Monday, April 30, 2007

End of Term

Well, today ended my academic obligations for the semester. Everything's turned in, all classes are done with, and my last mandatory day at placement is over. I'll be going back tomorrow anyway, but I don't technically have to be there tomorrow-- I'm just going because it's awesome.

I'll be spending the next week enjoying my time here as much as possible-- chances are I'll be traveling somewhere cool next weekend just for the giggles of it-- before my return to the states.

I doubt this will be my last post about it though. I kinda want to do some kind of nifty wrap-up of the experience (as if that's even possible). I'm not sure what I'm going to do with this blog after I get home. I might integrate all of the posts into my lj archives and then just let this go defunct, but who knows? Maybe I'll find a use for it.

Friday, April 27, 2007

Last class- meeting the UUP

So today we met a representetive from the Ulster Unionist Party. We were supposed to meet a Sinner (that's totally not how it's spelled, is it? I'm going to leave it that way anyway) too, but he chickened out or something and didn't show.

It was good to meet the UUP guy, though. The UUP foams at the mouth a lot less than the DUP does-- about several things, but mostly about Sinn Fein. Their approach to unionism, as today's speaker put it, is unionism with a small u-- they believe that remaining a part of the UK is the best thing for all of Northern Ireland, including its Catholic population. Unlike the DUP, they don't give the impression that they're still fighting for dominance. They know they've got a diverse population, and they want to represent the interests of all of it.

But today was our very last class-- my very last time seeing our programme director until next September. I'm leaving in less than two weeks. I wish I wasn't still up to my ears in paper rewriting (this is me on break right now) so that I could actually focus a bit on the time I have left.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Papers and placement

So I'm posting from the informal education centre*, and placement is still going well. I spend my mornings helping out in the foreign language wing, preparing students for their GCSEs-- a series of tests they take at sixteen to determine their levels in a veriety of subjects. For thos familiar with Harry Potter, GCSEs are the real-world version of OWLS. Students with good scores in enough subjects generally stay on and do A-levels, and then go to uni from there.

I come down here to the IEC* for lunch, and then generally spend the rest of my day down here, making worksheets, running errands, and sitting in with small group sessions. They're kind enough to let me at the computer during my lunch break, which has been very helpful this past week because I've been running about like mad trying to get my schoolwork finished.

My deadline is tomorrow, and I've got all but two things in-- a self-critique and a 2,000 word paper. I expect it's going to be a long night, but everything should get done (don't try this at home, kids! Annalee is a trained paper-writing ninja who can pull all-nighters on a single litre of coke).

So yes, that's life here. The programme ends next Wednesday, and I fly home the following Monday. I'm not sure how I'll be spending my between-time yet, but if I stay in Belfast, I might do a few extra days at my placement. No really, it's that awesome.

*In case anyone's wondering: not it's real name. I'm avoiding identifying details about the school.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

A Long Goodbye

This last weekend was our last visit to the Corrymeela Reconciliation centre. I don't know if I'll ever again lay eyes on the Rathlin Island lighthouses, or stand on that cliffside Corrymeela path overlooking Ballycastle's lights, but I would surely like to. I would like to see that star-filled sky again, and hear the odd accoustics of the Croi during worship. I'll miss that place.

Two weeks from now, I'll be back in the states. Back in Washington, DC. The city whose equal I never imagined finding until I set foot in Belfast for the first time. The city that I love. Home, if it still is that.

A cab driver told me I'm 'practically a local' the other day. I practically feel like one. I'm excited to be seeing my family again. I'm looking forward to getting together with friends, being around geeks, meeting the new addition to the household, and visiting my brother's new apartment. But I have no real desire to leave Northern Ireland. I feel the way that I feel at the end of the summer, when I have to leave home for Earlham. Like I'm going towards people that I love, but away from the places that are home to me.

Our last weekend in Ballycastle, now my last week at placement, then my last few days here, and then my last trek through the Belfast City Airport... these next two weeks are going to be a series of lasts, finals, and goodbyes. One long goodbye.

I'm not sure what I'm going to do with this blog when I go back. But then, I'm not sure what I'm going to do with myself, either.

