A New Chapter

We’re already a month into the new academic year, and so much has happened since I last wrote! I guess the biggest change in relation to the blog is that it will have a different perspective now, as I have a new job managing INTO progression to QUB. INTO is a global organization providing pathways to overseas higher education for international students, and there is a branch right here on campus delivering academic and English language courses to students from all over the globe. My old teammates in the Faculty of Engineering & Physical Sciences sent me off in style with a sunflower-themed leaving party, which kicked off with a walk to the city centre to support the global day of action in response to the climate crisis – it was an incredible atmosphere and the striking school children were so inspiring with their speeches!

I spent a few weeks in India in August, delivering interactive workshops in schools across the country. The idea is to introduce the students to the project-based learning they’ll experience at Queen’s – applying theory to practical skills – by working in teams to solve challenges. As always, I tried to squeeze as many cultural experiences as possible out of the trip, and I managed to explore some of the oldest markets in Asia, some temples and mosques, and even a tea factory up in the mountain plantations of Ooty (where I also encountered the local resident elephants, monkeys and bison… but thankfully not the leopards and tigers).

You would think a trip home to Scotland would be a relaxing break after that whirlwind tour, but you’d be wrong; it was just as busy preparing for, and then celebrating, my sister’s wedding! She lives in the Tweed Valley, south of Edinburgh, and got married at a local castle with 800 years of history. Can you get any more Scottish than that?! It was an incredible day spent (luckily) in the sunshine with a chilled-out barbecue and lawn games, followed by a raucous “knees-up” and late night supper. We went canoeing on the River Tweed a few days later, and it was a great way to wind down after the madness of the celebrations.
(Photo Credit: Ena May Photography)

Before I could get back to Belfast and settled into my new role, I had one more trip to make – this time to Helsinki in Finland for the European Association for International Education (EAIE) conference. My house plants were seriously suffering by this point. I spent the week learning about developing student self-governance, internationalised curriculum, alumni storytelling and even my own mindfulness at work, while engaging with higher education professionals from all over the world. It’s interesting to be in the same room as people from institutions who are just starting out with internationalisation, and others who are paving the way with innovative ideas. I stayed on for the weekend to explore, and found Helsinki to be a really relaxed and quiet city, with a love for all things natural. My kind of place!

So now I’m three weeks in and on a steep learning curve, with the support and encouragement (and patience!) of the lovely staff at the INTO Centre and the International Office at Queen’s. That’s one of the positive aspects of working for a pretty huge institution – lots of people move around throughout their careers, and can relate to the overwhelming feeling of changing departments and teams, so there’s no judgment. Everyone’s ultimately working towards the same goal of delivering world-class education to the next generation of game-changers, and it’s nice to be reminded of that now and again. So far I’ve welcomed the new cohort of INTO students, congratulated last year’s graduates who progressed onto degree programmes at Queen’s, and celebrated the Centre’s 10th Anniversary with events on campus and at Belfast City Hall. It’s been pretty hectic, but a lot of fun, and I’m excited for what the rest of the academic year will bring.

It’s been a long post this time, so I’ll wrap up with a couple of local experiences I’ve enjoyed recently (going back to the title of the blog!). One was a walk along Helen’s Bay near Bangor, because it’s easy to forget there are beautiful beaches nearby when you’re in the city all the time, and another was a visit to Ma Xiao Xuan hot pot restaurant on Malone Road. You have a personal hob and a pot filled with the broth of your choice, and an actual conveyor belt of delicious ingredients to pile in at your leisure. I was in heaven! The food scene in Belfast gets more international by the day, and that can only be a good thing when local and international residents alike get to have experiences like that, right on their doorstep.

Thanks for taking the time to read about my wee life in Belfast and beyond, and feel free to contact me if you’ve questions or ideas about the blog’s content.

All the best,

Ciara

Ciara Murray

Ciara Murray is an International Officer at Queen's University Belfast, managing student progression from INTO pathways onto Queen's degree programmes. Her blog aims to share her personal experiences living in Northern Ireland, working at QUB and travelling the globe.

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