News & Media

November 21, 2014

Withers '16 Explores Irish Identity during Fulbright Summer Institute in Belfast

During the summer of 2014, philosophy and mathematics major James Withers '16 participated in the Fulbright Commission Queen’s University Belfast Summer Institute, a four-week cultural and academic program.

Withers with a statue of Joyce on North Earl Street in Dublin

When James Withers '16 was choosing a destination for his first study-abroad experience, his love of classic literature led him to Belfast, Northern Ireland.

"I'm a really big James Joyce fan," Withers said of the early 20th-century Irish novelist and poet, whose birthplace of Dublin lies just 100 miles south in the island's sovereign state.

For the summer of 2014, the philosophy and mathematics double major was awarded a spot in the Fulbright Commission Queen's University Belfast Summer Institute, a four-week cultural and academic program for U.S. students held at Queen's University Belfast. Queen's Institute of Irish Studies International Summer School hosted the students in the Fulbright program, as well as undergraduate and graduate students from all over the world.

The program's theme, "Understanding Ireland: Northern Perspectives," introduced participants to a broad range of topics in Irish studies, including Northern Ireland's political, economic and cultural relationships within the United Kingdom and the rest of the world, with particular emphasis on the nature of conflict. The three-week session at Queen's (the first week of the fellowship was exclusive for Fulbright recipients) included lectures and seminars taught by experts in a number of disciplines, including history, literature, languages, politics, anthropology, film and theater.

"Academically, I got a lot out of the program," Withers said. He applied for the Fulbright after attending an information session during his first-year at Emmanuel, and traveled to Belfast with the hope of learning more about Irish identity and how to apply the knowledge to broader conflict and social theories.

He also enjoyed meeting students from across the globe. In addition to the Fulbright students from the United States, other participants came from Spain, Germany, Japan, the Basque Country (a community in northern Spain) and Romania.

"We were also with a group of about a dozen graduate students from India," Withers said. "They were pretty awesome and it was interesting to hear their perspective on the topics."

Withers was also able to spend time outside of the classroom, with a visit to the Mellon Centre for Migration Studies, a research library in Ulster American Folk Park; a hike up Cavehill, which overlooks Belfast; a trip to the walled city of Derry, the second-largest city in Northern Ireland; and a day with the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI).

A highlight, Withers said, was the 14 hours he was able to spend in Dublin, visiting James Joyce museums and landmarks, locations central to the writer's novels and short stories.

Now in his junior year at Emmanuel, Withers serves as founder and president of the Emmanuel College Literary Society (formerly the Ulysses Book Club), vice-president of the Philosophy Club, secretary of the Psychology Club and as a goalkeeper on the Saints men's soccer team. After graduation, he hopes to attend graduate school to become a professor and scholar of philosophy.

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