I've been thinking a lot about the Summer of '08, which I spent in Belfast, Northern Ireland, as part of a micro-study abroad. I know it's clichéd to talk about study abroad trips changing your life, but my life really is the way it is because of my time in Northern Ireland. Aside from the adventures, the friendships I made, and the chance to feel like I was really out on my own, away from any of the usual contexts that defines me, it was in Northern Ireland that I realized I wanted to be a teacher.
This trip wasn't study abroad in the typical "take classes at a different university". We spent our time immersed in the city, talking with local officials, going to various events, learning about the climate and the culture of present day Northern Ireland, and doing various community service. My community service was at an elementary school, working with children who were about the equivalent of Grade 1 / 2 in America (P3, as they called it). I had my heart set on the publishing world: in fact, I had a publishing internship immediately after returning to the states. But after the time I spent in Northern Ireland, I spent the majority of my publishing internship reading through the textbooks that I was supposed to be editing or sending off to the printers, imagining lesson plans in my head.
Cut to the next internship cycle. Instead of grasping for the usual English major-related internships, I hit the ground running looking for a teaching aid position. I ended up working as a teacher's aid in one of the most prestigious preschools in Boston, and the rest, as they say, is history.
Part of the reason why I've been thinking about Belfast is because of that epiphany, especially after coupled with the later realization that the education world is a lot more complex than lesson plans and hugs from your students -- but I'll get on that later. Here are some shots from my time around Belfast, taken with my little point-n-shoot (which is sadly resting in the Big Filing Cabinet in the Sky alongside my other dead electronics):