Author Archives: Shealagh Lyons

The Beginning of the End

This week we finished our time teaching at placement. I will still have a few more days at school in Breda, but no longer teaching lessons. The funniest part of my last days teaching, were some pupils not realizing that I would be returning to America after my time in Belfast (or that I was American at all). It has been very busy finalizing all of our assignments and courses here in Belfast. We have final presentations coming up next week and our graduation, but it does not feel real that our time here is ending.

We spent this weekend in Belfast to really enjoy our home city one last time. The best part of the weekend was going to St. George’s Market; something we had wanted to do for a long time. The market holds local artists, musicians, and restaurants. We had great food and were able to finish up our souvenir shopping. The market was bustling the whole afternoon and had a band in the center filling the area with traditional Irish music. It was a great memory to end our time in Belfast.

I think the hardest part of our time coming to a close, is saying goodbye to all of the amazing people I have met. The professors, friends, and fellow Americans that we have spent the last 10 weeks have begun to feel like our family abroad. It is tough to think about leaving all of them, but they are amazing motivators to some day make our way back to Belfast.

Vida en Barcelona

This week we traveled to one of the special schools in Belfast, Torbank. This trip was our last educational adventure with Stranmillis, but probably the best. I really looked forward to visiting Torbank because of my endorsement in Special Education. I was curious to learn about how Special Education is approached in Northern Ireland and be able to compare the two.

While Northern Ireland has separate schools that cater to the needs of students with disabilities, their end goal is inclusion. The mentality toward including all students in the general or mainstream system was the major similarity I found between the U.S. and Belfast. I realized that most of the services that are provided in the special school are equivalent to the services provided in a special education department in a mainstream American school. One benefit I found in the special school was their ability to adapt every aspect of the school to meet the needs of their students. The funding is specifically focused on meeting the childrens’ needs, including a medical staff on site. I found this trip very educational and a great tool to use in moving forward with my own work in Special Education.

This weekend we traveled to Barcelona, Spain for our last international trip! We arrived in this new city late on Friday night and spent Saturday exploring (we walked 20 miles!). Although we only had a day in Barcelona, we made the most of our time. We explored Park Guell, La Sagrada Familia, and the beaches, ate tapas and churros con chocolate, and walked all along the main streets. The culture, architecture, language, and food made this city one of my favorite trips during my time abroad. I will definitely be back to Barcelona again in my life!

While our adventures this past week have been exciting, it has also been bittersweet. Realizing that there is only two more weeks left of our time in Belfast, I am starting to get sad to leave this city that has become home. When arriving back from Barcelona, I realized how accustomed I had become to this city and that it really was starting to feel like home. I am finally able to use the bus system and make my way around town (of course right before I am going to leave…). I am very much looking forward to being back in the United States with friends and family, but I am not ready to leave this city and its people who have welcomed me with open arms.

 

Sláinte!

This week the IFSA students were taken on another educational trip in Belfast. We traveled to the Youthlink center, which is one of the only centers in Northern Ireland that is officially supported by all four churches. This center supports groups in finding respect and understanding on differences. In addition to the center visit, we were taken on a tour through some of the peace walls and neighborhoods. We had the chance to sign one of the walls and visited a memorial garden and monastery, which both hold a piece of history from The Troubles.

We also celebrated Thanksgiving across the pond! It was a tough day to be away from family, especially with having to still go to school. Some of the teachers asked me questions about the holiday and brought up how much they loved the Thanksgiving episode of Friends. Stranmillis made us a big Thanksgiving dinner and seated us at a big table in the center of the dining hall. They even decorated the table with American flags! Even though we all weren’t able to spend time with our families, it was great to celebrate the holiday as a group and share it with our friends here in Belfast.

We finished our week by traveling south to Dublin and the Cliffs of Moher! We spent our first night being very lazy and enjoying the perks of staying in a hotel room rather than a hostel. Then on Sunday morning we began our adventure to the Cliffs of Moher. We first stopped off at the Baby Cliffs, which was beautiful and seemed super high, until we saw the Cliffs of Moher. We ran into a bit of fog unfortunately once we made it up to the Cliffs. We kept hiking through the path and luckily the fog broke for a brief moment. We were able to take lots of pictures and take in the views. I wish that we could have seen it on a clear day, but it was still an amazing experience.

