In 1964 a small group of American participants commenced EIL Intercultural Learning’s fifty-year journey when they arrived on Irish shores on the first ever EIL programme. Fifty years later, EIL Intercultural Learning has been responsible for approximately 40,000 participants travelling to 52 different countries on its intercultural programmes. To celebrate our 50th Anniversary, we decided to take some time to mark the many people, friendships, stories, programmes and achievements that make the organisation what it is today.

Take a look at the celebratory events, activities and moments that made 2014 so special for EIL Intercultural Learning.

Let's start at the very beginning

It all started in 1964, when John McNichols led a group of American students to Ireland on an intercultural programme. The group’s visit marked the very first EIL activity in Ireland. Fifty years on, John visits the EIL offices in Cork and speaks to Jo-Anne about his experience.

The whole concept of taking yourself out of your comfort zone and learning to live in another society is a bit of a contrived experience because you’re only there for four or five weeks, but if you let yourself go and become a functioning member of your host family, as I believe most of my group of students did, it will change your life. I believe our trip to Ireland in 1964 had a positive effect on everybody. The Irish experience broadened our horizons tremendously as individuals and the students went home with a different experience than they had lived their whole lives.

So, how did Ireland in 1964 appear to a group of young American students? 

EIL group visit Ireland in 1972

In 1972, a group of American students came to Ireland on a College Semester Abroad (CSA) programme organised through EIL’s School for International Training (SIT), Vermont, U.S.A. The group spent time in Kilkenny, Limerick, Cork, Dublin and visited various tourist and cultural attractions. The students studied at University College Cork, University of Limerick and the Institute of Irish Studies in Dublin.

For the Academic Leader of the group, Carol Bergin, this was her third time to lead a CSA group to Ireland on the programme. It was a life-changing experience for Carol, within a few weeks of one of her trips to Ireland, she met her now- husband, Denis Bergin during an interview for the Sunday Independent who published an article on the group of American students. Of the trip, Carol says, “So unusual was the programme that we had no trouble getting the top historians, writers, artists etc. to talk to our groups (John Hume led our tour of Derry, for instance).”

These trips to Ireland also marked the beginning of Carol’s career with EIL. In 1975, Carol became the National Director of EIL in Ireland, “I felt it important for EIL to exist in Ireland because it was still the only accredited and truly international exchange organisation in Ireland offering options at every level and with a strong international network.”


Minister Costello launches our 50th Anniversary year

Joe Costello TD and then Minister for Trade and Development, joined EIL Intercultural Learning to launch our 50th Anniversary programme of events and the 2014 EIL Travel Awards. The Launch took place at the Irish Aid Volunteering and Information Centre, Dublin on Tuesday, 21st January. At the event, Minister Joe Costello spoke about the role EIL has played and continues to play in providing intercultural experiences, enriching lives and promoting understanding of other cultures.

“EIL is one of the cutting edge organisations, in terms of its educational awareness, its interaction, its interculturalism and all of the engagement that it brings to bear in terms of the work it is doing, and that is absolutely essential when we are talking about a global village” Joe Costello TD– 

Some of our past participants also joined us to help launch the exciting 50th Anniversary Year.

Emma, Evelyn and Amy help launch the anniversary
Jo-Anne, Kevin, Judy and Karen getting excited about the anniversary year

New Award

New Travel Awards to mark our 50th Anniversary

Martin Luther King Travel Award

To celebrate 50 years of EIL in Ireland, we introduced two special (and one-off) 50th Anniversary Travel Awards to the 2014 programme. This year marks the 50th Anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr. receiving the Nobel Peace Prize so we found it fitting to mark both anniversaries with the introduction of a special Travel Award for a young person who has demonstrated leadership potential while being actively involved with a minority/ human rights/ equality/ anti-racist group in Ireland. We wanted to award a person who is passionate about and involved in supporting this group. Then we met eighteen year old Daniel who was nominated for the Award because of his involvement with the organisation BelongTo. Daniel does a lot of work with BelongTo and has been involved in many of their LGBT awareness-raising campaigns. Take a look at this video of Daniel reading a poem he wrote about the organisation BelongTo and read his blogs from his time in Vermont.

Host Family Travel Award

This Travel Award was open to any member of an EIL Host Family, the families that open their homes each year to international students. Naomi, a Leaving Cert student at Scoil Mhuire, Ennistymon won the special Award and she chose Ecuador as her destination.  She is involved in Moy Youth Club and volunteers in the community regularly. She is also heavily involved in the William Winder Rainbow Foundation, a local charity in Clare helping young people deal with various youth issues. Naomi’s family host some of the international students that EIL brings to Ireland each year and has always given their international students a wonderful experience in County Clare.

A BIG welcome

A big welcome to Federation EIL for the General Assembly in Cork

Over 80 delegates from 29 different countries gathered in Cork to attend the FEIL General Assembly in April, including from as far afield as Ecuador, Ghana and Japan. EIL Intercultural Learning hosted the 2014 General Assembly as part of our 50th Anniversary celebrations and we were more than honoured to welcome our partners to Cork for the week-long event.

