BU Modern British Studies application

The following is my application essay for Boston University’s Modern British Studies programme at the University of Oxford:

Recently I finished compiling a lengthy genealogy, organized into a book of several hundred pages. I started this project of mine while in high school, and was very proud to be able to give my completed book to my great-grandparents last Christmas. I obtained a strong interest in the island of Ireland as I discovered that most of my ancestry traces back to there. Two of them are from Northern Ireland. One of my ancestors was a simple, poor, Irish Catholic farmer, who left County Fermanagh for a better life; while the other was a staunch, Scotch-Irish Protestant, showing his loyalty to the British Crown by fighting in the Battle of the Boyne (1690). With this diversity of backgrounds, I have such adapted a pluralistic attitude towards the Irish Question.

In the spring of 1986 I took a three week holiday to Ireland, and was able to spend some time in Northern Ireland. Although cynical of all the warnings I was told before my travel, what I saw and experienced firsthand was remarkable. There are the border controls, where a soldier wearing a machine gun boarded the bus questioning passengers, the high sensitivities towards Irish currency, the twenty-foot high barbed fences around military barracks, the police checkpoints in city centre Enniskillen, bag checks, etc. In general, the atmosphere was one of tension, apprehension, and distrust. Although I am confident all of Northern Ireland does not resemble such extremes I witnessed, to see any community of people live this everyday made me weary of how bad it could get.

My conclusion of my experience in the island of Ireland and Northern Ireland was that it was a land of contrasts. There were different attitudes between North and South, rural and urban, British and Irish. But most had realistic opinions of their own economic, social, and political situation. I learned that there are misconceptions we Americans have about the realities of the Irish Question, and this revelation has only further intrigued my interests.

The fact that there is a population in Northern Ireland which steadfastly identifies itself as British forces one to examine British history and politics to compare the differences in perceptions between Ireland and the United Kingdom. I noticed this when I traveled to the United Kingdom in the summer of 1987.

I was able to visit Scotland and England. My contact with people in Scotland was limited, yet I gained the sense that although the Scotch are British, they have a unique, independent history of their own which makes them different from the Englishmen. While in England I spent a stretch of time in London, and was impressed on how un foreign it appeared at first. But then one sees the Tower of London, Buckingham Palace, ruins of the Roman Empire, and one realizes the difference in history. Watching some television, reading some newspapers, speaking with the man on the street, I learned of the diversity and extents of politics and attitudes.

I was particularly excited to be present during the prime ministerial elections, getting a cram course on British politics. The day after Margaret Thatcher won her third consecutive term, I went to 10 Downing Street to see her present a speech. I took note of how small the gathering appeared (a few hundred), and was surprised when PM Thatcher approached the crowd, shaking hands, and coming within feet of me. Contrast this with the Queen’s official birthday. There were approximately 250,000 people in attendance, forcing me to climb a tree to catch a glimpse of the Queen and Princess Di as they strode by the crowd. At this moment I knew I was unfailingly American: I preferred to see PM Thatcher.

What also struck me as strange in London was the lack of opinion of Northern Ireland. It is an issue seemingly unimportant, with so many other issues at hand like economic growth, relations with Europe and the United States, and arms negotiations with the Soviet Union.

The number and variety of issues that the United Kingdom is involved with has made me wish to learn more about contemporary British affairs, and how they relate to modern Western Europe. Hence I applied and was recently accepted to BU’s London Parliamentary Internship Programme. As I have mentioned, I am keenly interested in the issue of Northern Ireland. By participating in the Oxford Modern British Studies Program, this would be but one of many British affairs I would be able to learn more about. In such a unique environment the Oxford Program offers, with direct integration with British culture, no other program could be more ideal.

After completion of my undergraduate program here at BU, I plan to pursue an advanced degree in the field of International Relations. Of course the world region would be Western Europe. During my graduate program I hope to study in Western Europe, if not at a British institution such as the London School of Economics. Participating in the Oxford program and experiencing the British style of education would afford me the benefit of seeing if I would want to attend such a British institution. I am also presently very interested in working in Western Europe during my career. Traveling and living abroad for four months would give me a better perspective of Western European life.

Being in the United Kingdom before, I feel comfortable there. I made friends easily, and developed quite interesting conversations with them. Although some consider this a skill, I never thought of it as such, as it comes naturally to me. Part of the reason is because of all of the movings I had as a child, and finding it necessary to assimilate to my new surroundings if I was to be accepted early. After the initial niceties, one is better able to learn what the new locality represents, as they learn about your history and values. A very negative approach is one of absolute supremacy. One does not afford the locals any trust, so they will be rather reserved about educating such a foreigner. The newcomer learns little new and leaves disappointed, possibly with negative opinions. I know how to make people comfortable about me, simply because I want to learn about them. In turn, they will learn about me. With this approach I am confident I will be able to contribute as much as possible to the group of students in this program as well as to those outside.

In conclusion, I wish to gain experience in International Relations by studying abroad. The Oxford University Modern British Studies Program is a great opportunity for this. The structure and coursework teaches an American undergraduate student how the British university system works, while enlightening him or her to British culture and life. Participation in this excellent program would be very rewarding, and I hope you will find me qualified for acceptance. Thank you for your time and consideration.

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