Breaking Expectations

Rachel Marini
February 29, 2016

After hearing about the 'Northern Irish Troubles' for weeks, I finally got to see the place for myself. To be honest, I imagined deserted streets and I thought I would feel completely unsafe the whole weekend. The history of that place is so dark and violent that I was prepared for the worst. Well I ended up feeling pretty dumb when we pulled up to a beautiful part of the city of Belfast, with tons of great nightlife and shopping. If I hadn't known about the troubles previously, I would never have guessed all that had happened there.

The countryside is absolutely breathtaking in Northern Ireland, and every drive was filled with beautiful fields and roaming sheep. The areas outside the city remind me of exactly what most people would picture when they think of Ireland. Every view was amazing, especially the ones from the coast. I was able to see the ocean, walk across a rope bridge above the rushing water, and see tons of beautiful castles. Giants Causeway, a huge basalt hexagonal rock formation caused by a volcanic eruption, was so cool to finally see in person. It was so fun hearing about the legends the Irish associate with this formation, because the stories are one of the things I love best about Ireland. To put it quickly, legend says that a giant named Finn MacCool was challenged to fight a Scottish giant. He built the walkway from Ireland to Scotland so that they could meet, but the bridge was destroyed by the Scottish giant once he was fooled into thinking Finn was much bigger than he had thought. It is crazy to see some of the natural formations in Ireland and to wonder just how they came to be. We spent a lot of the time outside, climbing and exploring, and I could not have imagined a place more beautiful to spend the weekend. 

Aside from all the natural sights, we saw a few beautiful castles. One laid in ruins along the coast, and another is still used today by the Queen and the royal family when they visit Northern Ireland. One of the most interesting parts of the trip was a a guided bus tour we took through the city of Belfast. The guide told us all about the history of the struggle between Protestants and Catholics, pointing out areas where big conflicts had occurred. The part that surprised me the most was a huge wall that separated two areas of housing- one belonging to the Protestants and the other to Catholics. Although the violent conflict had ended, it is still apparent that the two sides have not totally come to peaceful terms. There was none of the violence that I had naively expected, but it was still eye opening to see that the two groups were still separated by a physical wall. It just showed me how each country has their own problems, and how differently they deal with them. On the wall, people from all over had written words that encouraged peace. Some of the phrases were funny and simple, and others were extremely powerful. Although the wall was a symbol of separation, it also showed me hope of peace in a way. 

I loved being able to see a whole other side of Ireland, one that I had been hearing about for so long. It’s always so interesting to see what you learned about in class in person, because it makes it so much more real. Separating the events that occurred in Northern Ireland from the things I experience everyday in Dublin had been so easy, so seeing the reality of it definitely woke me up. Ireland has such a long and interesting history and that is something I think most people don’t know much about, including myself. Experiencing the sights and people firsthand is something I am so glad I did. It left me with a desire to know more, and a much deeper interest in the culture I am now a part of. Being abroad is such a learning experience, and this made me realize just how lucky I am to be living inside a textbook. Reading about history is one thing, but seeing it is so different. Not only do I think differently about Ireland now, I also think much differently about peace- how hard it is to achieve, and how important it is to listen to one another. I know this is so much easier said than done, but it’s much more applicable when placed on a smaller scale. I really do hope that one day I can come back to Northern Ireland and see even more changes, but I’m glad I got to experience it the way it is now. Aside from the history, I feel so much more at peace after spending time at the coast. I always feel better when I get to see a little part of the beach. So thanks, Northern Ireland, for all the lessons and the sights!  

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Rachel Marini

<p>Hi! My name is Rachel Marini and I am a Junior at Penn State University. I&#39;m majoring in Elementary Education (with an English focus) and plan to minor in special ed. I am a huge book nerd, but when I&#39;m not reading I like to hang out with my family and friends, go to the beach, and just spend time outdoors. Traveling has always been a big part of my life, because I love exploring new places. Going to Dublin is something that I know I won&#39;t regret, and I can&#39;t wait to share my experience with all of you!</p>

2016 Spring
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