Last weekend, I went on my final excursion with my study abroad program, so needless to say it was a fairly bittersweet experience. However, it also proved to be the best trip that I have been on by far because we traveled to Northern Ireland to learn about the convoluted political history of Belfast and Derry.
The first stop on the trip was Belfast, which was an incredibly beautiful city. After exploring the local farmers market, we hopped on the bus and traveled to the Parliament building, which is more commonly know as Stormont. After a guided tour of the building, we were served tea and biscuits, which was an added bonus. To finish off the day, we took a tour of the neighborhoods around the city center to see the Peace Walls, which are barriers that separate Protestant and Catholic communities. These walls are now decorated with murals that advocate for political reform, and there is even a section on which pedestrians can sign their names, thus adding their voice to the movement for peace in Northern Ireland. I was proud to add my name to the murals.
The following day, we traveled to Derry, which is the only city in Europe that is still completely surrounded by medieval walls. We took a tour of the city, which included a walk through the Bogside, the neighborhood in which the Bloody Sunday Massacre occurred. On Bloody Sunday (1972), a peaceful civil rights protest was attacked by the British arming, leaving thirteen dead and many more wounded. However, now matter how dark Derry’s past is, there is now immense hope for the future. A few years ago, The EU paid for a peace bridge to be built that would connect the Protestant and Catholic communities on opposite side of the river that cuts through Derry. As I walked across the bridge, I felt a feeling of hope for my own future too. As someone who has battled depression for most of his life, I understand what it means to have a dark past. However, as I walked across the peace bridge in Derry, I felt that I was taking a step toward finding peace with my own past.
Even though my programs excursions are done, I still have plenty of travels up ahead. During my spring break, I plan to travel to Scotland and Edinburgh with a few friends, and after that I’m hoping to finish of my European adventure by traveling to Italy.