Sydney Johnson from Mount St Mary's University shares her story of the first week of the Conflict Transformation Summer School at Queen's...
My first week in Belfast is nearly over leaving me a quarter of the way through my program. It has went by so fast and has been a crazy week thus far and it isn’t even over. Tomorrow we embark on a journey to the Northern coast of Northern Ireland to visit Giant’s Causeway as well as many stops along the coast. It is sure to be one of the most beautiful days so far.
The week started with orientation on our beautiful campus. This is the main building, the Lanyon Building. I’m pretty much going to school in a castle. It’s crazy and insane and blows my mind every single time I remember it. Imagine casually walking to class, it’s more like a hike really. It’s 15 minutes from where I am staying up and down these hills and then you arrive at this massive castle and you think, “woah, that’s gorgeous, what is that? Oh wait, I am a student here.”
Tuesday was a whole whirlwind of emotions and thoughts I still have not yet come to peace with. That is mostly why I have yet to write this blog post. Tuesday rocked my world. I came into this program so in love with the idea of creating a peaceful world for those that live around me. I had an idea of how difficult I thought that would be, obviously, but not nearly as detailed of an idea that I got on Tuesday. Granted, the idea I currently have now probably isn’t anything close to reality either. The more we know, the more we realize we have so much too learn. Generally, we talked about peace processes, the way people come to a state of peace. To further understand this we must understand that everyone means something different when they say peace. Some people refer to the lack of violence, or as lots of academics call negative peace, or the presence of equality which would be coined as positive peace. Different people go about these two types of peace in very different ways. This further creates more conflict in the peace process. This branching of definitions creates a very difficult divide between people that are trying to come together to form a peaceful society. If people cannot agree on where they are going they cannot form a coherent way of getting there. The key thing to remember here is that peace building does not just mean institutional reform. It is also about relationship building, recognition of wrong and dealing with fear in the community. State building is important but cannot be the only thing that takes place in building peace. The difficult thing that I faced was that if everyone disagrees on what will achieve peace or what peace is, it will create an unending cycle of fighting for peace. The majority will attain their concept of peace but will leave the minority groups without the positive peace they were fighting for. The more I try to fight my own ignorance about the views of other people, the more I am faced with the varying opinions on what peace and justice mean. With all of these varying opinions I am left with the question about whether or not peace can ever actually be achieved after a conflict.
After this talk we went on a tour of the murals of Belfast. Belfast is a city plagued by very current conflict between the republican party, the state and the unionists. If anyone tries to tell you it is a conflict between the protestants and catholics they are terribly mistaken. These are a few of the murals that line the streets of some of the neighborhoods. There are various flags and colors around the neighborhoods that identify which political party lives there. The murals, as well, will tell you a lot about what happened in that neighborhood or the current political party goals.
Wednesday was a whole lot of lectures but Thursday was crazy fun! We went to the Mellon Centre of Migration Studies and the Ulster-American Folk Park in Omagh, Northern Ireland. We discussed what migration means for a people as a whole and why so many people left Northern Ireland during the Troubles. This was a fascinating connection to the discussions we had about migration in my recent core class, American in the World. #coreconnection
So that's all I have for you thus far but I am sure I will have much more over the next three weeks!
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