Student Blogger Study Abroad

Final Reflections from Northern Ireland

The image is people walking through a forest with yellow leaves

Brigid Miller is a student in HECUA’s Conflict, Peace, and Transition in Northern Ireland program this fall. Brigid is a student at St. Olaf College, majoring in History with a concentration in Women’s and Gender Studies. Read on her for reflection about her time at her internship with Verbal Arts Centre!

As I finished my internship with the Verbal Arts Centre, I began to reflect on one of the most impactful things I learned during my time with the organization; the power of storytelling. There is great power in telling and sharing stories, as stories help connect us and bring us closer together. By understanding someone else’s story you begin to understand their perspective and their viewpoints. This gives storytelling a great power and ability to serve as a link between people and perspectives. During my time with Verbal, I was able to form relationships with people who have very different lives than my own, through the power of stories.

One of the programs at Verbal that I have been fortunate to work with is Reading Friends. This program has allowed me to spend my Wednesday afternoons reading and talking with residents at Edenballymore Lodge. This opportunity made me excited, but also nervous since I am a student from Chicago and did not think I would be able to connect to the members of the group. Nevertheless, I went into the first session and began by reading the poem “Wee Hughie” by Elizabeth Shane. This poem got us talking about our own first days of school and the memories we attribute with going to school. This common experience, and the stories I listened to and told, allowed me to form connections with the group members.

People walking in hilly area with cloudy gray sky
Murlough Nature Reserve. Photo credit: Brigid Miller

As we laughed, talked, and sang for the rest of the session and the many sessions afterwards, I began to truly understand how literature and stories bring people together. Through the poems and the stories we shared, a twenty-year-old American student was able to create relationships with people from Northern Ireland who were generations older. The stories that we bonded over erased the vast gap in our experiences and backgrounds and allowed us to sit and reminisce with one another.

The stories did not just come through this program or my internship at Verbal, my time in Northern Ireland has been enhanced by conversations with cab drivers, flatmates, and others with whom I talked about anything and everything. These moments of personal storytelling allowed me to connect with people around me and feel welcome in a place that is hundreds of miles from home. I have cherished the time spent telling stories with the other HECUA students and learning about the experiences we have in common and those we don’t. In just fourteen weeks, we have formed a bond through these stories and this bond has supported us through the tough times and been strengthened through the good times. As we listened to so many powerful stories during our time here, it has become apparent that the power of storytelling is limitless; this action can bring people together regardless of age, country, or background.

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