I was lucky enough to go to the Rotary Youth Leadership Winner’s visit on 2 – 8 February this year. I had the chance to meet 24 other amazing young people from all over Ireland. I am so grateful to have this opportunity to develop my leadership skills, visit the different parliaments and also the chance to make so many life-long friends whom I would never have the chance to meet otherwise.
We all met up in Belfast on 2 February at Jury’s Inn. We were introduced to each other and our three amazing leaders, Grainne, Jenny and Gerry. Our group was chosen from more than 2900 young people who applied from all over Ireland so everyone was very friendly. For the first hour, we all went to watch the Six Nations Rugby and that night we went to a Chinese restaurant in Victoria Square where we also bonded.
The next day we were all dressed up in our suits and dresses to go to visit the European Commission’s office and Stormont. The people at the European Commission office were very helpful and informative and I was shocked to learn so much about the European Union and Northern Ireland which I would never have known before. The best thing about this trip was that the whole group really bonded as a whole, we went to lunch together most of the week and we were not segregated into individual groups. The trip to the Parliament Buildings in Stormont was great, the building was beautiful and filled with history. We had the chance to question MLAs and we also went into the debating chamber to watch one of the debates.
The next day we were in Dublin and we were due to go to the Dail and the European Commission’s office. In the morning we had the privilege to receive certificates from the District Governor of Rotary Ireland. In the afternoon we went down to the Dail. We had the chance to question a politician from Fianna Fàil and a senator. The TDs displayed so much more passion and they indeed answered, or tried to fully answer, our questions, instead of avoiding the subject.
I had a brilliant night out with pretty much the whole group and even if I had never been to Dublin before I was made very welcome there with good food and a film to finish the night off.
The day after we had some time off to go into Dublin and relax. We also had the opportunity to discuss our topics for the day at the European Parliament. For our trip to the European Parliament to participate in Euroscola, we were give six topics for us to discuss in the parliament with other students from different countries. My topic was on Youth Employment but there are other ones which were on Environmental Conservation, European Elections 2014, Future of Europe, Food Waste, and Communications and Technology. We all split up into groups of 4-5 to make a presentation and discuss the issue.
That day, we flew to Frankfurt and stayed the night.
Thursday we started off with an early three hour bus journey to Strasbourg. It was a beautiful French town and the leaders kindly let us go out to explore. We had great accommodation in the centre of the town and the town was packed full of traditional French shops. Some of us found a traditional French restaurant and had traditional onion soup which was lovely. Strasbourg also had an amazing Cathedral called Notre Dame of Strasbourg. That night the leaders took us to a French restaurant with great food and atmosphere. The night walk afterwards was extremely pleasant as well.
The final day was the big finale to the European Parliament in Strasbourg. We were all excited and prepared for the debates which were to follow. I am sure that the chance would never come across for me again so I was really honoured to be able to represent Ireland in Euroscola. It was an amazing place and I really enjoyed myself that day.
Firstly upon arrival, we filed into the debating chamber and a brief introduction followed. Our group was the only one from all over Ireland, other ones being all schools. There were more than 600 young people representing more than 26 countries over all and we were about to debate at ‘The Centre of Europe’!
Some of the EU politicians introduced themselves and then question and answer followed. I am proud to say that seven out of the twenty questions were asked by the Irish – out of 600 young people! At lunch time there was a game where you had to have 3 team mates of different nationalities to answer questions in different languages. We got the chance to talk to, and mix, with the other students and they all spoke English well.
After lunch we were split into our six topics and then further spilt into smaller discussion groups. I was with two Germans, two Dutch, two Slovakians and three Italians. A chairperson and secretary for each topic were elected. Then we went back into the debating chamber to debate about them. Again, out of the six chairpersons, three were Irish and one out of the six secretaries was also Irish. The chairperson gave a short speech on the topic and plan of action then questions could be asked. Once more, the Irish dominated with the first seven questions asked by us.
It was a lot of fun and I got my first real taste of what parliament is like which was very different from the media interpretation.
That night we celebrated Miah’s birthday and our successful trip to Strasbourg. There were emotional goodbyes and many shed a tear but we have made friends for life. Our group is planning a reunion sometime during the summer and I am sure that we will remain in contact for a long time. I have taken so much out of this trip and there is so much more I can learn. I think this trip has really developed me as a person but also developed my interests and matured my views on the different topics in society.
It was a life-changing trip and one that I will treasure forever. I would like to finish by encouraging everyone who is under 17 to apply for it next year because you can get so much out of it. The Rotary Club of Donaghadee is more than happy and willing to support and mentor their candidates to win the competition. It is an once-in-a-lifetime opportunity which cannot be missed! The more you put in the more you will get out of it.