At the beginning of it all I really didn’t know what to expect. I knew that I was going to be one of forty participants in a programme about youth activism, but I would have never predicted the amount of knowledge I’d gain, the fun I had or the amount of life lasting friends I’d make. In those short twelve days spent at GICIYA (Governors Institute of Current Issues and Youth Activism) in sunny Vermont, I learned more than I could have ever imagined and enjoyed every second of it!

Each day we spent discussing various issues that affect our world today such as climate change, immigration and racism, to name a few. US politics was the issue group I chose to study throughout the programme where I got to compare the differences between the US political system to the Irish political system, which I now know is extremely different! We were also lucky enough to hear from many guest speakers such as a former slave from Sudan and got to speak with the Vermont State legislators as well as Bernie Sanders’ secretary. The workshops, talks and classes I attended were at such a high standard and I couldn’t get over the level of discussion and opinions offered by the teenagers that surrounded me from Spain, America and Ireland. The various workshops on offer throughout the programme were facilitated by the staff of GICIYA who were all very inspiring and encouraging adults which made the learning environment less challenging and more enjoyable than I had expected.

All this learning was accompanied by the gorgeous green scenery of Vermont which we really got the chance to explore. Trips to the farmers market, strawberry picking, cheese tasting and swimming all under the beaming sun made my experience in Vermont unforgettable. It was truly like nowhere I’ve ever been before! There were countless games of frisbee and volleyball as well as hours spent skimming stones and eating ice cream with people from all around the world. We got to experience authentic American smores by the campfire, fireworks on the fourth of July and even got to celebrate Americas win in the Women’s World Cup. The endless number of laughs and stories shared among us made it even harder to say goodbye to this amazing place. I remember being genuinely weak with laughter during the many comedic performances in the talent show we had on our final night together. Those tears of laughter soon turned into real tears in the morning after when I sobbed like a baby hugging everyone before they had to go home.

As well as seeing this unique part of the world, I also met some of the most interesting people ever. I made friendships with likeminded teenagers from Florida, Spain, Vermont and Iraq. I can honestly say I have never laughed, cried or ate as much as I did in those twelve days (the food at Landmark campus was amazing)! The extremely positive and accepting atmosphere created in our group of forty participants was something special and I am so thankful I now have so many people to call friends from all around world.

My global perspective has been broadened by this programme and my understanding of other cultures and traditions has changed dramatically. EIL Explore has instilled in me the passion for doing what I can to make an impact in the lives of others and to go out and make a positive change in the world around me. I hope that I can use my experience from Vermont to help encourage and lead other young people to do the same.

-Katie, Youth Activist, Vermont, 2019