Saturday, April 21, 2007

Carrick-a-Rede, Dunluce Castle, and assorted other shinies

Well, another lovely weekend here at the Corrymeela centre in Ballycastle-- I'm going to miss this place. Today, we headed off along the beautiful Antrim coast.

Our first stop was Carrick-a-Rede, a tiny island accessible only by rope bridge. The bridge itslef is much shorter, safer, and lower down than most of the guidebooks suggest-- as I understand it, it used to be far more impressive (or harrowing, depending on how you look at it) before it was rebuilt with safety in mind. But there are views from the island that you simply wouldn't believe. Pictures don't really do them justice, but I took several, so watch this space.

After that, we stopped for lunch and then headed on to Dunluce Castle, which is a remarkably well-preserved ruin when you consider that parts of it date back to the thirteenth century. It, too, is set on an island, but this one's acessible via a nice, sturdy stone bridge. During the Jacobian era, the MacDonald family built a manor house into the sight and extended the buildings onto the mainland to make more room for their many visitors from the Scottish court.

The whole thing's in ruins now, but you can tell how impressive it must have been in its seventeenth century heyday. A cavern running underneath part of it opens right up onto the sea. Another tonne of photos from there should be available soon.

On our way to Dunluce, we stopped at a tiny church that's supposed to be one of the oldest and smallest in Ireland (that claim is quite disputed; some will tell you it's actually less than thirty years old). It's tucked away in a tiny village under a cliff by the sea. After we left Dunluce, our busdriver took us down a lane lined with trees more than four hundred years old. It's been a day for the pretty.

Tonight, we're going out to a nice restaurant as a group. Because our programme director's just cool that way.

In which Annalee's Placement is Awesome ¦ A Visit to Stormont ¦ What Transpired There

Well, I've got a few minutes' downtime here at Corrymeela, so I'm going to attempt a real update.

My placement continues to be fabulous and inspiring. I'm getting to know the students both in my Spanish class and at the informal education centre, and enjoying the experience immensely. On Thursday, I sat in with a group in the IEC that was learning about the International Conventions on the Rights of the Child. They went over the different rights, catagorized them, and discussed their importance, then did an activity to illustrate a few of them. They also learned a few things about how the rights apply to them specifically-- one girl discovered that her employer's been denying her legally-mandated breaks.

Yesterday, the Earlham group visited Stormont-- the Northern Irish Parliament building-- and met with a representetive from the Democratic Unionist Party. He was a pretty nice guy to talk to, but it rather goes without saying that I'm not terribly fond of the DUP's politics. He did point out, though, that the various parties' positions on most issues are remarkably similar. The national question is one of the only issues over which they differ substantially (Sinn Fein aside, as they're a Marxist party).

The building itself was absolutely gorgeous. I got a few pictures, but fewer than I would have liked. The landscaping was lovely as well.

Today: adventures on the Antrim Coast. Details upon return.

Friday, April 20, 2007

oh noes.

Ok, I owe you guys one heck of a post about my placement and all the awesome things I'm doing there.

Unfortunately, I got buried under an unexpected pile of urgent work last night, and it will take me several days to climb out from under it.

So: I'm away at a residential this weekend. I'll probably be working a lot while I'm there. Hopefully by the time I'm back, I'll have time to write a real post. I should also have some pictures (we're going to Stormont today, and meeting the DUP).

Enjoy your weekends, everyone.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

The Golden Thread and meeting Alban Maginness

There was an opening at the Golden Thread Gallery on Friday evening. I stopped by for a little while--most of my groupmates were there-- and then headed over to the afterparty at the Black Box.

The art itself wasn't really to my taste-- I don't go in for modern abstract stuff. Some of it was cool, but a lot of it was your standard pretentious 'emperor's new clothes' modern art-- but it was nice to see everyone. All I can say about the afterparty is I'm glad I didn't pay to get in. The band was a group of highschool kids-- four guitars and a drum set. One of their moms works at the gallery, which is how they landed the gig. I'll refrain from reviewing their performance, because I would be mortified if my youthful indescretions appeared on a perfect stranger's blog, but between their overactive amps and the smoke, it wasn't my idea of a fantastic time.