Networking events, workshops and training sessions ran throughout the week, focusing on areas such as ensuring the safety of young people who participate in travel and study abroad programmes and setting minimum standards for home stays.

Michael O’Neill, the Director of Global Safety & Security at Save The Children International, was one of the guest speakers at the General Assembly. He delivered a most interesting and comprehensive Safety & Security Training Workshop to FEIL members. We had a short ‘Minute with Michael O’Neill’ interview before he departed Cork.

Attendees also had an opportunity to experience tourism in Cork first-hand, with an excursion to Cobh as well as a visit to the English Market to showcase Cork’s artisan food culture.

Host Families

Recognising the commitment of our host families

In May, we celebrated some of the wonderful EIL host families from all over Ireland. These families host the hundreds of international students that come to Ireland each year to study and experience Irish culture. Our host families not only willingly share their home, their family, their community and their culture, but also forge life long ties and friendships with their visiting international students and their families back home.

The Pierce Family receive their Award

The EIL Host Family Awards Ceremony was held in Dublin where one host family from each of our eleven host communities in Ireland was presented with an award.These families were selected for their compassion, professionalism and commitment demonstrated when hosting international students.

The Gavin Family receive their Award

Guest speakers at the Awards Ceremony included Carol Bergin, Director of EIL Intercultural Learning 1975-88. Carol spoke about the pivotal role that Irish host families play in the home-stay experience for visiting students to Ireland. She recalled her experience of coming to Ireland as an Academic Leader of a College Semester Abroad (CSA) Programme with EIL in 1970, following which, she began to make her life here in Ireland.


A walk down memory lane with some past host families

As part of our 50th Anniversary celebration, we wanted to take some time to reconnect with the Irish families that hosted EIL participants in the early years of the organisation. Back in the 1970s/1980s, hosting students was a relatively new concept and it offered families an opportunity to discover different cultures and other ways of living without ever leaving the country. In May, we organised a gathering for these past host families, some of whom hosted students for EIL as far back as late 1960s.

Looking back through old photos

The families had some great memories to share with us and even brought along old photos of their students, letters and notebooks with details of the people they hosted through the years. It was wonderful to hear their stories and to hear about the many friendships that were created along the way. Some of these host families are still in touch with the people they hosted as far back as 30 years ago! This connectivity and creation of links between people across the globe is at the core of EIL Intercultural Learning and we were delighted to be reminded of the power of intercultural exchange.

Marie enjoys some old photos
Jo-Anne and Robert look through an old diary

We especially love a note from a student to her host family (host mother, Marie pictured above). The note, which was written on the inside cover of a book writen by Donald Watt (the Founder of EIL), was written in September 1971 following the student’s homestay with Marie and her family in Kilkenny.

Letter to Marie in 1971

Panel Discussion

EIL responds to the lack of foreign language skills in Ireland

In October, EIL Intercultural Learning hosted a panel discussion, titled Winning Abroad: Ireland’s Struggle with Foreign Languages. The event, which was held at the Royal College of Surgeons, was in response to the ‘Framework for Consultation on a Foreign Languages in Education Strategy for Ireland’, released by the Department of Education and Skills in August. Minister Kevin Humphreys TD, opened the event and spoke about the importance of building a desirable and skilled workforce in Ireland.

Minister Kevin Humphreys with some EIL Study Abroad students
Joe Humphreys, Irish Times

Chaired by Joe Humphreys, Education Correspondent at The Irish Times, the panel discussion was a fruitful and productive dialogue between linguists, academics, policy makers, economists, politicians, teachers and indeed, students. The three core themes to emerge could be summarised as follows:

Resource the NECESSITY that is language learning

Increase the DESIRABILITY for life-long learning

Convince citizens it is ACHIEVABLE at their own pace for their benefit

Download the summary report on the Panel Discussion. 


Twenty years and plenty stories from Travel Award participants

In 1994, the very first EIL Travel Award was established and a young Irish girl traveled to Japan.The first participant was hosted by Miyoko Sato, an English teacher who saw the potential in building links between Japan and Ireland. Twenty years later, Miyoko continues to work with EIL to host Travel Award participants and the Award to Japan is one of the most sought-after Awards. To mark the success of the past 20 years, previous Award participants of the various Travel Awards gathered at a Reunion lunch in Smock Alley Theatre, Dublin in November. The event was an opportunity to celebrate their achievements and reminisce about their experiences abroad and the impact their intercultural learning had.

Miyoko, who flew to Dublin from Japan especially for the Reunion, was our Guest of Honour and it was hugely poignant that she joined us to celebrate 20 years of intercultural learning. Her role in developing the Travel Awards has been integral and her unwavering support of EIL and its intercultural learning programmes is admirable.

For Rebecca, Japan is still a very big part of her life