to practice some of the phrases we learned earlier! From there, we took a cab to Casement Park, a GAA sporting ground. While we didn’t get to go out into the field, we got a chance to learn about the different Gaelic sports and how they are played. After that, we also got a lesson on the history of traditional Irish music. When we got back to the dorms, we headed to the Eg for dinner and to play board games and card games for the rest of the night.
Wednesday was only a half day for classes, but it was also my new friend Reanna’s birthday, so the day was full of fun! In the first lecture, we learned about the role of religion and churches in the Troubles and how they contributed and responded to the conflict. After a short break, we then had a discussion panel from some religious leaders in Northern Ireland where we learned about their specific experiences and perspectives. After classes were over, we went to get lunch at Boojum/Build a Burger. I had a video interview with Queen’s so I split off from the group while I did that. After my interview, I took a walk down Botanic Ave and stopped in Oxfam Books and No Alibis. I got some really cool books at a great price to bring home with me, and also got a relaxing walk in the rain on the way back. Once I rejoined the others, we took a break in the dorms before starting the birthday celebration! We started with dinner and brownies at the Eg and hung out there for a bit before moving on to pub above the Student Union. We also hung out there before continue our pub hop at Filthy’s. We didn’t like it there too much, so we left there pretty early and ended our night at Lavery’s for a few games of pool! Overall, it was a great night!
Our last field trip of the programme was on Thursday, but it was a super cool one! We drove out to Bellaghy and started at a small museum. It had some artefacts that were used by the British army in the 17th century. We saw some flintlock pistols, rifles, and coins. We then took a tour of the rest of the museum before moving on to the Seamus Heaney Homeplace museum. It was very interactive and had an audio guide with Heaney actually reading his poetry to us as we moved through the exhibits. Upstairs there was a 15 square slide puzzle that has never been completed since the museum had opened, so obviously Cody and I took the challenge and worked on it for about 45 minutes. While we were so close (only two squares needed to be switched!) we had to leave for lunch before getting a chance to finish it. Our last stop of the day was to the Springhill House. This was an old plantation house inherited by the National Trust and set up to show how the Ulster Gentry would have lived back in the day (can’t quite remember what century, but it was either 17th or 18th). We took a tour through the different rooms, even a haunted one, and then had a chance to walk around the property and see an old windmill. There was also a little bookshop, so obviously I had to drop in and buy a book! It just started to rain as we were leaving (thank goodness, I can’t have my new book getting wet!) and we headed back to Queen’s. We got dinner at the Eg before heading to McHugh’s bar for our Queen’s Pub Trivia night! We formed a team proudly called “American Dumbasses” and won the bidding war to have Professor Peter Gray on our team! Throughout the game, we were taking the lead, but lost by a half a point in the last round. Despite our loss, we had lots of fun! We ended the night with traditional Irish music and dancing!
Friday was our last day of the program, and therefore was the saddest day of the program. I had a personal mission in the morning to visit the Northern Ireland Fire Services. My dad is a Fire Captain and sent me with some shirts and a hat to give them as a souvenir from Arizona. I got a tour of the station and even got a shirt and hat to take back home to my dad! I walked back to Queen’s and got a pot of Breakfast Tea before going to Final Discussion lecture. We talked about what we liked and disliked about the program before having our ‘graduation!’ We went to Build a Burger for lunch and walked to city center for a final souvenir trip. When we got back, I procrastinating on packing (if I don’t pack, I can’t leave, right?) before getting ready for our final dinner. We went to the Barking Dog, which is a bit fancier so we dressed up nice. We took a bunch of pictures together and headed to dinner. It was delicious, but we saved dessert for a final brownie at the Eg.
Soon, a lot of others from the program joined us and we had one last hang out before people slowly started trickling out to pack. It was so hard to say good-bye, even though I have only known this group for four weeks, it feels like we’ve been friends for longer. When I finally got back to the dorm, I reluctantly packed for my trip back home.
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