by: Marisa Ruggirello
Song of the Day: Brand New Day // Kodaline
Waking up in a foreign city, thousands of miles away and not knowing a single person is typically not the best way to start a morning or usually is the plot line of a Liam Neeson movie. However, that is exactly how I began my study abroad program across the United Kingdom yesterday morning. After many exhausting hours of travel and security checks, I had arrived in Belfast, Northern Ireland, the first pitstop on our five country trip.
Studying abroad had been a goal of mine since beginning at Michigan State in 2013. I knew that MSU had one of the nation’s top study abroad programs and so I had the world at my finger tips. My decision to choose the United Kingdom and Ireland came from my love of history and the British culture, as well as programs offered through my major.
Belfast has been absolutely breathtaking thus far, and I don’t see that changing any time soon. Yesterday morning, I ventured to St. George’s Market and instantly felt nostalgic. It resembled Eastern Market in Detroit, and it was very comforting to have something that felt like home so very far away. There were food trucks ranging from burritos to Lebanese cuisine to crepes. Farmers sold their produce and many locals did their weekly shopping.
I then was able to take a bus tour throughout the city, hitting many of the main local hotspots. The one thing that I noticed right away was the amount of street art and murals that covered the city. The messages and symbols are eclectic, but beautiful all the same.
Some of the other girls and I also visited Queens University, which was an absolute wonder to see. It makes any of those old buildings in North Campus at MSU look like a cheap Michelangelo imitation.
As I visited Ulster Museum yesterday and saw unfamiliar faces of Northern Irish history painted across white canvases, I was suddenly aware of how little I knew about the history of other countries. Today we were fortunate enough to take the Black Cab tour throughout Belfast, which
has had an extremely violent and devastating history, as I learned today. The conflict began in the late 60s between the Protestants and Catholics. It has been nicknamed “The Troubles” and
some 3,700 people were killed combined between the two sides. Bombings and assassinations plagued both sides, costing many innocent civilians their lives. Even today, in 2016, many walls throughout the city divide the two sides to keep tensions at bay. The highest point, accurately named The Peace Wall, is covered in graffiti that changes every three weeks or so. The wall has been signed by many people, notably Bono, Rihanna, Lady Gaga and former President Bill Clinton, and today, I joined the ranks of all those people. The wall, originally supposed to only be up for six months, is now over forty years old.
Learning about the horrific devastation that these people have endured throughout the last four decades was something I would have never even known about had I not gone on this trip. Most of the locals hope the walls can be torn down within the next couple of years, however only time will tell.
Thus far, this trip has been something I could never have even dreamed of. And its only Day 2.