After the last night of classes in December, I unsurprisingly found myself in a Belfast pub. Some fellow students and I spent the evening listening to live music, talking about the upcoming holidays, and discussing the ins and outs of our bizarre family traditions. I even learned – for the first time – what a holiday “cracker” was.
That night, I wondered what it would be like to return to the United States for winter break. Would there be culture shock? Would I miss the fresh Guinness? Would I remember that I didn’t need to carry my umbrella everywhere?
But none of these questions really arose.
During my winter break – more than anything else – I was reminded of what a privileged life I’ve led in these short months. My friends from teaching have been busily preparing their students for the New York standardized tests. My girlfriend’s sleep schedule has almost disappeared working on a campaign in New Jersey. My parents have taken on great responsibilities caring for my grandmother and my aunt.
Watching the people I love strive and succeed in extraordinary circumstances reminds me how lucky I am. I have the rare opportunity to spend the year traveling and reading, reflecting and criticizing. I need to make the most of it.
I know I can do more, but my experiences have already changed me profoundly. In small political philosophy classes, I’ve developed a much better grasp of the literature. Professors have generously opened their doors to me, allowed me to join reading groups, and helped me at each step of the way.
Working with the PPR Project in North Belfast, I’ve seen more clearly what empowering community members and transforming power relationships can do for activism. Public housing residents devise their own human rights standards and hold the government accountable to meeting them. Mental health patients create meaningful and economical pathways for the NHS to decrease suicide. Over and over, I’ve learned democratic strategies I would love to see implemented by groups across the United States.
With each passing day, I wonder where the next months will take me, but above all I hope I can live up to the opportunity I’ve been given.