Hello everyone, it’s been three months since coming back from Vermont, USA and my life has been an absolute whirlwind since then.
Just under a year ago, I was a TY with too much time on my hands searching for something that would take me out of comfort zone and allow me to explore the diverse world that we live in. That is when the opportunity of applying to EIL came up. After searching through all of the different awards and reading as many blogs as I could, I decided that the Vermont explore award suited me to a tee. It’s a two-week programme where you travel to Vermont in the North east of the United States and meet with other passionate young people from around the world but primarily from Vermont. It’s the Governors institute of current issues and youth activism or GICIYA as it is more commonly known. My days were spent engaging in workshops that dealt with a variety of issues, sitting on a swing listening to music, eating maple creamies, swimming in the river and so much more. Every day brought something new and exciting, I definitely ticked a lot of things off my bucket list during the trip.
The programme is set up like a summer camp for young people between the ages of 14 and 17. We all stayed in dorms with other people from Spain to Florida and Vermont. We stayed on a small college campus and we were given a lot of freedom, some people went on runs in the morning, some played soccer at lunch and one day they brought us to a cute second-hand shop where we all got to go thrifting.
One of the most educational aspects of the programme were the topical issue workshops that we participated in every day. Some of the workshops that I participated in dealt with issues such as gun control, climate change, Brexit, mass incarceration and any other topical issue at that time. All these workshops were facilitated by very well-informed and experienced people, each one definitely left a lasting impact on me and I developed a new perspective on a lot of different issues. Many of these topics are quite heavy so some days we would have meditation workshops or workshops on self-love and mental health, these were extremely helpful as some workshops can become very emotional due to people’s personal experiences.
As well as topical issue workshops we also had issue groups. On the very first day we were told about the four or so issue groups and each facilitator gave a brief summary of what we would be covering. The issue groups covered everything from politics to social justice to racism and refugees. The one I chose was politics and I cannot even explain the new level of understanding I have for the way each country’s political system works. Our facilitator was a political science lecturer in New York, and he was a fascination to work with. We learnt about everything from cheques and balances to the electoral college to how to contact and lobby your local politicians. The skills and information that I have accumulated in these classes have assisted me in many ways since returning and are some of the most valuable lessons that I have learnt.
The programme also had some typical American summer camp aspects to it as well. One evening we had a barn dance, in a barn, on top of a hill, with a band wearing cowboy hats, it was like being in an old movie. The programme also happens to run through the ‘Fourth of July’, which has to be one of my favourite memories from the trip. We all took part in the parade, went swimming in the river, ate some maple creamies, had a barbeque and then watched the fireworks. It was such a magical day.
The whole experience was filled with unforgettable memories and experiences, from talking to Iraqi students, to hearing about slavery in Sudan, to meeting a member of Bernie sanders staff, to watching someone lip-syncing ‘total of the heart’ during open mic night, every person that I met and interacted with taught me something new.
However, one memory that will stick with me forever and has given me a new perspective on a lot of things is hearing different participants stories. One particular evening we were watching a performance from a man called Tim Collins about cyberbullying. Although the performance was fantastic it was the discussion that it sparked which will remain with me for a long time. To hear people’s stories about the different hardships that they had faced really gave me a new perspective on a lot of things. It’s one thing to hear a statistic but to actually hear a survivor speak with such emotion, is something I will never forget. Everyone has their story and a lot of the time we are so focused on ourselves that we forget that everyone else may be struggling too. It definitely reminded me to treat everyone with kindness and love because you never know who might need it.
Overall, my whole experience with Vermont has taught me a lot. Coming back home to a remote area in rural Ireland was definitely a change to the diversity I experienced during the programme, but I would like to believe that I have brought back some of what I have learned to my family, my school and those around me. Because of this programme I have made so many friends from all over the world who I hope I will get to see again. The bond that we created during those two weeks is unbreakable and is definitely one of the lasting impacts of the programme.
This programme is quite literally a life changing experience. I have learned so much about youth activism, a range of different issues, how to be an ally and so much more. I cannot recommend this programme enough; it was an unforgettable summer that has made me grow as a person and taught me so much.
Mai Sheehan- 2019- Vermont