On Sunday we visited an iconic spot in Dublin, the Guinness Storehouse! We learned all about the history of the iconic brew and even got to practice our pouring skills. It was a very cool experience and a fun way to spend a Sunday. Sadly, we did not have much time exploring around Dublin. I will be traveling back to the south of Ireland at the end of our program to meet my family for a week of travel. I cannot wait to see them and explore an area that holds so much of our family’s history! Here’s to three more weeks in Belfast!

Thanksgiving in Belfast

Thanksgiving in Belfast

The Cliffs of Moher

The Cliffs of Moher

Guiness Storehouse

Guiness Storehouse

Exploring without Traveling

This week I took over another class to teach at Breda Academy. This class was a bit livelier than my other two, but just as exciting to teach. I continued teaching my year 8 and year 11 classes, and was complimented by having the pupils excited to see me and seeming disappointed during lessons that I was not teaching. I have really enjoyed getting to know these students and learning from them. It has been really fun sharing my experiences in America and having them compare them to their lives in Northern Ireland. I find myself a little more nervous when teaching here since it is a different culture and I still have yet to grasp all of the classroom norms, but my students are always excited and ready to learn, which makes it all much easier.

This weekend Mariah and I went on the Black Taxi Tour around Belfast. This tour gives the history of the conflict in Northern Ireland. We were driven around to different historic areas on sides that were predominately Catholic and Protestant. We drove by the peace walls that are still up today; locking at 6:00pm daily in the chance that violence could break out. Being in Belfast, I have loved learning about the history and what has led to make it the city that it is. Seeing the peace walls was a very moving experience. I had envisioned what they might have looked like, but it was nothing like the reality. Seeing the walls gave me a better perspective on the chaotic times of The Troubles here in Belfast. The height and military grade level of the walls and seeing homes with cages to protect from bombs, transformed the stories that I had heard in my time in Belfast into a reality. I have loved learning about the history of Belfast and I was really glad that I was able to see this area that I may not have had the opportunity to see otherwise.

Christmas celebrations began in Belfast this weekend with the switching on of the Christmas lights at City Hall. Belfast hosts a large Christmas market that is filled with shops from around the world. This weekend was very crowded, but we managed to squeeze in to see City Hall light up. We did not explore the markets very much because it was so crowded, but we will definitely be making a visit later on, maybe two.

On Sunday, I traveled to Downpatrick for part of the day. It is said that St. Patrick, St. Bridget, and St. Columba are buried there, so I was very curious to explore the area. I was able to attend the service at the Down Cathedral, which is located at the site where the saints are buried. I have never felt more welcomed than I did at this service. It was a small group in attendance, but each of them was very excited to have me there with them. Many of them asked me questions about how I was getting on in Belfast and it was a really comforting experience. One woman even walked me out to the gravesite and explained some of the history to me. Not only was there great history the area I was in, but you could also view the Mourne Mountains, which was absolutely breathtaking.

For the next three weekends, we will be traveling for two of them. I am very excited for all of our upcoming adventures, but the reality that out time in Belfast is winding down is very bittersweet. I am excited for the journey ahead, but will be very sad to see our time wind down.

One of the Peace Walls in Belfast

One of the Peace Walls in Belfast

City Hall lit up for Christmas

City Hall lit up for Christmas

One of the many festive signs around Belfast

One of the many festive signs around Belfast

Down Cathedral

Down Cathedral

The Burial Site of St. Patrick, St. Bridget, and St. Columba

The Burial Site of St. Patrick, St. Bridget, and St. Columba

The view outside of Down Cathedral

The view outside of Down Cathedral

“Are you American?”

This week was an interesting time to be abroad. As the United States elections have unfolded, I think I have been asked at least once a day about my feelings about Trump or Hillary. This week was no different, but the questions were more real after Tuesday. Since there is a time change, I went to sleep unsure of what reality I would be waking up to. The reality turned out to be Donald Trump as the 45th President of the United States. Now, I do not want to make this blog post simply about politics, but if I learned one thing this week, it is how much influence the United States has on the rest of the world. Students in my classes were asking me questions similar to those I would have gotten in the U.S. The teachers here were as shocked as most Americans, and no one could believe it. In the United Kingdom, this election is seen as our version of Brexit…and that is not a good thing.

