Ireland Trip – Reflecting On The Trip To Northern Ireland

09Mar10

As University students we are exposed to a lot of learning opportunities. Most of these are within the context of our classes, our textbooks and our assignments. As young adults entering a world filled with opportunity and adventure, the experiences outside the classroom is what separates us from the masses. It’s also what has a lasting impression on us and defines who we are as students, as people and as global citizens.

The trip to Northern Ireland was a defining experience for me. The opportunity to travel with a group of 16 other like-minded individuals was especially rewarding. It enabled me to learn with others in a unique setting and challenge my own beliefs and assumptions, not only of the environment we were all thrust into, but also of the people we were around. While we all view experiences in different ways, I truly believe that our collective pursuit of knowledge was greatly reaffirmed by each other as we navigated through a fun, but challenging experience.

Beyond the camaraderie we formed with the members of our group, the experience of working in the elementary and high schools in Belfast was particularly special. During our workshops we really tried to introduce the students to an alternative form of conflict resolution. Many of them face the same challenges that every one of us encountered as young people growing up; dealing with stress, peer pressure, bullying, social exclusion, and in general, fitting into a world of unknowns.

Of course, some of these challenges are amplified for these young people because of the long history of oppression and violence in Northern Ireland. This was evident when we asked students how to deal with conflict. The overwhelming response was to avoid it or react with violence. When we dug deeper, it appeared that the reasons for this response had a lot to do with many of the students possessing a lack of trust in others; likely as a result of decades of conflict involving their families.

For me, imagining not being able to trust others for reasons of religion or political affiliation is very difficult. Without interacting with the students, it’s possible I would have never been exposed to this possibility.As a result, I thoroughly enjoyed every moment of working with the students. They inspired me to reflect on my own daily challenges, as minimal as they are, and to be grateful for all that I have and all that I have accomplished.

It’s refreshing to be able to view my life through others, and not to view myself as superior, but as simply being privileged. Clearly, not everyone in this world is able to have the same opportunities; this trip taught me that we should be cognizant of the world around us and the place we have in it. So while our purpose was to help facilitate the learning of conflict resolution skills, the lessons I learned in five short days from the students went far deeper.

And therein lies the lesson of this trip; it’s better to observe and be humble than to judge and be conceited. I don’t think we can learn that lesson from our textbooks or class assignments. We encounter so many people in our lives and I think we are sometimes too quick to judge others. This not only breeds conflict, but prevents us from learning valuable lessons about ourselves and the people around us. Learning through the lives of others is extremely valuable and allows us to interpret our own lives differently and appreciate the small things that really do make a big difference.

The experience to travel to Belfast and interact with young people in the reality of their lives was a remarkably rewarding experience and one that I will always cherish. It was fascinating to be in a setting that in many ways is vastly different from my lived experiences. Luckily, I think my studies over the years greatly prepared me to be open, flexible and perceptive of the world around me.

But when all was said and done, the trip enhanced my knowledge and transformed it from a textbook narrative into a lived reality.

Ben



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