To celebrate what has become my second home, I offer six impactful lessons Northern Ireland has taught me.
1. “Warm” is relative.
Changed from my Tennessee roots, I now become ecstatic at any weather over 55 degrees and sunny. To celebrate, I go to Botanic Gardens, with what looks like everyone else in the city, to eat cheesy chips and Boojum and feel the sun on my face.
2. Embrace change.
I appreciate my routines. But Belfast has taught me to make the best out of any situation. Not only is her weather constantly changing from my pleasant walk to Tesco to my unpleasant return of unpredicted sleet, followed by warm sunshine, but she is also teaching me to constantly embrace changing expectations, changing experiences, and taking some of the comfortable control I like to use on life away.
3. I need a wee bit more “island living” in my non-island life.
I came to Mitchell during one of the busiest times of my life. I was Student Body President; I was pursuing a double major with graduate coursework; I was leading fights to physically and culturally adapt a university to accept students with intellectual disability. I worked all the time, and I loved it. But Belfast has taught me to slow down. She has reconnected me with my genuine love of learning and reminded me to take a day off and get outside when it’s sunny—you never know if that one sunny day will be followed by a week of rain.
4. Peace is fragile and valuable.
These past few weeks have seen violence tear through parts of Belfast not seen for many years. Young teenagers running through the streets, cheered on by their communities, petrol bombs in hand, I am reminded of how precious peace is. I also find new respect for those who fight to preserve it. Belfast has taught me about the lasting implications of destroyed peace, and it has taught me how to rebuild once peace is stolen. These lessons are relevant for diplomats, and personal lives, alike.
5. Education holds answers.
Following my coursework, I believe now more than ever that Northern Ireland has something profound to offer the rest of the world about the impact of education for social ends. Last week I got an email from someone in Tennessee looking to improve race relations and disability inclusion in her local schools; she heard about what I was studying and asked me how Shared Education could help her.
6. People make a place.
My classmates at Queen’s have made a wonderful impression on me. They have given me hope for the future of education. They have made me wrestle with challenging questions. They will be who I return to when I come back to Belfast, and I can’t wait.