I spent the first three weeks taking classes on the North Coast at the University of Ulster in Coleraine, getting immersed in the history of the Northern Ireland conflict and hearing multiple perspectives and first-hand accounts, both from professors who had studied the conflict for years and ordinary citizens who had maybe been in a paramilitary organization or had their brother killed in a bombing. In the evenings, we would take the train to our flat in the nearby town of Portrush, where this was the view out our window:
The next few months were spent working full-time at an internship in Belfast. I interned with an organization that dealt with youth unemployment and self-confidence issues, and was able to shadow programs and meet some of the most inspiring people I have ever met. Most of the people we worked with were right around my age, so I got a chance to talk to them as peers and really gain an understanding of where they were coming from. They never failed to awe and inspire me, whether it was the young man who had recently lost his leg in an accident completing a ropes course and rock climbing, or the two best friends from two extremely different backgrounds, or a group of twelve transitioning a conversation from rugby scores to a debate about the politics of Northern Ireland seamlessly.
I also had the amazing experience of having my entire program run by this guy, Nigel:
That's him teaching me about conflict first-hand (the literal way... with an arm-wrestling contest) during a hike as fellow Mac student Jenna looks on, clearly amused.
A few weeks ago, Nigel was back on campus to interview the new students hoping to go on the program for next year. I got to relive all of my favorite memories from the program with him, and take him out for traditional American college student food with some of my friends: cajun tater tots. While it's not quite fish and chips, I think he enjoyed himself. It also was a really great chance for me to reflect on my experiences last semester in the Macalester environment. While I had an amazing time abroad, it's also great to be back on campus with my friends and my favorite professors, and especially with the new perspectives that I'm bringing with me.
-- Natalie Pavlatos '12