Thursday 24 January 2019

My trip to Strasbourg

Eve Lunn, local secondary school student and Rotary Ireland Youth Leadership Competition Winner 2017 writes about her trip to Strasbourg.

In November 2017, I was lucky enough to be selected as a winner of the Rotary Ireland Youth Leadership Competition at the regional finals in Dungannon; the prize for which was an all-expenses paid trip to the parliament in Strasbourg to take part in Euroscola. A once in a lifetime opportunity I am thankful to have received; and equally grateful I am to not only the EU and my teacher, Ms. Kiernan, for entering me, but also to the Rotary Club for providing me with such an amazing chance to see the parliament at work, and explore my continent with such freedom and enjoyment.

I set off for the trip on Sunday, February 11th. The Euroscola group representing Ireland consisted of students selected from regional finals held in the furthest south (Rosslare and Killarney) and across the border in Ballycastle, Limavady, and Lisburn. I had the pleasure of making the acquaintance of all of these intelligent, politically engaged teenagers and travelling with them, as fellow Irishmen and women, to Stormont, City Hall, and the European Parliament. I made some fast, life-long friends on this trip.

We had the luxury of free travel, being EU Citizens - getting to see the inside of Belfast's beautiful city hall, the breathtaking Stormont Castle and grounds on our first day of the trip. We flew out of Dublin Airport on the Tuesday and landed in Frankfurt not two hours later, where we stayed in a hotel close-by to discuss our topics for Euroscola. I was given the very poignant, but all the more relevant topic of Human Migration and Integration to discuss with my group. We noted our ignorance to the cruel nature of migration, as being part of the EU; we have never known what it is like to flee from persecution or poverty stricken countries, nor the limits to migration. However, we did speak about the current crisis in the Euro-Mediterranean regions where countries such as Spain and Italy face a surge in refugees from outside the EU, and where this problem is more real for EU Civilians. We cautioned each other to be sensitive in our debate, as we have not experienced the mass-immigration levels that other EU countries have, and do not understand the struggles for those individuals and their economies. I really enjoyed expressing my opinion in a safe environment with my peers and researching this topic in extraneous detail.

The next day, we took a coach across the French-German border and spent the day shopping, with our common currency, in Strasbourg. It was a great bonding experience for me and my fellow Irish people. We discussed the differences between the North and the Republic, but ultimately realised that we were united in not only our EU member status, but also our Irish nationality - something that won't change post-Brexit.

Thursday was Euroscola. It was phenomenal. We arrived at the parliament and were split up - what was once the Irish group, the Slovak group, the Scots and the Danes; was now the Human Migration and Integration, Youth employment, Environment and renewable energy, and many more. I was presented with teenagers from across the continent - all with different backgrounds, cultures, and dreams. But we were all passionate about migratory rights and equitable distribution of migrants, and that was all we needed.

My two broken continental languages came in handy in this instance. I was able to communicate my thoughts in broken Spanish and French, to Cypriots, Greeks, Spaniards, Slovaks, and even Swedes, and additionally, got to pose a question that had been bothering me for the past number of months regarding the Brexit, to a French MEP - in French, no less! A fantastic cultural and educational opportunity.

At the end of the day, it was announced that my team had been selected to participate in the Euro Quiz, having got all our Round 1 answers correct. Myself - an Irish woman, a Cypriot, a Croat, and a German, encountered each other at lunchtime and filled out a quiz that ultimately led to one of the best parts of the trip. We battled it out in a test of strength of EU trivia and popular music knowledge - coming out on top in the end. We won only by a hair, but it was a win all the same. Showered with free hoodies, caps, and very heavy medals, I left the parliament with a sense of belonging I was not accustomed to feeling before. I was a European. Some 508 million inhabitants, just like me, belong to something, without which, experiences such as this would not be possible. Something, I had never been grateful before, but after my day at Euroscola, would fail to forget - I was a member of the European Union. I will always be European, and therefore, wherever in the world I go, I will never be alone.

We headed back to the hotel - drenched, exhausted, but elated. We pulled an all-nighter despite all this, and I chatted to my new friends all the way until 4am, when we would travel back to Frankfurt and then on to Dublin. I soon realised, in theory, how ridiculous it all was - I had so quickly bonded with all these people I had only known for 5 days, and knew I would miss them more than words could describe. They were, and remain - the most capable bunch of young people I have ever met, and I would be happy to place the political future of Europe in their hands in a heartbeat. They will be life-long friends of mine.

The goodbyes were tough. I've said already how great the whole experience was, but nothing will ever capture the fact that I had never felt so important, so essential, and so affiliated to a group in all my life until I embarked on this journey. I definitely made myself at home very quickly with these people - both the Irish team and the other Europeans - because despite our differences, we are all kindred and will always find likeness in our home and core values. I will miss these people terribly for the short amount of time over which I won't see them - but I have made plans to reconnect with all the friends I made, and I don't mean that lightly.

The Rotary Ireland Youth Leadership Competition is one of the best things that has ever happened to me. I learned important things, met great people, ate the best food - and experienced my continent the way everyone should be free to. I am so thankful to Sligo Rotary Club for enabling me to get the chance to go on this amazing voyage of discovery, friendship, and belonging, and supporting me firmly along the way. It would not have been possible without all your help - and many thanks to Pat in particular, for your sincere efforts and help. Even though the most I can say is merci beaucoup, or thank you very much - I want everyone at Sligo Rotary to know that I mean this on a whole other level of gratitude.

Sligo Champion