Began in Belfast

By Jasmine Watts

It’s day three for us studying abroad in Belfast, Northern Ireland. For some one who has never traveled abroad before, I must say it has been an amazing experience already. I never would have thought that I would go to another country with no friends, family, or any one familiar. I felt many emotions in route to Belfast, excitement, nervousness, feeling lost. Being stuck in the middle seat on an 8 hour flight to Amsterdam will certainly do that to you.

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My plane from Amsterdam to Belfast

When I got to Belfast I was pleasantly surprised to be greeted by friendly faces. We’ve had a few fun adventures together already. Learning the culture, history, and landmarks of this city has been really cool.

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Exploring the town with a few of the girls

Today was technically our first academic experience. We went on a black cab tour which was far more interesting than I thought it would be. We learned about the troubles and violence of Belfast. One thing that our tour guide said that stood out to me was “one group’s terrorist is another group’s hero”. Belfast is divided by a wall. Catholics on one side, Protestants on the other. There is a mural of a man on one side of the wall, Stevie “Topgun” McKeag. He was a military hero to the Protestant community, but a terrorist in the Catholic community after killing 17 innocent people.

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Stevie McKeag mural

Victims who were killed by McKeag and other military men had a plaque dedicated to them on the Catholic side of the wall, and on the Protestant side was the huge mural dedicated to McKeag. It amazed me that these people live in such close proximity to each other with such different views of right and wrong, heroes and terrorist.

Our tour guide said Belfast was voted the “safest tourism city in Europe and had some of the nicest people in the world, they just weren’t nice to each other.” That was such an odd statement to me. I didn’t understand it. Though I heard of the violence of Belfast before the tour, I never would have thought that killings were happening as recent as 2004; or that the wall separating the groups was created to be up 6 months but is still dividing the city more than 45 years later. On a city bus tour I took yesterday, the tour guide said almost 70 percent of people living along the wall said they did not want the wall to come down in a recent poll. Though some are open to change and want the wall to come down, many people of Belfast are still not ready for change. No one truly knows when the wall will come down, but they do know that it won’t happen until the people are ready. We read many inspirational & peace-filled quotes on the wall and got to sign the wall ourselves. It was a great and thought provoking day.

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