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Working to end age-old strife

Photo by Mary Knox Merrill

Promoting religious tolerance among Catholics and Protestants in Northern Ireland has encouraged Northeastern University junior Tess McCarthy to consider a career in conflict resolution among Israelis and Palestinians in the Middle East.

“I’m drawn to the potential of changing someone’s life,” said McCarthy, an international affairs major with a minor in Middle Eastern studies.

“As much as I realize how incredibly difficult and unrealistic peace is at this current moment, conflict resolution is not simply something that will happen today, tomorrow, or even a year from now, but rather something that we all have to progressively work toward.”

During a co-op last fall, McCarthy wrote newsletters, edited reports and organized events for the Northern Ireland Council for Integrated Education. The Belfast-based voluntary organization supports a learning environment in which roughly equal numbers of Catholic and Protestant children, parents and teachers can thrive.

McCarthy, who visited some 20 integrated schools in Northern Ireland, found that solving conflicts starts with educating children.

“We have to start from the ground up and work with the youngest generation,” said McCarthy, who completed a Dialogue of Civilizations program in Israel in preparation for her experiential learning opportunity in Belfast.

“Most of the religious hostility in Northern Ireland is rooted in the older generation,” she said. “The younger generation only cares about it because that mentality is instilled at a young age.”

Children often defined an integrated school as one in which kids with blond, brown and red hair sat side by side. As McCarthy put it, “Their last answer was that it was a religious thing.”

McCarthy, who lived in Belfast with friends of her manager, loved her international experience so much that she considered pursuing a study-abroad program at Queen’s University in Belfast before ultimately deciding to return to Northeastern.

Her co-op in Northern Ireland was “a great opportunity,” she said. “I took a leap and it all worked out.”

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