I began teaching my first lessons this week. I taught an area lesson to Year 8 students and transformation lessons to Year 10 students. The behavior of students in these classes was not much different than those of students in the United States. One thing I noticed was how they reacted to my style of teaching. At Drake, I have been taught that math is best learned through discovery, so I based my lesson on this theory and on questioning techniques. I could tell by many of the students’ reactions that they had not experienced a lot of learning in this way. When I introduced an area activity where students could create shapes, they were extremely engaged and excited to learn. Some of the students also became very excited when they realized I was from the United States. They asked questions like what grade they would be in America, or whether I could understand their accents. Teaching these lessons allowed me to connect with some of the students in a way I had not been able to do yet. I am looking forward to working with these groups for the rest of my time and I know it will be hard to leave my students.

Early in the week we also visited Lagan College, the first integrated school in Northern Ireland. In Northern Ireland, integrated has a much different meaning than in the states. When I think of integrated, I think of race. When they say integrated in Northern Ireland, they are talking about religion. Catholic or Protestant divides most schools, so an integrated school welcomes students of both religions. Lagan College was opened 35 years ago and funded by parents who believed in the school and what it stood for. Students from all over the country traveled to learn in an environment that respected all ideas and opinions, but others did not always respect this school. When the school started out, students could not wear their badges or talk about what they learned in public due to fear of violence. Some school buses were attacked as they brought students from bus and train stations. Today, the school has a new building and serves 2,000 students, with a long list of applications behind them. The school welcomes all religions and allows for open respectful conversations about beliefs. The school also welcomes students of all ability levels. The philosophy that every student has the ability to learn is very evident in this school. Additionally there is pride from both teachers and students in this institution. They strive to provide the best education while also supporting other schools that have joined the journey in integration. Visiting Lagan College was an amazing experience and I was very impressed by the philosophy and ethos that they held.

Lagan College

Lagan College

Lagan College

Lagan College

Lagan College

Lagan College

“Reading” in the United Kingdom

This week was the Stranmillis Reading Week. Reading week means that no classes are held  and we can do our “reading” wherever we want. We chose to spend our reading week exploring the United Kingdom. We traveled to Glasgow and Edinburgh, Scotland; London, England; and Cardiff, Wales. Each city was unique and wonderful to explore. My feet still hurt, I cannot wait to sleep in my own bed, and it feels good to shower in my own bathroom, but the adventures were beyond worth it.

Glasgow

As our first stop in the trip, this city was our test run of traveling. It was our first hostel experience and first time navigating a brand new city for more than one day. Glasgow was very urban with a few historical aspects along the way. My favorite stop was the Glasgow Cathedral. It was absolutely beautiful and full of detail. Each stained glass window and chapel was unique and it was amazing how much effort went in to this building. We were lucky enough to hear a bit of the service on Sunday morning, which was just as beautiful as the building it was held in.

Glasgow Cathedral

Glasgow Cathedral

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Edinburgh

This city was my favorite of the four we visited. The history and character of each building, street, and shop was great to experience. We explored the Edinburgh Castle, which I geeked out in because of a Netflix series I watch featuring Mary Queen of Scots, who spent a short time in the castle. This city was rich with history and royal aspects, which is something we do not experience in the States. We heard bagpipers on the streets and saw kilts galore. We also courageously tried Haggis, a traditional Scottish dish, and it was surprisingly delicious (I recommend not asking what it is before trying it). Edinburgh was the hardest city to leave, but I hope I will one day make it back there.

Edinburgh Castle

Edinburgh Castle

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

London

First, although it is possible, I highly recommend experiencing London in more than just 36 hours. While we saw all of the major landmarks, we did not get to experience them as much as I would have liked (Sight-seeing, not sight-doing). We stopped by Tower Bridge, made our way to see Big Ben,  the Westminster Abbey and ended our day at Buckingham Palace. Sadly, no one let us in to the palace, but we at least go to see it from the gates. By the end of our day in London we were more tired than any other time in the week, but we forced ourselves to keep awake and walk through the city. We ended up taking a chance on tickets to see Matilda the Musical at one of the many theaters. Lucky for us, and to our surprise, were able to get tickets for 5 pounds and it was an absolutely amazing show! I highly recommend seeing a show in London and it was definitely one of the highlights of my week.

Big Ben!

