Monthly Archives: November 2011

Reflections on training (pre-corrymeela)

Today we did youth work with a local group again, for the last time (it will happen next week, but Hannah and I will be gone). The primary exercise we did today was “not on my street”, an exercise where youth ranked the order of people that they would want/not want in their community. The members included ‘gay nurse’, orange order member, SF councilor, ex RUC constable, community worker, reformed drug addict, part time female model, bus driver, hospital doctor, and unemployed youth. The order of preference varied by group, but the discussion within the group I was in was fascinating. I was the scribe, but also asked probing questions about the rationale behind why youth answered the way they did, and got some very interesting answers. The group ranked gay nurse very low (9), and member of orange order last (every group consistently did so). The female model was ranked first, not unsurprisingly because our group was ¾ male, but the interesting thing was why. I asked if they would change their answer if the model was male, they affirmed this. The lone female in the group (F to preserve anonymity) was very charismatic (reminding me of a very ‘Swarthmore’ persona, Hannah convinced her to apply afterwards, and she gave out her contact info later in case she was interested in applying contacting her about applying there). She was consistently trying to dissuade the guys from their opinion, challenging their positions and rationale. She even decried the group as ‘sexist’ at one point, as well as homophobic (when asked about whether they focused on the ‘gay’ part of ‘gay nurse’ or the actual profession (nurse) they answered that they would focus on the gay part, ignoring the profession, regardless of the fact that [IMO] the sexual orientation of the person in question doesn’t affect how they do their job. I do understand legitimate ideological opinions about the morality of sexuality, but that shouldn’t affect perceptions of people doing their job…

The next bit was interesting ,as after all the groups had recorded their answers, they were asked to listen as [the facilitator], Hannah and myself read out the bios and background stories of each of the people they were ranking. They were then asked to discuss and then re-rank the people. I wasn’t surprised to see that this changed their answers, but it did so in an interesting way, which literally tied exactly with what we were discussing in class two weeks ago, that who you are is determined on what you where you live, and that the local context is really important in order to determine the way forward. It affects our perceptions subconsciously, and the only way to examine this bias Is through reflection and discussion. Back to the original point in question, the answers changed to a surprising extent. Model got dropped to 8, and the nurse was brought up to 2 (as F has wanted, she then rescinded her comment about the group being ‘sexist’). The idea of making youth question their preconceptions by hearing the full story, and question their gut reaction was particularly interesting, and I admit, I questioned my own assumptions and biases, which was the goal of the exercise.
It would be fascinating to run this (albeit with different characters and context) at Swarthmore. My bet would be that anyone remotely right-wing, rich, conservative, republican, etc. would be put at the bottom of the list. I think that it’s always worth thinking through our stereotypes and questioning them. Something may be true for one member of a group, but that doesn’t mean it’s true for all of them. I’ve learned that I have my biases even in the exercise, as the image that came to mind with ‘reformed drug addict’ was male, [though I did actually focus on the reformed part, not the drug addict part], even though the case study was female. I will certainly keep in mind that with future endeavors. It never hurts to be reminded of one’s own biases, even if it is uncomfortable. It’s a growing experience I suppose…
This was the last time I will be working with the youth, as the Corrymeela residential conflicts with the last training date. I found working with the youth to be a fantastic experience overall, I enjoyed it greatly, and learned a lot about myself. Namely, I have more in common with them than I thought, and that youth work (in the right context) is actually a constructive and positive experience, even in a completely foreign context. I realized that I really enjoy being a facilitator, and given the proper training, I will develop that skill in the future.

Reflections on Corrymeela

I just spent a week at Corrymeela Community in Ballycastle, on the beautiful North Antrim Coast of Northern Ireland, experiencing their process for dialogue, mediation and conflict transformation. Our entire class walked through their process, starting with our Life Histories, and then exploring Deep Dialogue, and even experiencing a bit of the Wild Nature approach. This normally is done over a very extended period of time, usually with groups that have significant differences. For example, they typically work with a variety of groups that have been historical antagonists, such as a group including Loyalist and Republic paramilitary members, in addition to security forces personnel. They also frequently do work with international contexts, such as Israeli/Palestinian dialogue, and work over in the Balkans.
I’ve had a day since Corrymeela to think and reflect a bit more. I think it was good for my soul to be there, I had a fantastic time, and I’ve rarely had more fun. I laughed more there than I have in a long time, formed a deep emotional and friendship bond with the group, met loads of interesting people, and discovered even deeper who I am , and who others in the group are at a very personal level. There is something very unique about Corrymeela, it will always hold a special place in my heart, and I understand why people are drawn to the place. I was saddened by leaving; it was such a wonderful place.
At the same time though, it was a difficult and challenging place, I confronted truths about myself, and my preconceptions of others, as well as did activities that I felt very uncomfortable with (mostly the art-based ones, since I am not good at that and felt a struggle when doing it). The hardest things, however, were also the best things. I learned more about myself and how I think and function through them, and I really pushed myself to a place where I didn’t want to go because I was uncomfortable. It was because of this uncomfortable nature that I actually learned, and by letting myself go there, I got a better understanding of everything. I am continually drawn back to the example of Aslan, the Lion from C.S Lewis’s Narnia series, where the following occurs: [when asking about Aslan], “is he a safe lion?”, “Safe?!? No my dear, far from it! BUT, he is a good lion”. This idea of safe vs. good has always resonated very strongly with me.
In the end, I suppose that the point of Corrymeela is doing just that: pushing yourself to understand others, have deep dialogue with them about what difference is, and how it affects us, to push the barriers between people away, and to just spend time getting to know other people, even if they’re totally different from you in every way, shape, and form.
I will never forget my experience at Corrymeela, I feel as if I’ve only begun to learn from my experience there, and future reflections will take my back, and allow me to further explore the nuances of what happened there. Truth be told, I’m not entirely certain what I feel right now, my emotions have gone in so many directions in the past few days, but it’s been good. I don’t consider myself and emotional person, though I acknowledge that they exist, and that I feel, but I have a different way of processing them than many, and they rarely exhibit themselves externally. This week however, I had so many going through my head it was almost overload, but I let myself just be, and experience it all, reflect. I learned the value of stillness, though I still don’t get as much out of it as many. I learned to respect it though, and I feel as if it reinforced and brought value to my understanding of how to befriend people who think differently than I do, and that experience was really valuable for me. That should do it for now, I am exhausted of writing, there is so much more I could say, but I’ve written so much in the past few days, I cannot do any more reflection. It was good though, I enjoyed it, and it allowed me to think through my thoughts in a slightly more organized manner. I have found reflective writing to be a useful learning tool, and I hope to be able to do it in the future (I don’t yet like it quite enough to do it for fun…).

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