In the latest of our Northern Roots series, where we speak to people originally from Northern Ireland but currently living elsewhere – or vice versa – our interviewee is Holly Lewis. Holly is from Liverpool, now in Belfast. You can follow Holly on Twitter at @HollyRLewis.
1. Tell us about yourself. When did you move to Northern Ireland, and where from? What do you do now?
I moved to Belfast in August 2015 to study for my masters in Social Research Methods at Queen’s University, Belfast. I’m originally from Liverpool where I am very proud to come from, as most scousers are. But I haven’t lived there since I moved away for university in 2011, to Sheffield where I studied for a degree in Sociology and Social Policy. After my undergraduate degree I lived in China for a year teaching English to 600+ rowdy 14-15 year-olds. I am currently working as a research intern for an audience development charity in Belfast.
They only real perceptions I had of Belfast were of the weather, that it would be colder and rain more than back home. Other than that I thought it would be like any other UK university city.
I did soon realise though that Belfast was very different from other UK cities. I did experience a culture shock moving here which was something I wasn’t prepared for. This mainly centred on the fact that people aren’t as open and friendly as people in the north of England. When you meet people for the first time you definitely get the feeling that they are trying to suss you out. As for the weather, it actually isn’t as bad as what I first thought.
3. Are you hopeful for Northern Ireland’s future? Will Brexit make a difference?
I am hopeful for the future of NI – if there is one quality that the people on this island have it’s resilience. I don’t think it’s the people in Stormont or Westminster though that will ultimately affect any positive change, it is the everyday people and their ability to make the best out of the situation. And, in particular, the young people of NI who I think want and deserve change. In terms of Brexit, I think that it presents positive opportunities as well as negative ones. But only time will tell how it plays out.
4. Do you think you will stay in Northern Ireland? If not, what could convince you to stay or return later?
The short answer to this questions is no. When I think of my future in the short term I don’t think NI can offer me the best career prospects both in terms of the amount of jobs but also in terms of promotion as the pool is so small and ultimately the people at the top of any sector stay in their jobs until retirement.
In terms of family, I think I would want to bring my children up in a more diverse and accepting place. I went to a multi-cultural, multi-faith school and mixed with a diverse range of people. In our RE lessons we didn’t just learn about Christianity. For me growing and learning as a child about different cultures was important, it meant I was internationally aware. However, I do love the NI countryside, being able to get in a car and drive or catch a train for 30 minutes and be in the most amazing countryside in the middle of nowhere is amazing and something I will miss.
5. What can Northern Ireland learn from the place you are from? What can the place you’re from learn from Northern Ireland?
I think Northern Ireland can learn to accept diversity and not to be afraid of the ‘other’, whoever that may be. One of the things I like most about NI is the lack of multinational chains in terms of food and drink. It’s easier to head to an independent coffee shop, restaurant and cafe than it is to go to a chain which is something English high streets lack. Although Caffé Nero is slowly taking over.
6. If Northern Ireland had a president with sweeping powers, and it was you, what would you do?
I’d like the people here to have the same citizen rights that I can have across the water: equal marriage and reproductive rights for women. I also would remove the distinction between Catholic and Protestant schools. I don’t think this would make any drastic changes but I think that will change children growing up thinking there are ingrained differences.
7. What would you like to see more of on Northern Slant?
I am happy with the content that is being produced, so just more of the same.
8. If you could ask three Northern Ireland politicians (past or present) to dinner, who would they be? And why?
This is a hard question; I am not quite sure who I would ask. I am not a huge fan of many current Northern Irish politicians, as I feel the divide and conquer hand is played too much, as they are more preoccupied with their own power than the lives of everyday people.
9. Do you have a favourite quote, or mantra?
“If you don’t know where you are going any road will get you there” – Lewis Carroll.
10. What’s your message for the people of Northern Ireland?
Accept and welcome change and diversity; and vote based on policy, not on tradition.
Also published on Medium.