Big Ben!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Cardiff

This city was one that we had pretty low expectations for. Many people told us that there would be little to nothing to do, so we planned on it being the relaxing end to our trip…it was a bit different than that. It happened to be a huge weekend in Cardiff with the Autumn International Rugby Event of Wales playing Australia. We met a large group of Australians staying in our hostel who convinced us it was worth going to the match. We were able to find cheap tickets and experienced our first Rugby match! That night we also met a couple of the Australian Rugby players which was pretty cool, especially since one of them chatted me up about the Cubs winning the World Series. I don’t think we experienced what would be deemed as the “true” Cardiff, but I loved our time in this city.

Australia vs. Wales Rugby Match

Australia vs. Wales Rugby Match

 

 

Walking through Belfast

This week I participated in a sponsored walk with the year 8 students at Breda Academy. Year 8 is the equivalent to sixth grade in the United States, which is also one of my favorite grade levels to work with. This age group is not much different in Northern Ireland than the United States. Every student has a cell phone, Snapchat and Instagram are vital, and social awkwardness is evident.

The sponsored walk was a fundraiser for MS in Northern Ireland. The students raised money for an organization and then spent the morning walking around a park in Belfast. The park was gorgeous and I had the chance to socialize with some of the other teachers from my placement school. I was able to get great travel tips from them, as we are about to embark on our journey throughout the United Kingdom. Per usual, the topic of Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton also came up and the pity everyone has for our country’s government. It was great experience to be outside of the classroom with students and to be seen by them as someone other than the adult who has observed us for the last week.

Later on in the week, all of the IFSA-Butler students met up with our Belfast “Mom” Eibhlin for a walk and hot chocolate. Eibhlin is a huge comfort to have here in Belfast. She lets us know of good places to go, fun places to eat, and is there to listen to all of our fun stories of experiencing Belfast. She is like having a parent here in Belfast even though she is only a few years older than us. She makes us all feel at home here and makes us laugh for all of the ways we mispronounce words or do not understand lingo. The IFSA community is a great outlet to have here, while also being able to branch out and meet people from all over the world in Stranmillis.

One of my favorite parts of the week is our Northern Ireland course here at Stranmillis. For the past two weeks we have been learning about The Troubles that occurred in Northern Ireland and how they shaped Belfast to be what it is today. The history and culture is fascinating and it truly helps in becoming acclimated to Northern Ireland. International students also only take this course, so we are exposed to not only Northern Irish culture, but also cultures throughout the world. One of the best parts of the my study abroad experience so far has been my ability to meet local students from Northern Ireland, but also making friends with people from a variety of countries.

Walking along River Lagan with the IFSA group

Walking along River Lagan with the IFSA group

Sponsored Walk with Breda Academy

Sponsored Walk with Breda Academy

Embracing the Culture Shocks

This week I started to realize that I was experiencing more of a culture shock than I had expected. Since getting to Belfast, I had a strange feeling that I knew was not homesickness, but I did not feel quite settled yet in the new city I would be calling home. Then I started to think more about when and where I would have the unsettling feeling (which was not really a negative emotion), and most of the time it would be in situations where I felt very separate from the culture I was living in. Having this sense of culture shock is something I am thankful for because it means I am being exposed to something new, which is the main reason I came to Belfast.

I noticed the greatest sense of culture shock in my placement at Breda Academy. Going to school is usually the only time I am on my own without another American or student from Stranmillis. Being the only student at Breda Academy is exciting and allows me to set my own impression on the teachers and staff. However, there have definitely been times I have felt intimidated by trying to put on this impression in representing Stranmillis, Drake, and, quite frankly, the United States. I have gotten more comfortable, especially with spending this past full week in school. It has been exciting to learn the different aspects of schools in Belfast, but I am still learning to be patient that I will be confused and need to ask for help, or for someone to repeat themselves because I cannot understand their accent.

Some of the biggest differences I have noticed at Breda Academy are:

  • BIDMAS = PEMDAS; different terms are used such as brackets for parenthesis and indices for exponents in Mathematics.
  • Grading = Marking; grading and tracking are a big focus in this school. Each grade level is broken down into about 5 levels based on student ability. Each level is lettered A-F and based on tracking tests. This week most of the students were taking their tracking tests.
  • Teachers are addressed as Sir or Miss; no matter what the teacher’s name, each male teacher is addressed only by Sir and the female teachers Miss. There also seems to be a slight difference in the person-ability within the schools. While in the States not all teachers are friendly with students,  in Breda Academy I have noticed a level of formality among teachers and students (or pupils). Respectful behavior is a very important aspect of education. Teachers make sure each student is behaving properly while in school.

