March 2007 Reflection

I am now in my final semester of classes and fortunately they are much more interesting and relevant this term. I am taking courses on international policy, development and even a class on public international law. I have also begun to work on my thesis. I will be focusing on the rise of “new” left leaders in Latin America and their impact on development. Also this term, my boyfriend will come visit me. We look forward to spending St. Patrick’s Day in Ireland. Here in Limerick there will be a parade and apparently a great deal of celebrating.

I recently returned from the Mitchell Scholars meeting in Belfast. It turned out to be an amazing experience. I was finally able to see the Giant’s Causeway. Before I went to Ireland and by looking through travel books this was the one place I wanted to see. I have to say it actually lived up to my expectations. On the trip I also discovered I have a fear of heights, or maybe psychic abilities as I had a premonition I would fall to my death off of the Carrick a Rede rope bridge. My nerves were then calmed by a trip to the Bushmills Distillery. It was fascinating to see how the whiskey was made and at the end of the tour I had the privilege of sampling the different blends. I am now a “Qualified Irish Whiskey Taster” according to the certificate they gave me.

Belfast left a lasting impression on me, one I’ve been thinking over intensely for the last few days. We were there to observe the elections. I had the opportunity to go door to door with Gerry Kelly, a Sinn Fein candidate. Walking through the neighborhood and seeing the frightening murals of Belfast made me realize how much identity, tradition, and pride can pervade culture, politics, and day to day life. It was also very interesting to learn of the connections between poverty and sectarianism and violence.

Later on the bus ride back from Belfast, we were pulled over on the side of the highway by a Northern Irish immigration officer. On the way up we had not been stopped so I thought it was interesting that he was treating it as a border check. Why would they need documentation? I thought that had been sorted out through peace agreements. Also, why would they care if we were leaving their territory? Luckily, I had brought my passport and immigration card along with me. But as I watched the officer check each passenger on the bus it became clear that he was targeting a family with young children that were Asian. He made them get off the bus and took them into his van. As much as I have read about and discussed immigration issues and have interacted with illegal immigrants in the US, this was the first time I had witnessed people being taken into custody. This scene made me think about the issue of migration on a global scale. While we have our own issues with immigration in the United States, Europe is experiencing an influx of people too. Throughout my year I have learned about how Ireland is now a destination country and no longer a land of emigrants. I wonder if Ireland, with such a long history of emigration and mistreatment in arrival destinations, will be influenced by its past as they absorb more and more people into their country. Perhaps the discrimination that Irish people once faced will help shape policies and minds in order to create an environment that treats newcomers as humans that deserve the same respect as everyone else. The things I observed in Belfast will stay with me, especially as I continue my studies in Peace and Development Studies.

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