June 2006 Reflection

Brevity may be the soul of wit. Yet, the most common reaction to my previous journal entry from my fellow Mitchells has been (unfounded) mockery. I am not here to rehash the past. Still, I will note that when I submitted my March journal entry, it was formatted as two paragraphs rather than one. On a more serious note, the most serious difficulty that arises when composing these journal entrees is that it seems almost daunting, even Herculean task to capture to adequately convey just how amazing my time here has been. Nevertheless, I’ve resolved to write a more substantial final entry.

Belfast is a pretty fascinating place filled with wonderful people and even an occasional DeLorean (the car from the Back to the Future triology). Really I can’t tell you how great it is that on any given day there is a substantial chance that I may actually see a De Lorean! I can honestly say I don’t even mind the perpetual rain at this point. Every day I learn more only to realize how little I know. Indeed, it seems everyone I talk has a well thought out opinion on Northern Ireland, the island of Ireland, and its relationship to the world. Just when I think I’m finally beginning to understand the big picture, I will end talking to someone at the Duke of York or hearing a comment in class that forces me to rethink what I thought I knew. That said, I’ve learned an immense amount this year about Northern Ireland, ethnic conflict, and reconciliation. Even more importantly, I gained the sorts of experience that is only possible by actually living in a foreign country for prolonged period of time.

Indeed, Belfast now feels like home. Not to the same extent as Montana, where I spent over 18 years of my life, but as much if not more so than Iowa or Washington where I lived for a combined total of over 6 years. Belfast feels like home largely because I’ve had the opportunity to meet and become friends with an amazing range of people from both the North and the South, the rest of Europe, the United States, and many places through the world. In the last few months, I’ve had the chance to do some more travelling including a trip to Prague, Krakow, Budapest, and Vienna. It was an amazing experience, both and in of its self but also by helping place my experiences in here in a larger context of an expanding Europe in which Ireland serves as model for many new and aspiring EU members. Still, I missed Belfast within days. How much I’ve connected with Belfast was really evident last weekend when I was in Dublin and it really felt different. While Dublin is certainly vibrant, dynamic city that I love to visit, I feel really lucky to have spent my year in Belfast, which has a charm all its own. Belfast is not perfect. The city remains deeply divided as evidenced by the peace walls. And cross-community power sharing has yet to be actualized in a sustainable manner Regardless of its ultimate fate, and the agreement has made a return to wholesale violence unlikely. I’m hopefully based on the palpable optimism here among many of the people I’ve met – even as they complain about the politicians

Academically I continue gain immensely from my time here. I finished up the taught component of my course a few days ago. Now I’m focusing on my master’s thesis that examines the impact of democracy promotion activities, particularly the work of foreign democracy promotion NGOs from the United States and Europe on ethnic violence with a specific emphasis on West Bank/Gaza and the Balkans.

Now that the year is almost over, I have a confession to make. When I initially met and read about all the other Mitchells, I was a little bit sceptical that I would be friends with all of them. They were all really accomplished, but I’ve spent enough time in Washington to know that accomplished does not necessarily translate into someone I enjoy spending time around. I’m slightly embarrassed that I once harboured such doubts. While I’ve not had a chance to spend as much time as I would have liked with each scholar (turns out Limerick and Cork are really far away), but I’ve amazed by how much I genuinely like my class and look forward to seeing what the future holds for them. I’ve equally amazed by how each member seems to complement everyone else – though I have my suspicions that may not be purely a coincidence. Despite the wide range of interests and personalities types, we really do seem to form a cohesive unit. It’s hard to believe that it is likely that we all not be together again for years though I’m sure that I’ll cross paths with many of the other scholars again soon.

Finally, I just want to thank Trina, Mary Lou, Dell, and everyone else that made this year possible. I have been blessed with a truly unforgettable year that has enriched my life in so many ways, many of which I could never have expected. I feel an enduring sense of gratitude and more than that responsibility to give back in any way I can. So though I’m departing Belfast for California soon, part of me will always be here.

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