From Friday 25 September to Saturday 3 October 2015, I and 9 other pupils spent a week in Virginia Beach, America along with two teachers, Mr Dorman and Mrs Monroe. We were travelling to Virginia to visit a partner school of Glenlola called Tallwood High School. Each of us had been assigned a pupil from this school in advance of this trip; this pupil would host us and give us a taste of the American life.
It was an action packed week; we arrived on Friday around 4pm their time (9pm in NI) after a long day travelling and we quickly dropped off our bags and headed to the school to help prepare posters for the school’s football game. The football game was new to everyone and we also had the opportunity to watch some of the amazing musical talent the school had to offer when watching their incredible marching band. After saying goodbye to the teachers we were given the weekend to spend with our hosts until starting back to school on Monday. Each of us from Glenlola experienced a slightly different weekend but the majority of us had the opportunity to go to a theme park called Busch Gardens, this had some huge roller-coasters and a popular ‘Hallo-scream’ event took place. Other activities included trampoline parks, high rope courses and of course, shopping.
Starting school on Monday was an exciting time for all from Glenlola, everyone anticipating if High School really is like the movies. After several minutes in the school we realised it was. We quickly adjusted to the new rules and lack of school uniform and headed to the Aquarium on the yellow school bus. In the afternoon, we had the chance to hear about an International charity known as ‘Operation Smile’ which had many of us inspired. On our second school day, after making an appearance on the schools announcement channel, we took a trip to the Backbay wildlife refuge. We saw many types of frogs, fish and also some snakes (one of which was poisonous). In the afternoon we went to a local elementary school to answer various questions on life in Northern Ireland, some funny questions and others more serious. On the Wednesday we visited the Jamestown Settlement in Williamsburg learning about American history and we were also given time to explore the old-fashioned, quaint town of Williamsburg, on the way home having time to call into an outlet for more shopping (obviously).
We spent Thursday and Friday morning in school getting the feel of the High School experience, attending classes but also giving talks and presentations about Northern Ireland. We were overwhelmed by the interest and enthusiasm of both the elementary and Tallwood pupils in learning about our tiny country. Before starting our journey home, on Friday Morning, the school held a traditional tea party where we served typical Northern Irish foods that we helped to prepare with our hosts. Soon followed a sad goodbye to our hosts, who are now close friends and a long journey lay ahead. After two delays, two missed flights and a diversion we eventually arrived home about 30 hours after leaving Virginia Beach. Everyone was exhausted but had thoroughly enjoyed the whole experience. I personally loved getting a feel for what school was like in a different country and making new friends with not only the American students but also fellow pupils on the trip. The trip allowed us to be fully immersed in a different culture but also improved skills such as presenting and public speaking, with some of us even being interviewed by the local TV news channel (see link below). I think this exchange is a very valuable experience and I am glad I was able to be a part of this trip.
Zara Mulholland, Year 14
(watch between 15:52-19:06)