Life in Belfast

Living and studying in Belfast is proving to be an amazing educational and formative experience. Prior to this year, I had only been outside the United States once for a few days so I am very thankful for the opportunity the Mitchell Scholarship is providing me.

When I arrived at Queen’s University and got settled into my room I realized I forgot to bring electrical adapters and that my computer and phone would soon be dead. As these devices via the Internet felt like my only connection to home, I immediately went out to find adapters. After searching a few stores and failing to find any adapters, I began to get a bit worried. Luckily I stopped and asked a student on the welcoming committee in front of the student union for help, and he escorted me to a store that had the adapters. He was incredibly nice and helpful and then even walked me back to my room. This was an early glimpse into the extremely kind and helpful nature of the people of Northern Ireland.

The Irish also love Americans. Several people have told me how they like my accent, David Hasselhoff was the guest star at the freshman (or freshers as they are called here) party, and one of the societies had an American-themed “night out.” Observing the new-student welcome events here was also very fascinating and different from those at Stanford, where I was an undergraduate. Here in Belfast there were several club/bar promoters in costume outside the student union promoting their establishments to freshers, and there was an organized freshers pub crawl.

Picking up a bit on my activity in student government at Stanford, I met with the Queen’s student body president to learn about student government here. The student president works full-time as president and is expected to either take the year off from school or serve in the year following graduation. This is very different from the typical set-up in the U.S., where students must take classes during their term. The student government here is also given a very nice building for the student union and collects profits from renting space to businesses and from the bar it runs in the union.

The most surprising thing in Belfast has been the very restricted internet. Several ports, both incoming and outgoing, are blocked. For example, I can’t use Outlook to access my Gmail because the outgoing IMAP port is blocked, I can’t directly connect to my computer at home in California using Remote Desktop because that port is blocked, and I can’t connect to my computer in Belfast remotely because that incoming port is blocked! The Jabber ports are also blocked, so I can’t connect to Google Chat in OS X using a Jabber client and there is no wi-fi in my dorm either. I also can’t forward my Queen’s email, there is only 50 MB email storage (I get 50MB+ of email every day on my regular account!), there is no POP server, and the IMAP server can’t be accessed from my dorm because of course the port is blocked! This is quite a difference from Stanford!!

For Halloween I had a wonderful experience in Derry – the European Halloween destination. About half the Mitchell Scholars this year rented the Drumcorn Farm Cottage for a few days and had a wonderful time.  When we got there, we learned that Mitchell Scholars in a previous year had rented the very same cottage for Halloween! On Halloween there was a great parade in the center of the city. The whole town seems to take part with several groups of kids in the parade and some interesting vehicle-based floats. Later we went to a club called Sugar that had a nice rooftop patio section. Everyone was in costume and it was a great night.

As for academics I am greatly enjoying my program. I am currently studying corporate governance with a focus on e-government and e-democracy. It has been great to take a break from directly studying computer science and to think more about how to apply my computer science knowledge to other disciplines and problems. One of the topics I am researching for a class is how to regulate high-frequency trading. As a result of the Flash Crash, this is a very active topic right now and just a month ago, the European Commission released proposed reforms that will have a great impact on this activity. It is exciting to be researching such a timely topic of great importance.

Last week I visited the Belfast Christmas Market with two of my flatmates. Set up in front of City Hall and about the size of a city block, the market is a magnificent thing.  I had some delicious caramel hot chocolate and currywurst – a chopped up bratwurst covered in curry sauce.  I spent Thanksgiving in Oxford visiting friends including former Mitchell Scholar Fagan Harris, who is currently a Rhodes Scholar. It is great to finally visit Oxford, a place I have heard so much about. After that, it was back to Belfast to spend the next month writing my two research papers for this semester.

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