Everything from writing the application, to going to the interviews and finally getting the phone call to tell me that I’d gotten a place on this award, has been a blur. Even after coming back from America, I still can’t believe that I got a place. I had no idea that I could be one in five people to win out of thousands of applications. I’m just so grateful that I could go on this award and I sure as hell took every opportunity and lesson that came with it. The good and the bad.

I know I said at the beginning that it was one flight that changed my life. That wasn’t very truthful of me since we had to take many flights to get to our final destination as we did not have the smoothest of journeys. On the twenty eighth of June 2022 we flew from Dublin to London and had plans to catch another plane from London to Boston. We however, did not get onto this flight and were left lost in London for 24 hours. This was my first lesson. “Always bring spare clothes in your hand luggage just in case you miss a connecting flight”. This was also my first opportunity, to take something negative and make it positive. And let me tell you we sure as hell did! Our night in London was hands down one of the most luxurious nights I’ve ever experienced  (I have to apologise to Jorge`s wallet for having to pay for it though).

Eventually we did get to America, and that’s when the real adventure started. Since we arrived after all the Vermonters, I was worried that I wouldn’t be able to make any friends. I was so wrong about that, making that lesson two, “don’t think the worst until it’s happened”.  We had so many opportunities to make friends. There was a barn dance, the fourth of July parade, we had loads of free time during the day to interact and we would all play volleyball or hang out in the basement playing foosball. There was also a wide variety of workshops and our arts activism.

This brings me to my second opportunity. I took every chance I got to improve my public speaking and confidence skills. I have always struggled with confidence issues and I really wanted to change that, so while I was over in America I took part in as many workshops that could make a difference. I took part in public speaking workshops, a clowning skit workshop and my favourite, the theatre of the oppressed workshop. This was my arts activism for the week. To me this workshop has helped me so much with my confidence and I even did a smaller scale workshop of this in my school for my action at home. 

The final lesson I want to share is “when someone offers you a chance to do something, say yes”.  Of course it’s completely ok not to say yes to everything, but when I was over in America, everything was new for me. The food was different, the sports and traditions were different, and I made it my mission to try something new everyday. I did some amazing and weird things. On fourth of July I played crochet for the first time, I had my first maple creamie, I swam in rivers, I ate chowder in Boston and frozen lemonade in a park, I fell in love with Dunkin Donuts, I played hide and seek in the dark, I rolled down hills with glow sticks, I learned how to hula hoop dance, I danced in the rain with my friends and I flew around target in a shopping cart! made so many unique memories and that is something that will always stick with me. 

Even though we faced so many hurdles on our way to America and there were other challenges on the way, like home sickness and exhaustion, I wouldn’t trade my time in Vermont for anything. The things I gained while over there are priceless. The people I met, the places I went, the memories I made are all engraved in my mind. However, the most important thing I gained from this whole experience was the lessons I learned. These helped me to grow as a person, both mentally and emotionally. I can now do things that before I thought were impossible to do. I can speak in front of people confidently, I can lead a team and make decisions on my own and I have a more positive mindset, believing that nothing is impossible.

That’s how one flight changed my life.

“It’s a good thing to have differences”

Before going to America, I thought it was a completely different world from Ireland. Growing up watching American TV, I only ever focused on these differences. The different sports, the different currency, the different slang, the different shops etc. I was worried that because of our differences I would find it difficult to relate with the American teenagers . However, the worry I felt about those things disappeared entirely as soon as I met them and started to talk with them. In fact, I think it was because of our differences it brought us closer together and everyone was able to get so much more out of the experience.

The first couple of days we were there were full of questions for each other. We had the best opportunity to answer some of our burning questions about American life and in turn we also tried our best to explain what it’s like to live in Ireland. I was able to talk about life in rural Ireland and they loved learning about it. We also exchanged slang words and we taught them some Irish phrases, which the Americans loved. We even got to share our favourite snacks. We ate their Hersheys, Cheetos and Sour Patch Kids and they ate our Cadburys, Taytos and Tangfastics. This was an unforgettable experience for everyone as it’s not everyday that either of us get to eat the other’s food like that.

That was the fun side of sharing our differences. The not so fun side was the more political side of things. At the time we were there, Roe v Wade was all over the news and everyone was devastated by the results.This was a huge difference between America and Ireland. We also talked about the differences in racism, the criminal justice system and the acceptance of the LGBTQ+ community. We got to learn the true opinions of guns amongst the teenagers and we heard some of the stories they had about school lockdowns and school shootings. They were so shocked that we had lived our lives without ever seeing a gun and also surprised that our police don’t carry firearms. I learned so much from talking about these issues and I think we all left with a better understanding of each other’s experiences and what we go through in our lives.

I believe that this experience really enlightened me and taught me to look at our differences not as barriers but as a way to share and grow friendships with other people and it showed me not to be worried about being different because it’s a good thing to have differences!