Gaining Understanding – Mary Stang



It’s hard to believe that we’ve only been in Belfast for one week. The amount of things that we’ve learned, number of people we’ve talked to, and experiences we’ve had blow me away. I can honestly say that despite the jet lag and slightly overwhelmed feeling, I couldn’t be happier. The people have been nothing but welcoming, hospitable, nice, and incredibly helpful. The city is beautiful and there is so much I’m looking forward to exploring and experiencing. The sun has even managed to make a few appearances and the weather hasn’t been too bad minus the sporadic rain showers that seem to be inevitable.

This week has been jam-packed with various orientation sessions at Stranmillis and we’ve also had a few opportunities to explore some of Belfast. The sessions were meant to help us gain an understanding of where we will be spending our time for the next ten weeks, the resources available to us as Stranmillis students, and how their education system is similar and different to that of the system at home in the U.S. While at times it was overwhelming and not always the most interesting of topics, the information provided definitely helped with settling in.

My favorite sessions were on Thursday because we finally got to discuss more about education. In the morning we spent our time with Ms. Curry and we discussed what we would change if we had a magic wand. It was interesting to have this discussion and learn how some of our concerns, such as who is making policies and laws regarding education, perception of the teaching profession, and resources available to disadvantaged children, were consistent across the board. Other issues, like the Catholic versus Protestant struggles, are more specific to Northern Ireland. Nonetheless, it was encouraging to see the passion and love for teaching and children from every person in the room regardless of their background. The afternoon session was just as encouraging because we got to hear from a primary and post primary principal who clearly love and are good at what they do. By the end, we were all definitely ready and looking forward to taking on our first day of school.

Overall, the settling in process has been seamless. The UVA students have been very easy to get along with and a pleasure to get to know. The Stranmillis students have been incredibly welcoming and helpful. The cab drivers have been full of information and advice. The university staff has gone above and beyond to make us feel comfortable. We’ve done things and seen things, but there’s so much more out there. I can’t wait to see what the next nine weeks have in store for us!