My plan pretty much from first year was to move to Scotland or England to study a masters in journalism; after all I had come close to moving away from home at age 18 if it wasn’t for the meddling of Nick Clegg and David Cameron in increasing fees.
Of late however I have come around to the possibility of staying in Belfast and training to be a journalist at Belfast Metropolitan College which may not sound as exciting or prestigious as moving to somewhere else in the UK but there are many benefits. The fees are about a least a quarter of those of a masters and the hours are set so you’re able to work and study (bah humbug to having only one year left of the government supporting me). It’s extremely practical without the academic essays. I have started to make contacts within the media circles in Belfast and (if all goes to plan) the year I train as a journalist will see the Assembly elections in 2016, which to a diehard political geek like myself would be a dream to have the chance to cover in some manner.
I must admit I am myself a bit surprised at my keenness to the idea of staying in Belfast another year. When I started QUB three years seemed like a lifetime, surely long enough to live in Belfast. However my feelings now are best summed up as a quote I saw on the wall of an English classroom aged 16 that has stayed with me since; “Belfast isn’t London or New York, and thank God for that.” The first thoughts that come to mind when anyone thinks of Belfast is The Troubles but this quote seems to say to me simultaneously despite and because of this legacy, we have a charm and magic that nowhere else does.
Belfast is the city in which I first felt free, where I discovered who I was and what I believed in, where at Queen’s I for the first time met people who really got me, where I first felt a real sense of belonging. It is a city many try to write off and it angers me because a lot of the time such people have never even lived here. At Christmas time last year a former fellow pupil at my old school uploaded a picture of the view of Belfast from the plane, coming back from university in London for the holidays with the caption “Tiny Belfast.” I commented it may be tiny but it’s pretty great which I was shocked to get the response: “No Kylie, just no.” There is I think little that angers me more than when people move away and look down on Northern Ireland as it is the most dreadful, backward corner on this earth.
Northern Ireland is backward in several ways and it is battle I have within myself; the desire to move to somewhere much more tolerant and progressive where sectarianism is non-existent, where people don’t try to guess what ‘side’ you are by your surname, where we aren’t segregated in school by and large by the religion you’re born into, where the largest party doesn’t deny equal rights to gay people, where women’s bodily autonomy isn’t governed by a law from 1861, and the desire to stay to try and play a small part in helping Northern Ireland move past all these problems.
In just over a week I will fly to the USA with the Washington Ireland program. The recruitment poster I saw back in winter posed a question-if the future was a book, would you write it or read it? A little piece of the book of the future of Belfast was written for the better with the recent council election. In the next Belfast City Council there will be three openly gay representatives (Sinn Féin’s Mary Ellen Campbell, the UUP’s Jeff Dudgeon and the PUP’s Julie Ann Corr), a green has been elected to Council for the first time, as has a member of socialist anti-austerity People Before Profit. These are small changes but they are significant. I wonder come July 2015 when I graduate will I really be ready to leave, to not see these progressive shoots of hope grow?
I do think I would like to move away for a period because I’d like to know if the grass is really greener somewhere else, or perhaps several places. Perhaps if I moved away I wouldn’t want to return. However I don’t think at age 20 that the fact I am not dying to get out of Northern Ireland and can see the beauty and charm speckled between the tribal politics and society that it can be judged that I will never leave. However, would it really be so bad to be one of “those” people who never leave Northern Ireland?
Is it so awful to feel a sense of responsibility towards and love for the messed up little land I happened to be born into? I don’t think so. It is easy to look around and complain about how backward and prejudiced this country can be but every one of us plays a small part in maintaining the status quo or working towards a more progressive peace.