Day 1: Queen’s University Belfast


Spectacular weather in Belfast for our tour of Queens University Belfast!  SUNY Buffalo NAFAn writes: “In the UK/Belfast, Northern Ireland with fellowship advisors from around the US. Will be touring the UK and institutions of higher learning for the next few weeks. Today the folks at Queens University hosted our group. Saw the university and then took an amazing tour of Belfast. Learned a lot about the Troubles and the peace walls. An interesting place.”  (See her pics at the bottom of this post)

Day 1, Morning: An Introduction to Queen’s University Belfast

by Jodi Zaffino (Columbia University)

The NAFA Tour kicked off with a warm welcome from Susan McClearly (International Officer for the Americas) and overview to Queens University Belfast (QUB) from Isabel Jennings, Director of MRCI, wherein we learned about Queen’s commitment to a vibrant and inclusive postgraduate community, remaining a leading research-intensive university (QUB is a member of the Russell Group), and to challenging students, faculty, and the university as a whole in pioneering, pushing, and/or inspiring positive development, change, or impact within society as global citizens. Some of the specifics focused upon in this morning’s presentation and campus tour are highlighted below.

Welcome to and Overview of the University:

-QUB’s 21st century facilities (library, accommodation, sports facilities, Graduate School building, the new School of Law-opening September 2016, the new Computer Science building-notably, Belfast is home to more software companies, outside London, than any other UK city).

-Awards, Academic Achievements, and Notable Accomplishments as further testament to the quality of education offered (25 offered subjects ranked in the top 20, 15 in the top 10 across the UK).

-Belfast as a vibrant, friendly, youthful, safe, and affordable city for students

Isabel Jennings in the Postgraduate Bldg at QUB

The 4 Global Research Institutes

Institute for Health Sciences(particularly within cancer, respiratory conditions, eye disease, diabetic vascular complications research)

Institute for Electronics, Communications and Information Technology

Institute for Global Food Security (particularly the integrity of global food supply; disease and nutrition, and farming)

Senator George J. MitchellInstitute for Global Peace, Security and Justice (specifically within legacy issues, justice and rights, security, and ideology and beliefs)

Student Funding

Queen’s Postgraduate International Tuition Fees range between £14,100-£19,500 ($20,000-$27,000) per year. There is no application fee and students may register and apply through the QUB Direct Online Portal –

Beyond the Fulbright and Marshall, QUB offers a variety of funding opportunities for international students. Some of these include the Queen’s Loyalty Scholarships (20% off Year 1 Tuition Fees); Queen’s International Office Scholarships (Postgraduate Taught, £2000-£3000 off Tuition Fees and Postgraduate Research, £2,500 -£3000 off Year 1 Tuition Fees; Queen’s Vice Chancellor’s International Attainment Scholarship (All International Students); 2 x Postgraduate Taught Full Tuition Scholarships; 1 x Postgraduate Research Full Tuition Scholarship.

Q&A, Tip for Advisors:

QUB strongly recommends students interested in a postgraduate place to reach out to faculty or academic departments to discuss their research interests. If students are unsure of who, specifically to reach out to they should contact Susan McCleary, who will put them in touch with relevant faculty members.

A final note…

One thing that I found particularly impressive was QUB’s commitment to the individual student’s success, both while at university and in the long-term. Student achievement and happiness is incorporated into everything from accommodation planning (e.g. placing phone charging sockets next to the bed at the suggestion of students) to holding individual meetings with faculty and staff to discuss the student’s post-QUB plans, impact, and professional trajectory. The latter half of this was discussed as addressing the ‘so what?’ question. That is, “So you want to study _____ at QUB….So what will you do with this degree and how will you apply what you’ve learned?”. Where a Master’s degree can take as little time as 12 months to complete, an institution that strongly incorporates a post-graduation conversation with each student is a wonderful reminder of large universities retaining commitment to each student’s intellectual and professional development.

Day 1, Afternoon: Chat Rises Up to Perch Among the Rafters

by Rosanne Altstatt (Purdue University)

The afternoon began with the hesitant patter of talk between people meeting for the first time. The subject was the Seamus Heaney Centre for Poetry and School of English at QUB, and the speakers were members of its Irish faculty and U.S. graduate students, mostly poets and poetry critics, meeting our group of 18. This was a “literary lunch” at the Ulster Museum and soon the food and conversation would flow as we came to know each other a little better.

The American students described their 12-month Creative Writing Masters degree as fast-paced and production-filled. A student might write 100 poems by the end of that time and learn the rigors of developing an artistic practice to serve a lifetime of creative writing.

In Belfast, students are immersed in a close community of writers, with Northern Ireland generating some ¼ of all T.S. Eliot Prize recipients in all of the UK. This factoid was dropped by a poetry critic from QUB, and I had direct cause to believe in the power of Northern Ireland’s poets: next to her stood Sinéad Morrissey, current Belfast Poet Laureate, Queens Writer in Residence, and 2016 recipient of the E.M. Forster Award.

