Unique European experience for Shauna

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Year 13 student Shauna Pentony writes for the school website about her unique and lifechanging experiences in Europe representing St Paul’s and Rotary Ireland.

In October 2013 I was one of twenty-five students from across the whole of Ireland chosen from a pool of three thousand peers, to take part in a week long programme during which we travelled to four countries in four days, while simultaneously building life long friendships and developing our youth leadership skills.

On Sunday 2 February I travelled by train with both my mother and great aunt to Jury’s Inn. Needless to say I was quite nervous as being thrown in to a group full of people you don’t know can be daunting for anyone. However the initial sense of awkwardness and unease was soon forgotten as we joined together in support for the Irish Rugby team as they battled triumphantly against Scotland. After we had been joined together in choruses of hurrahs and cheers, we made our way down to the lobby to join together before heading out for an evening meal. It was during this meal that I realised, even this early on, that this group of people were going to become some of my closest friends. Later that evening we group for a short briefing before heading to bed.

Early Monday morning after a short bus ride we arrived at the head of the EU in Northern Ireland where we were given a short talk on the current challenges faced by the EU and how young people are having to play a more vital role due to the fact that the voting age is currently being viewed as considered being lowered to 16. Another important issue raised was the referendum that it currently being called to take into consideration the UK’s role within the EU. After a heated debate we broke for lunch, well we were supposed too. After deciding that we wanted to make the most of our time together we decided to all go to the same place which turned out to Nando’s. During this lunch we became even closer yet again making the end of the week even harder. When we were finished lunch, we broke off into smaller groups as some people had never been to Belfast and they wanted to do some shopping in Belfast’s iconic shopping hub Victoria Square. After some retail therapy we took a twenty minute bus journey to Stormont. This part of the trip was one of my most memorable moments as I myself am very interested in politics in the North and to have a question and answer session with members of the different political groups like Sammy Douglas from the DUP, Ross Brown from the Green Party and Megan Fearon from Sinn Féin, was very interesting. After a long day of heated debates, heated chicken and heated buses, we eventually arrived at our seconds destination; Dublin.

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Dublin personally for me was almost a new experience as I had only ventured there as a child, therefore I didn’t really remember much of it. However, after some information given to me by my peers I can now thoroughly say I would love to revisit Dublin. After a brisk walk we arrived at the European Parliament office in Dublin where we were given a brief insight into the history and development of the European Union, and how in the future how things might change within the future. We were then presented with our certificates before crossing the road to Leinster House. There we met Simon Harris, Irelands youngest TD, I must say some within our group were more excited to see him than most. We were also introduced to members of other parties within the Parliament. Each party member gave us an insight into their journey into politics which ended up sparking a lively answer and question session which was then followed by a tour of Leinster House. In the evening, due to Irelands catastrophic weather, I was almost forced by a few people from the South to try a restaurant called Eddie Rocket’s. I can honestly say that it has changed my life.

The fourth day of our trip was a day I was dreading the most; the day we had to fly from Dublin airport to Frankfurt. You see, for most people this wasn’t a problem, but for me having a fear of flying this was honestly worse that meeting everyone for the first time. However, I can genuinely say that after a few reassuring words and gestures from a girl in my group I got through it Okay in the end. When we finally arrived to our hotel in Frankfurt, (only after a few slow spoken conversations with German citizens to find our shuttle bus stop), everyone called it an early night as a long day of travelling can definitely take it out of you and due to the two hour bus journey we had ahead of us the following morning no one wanted to feel sick from being under slept.

