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In March, two Fulbright Postgraduate grantees, Katelyn Barnes and Paul Kyumin Lee, moderated a panel on bridging divides and nurturing hope in Belfast as a part of our annual forum and 75th anniversary celebration. After the discussion, they shared more on their experiences in Belfast and hopes for the future.
An all-disciplines grantee pursuing an M.Phil in Conflict Resolution and Reconciliation at Trinity College Dublin's Irish School of Ecumenics in Belfast, Paul became passionate about the field of conflict resolution through policy research and advocacy in Washington, DC.
For six years, Paul led Divided Families USA, an NGO that advocates for a formal mechanism for Korean Americans to reunite with their relatives in North Korea. Paul was inspired to apply for a Fulbright award following interactions with Fulbrighters through his Divided Families Podcast—a platform connecting “history to personal stories of family separation”—and a desire to join a community of “globally curious, service-oriented individuals.” He was particularly enthusiastic to work with professors David Mitchell and Dong Jin Kim who research conflicts and peace processes in Northern Ireland and Korea.
Katelyn, who is pursuing an MA in Global Security and Borders at Queen’s University Belfast, had a keen interest in studying the political climate and history of Northern Ireland and the UK more broadly. During her undergraduate career, she interned with a DC advocacy organization, promoting global gender equality legislation to congressional representatives.
In the spirit of her interest in studying gender and advocating for women and girls, Katelyn said “the professors at Queen’s conducted research that mirrored my own, with a progressive focus on security studies that often studied the gendered effects of conflict, something which I was particularly interested in.”
Working with a local cross-community organization that facilitates engagement among children from different religious backgrounds, Katelyn witnessed the impacts of peacebuilding legislation in Northern Ireland. Katelyn expanded: “These experiences have informed my perspective on what factors actually contribute to lasting, sustainable peace agreements, as well as my understanding of how women and girls often specifically help achieve this lasting peace (like in the case of the Women’s Coalition in Northern Ireland).” Katelyn noted that these insights have informed her plans on pursuing a PhD in Political Science.
For his part, Paul gained deeper understanding of the impact of such structural changes as Brexit on Northern Ireland through a combination of coursework and community placements with local peacebuilding organizations. In the future, Paul aims to build on what his professor Dong Jin Kim calls “reciprocal empowerment,” facilitating links of mutual learning from the United States to Northeast Asia to Northern Ireland.
In addition to their academic research and community work, the two grantees immersed themselves in many other aspects of life in Northern Ireland.
Katelyn embraced everything about Belfast, from cuisine like curries and Sunday roasts, to everyday sayings, the healthcare system, and even laundry practices. She’s found numerous opportunities for personal and professional growth in her experience as a cross-community basketball coach and an intern with the Irish Department of Foreign Affairs, leading her to call Belfast a second home.
Paul shared how amazed he was to be in Belfast for the 25th anniversary of the Belfast-Good Friday Agreement, where he was able to witness “the visits of presidents and prime ministers” and “community-level discussions.” For Paul, “these events made me feel like I was in the right place at the right time in history for such collective reflection about the past, present, and future of peace in Northern Ireland.” He has also found joy in his efforts to learn the Irish language and attending live traditional Irish music sessions around Belfast—where he hopes to join in on his cello one day.
Paul and Katelyn's time in Belfast has sparked a new perspective on the potential impact of their studies and the transformative power of community-building.
As US Senator George Mitchell, the erstwhile chairman of the Good Friday Agreement talks put it in his inspirational 25th anniversary speech: “There is great depth in recognising that the only way to help us emerge from the rubble of conflict is that we must learn to understand one another. We don’t need to love one another. We don’t even need to like one another, although we hope we could. But we must learn to understand one another, and to be able to say ‘yes’ to one another, especially when the quicker and easier answer is answer ‘no’.”