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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

Philip Lomneth

University: St. Olaf College
Cohort: Spring 2011

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

Perhaps one of the best ways to describe my past is that I grew up in a balancing act. For most of my life, I lived on a farm outside of Omaha, Nebraska, but I always went to school in the city. My parents grounded me firmly in a Catholic Christian tradition, but my dad was and still is Methodist. I initially attended a Catholic school and my faith mattered a great deal to me, but by age thirteen, I attended a public school proud of its diversity and I found that many of my friends cared little for or even despised religion. I always felt as if people respected me, but I never feel as if I am entirely a member of an “in” group. In high school I attended a workshop really challenging me for the first time to think about what these meant and my responsibility towards others because of my identities in society. From then on, ideas of social justice and promoting positive change have influenced the way I live my life.

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

I became aware of interfaith issues in high school, that is, issues dealing with dialogue as well as building understanding and relationships across faith traditions. I find this both fascinating in all the new perspectives interfaith opens up, but I also find interfaith challenging in what it demands of people who partake. Interfaith necessarily is personal, in my opinion, because we must recognize where we come from in order to evaluate our relationship with others. But it must also be relational, we must also open ourselves in order for relationships to form. I enjoy the struggles, but I also find great hope in interfaith because I know how important faith is to me, how much faith motivates me and through interfaith I see people of different faiths working together for a peaceful, more just future.

Why did you choose to do the course?

I study religion and American racial and multicultural issues at university, and early on was very interested in studying abroad. However, because my interests focused largely on America and I was not proficient in a foreign language, I was wary of studying abroad. I realized that studying away could give me a new perspective on issues in the states, but I didn’t know what program would fit best with me. This program attracted me because it dealt with a conflict both cultural and religious, was in an environment new to me but one I thought I could adapt quickly to and sought an intentional community. I know I learn best when with a group of people motivated around a common issue, people I can talk to, listen to their ideas and share in struggles with. I realized that living in a community would be difficult, but I hoped to meet a group of people my age interested in creating a better world. I wanted to listen to where they came from and where they hoped to go.

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 given the opportunity to live at Corrymeela’s Ballycastle Centre where every day people challenged me to think about reconciliation from a new perspective. I grew in an appreciation of what reconciliation means, but this really means I learned how to live life in a way creating possibilities for building peace. I learned how to be comfortable with myself while opening up to others, helping them feel welcome.

What were/are your impressions of your HECUA program director?

Nigel was absolutely incredible. He was honest, straightforward, and always offered some insight to us. He cared about us and was not afraid to show this. He always made sure we were okay and I always felt as if I could talk with him if I had an issue I wanted to discuss. The other faculty who came to speak to us were also very sensitive to what we knew and didn’t know, always making sure to answer questions when we looked lost. People seemed very informative and always seemed to bring things on a personal level which made classes much more comfortable to talk about uncomfortable issues. People could not hide their passion even if they tried.

What were the most challenging aspects of this programme?

Learning to live with fourteen people who I probably never would have met before and felt as if I had little in common with was probably one of the most difficult parts of the program. I came to know many of the people well, but listening was difficult some times. We all had such unique personalities that often clashed, but people had such a good humour about them that we often laughed till our stomachs hurt. Bringing us all together was a crazy idea; we were an absolute mess, but it was a beautiful mess. A catastrophically beautiful mess!

What advice would you give to others considering this programme?

Try to let go. Trust Nigel, let him guide you along Northern Ireland, engage the material, but understand that you will need to let some things go. Let down your guard, but don’t be afraid to be critical. Allow people to criticize your perspective, but don’t give it up. Listen, take people’s considerations seriously, but that doesn’t mean you need to give up your beliefs. Listen and allow people to ask questions … Please listen and allow people to challenge you …

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

I came thinking I was a good listener, but this programme taught me how much more I really needed to listen to people. It challenged me to listen better and has taught me new ways to listen. I learned about reconciliation in ways I never knew existed and cannot see the world the same way anymore. The experience challenged me to match my words to my actions and to always look again at what I’m doing. The programme left me with a great sense of hope in the middle of this great mess that is life. And I don’t see that hope dissipating soon.

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Philip Lomneth Philip Lomneth at the Giant’s Causeway