They Went. They Saw. Then, They Shared.

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Erasmus students spent part of January in Northern Ireland. Clockwise from top left: John Iosefo, Kalan Birnie, Sabrina Hernandez, Zoe Foster, Stephanie Avelino. KALAN K. BIRNIE/FOGHORN

Imagine getting to stand right where the historical event you learned about in class occurred. The newly revamped Erasmus living-learning community got to do just that — and then return home to hold a forum on it.

The living-learning community, which involves a year-long course for second and third-year students, has been focusing on conflict and resolution and its psychological, structural, political and social causes.

Students focused on how these themes influenced “The Troubles,” a conflict in Northern Ireland, by traveling there in January.

The Troubles was an armed conflict for much of the 20th century. The Unionists, predominantly Protestants who wanted Northern Ireland to remain in the United Kingdom, fought the Irish Nationalists, predominantly Catholics who wanted to leave the U.K. and reunite Ireland.

In January, Erasmus students made the trip to Northern Ireland to immerse themselves in the history they had been learning about. While spending time in the cities of Belfast and Londonderry, the group spoke with locals in order to better understand the roots of the conflict. They also learned about conflict resolution strategies implemented there.  

Then, on April 4,  the students held a forum in the McLaren Complex to share these experiences.

Erasmus member Stephanie Abelino said the purpose was to simply encourage conversation. “We realized when we were in Northern Ireland that we had had a difficult time starting conversations with each other and opening up,” she said. “So we wanted to bring to the USF community a way for them to open up to each other and start conversation.”

Erasmus students have been studying the conflict in Northern Ireland between Protestant and Catholic groups. KALAN K BIRNIE/FOGHORN

Another Erasmus student, John Iosefo, noted how the situation in Northern Ireland relates to his experiences at home. “The hardest part of conflict resolution, and we see this in Northern Ireland, is that after a while, people become used to fighting; they become comfortable with it because they know nothing else,” Iosefo said in a text. “I think we see this in America, when we are so comfortable fighting and even hating each other because they’re red and we’re blue.”

Students who attended the forum were split into groups, and Erasmus members functioned as moderators. Groups talked about a wide range of topics, from conflicts in their personal lives to their experiences with ideological conflict, such as encountering conflicting political opinions in classes at USF.  

Iosefo hopes that the forum will help ease some of the political tensions on the USF campus. “We pride ourselves on our inclusion and diversity, but the reality is that students feel censored,” he said. “I am a moderate Republican, but the only thing that people hear is that I support Trump or I hate immigrants or the LGBTQ community, which could not be further from the truth. We hear labels, but not each other. We wanted to change that, or to begin the process of change.”

Abelino shared similar sentiments. “We found that it’s really beneficial for people to be able to talk and share their feelings and to listen to others in order to understand a perspective they haven’t thought about before,” she said.

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