Belfast: Culture Comforts

I found out recently that, no matter how settled one can be in a new environment, a taste of the familiar makes me realize just how someone can miss home. 

After my weekly French class, the teacher approached me and asked about something I mentioned to a classmate during a discussion about where we were born. I was born in Woodbury, Minnesota, but grew up in Wisconsin just across the border. This caught her attention. She told me that she grew up in Chicago and went to university in Milwaukee. 

As we left the building for the night, we talked about our shared connection with Madison, Wisconsin– my brother goes to the University of Wisconsin, Madison, and her cousin owns a diner there– and other things that only make sense if you’re from the midwest, like our slight Canadian accent on vowels. 

I’ve spent the last few weeks describing where I’m from as “the Great Lakes region, up by Canada,” but my French teacher knew exactly where my hometown was even before I described it in relation to Minneapolis. I never expected that this short interaction would mean so much, but I left campus for the night grinning from ear to ear. 

This wasn’t the first time I’ve crossed paths with people and things from my neck of the woods. I’ve spotted the Green Bay Packers logo multiple times since arriving here– on baristas, at a Belfast Giants hockey game and even at a comedy show. The Packers are by far the best-represented team in Belfast that I’ve seen, with the New York Giants trailing not far behind. 

I’ve discovered Irish people take “Minnesota Nice” to the next, far more extreme level. When visiting a nearby town with a group of friends to see a guitar-making workshop, it would take us 40 minutes of walking and bus routes to get back to the train station. The owner of the shop, after listening to our debate about the best way to return, offered with no hesitation to drive us himself in two trips– which took about 40 minutes of his time. 

This hospitality is everywhere in Northern Ireland. Strangers and peers are more than happy to give me directions or explain a linguistic difference, although I’m still not sure what “craic” means. While the supposed politeness of the midwest is mostly in passing and not backed up by action, Irish kindness is tangible and felt by many people who travel here. 

A final, less heartwarming, note, Northern Ireland’s mostly rural nature is reminiscent to the area of Wisconsin I call home. Both boost rolling farmland, although everything stays green year round here– even when it snows! Unlike myself, many of my first-year peers come from small towns scattered across Northern Ireland, and go home on weekends. This culture reminds me of home as well. Although my hometown can be considered a suburb of the cities, I know many students at MSU who come from the middle of nowhere. 

While I love the energy of Belfast, any sense of my home back in Minnesota and Wisconsin is, as the Irish often say, “very welcome.” 

Interested in studying abroad or away through MSU? Contact the Center for Global Engagement at located on the ground floor of Morris, or reach out to myself with questions about the Gilman Federal Scholarship for studying abroad.

Header photo: The constant rain and moderate temperatures in Ireland mean the landscape is green year round, as shown with this view from a Cavehill trail outside Belfast. (Photo courtesy of Alexandra Tostrud)

Write to Alexandra Tostrud at

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