I honestly had very little idea what I was letting myself in for when I discovered via an email that I had been given a place on the trip to Vermont. More specifically, I knew that I would be attending the Governor’s Institute on Current Issues and Youth Activism, but couldn’t properly explain what that entailed to those who asked me about it. Now I know, and I can safely say it surpassed any and all of my hopes.
The programme consisted of two weeks jammed full of diverse workshops, talks and activities. We stayed on a college campus in Brattleboro, Vermont alongside American, Spanish, Iraqi and French teenagers, all of whom were so incredibly driven and delighted to be there. Some of the topics we discussed and learned about were the environment, American and international politics, gun violence, sexism, mass incarceration, HIV/AIDS, the refugee crisis and racism among many others. We also took part in activities such as swimming in the river, picking strawberries, an open mic night and playing sand court volleyball (a new one for me!) We had the amazing and culturally enlightening experience of attending the Brattleboro Fourth of July parade, which we marched in, as well as a barbeque and fireworks.
I can safely speak for the whole Irish delegation in Vermont when I say that the friendships we formed during the two weeks will last us a lifetime. Part of what made the experience so incredible was the fact that we were surrounded by amazing, inspiring camp leaders, knowledgeable guest speakers and above all else, unbelievably motivated and diverse young people. Everyone had a different opinion to bring to the table, and I am glad to say I believe we will collectively use our experience to better our world.
One of the things I gained in abundance from this experience is tolerance. As one of the brilliant camp directors, John Ungerleider, told us, it’s vital to be able to have respectful, constructive discourse as potential young activists and leaders, or indeed as anyone who wants to bring about change for the better in the world. Tolerance was perhaps something I was a little lacking in prior to my trip to Vermont, but hearing so many different people articulate their views respectfully and engaging with them in discussions changed that completely. Our leaders stated from the beginning that they would not be attempting to place certain views or opinions in our heads. Instead, they would be equipping us with the information and dialogue skills to form and express our opinions and bring about positive change.
I am immensely grateful to have been given this wonderful opportunity by EIL, and also grateful to Rachel, our amazing chaperone for the trip. Vermont gave me confidence, tolerance, knowledge and added to my desire to bring about change for the better in our world. We also got to speak to Bernie Sanders on the phone, a feat not many Irish teenagers can lay claim to! It was an unforgettable experience and one that will undoubtedly stand by me for a long time. I honestly had very little idea what I was letting myself in for when I discovered via an email that I had been given a place on the trip to Vermont.
More specifically, I knew that I would be attending the Governor’s Institute on Current Issues and Youth Activism, but couldn’t properly explain what that entailed to those who asked me about it. Now I know, and I can safely say it surpassed any and all of my hopes.