At the pinnacle of this event Morrissey gave a reading, which included two of her own poems and one, “Mayfly,” by Lilian Bland (1878-1971), an all Irish around feminist who can stake a claim to have been the first woman to build an airplane. One of Morrissey’s poems describes the assembly for an Irish elementary school’s nativity play, and its line “chat rises up to perch amongst the rafters” is a fitting description for the flights of conversations we engage in during every hour of this study tour.


History is the present in Belfast, and it encircled this gathering in a back gallery of Belfast’s Ulster Museum: we stood between walls exhibiting contemporary prints in response to the 1916 Easter Rising in this year of its 100th anniversary. Dorothy Smith’s scratchy rendering of paper, tape, and imperative will undoubtedly remind us of some of our students efforts to improve their communities. It draws a parallel between forms of political action then and now while serving as a marker of our group’s next transition of events from the poetry of the School of English to the political engagement of the Institute of Irish Studies, represented by the irrepressible Dominic Bryan.


High Walls Make Good Neighbours

Professor Bryan is a cultural anthropologist who studies the cultures of conflict and peace in the streets of Belfast. He was our tour guide through the city and began by describing Belfast as “beautifully ordinary and the epicentre of conflict in Ireland.”

Bryan’s narrative made it apparent that students of areas such as urban conflict, peace-building, and global studies would learn at QUB how to unfold the complex workings and legacy of Ireland’s “Troubles.” Peace in Northern Ireland today is stable and the thriving city centre of bars and businesses reflects this. Nonetheless, peace is an on-going process of conversations and micro-negotiations between neighbourhood groups. In this environment, international students learn of steps taken by the Northern Irish to build peace and learn to think through how to bring their own citizenry to resolve conflict.

Many Americans are familiar with the story of Irish Republicans vs. British Unionists/Catholics vs. Protestant Orangemen, but Bryan quickly complicated this narrative by pointing out that many involved in the Irish Rebellion of 1798 were neither of those factions, but Presbyterians. He was also adept at drawing parallels between the motivations behind Northern Ireland’s conflict and socio-economic factors behind political protests or urban conflicts in the U.S.

Our bus wove through the east, west, and south quarters of the city as he pointed out the distinct architectures and histories of their communities. The north of Belfast is a patchwork where Catholic and Protestant neighbourhoods met – clashed – during “The Troubles.” The area is studded with police stations embedded in the landscape like bunkers and the neighbourhood is held together/divided today by Peace Walls, many scrolled atop with barbed wire.

Murals commemorating fallen fighters or international political issues with which the sentiments of one side or the other align are constantly designed and painted on either side of the walls. On this day we saw dozens of murals by artists on the Catholic side of the walls, which included a rendering of Bobby Sands, Amnesty International’s logo, a plea to free Ocalan of the Kurdish PKK and the international symbol to accept refugees. We also ran into an ex-prisoner giving a taxi tour of the murals and community memorials. As part of his tour he was showing his customers examples of plastic bullets the police used to fire into the street battles in which he will have fought. Murals on the Protestant side have a rebellious graffiti-style of art, which is constantly being enhanced/defaced by messages of peace written by tourists who have been given a thick sharpie by their guides.



Just before we piled back into our tour bus, Bryan mentioned how he has had several students write theses on Northern Irish murals, including on the subject of the profitable tour bus industry that has built up around the city’s history of political pain and upheaval.

The Humanity of Peace-Building

Representatives from conflict zones all over the world come to Belfast and QUB’s Mitchell Institute for Global Peace, Security, and Justice to learn how to reduce the violence of their own regional battles.

When I think of peace talks, I picture men in suits, seated around a conference table comes to my mind. It’s a dehumanized image of political parties, but this evening made it apparent that negotiations take place between people, not factions. From what we saw, Mitchell Institute scholars live and breathe peace-building through academic study as well as the practical application of their knowledge.

The evening event gave us a window to this world during a dinner of TED-style talks. Professor John D. Brewer from the Institute for Conflict Transformation and Social Justice is a dynamic speaker who walked us through how peace is the work of everyone in a community speaking and acting for peace – sports groups, schools, churches, and the like – everyone except perhaps politicians.

Professor Beverly Milton-Edwards from the School of Politics, International Studies and Philosophy gave a very personal talk on the value of engaging in peace talks with international terrorists; how peace can only be built by talking with your enemies regardless of political pressures to isolate our enemies and disengage.

Dr. Julie Norman, an American student and Queens Research Fellow, opened a window into her work with ex-militants in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict who now work for peace.

The dinner was a fleeting three hours in the company of faculty from all across the disciplines of QUB who had come to talk with us about their programs while taking in the warmth and humanity of their colleagues, these razor-sharp intellectuals associated with the Mitchell Institute. It is a large campus, but a tight-knit community.

Finally, I asked a graduate student from Texas what she had learned from the example of her mentors. She answered that it caused her to question absolutely everything she knew and completely realign her thoughts. I cannot imagine a higher endorsement.

A few more photos from Elizabeth Colucci of the day:

QUB also took some terrific pics at a literary luncheon and during the bus tour!


Author: uknafa2016

We are members of the National Association of Fellowship Advisors touring institutions of higher education in the United Kingdom in order to better advise high-achieving students in the United States who wish to pursue graduate degrees in the UK.

One thought on “Day 1: Queen’s University Belfast”

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s