The following morning we made the bus journey from Frankfurt to Strasbourg that was mostly filled with laughter that soured like it had come from friends who had known each other years instead of days. When we arrived in the picturesque city of Strasbourg everyone on the bus turned off flappy bird and took their phone off selfie mode and began to tai pictures of this beautiful town. Since we had no agenda for that day we were given the chance to go out ourselves and take in a brand new culture in whatever way we pleased. For our group we done it by getting ourselves lost by visiting little side streets, visiting centuries old cathedrals and buying some little knick-knacks and souvenirs. When we returned in the evening we got to experience some typical food by going for a group meal for a restaurant that took some finding however, we got there in the end. I didn’t have a particularly good first experience at the restaurant were food was concerned, as when I ordered my started I was given a plate of what looked like dog food! However, as the meal progressed things got better as it was followed up by duck and sweet potato and ended with fluffy warm chocolate home (you see we had the menu translated into english and due to the fact it was a literal translation that was what it was called). After some final late night roaming about the city we headed back to our hotel to get a good nights sleep before the big day.

Friday was the pinnacle of our trip; a day of debates and international co-operation in the European Parliament. Five hundred students from twenty-eight member states were gathered in the Louis Weiss Parliament building to discuss topics ranging from the environment to the legibility of votes. After a warm welcome from members of the EU we were given the opportunity to ask questions during most of the day the irish group happily obliged, asking up to 80% of the overall amount of questions throughout the day. After getting a brief talk on how EU policy affects national governments and EU citizens we broke off for a short lunch. During this short break we forced to yet again mingle with new people in order to complete a Eurogame, which would be played at the end. I, in particular ended up becoming great friends with a girl from Denmark and a few girls from the UK who have actually just recently contacted me on Facebook. After lunch we were split up in out six different committees that we had previously been given to discuss proposals. My group had a very broad topic as it was the future of Europe, due to the nature of this topic we basically had to cover all of the other topics while also taking into consideration a few other sections of the EU’s future. A few interesting debates rose up concerning the Euro and the UK’s current position within the UK. During this session we also had to elect both a chair person and secretary one of which ended up being a boy from our group. When we hd returned to our seats in the main chamber each group was given 3 to 4 minutes to put forward their proposal before being scrutinised by fellow europeans before a vote was taken. I, even asked a question to someone from my own group in a different committee; ‘Do you think that in times of economic instability, environmental issues can often be pushed aside?’ I was very pleased with the fact that I got to ask a question as due to the sheer number of people within in the room it was often hard for some people to get noticed. The day ended with the European Anthem, ‘Ode to Joy’, and the Rotary team left exhausted, but in high spirits, having been a dominant force in proceedings from start to finish.

In the early hours of Saturday morning after a previous night of emotional speeches and tears we made our way back through the storms to Ireland. After yet more tears at luggage claim, we parted ways and I was making way through arrivals looking round at this extraordinary group of people, I realised in that moment just how lucky I was to be able to have that opportunity not only to have the chance to delve deeper in to Irish, Northern Irish and EU politics, but also to have the chance to bond with these 24 other students whom other wise I would never have had the pleasure of meeting. To have the opportunity to listen and to talk, to challenge and be challenged by them is honestly an experience that I have not only gained valuable experience and knowledge from, but is also one that I will remember for years to come due to the friendships made, laughters shared and tears shed together rover 6 days that honestly changed my life.

In conclusion I would like to thank my Year Head Ms Fearon for giving me the opportunity and support to encourage me to try out in the first place and for helping me through the second round of the competition, I would also like to say a massive word of gratitude to Mr Donal McAlinden who helped support me through the final stages, I would also like to thank Jerry, Grainne and Jenny for taking time out of their own schedules to make sure we all had a good time and finally I would like to thank all members of the rotary club for putting your faith in me and entrusting me to make sure I made my region proud and I hope I did.

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2 comments

Insightful account of this one off experience. We are all very proud of your achievement!

by Christine Fearon on 22/02/2014 at 11:32 pm #

Well done Shauna. You are a great choice of ambassador for Ireland and St Paul’s. I’m delighted you had such a terrific experience and I hope it is the first of many. All the best for the future.

by Oliver Mooney on 25/02/2014 at 11:55 pm #

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