Author Archives: hkurtz1

Visit to Stormont

From November 22

Today was freaking amazing. Josh and I spent the whole day looking each other trying not to giggle.

After class today, Josh and I went up to Stormont, the Northern Ireland Parliment, with our community organization.  The organization hosted for a question and answer session with the young people they work with and some of the politicians. The Deputy First Minister opened up the session with a little welcoming speech. My favorite line was, “Don't be afraid to ask the hard questions, that's what we're here for- though I'm going to leave…” It was funnier in context.

The question and answer session was really interesting, there was two rounds of questioning- two rounds of politicians/party representatives/MLAs answering. They included the Minister for Justice, a member of the Department for employment and learning committee, the youngest MLA, and many others who's names and titles I forgot to write down.

I learned some really interesting things, like the fact that because of the government structure the departments are set up so independently that it's difficult for them to communicate- which means members of the Executive committee can not know why a deal was decided on (the one at hand was a spending cut in Education that no one could answer why it had happened.)

The session was a lot of fun- the mediator guy was really good. He was really good at monitoring the time, while also letting discussions continue when he thought they were worth it. And he was an instigator man! He would pick up on small things very quickly and was willing to pull it out, and he also stepped in if he thought the parties were arguing too much.

Even outside of the political talks, I had fun. I was asked to write the names cards for each of the politicians. I still claim that whoever made that choice made a bad decision, because my handwriting is bad. But they all had legible name cards, though not the neatest or prettiest things in the world. I had to re-write several of them more than once, because of changes, misspellings, and once one guy going by a different name than the one I was given.

After that we moved on to a forum theater performance. It was pretty cool, I love that style of play. And one of the MLAs (I think that's what she was…) jumped in and participated.

After all the Bytes events had finished, Josh and I were invited to a Thanksgiving event- hosted by the Speaker of the House. Our thought process was, “I don't really know what's going to happen, but I'll go because it's hosted by the Speaker of the House!” So we accepted the invitation- which meant instead of heading home at 5 we were there until nearly 8.

The Thanksgiving thing started at 6, so Josh and I were sent to hang out in the library for an hour. We hung out in the LIBRARY at parliament! It was awesome! I made Josh take pictures when we were alone. We kept looking at each other going, “Is this really happening?” And we browsed through the books, and geekily pulled one off at a time to read a bit from it. I looked at books on slang, cultures of the world, modern ethnic conflict, and Freakonomics. It was a blast. I still can't believe it happened.

A bit after 6, our lovely host remembered us, she admitted she forgot us, which I'm totally fine with because A) the lady organized the Bytes event and the Thanksgiving event, and B) the library was awesome. We then were taken to the Thanksgiving event. It was basically a bunch of politicians, diplomats, and some other people who worked for the US or the NI government mingling/networking. The Speaker of the House and the Consulate General from the US gave speeches about the relationship of NI and the US and on Thanksgiving. And Josh and I were introduced to several diplomats, including the Consulate General. The Consulate General also invited Josh and I to visit the Consulate and met with him! It was so surreal. I couldn't believe it.

I still find it hard to believe. I've asked Josh several times if today has been real. He responded that if I wanted him to he could pinch me. I told him, “No thanks, my aching feet are enough proof… And anyway if this were a dream I'd be in higher heels.”

Written by Hannah Kurtz

First Taste of Reverse Culture Shock

 Coming to London has been a surprising culture shock.

When I’m living in Northern Ireland, everything seems pretty normal. I mean, I know on a cognitive level that some things are weird, but that’s just how it is. That’s how life is and I’m not going to change it in the three months that I’m there so it doesn’t affect it and I just continue with life. But, coming to London has been a crazy.

I knew as Josh and I were flying out that it would feel different, but I didn’t think about it too much. But then we landed and there were Union Jacks everywhere. And suddenly I found myself explaining that I live next to a peace wall. Then I’m trying to explain why calling the city “Derry” or “Londonderry” is political and contentious. And I’m casually mentioning the bombs in Derry/Londonderry and on the Antrim Road. And I’m talking about the giant murals of men in ski masks holding machine guns. And I’m realizing I don’t have to amend the statement “republican” to “American Republican.” And I’m explaining the Dissident Republicans. And I’m talking about how cool it is that the Free Derry Museum has clothes with gun shots and blood stains. I’m laughing about how you don’t have to worry about “normal” crime in Belfast, just teenagers throwing rocks or worse over the wall. And I find myself thinking about how I was told by a Northern Irish classmate that basically everyone in Northern Ireland can make a bomb, or at least a petrol bomb. I start explaining how British, Irish, Israeli, and Palestinian flags are all really political.

