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

Sara O’Neill

University: University of St. Thomas
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 St. Paul, Minnesota. I came from a supportive family with two parents who work in education and two older brothers. My family extends beyond that to a very close network of cousins, aunts and uncles. I grew up with a strong interest in history, travelling and human rights issues that influenced me to study International Studies and Justice and Peace Studies.

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

Education has always been something very important in my life. I have been lucky enough to receive a good education, but I cannot say the same for many children in The United States and the rest of the world. Having two parents working in education has shown me how important it is to have equal education opportunities for everyone.

Why did you choose to do the course?

I chose this course as I had visited Northern Ireland when I was younger and it stuck with me for a few years. I had the opportunity to take short trips to other places, but Northern Ireland was the only place that I always thought about going back to. I wanted to learn more about the history and current issues that I only saw glimpses of on my first visit.

Was the course what you expected?

What I expected was less than I received. I learned so much in my time here about the place and about myself. The course kept me thinking in and out of the classroom and was completely different than any other year I have had at my home university.

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?

My internship was at SEEDS in Derry. SEEDS works to help support ethnic minorities in the Northwest and to promote better relationships between the traditional communities of the area and ethnic minorities. SEEDS does this by promoting diversity through education, art and music in the Northwest. I loved that SEEDS was multi‑dimensional. It was an organization that tried to reach out to everyone in the community. Overall, I think that the internship component helped me grow in the area of self‑confidence as I was able to learn and use practical skills for the workplace that I can also bring home with me.

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

Nigel Glenny was a wonderful program director who was always honest and dedicated. It amazes me how he has put so much time and effort into getting to know his students and helping them to learn more about Northern Ireland as well as the wider world. The other teaching faculty and guest speakers also brought a lot of insight and gave me a lot to think about. I cannot thank all those involved in the teaching process enough.

What were the most challenging aspects of this programme?

The most challenging aspect of this programme is that it made you become emotionally involved in people’s stories and issues that Northern Ireland faces. Often in classrooms we are very distant from what we are learning about and there is little personal involvement. In Northern Ireland I came face to face with the human aspect of history and politics that carries a lot of emotional value and learning.

What advice would you give to others considering this programme?

I would tell them that this programme requires you to be open to listening to stories and people that you may not understand, but that what they say can teach you a lot. I would also tell people that if they want a term away as a vacation, this is not the programme for them. It takes a lot of time and work, both in an out of the classroom and workplace, but it is completely worth it.

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

This programme helped me meet many wonderful and inspiring people who act both locally and globally about issues that they care about. From them, I have learned to engage more closely with issues that I find important and I have this as a motivation and goal for the future.

Back to top

Sara O’Neill Sara O’Neill at the beach