March 2006 Reflections

I sat down today and took a good look at my calendar with the intention of putting together a thesis timetable. I began to count the number of days I have available to work on my research, which days I would be free to set up interviews and ultimately, how many days I have left on the island. A feeling of anxiety swelled inside of me, not because of the limited amount of time I have to write a thesis (although I’m sure that there will be plenty of time to stress about that later :), but because I suddenly remembered that very soon, I will be leaving Ireland.

It occurred to me that sometime in the past few months, without my realizing it, Ireland became a second home to me. Perhaps it was showing around the friends who have visited me and proudly taking them to my favorite cafes and “spots” in and around the city. Perhaps it was my internship at Banulacht and working on the long-term project of the International Women’s Day conference that gave me a routine. Perhaps it was my friendships with my fellow students in Equality Studies, the student societies and of course the other Mitchell Scholars that gave me a real sense of community. Whatever the reason, Ireland has ceased to be just a “place I am studying for the year” and become a place I will forever feel connected to.

Every day I am more and more grateful to the students and professors at the Equality Studies Centre for challenging me intellectually and supporting me through that process with their friendship. I find myself now constantly looking at the world through an equality lens; reading the newspaper, watching TV, and especially traveling have all become different experiences for me as I am finding new ways to apply the theories and ideas that I learn in class. One example, in particular, was my trip this semester to the United Arab Emirates.

February 2-11 several other Truman Scholars and I went on a 10-day study tour of the United Arab Emirates including Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Fujairah, Al Ain and even an afternoon in Oman. We had submitted a proposal to visit the country after a visit to the UAE embassy last summer and late last year our proposal was approved. We were invited as guests of the UAE government to explore their economy, political process, ports, civil society, land and culture. We were hosted the entire week by students from Abu Dhabi University, men and women from the Emirates and all over the Arab world. As a Jew with Israeli heritage, it was particularly interesting to interact with students and discuss such issues as the Mohammed cartoons, the Israeli/Palestinian conflict and other issues that create or highlight divides between the Arab and Western worlds. I was forced to challenge a lot of presumptions I had made, including those regarding the status of women in Islam. I also engaged in what Equality Studies would term “critical interculturalism,” which is respecting and engaging with other cultures without being morally relativist and ignoring injustices. In our meetings and conversations with UAE students, government officials, women’s groups, corporations, etc… questions emerged about censorship, anti-gay policies, the boycott of Israel and treatment of migrant workers. I learned and saw so much in those 10 days it would be impossible to describe it all here, but needless to say I walked away with many new insights and a realization of how much my experience in Ireland has provided me with new insights and tools that I will bring with me wherever I go. The Trumans are currently working on a publication of our experiences on the study tour if any one is interested.

Upon returning to Ireland I delved back into my coursework, submitting and getting approval for a thesis focused on women in post-conflict societies. I will be comparing the case studies of South Africa post-apartheid and Northern Ireland post-Good Friday accords in order to examine the dynamic between women in the community sector and women in the formal political process in bringing about egalitarian change. Whew. Say that 10 times fast!

I am excited about my research and even went up to Derry to the fantastic civil rights conference, planned by fellow Mitchell, Ben, to learn more about the history of the conflict and the status of egalitarian change in Northern Ireland today. One of the highlights of the day was definitely meeting John Hume. I am also planning a trip around Southern Africa this summer with a stay in Johannesburg to hopefully conduct some interviews with women’s organizations there for my thesis.

Another conference I took part in was the International Women’s Day conference on Wednesday March 8th, which I planned as part of my internship at Banulacht. I was very proud of the way things turned out as we had a huge turn out, inspirational speakers and very relevant workshops around the theme of diverse women’s voices. I will finish up at Banulacht in the next few weeks, but my experience there has definitely been an important part of my time here in Ireland and allowed me to apply on a practical level many of the ideas from my master’s programs.

I would once again like to thank the US-Ireland Alliance and all of its sponsors for giving me this opportunity as well as all of the people in Ireland who have made it feel like home.

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