Archived Page

Please note: The HECUA ‘Democracy and Social Change in Northern Ireland’ Programme has now relocated from the UNESCO Centre at the Coleraine campus to INCORE at the Magee campus. These pages are now archived (September 2013).

Student Profile

Elizabeth Pikula

University: St. Catherine University
Cohort: Spring 2011

Tell me a bit about your back‑story: Where did you grow up? How would you define your formative years?

I grew up in the Twin Cities in Minnesota with my parents and younger sister. I went to several different schools before high school and ended up going to a university very close to home – just two miles away. I’ve really enjoyed growing up in the Twin Cities with all of the cultural diversity it has to offer. Growing up I was a big reader, always watched the news, and got into politics at a very young age – I remember following the 2000 elections quite intensely at the age of nine, and my love for politics has only grown since then. I’ve also become interested in education and educational policy, which mainly comes from the years I’ve spent tutoring thirteen to eighteen year old students.

Tell me a bit about an issue you care passionately about.

Civic engagement is something I care very deeply about. Peoples’ participation in the bodies that govern them (and in the communities that they live in) is, in my mind, one of the most fundamental cornerstones of a sustainable society. However, far too many people neglect the responsibilities that citizenship demands – community involvement, voting, keeping informed of events around them, etc. That’s one of the reasons for my interest in politics – I try hard to push myself to become engaged and involved, and likewise try to do the same for others.

Why did you choose to do the course?

I really liked HECUA’s approach to a study abroad, focusing on social change and experiential learning. I had also taken a course on nationalism and ethnic conflict that got me interested in conflict and conflict resolution. On a more personal level, some of my heritage lies in Northern Ireland and I was hoping to find out more about my family’s roots while being here.

Was the course what you expected?

The course was not what I expected, because it was much more than just a course. It’s hard to put words to it, but being in Northern Ireland was a significant part of my life – academic, personal, and emotional. I came prepared to study conflict and social change, but I left knowing that I had studied and lived much more than that.

What was the most memorable field speaker or class activity on your programme and why?

It’s a fair tie between three of the speakers we heard, two in Derry and one in Belfast. Our class fieldtrip to Derry towards the beginning of the programme started with a tour of the Walls, the Bogside, and a bit of the Fountain with a tour guide. That was the first real, on‑the‑ground introduction we had to some of the stories, and it was an incredibly emotional experience.

The second speaker was Alan McBride, who we heard at the WAVE Trauma Centre in Belfast. Just hearing his story was an intensely emotional day.

The third speaker was Richard Moore, founder and director of Children in Crossfire in Derry. He too had an incredible story of pain, injury, and of a life that could have been so different. But hearing how he transformed all the bad that could have happened into something positive really left a mark …

Where did you intern while participating in the programme? What did you like most about your internship and in what area did you grow the most?

I was an intern at Public Achievement in Belfast, working with their Fair Cop website and WIMPS programme. I really, truly enjoyed the people that I worked with and came to appreciate very much the work that they were doing. On a personal level, I developed my technical writing abilities by writing and researching articles for Fair Cop, which focused on policing and justice issues.

What advice would you give to others considering this programme?

Be prepared to work very hard, and to go through a lot of personal change. This programme is much more than just a semester abroad, it’s an incredible life experience that will change the way you learn, think, and act. Also be prepared to have things that you think you know challenged – learning about this place from books and in a classroom is very, very different than learning about it through living here.

How did this programme make an impact on your life and how you think about your future?

This programme has given me a much better sense of myself and what direction I would like my life to go in. I feel like I’ve become a stronger and more defined person, having been a part of this experience. I’m more confident in my interests and I know that I want to pursue them, both academically and career‑wise.

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Elizabeth Pikula Elizabeth Pikula in sunset