When I first started tapping in my responses to the application for the EIL youth leadership award, I could never have imagined the adventure I was beginning.

On the 30th of June this year I was lucky enough to get to venture to Vermont with 5 amazing young Irish leaders and a fabulous chaperone, Rachel. I had no real clue what I was getting myself into, with a headlamp and a travel fan packed I was curious and excited to see what this trip had in store.

We arrived in Brattleboro at 10pm in the dark, and I quickly realised that this camp was like nothing I’d experienced before, as the leaders all came out to greet us with huge smiles and helping hands. This positive and open attitude was one I encountered numerous times daily over the two week course and it became a hallmark of my fantastic experience.

Everyday I went to issue groups and topicals about current issues and relevant skills with Vermonters and international students. Although these could be difficult and heavy things to talk about, I managed to enjoy it more than any other learning experience in my life so far. In Ireland education is extremely structured and specific, with little room for open discussion between teacher and student, this is one method of learning and it suits our exam focused system. However at GIV the classroom dynamic was very collaborative and conversation based, with huge amounts of student input which enriched us all. It meant that we felt our questions were being heard and our insights valued by all in the room.

Likewise, I felt that I heard a lot of original views and questions, and therefore got to see new angles to society and how it works. Hats off in particular to Ken my issue group lecturer who has made a tremendous impact on me.

This enriching education was coupled with equally valuable friendship building. In Vermont I made strong bonds with a huge amount of people in a short time frame, I’ve never known anything like it before. I now have new friends dotted around the globe and I am so happy I got to meet these spectacular people. It was the people I met that have changed my life most. I had so many beautiful moments with this group and find it sad to think about not seeing a lot of them again. We grew together in this camp while doing lots of great things.

From strawberry picking to firework watching, from barn dancing to swimming in the river, from barbecues to parades, there were constant opportunities to make lifelong memories and forge new friendships. Although these experiences were all magical, some of the best moments were in dorm rooms and cafeterias having chats about anything and everything. It was these real conversations and often laughter filled moments that are my favourite to reflect on.

Whenever I think about Vermont I miss it more but I also value it more! I cannot begin to thank EIL enough for this once in a lifetime opportunity. Part of the gratitude I feel will be expressed through the leadership skills I now have learned and hopefully can employ to make change for the better.