Earlier on Friday, we sat down with Alban Maginness of the SDLP (Social Democratic and Labour Party), a former Lord Mayor of Belfast (the first nationalist Lord Mayor). He's part of the new Northern Irish Assembly as well. He talked to us for a bit about politics in Northern Ireland, and gave his views about the Troubles, the Belfast Agreement, and the new assembly.

He said something about the national question that I found particularly interesting: that the re-introduction of the national question during the seventies was counterproductive, because it took the focus away from civil rights. My impression of the SDLP is that nationalism has always been a pretty secondary issue to them; taken up because every party's 'got to play either the green card or the orange card,' as one woman in L/Derry put it (though there are and have been parties, such as the Alliance Party and the Women's Coalition, who play neither). Hearing a prominent SDLP man refer to the national question as 'counterproductive' in the same breath he used to condem the violence for the same reason reaffirms that analysis.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

In praise of green-grocers

One of the things I'm really going to miss about Belfast when I go home is the quality of the corner grocery stores.

Back home, corner stores are a good place to procure candy bars, junk food, and smoothies. Produce, if they have any, will be grody, and the milk products will be of quality so dubious that no sane person would consume them, let alone pay for the privilage.

But here? I do the majority of my shopping at the green-grocery between my house and the bus stop. It's smaller than your average seven-eleven, but it stocks its shelves with awesome. Fresh bread, quality produce, inexpensive but perfectly fresh milk, and bulk candy. You can even get spices and pasta sauces there.

It was closed for Easter, and let me tell you, I nearly starved. Sure, I could have gone to the Marks&Spencer by city hall (though not the Tesco; it was closed), or the Costa up near Queens, but they weren't my local greengrocer, man. So I was thrilled to see it back open at last today.

(It bears noting that even the Costa does better than seven eleven in the 'carrying real food' department. The milk there isn't a biohazard, for starters).

Monday, April 9, 2007

On Vacation

Well, school's out and so am I.

When I go back, I'll be splitting my time between the informal education centre and the Spanish classroom. The Spanish teacher and class both seem pretty cool, so hopefully I'll enjoy it. The day I spent in her class I ended up feeling useful, which is nice.

Yesterday was Easter. The boys, Iona, and I got together at their house for Easter dinner, and had a lovely time.

Other than that, there's not much to report. I really adore Belfast.

Tuesday, April 3, 2007

Placement, day two

This is my second day at my placement in Belfast (my sole source of internet for the moment), and I have to say, I really like it here. I'm spending most of my time in the 'informal education centre,' which is the part of the school where they engage students who are having difficulties (either academic or behavioural) with the normal school environment. Here, they can do their work on sofas instead of behind desks, and talk to their instructor on a one-on-one basis. In place of exams, students fill up portfolios with a veriety of group or solo projects in community involvement, leadership, and creative expression.

The atmosphere here reminds me in a vague way of the drama room at my middle school. The kids feel like they can talk to the staff, and while they're still called on all the things that matter (namecalling, bullying, etc), no one treats them like a miscreant for busting out a soda while they're working. And it seems to do a lot of good. When the kids come in here, they live up to the standards the staff know know they can reach: they behave themselves just fine and get their work done without complaint. Even the kids who are apparantly on the wrong side of a writeup on a fairly frequent basis treat the youth worker here with respect, because they know they're going to get the same from her. It's very exciting to observe.

I've also found the school itself quite impressive. Most times, people say that the families who send kids to integrated schools 'aren't really the problem,' because they specifically want that kind of environment for their children. But the school I'm at has a lot of working-class students from the local community. They're here because it's nearby, or because the education's better than they could get elsewhere. Especially here in the informal education centre, where students form friendships within their small working groups with people who are very different than they are. These 'problem children,' supposedly at the highest risk for sectarian problems, are the ones who seem most conscious of (and greatful for) the diversity around them.

I should go grab some lunch, or I'll keep right on about this for pages. I hope all's well for everyone in the states.