Just a little while ago I spent nearly a year in Belfast, Northern Ireland volunteering with a nonprofit called Quaker Cottage. Quaker Cottage is a family center that serves mothers, children and teens in North and West Belfast who have experienced trauma. Our essential goals were to provide these families a safe place for discussion and rest, and to foster community.
Many of my UMS book club members seem to have a fondness for the United Kingdom, so I thought it might be an interesting experience to connect these American students with the Belfast teens. We prepared for our Skype chat by discussing Northern Ireland, from where it is to its troubled political history. We also read excerpts of Our View, a collection of stories told by real Belfast teens who attended Quaker Cottage.
I was so proud of our St. Francis students for their enthusiasm and thoughtful questions during our Skype chat. We learned that even though and ocean divides us, Northern Irish and American youth play many of the same video games, are all familiar with Miley Cyrus (although the Belfast teens seemed fonder of her than our St. Francis students), watch a few of the same TV shows, and love their pets as much as we do. We also had the chance to ask questions and discuss significant cultural differences. For example, our students confirmed to the Belfast teens that in America differences of religion are generally accepted. The teens mentioned that they had some trouble today driving to Quaker Cottage because of impending riots between Catholics and Protestants in West Belfast. We also learned that in Belfast, students finish school at age 16, whereas here in America most students finish their senior year at age 18.
Stay tuned to read more of what the students have to say about our transatlantic chat.
The UMS Book Club, which has dubbed itself "the Club Who Must Not Be Named", has taken a particular shine to our library pet --a Beanie Baby hedgehog. One of our members, Hanna Popov, sketched the hedgehog, now known as Martin, above. Benedict is of course the British actor Benedict Cumberbatch who plays Sherlock Holmes in the BBC mini-series. It's amazing to see our students' creativity!