And suddenly I find myself shocked. Belfast and London, though technically under the same government, are completely different worlds. I don’t need to pay attention to the sound of fireworks to make sure they are only fireworks, not gun shots. I don’t need to be concerned with coming off as sectarian when I’m not. I realize why my friends and parents worry about me.

When I’m in Belfast I don’t feel like I’m tense, or like I’m watching my back. I mean it all sounds really bad and very scary. And know what, sometimes it is. Some days I can’t handle seeing some of the murals. Some days I worry when I hear about near by bombs. But most the time I am fine. Most the time I just note my surroundings and continue on my way. I make sure to avoid Northern Irish politics or religion when I’m outside of class. I worry that my claddagh ring will say something to someone other than relationship status. But, it doesn’t seem bad. It feels normal.

Honestly, living there, it’s not that bad. Compared to what it has the potential to spiral into if something goes wrong, compared to what it was 10 years ago, it’s going really well. But when you are outside of it, it doesn’t look that way. It looks really bad, and dangerous, and scary.

I guess I’m saying that compared to life in a peaceful country Northern Ireland looks really bad, but it’s just life as usual and it’s getting better.

Honestly, I’m still sitting here feeling like my mind is blown. I know I’ve called Northern Ireland a post conflict society before, but I never really had the moment of understanding that some of the situations I’m now finding normal really aren’t. It makes me really proud of how far the country has come. It gives me a new awareness of how precarious the whole socio-political situation is. And it gives me a more serious drive to work for more change in Northern Ireland.

I have hope that within my life time Northern Ireland will stop feeling like a post conflict society, and just feel like a normal society.


Written on 6 November 2011 by Hannah Kurtz ’13

Good Relations Training

 This past week, I headed out to one of my community organization’s centers for the first time. That was an adventure in and of itself, since I had absolutely no clue where I was going. One of the staff members ended up picking me up, because I was given bad directions and ended up somewhere that I really couldn’t walk to the center.

In the car though, I was told about community I would be in. It’s very Protestant Loyalist. Because of that at center you don’t really talk about religion. But, the center is also the one that produced really neat fliers about not judging people based on their religion- so obviously they’ve had lots of lessons on not judging people, but somehow there still isn’t a enough of a culture shift amongst the young people to make religion not taboo.

Later in that evening, there was supposed project with the young people, but only one showed up. She complained that the projects are always the same, and that they aren’t what the young people want to do. One of her complaints was that they have good relations shoved down their throats all the time, and that she, at the very least, was sick of it.

That conversation showed me that good relations work doesn’t seem practical to the young people in that community. They get taught by school and organizations all the time that they shouldn’t stereotype, but they go home and their families stereotype, and they do not have all that much interaction with Catholics or Nationalists, so it doesn’t mean all that much to them. This points me to the legitimacy of Contact Theory, the idea that if there is regulated contact between conflicting groups they will begin to humanize each other. I think this community shows how necessary it is for groups to not just get lectured about how they need to have good relations, but they really do need to interact, otherwise there is no point to the lecture.

by Hannah Kurtz

“Not Up My Street”

At a workshop on good relations that I was helping to facilitate, we talked about Northern Ireland’s anti-discrimination laws. The introduction to this was an activity called “Not Up My Street.” The premise is that there are going to be new people moving into your neighborhood and you get to chose which of the families/people get to move in. You are given very little information, for example a Hospital Doctor, a Member of the Orange Order, a Sinn Fein Counselor, a Gay Nurse, an Unemployed Youth, a Community Worker, etc. You personally, and then in small groups, have to rank the people in order of who you would most like to who you would least like to live in your neighborhood. Basically, you are supposed to talk about your assumptions about the person because of their job or whatever information you are given.

After that, everyone is given more information about each person, including their name and age. For example, you learn that Doctor you find out that he is Pakistani, and his wife wears a Niqab, and the gay nurse is a female who’s sexuality has been reject by her family, and the unemployed youth wants to move into the community so that he can get local jobs as a plumber. At this point you are asked to rank the potential neighbors again. This is to see if any of your initial reactions prove false and to see if any other perceptions or issues come up.

It was interesting listening to the teenagers, because though sometimes it was really hard to get out why they thought something, other times they were very upfront with what they thought. The whole group didn’t want a member of a specific association living in their neighborhood, even after hearing that he was disenchanted with it and not really participating in it anymore, just because he was associated with the association And the more male dominate groups admitted to not liking the gay nurse when they assumed it was a male, but as soon as they discovered it was a woman they did not care. They were very fun, and very willing to admit that they have biases and stereotypes, which was the goal of exercise; it’s a good step towards good relations.


by Hannah Kurtz