One of the really great culture “shocks” I have noticed is the leisure-based lifestyle many people live here. Most businesses close around 6 pm, the buildings on campus are all closed by 9 pm (including the library), and most people do not start their days until after 1 pm on the weekends. Since I am so used to the American way of being constantly busy and spending my whole night in the library, this change was a little frustrating. However, this new lifestyle allows for time to focus on getting to know other people or enjoy the city. We have been taking advantage of most of this time to travel. This past weekend we visited Derry/Londonderry and the Mourne Mountains. Derry was full of culture and rich history. We walked around the walls that surround the city dating back to the 17th century We also saw the murals that were painted as a result of the Troubles in the 1960s. The Mourne Mountains showed absolutely amazing views (and we did not even make it to the top!). Our legs are sore from all the hiking, but it was worth it! Our half term is coming up, which will allow for more travel and time to experience more cultures!

Derry/Londonderry, Northern Ireland

Derry/Londonderry, Northern Ireland

Historic Murals in Derry/Londonderry, Northern Ireland

Historic Murals in Derry/Londonderry, Northern Ireland

Mourne Mountains, Newcastle, Northern Ireland

Mourne Mountains, Newcastle, Northern Ireland

Mourne Mountains, Newcastle, Northern Ireland

Mourne Mountains, Newcastle, Northern Ireland

Our New Home in Belfast

It has officially been a week since we touched down in our new home of Belfast, Northern Ireland. The jet lag has left us, the accents are becoming easier to understand, and the lingo is starting to feel natural. The first week here at Stranmillis University College has been a whirlwind of new experiences and information, but this city has done nothing but amaze me. Everyone we have met through Stranmillis and IFSA has welcomed us with open arms and patience as we adjust to our new home (Even the taxi drivers have shown the upmost kindness). It feels strange to think it has only been a week here, but I cannot wait to continue with the next nine.

I will be spending most of my time during the week at Breda Academy in their Math’s department. Most of my teaching will be with P11/Year 4’s, which would equate to freshman in high school. I will also be working some with P8/9’s, which equates to 6/7th grades. Breda has a unique daily schedule, so I will be spend my time with two cooperating teachers, rather than one. The school lingo has been interesting to pick up on. Classes are called lessons and the grade levels have been tough to understand. After two days being in school I feel a bit more comfortable, but I think it will be even better after this next whole week in school.

Here are the biggest joys I have had in the last seven days:

Joy #1: The way of life here seems to be much more focused on the well being of people. I noticed this cultural aspect first at Stranmillis where we had coffee/tea breaks and people were asking whether we were doing well almost every thirty minutes. The coffee/tea breaks are also in the school, which I think is a trend the United States needs to pick up on because who doesn’t want a mid-morning coffee break? Stranmillis has shown in this short amount of time how much they care about their students and their willingness to accommodate any need we have. I also noticed this aspect at the schools where many of the teachers saw professional life as a simply that, a job. The idea of “working to live, rather living to work” is very evident here, whereas it seems to be the opposite in the United States.

Joy #2: Site-seeing and experiencing the culture. I have already been blown away with the architecture and natural wonders that Northern Ireland has to offer. There is so much history in this city that I am slowly learning and look forward to learning more. This weekend we traveled with Stranmillis to the Giant’s Causeway, which was breathtaking. There is a wealth of natural beauty on this island country and I cannot wait to explore as much as I can.

Joy #3: Stranmillis provides a weeklong reading week, which allows for traveling. We decided to plan a week of traveling to explore the entirety of the United Kingdom. We will begin our journey in Scotland, through England, and end in Wales. I could not be more excited for this trip and get to see so many different places. We also planned a trip to Barcelona later on, which is another place I have always dreamt of going. My hope is to balance my time between enjoying Belfast and Northern Ireland, while also taking advantage of the opportunity to see other countries in our short time here.

There have also been a few challenges…

  • Figuring out which way to look when crossing the street
  • Trying to open doors… (Is it push or pull?)
  • The accents…there is definitely a slight language barrier
  • The pound – Half of the currency is coin!

 

Belfast City Centre

Belfast City Centre

Friars Bush Cemetery - Belfast

Friars Bush Cemetery – Belfast

Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge

Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge

Giant's Causeway

Giant’s Causeway