Foróige member Robin Duke is among the young people who have traveled to the USA to take part in The Benjamin Franklin Transatlantic Fellows Summer Institute Programme at Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. The purpose of the intensive short term exchange program is to foster relationships among young Europeans and Americans, and to build strong linkages and an awareness of shared values. The four week program will enable teenagers, ages 16-18, to explore U.S. foreign policy priorities such as youth engagement, support for democracy and civil society, and economic prosperity. The program will consist of a series of lectures, seminar discussions and presentations, and a broad assortment of practical, faculty and mentor led workshops.
Robin, who is a member of The Attic Youth Café in Longford is writing a weekly blog about her experience on the programme.
It’s week 3 and I’m really not liking the thoughts of leaving. My host family met me when I got off the bus from our trip. I was really excited to stay with them and couldn’t wait to see what I would experience.
Friday night, when I arrived to my new home and they asked me if I wanted to watch The Great British Bake Off, I realized that we are not so different after all!! After my delicious meal we watched T.V. and then I went up to pack for our trip to Virginia the next day.
I was up at 7 a.m. on Saturday morning to get ready to go to my host mam’s (Monica) home town. After a 2 hour drive we reached her sister’s pool house which was overlooking a mountain. It was amazing. After spending time swimming with her family, we went to her dad’s house, where we would be staying that night and washed up. We watched some Impractical Jokers and ate pizza before going out with my host sister (Olivia), Monica, Monica’s sister, nephew and his wife to see The Roanoke/ Mill Mountain Star. It overlooked the whole city and lit up the sky. It was amazing. After that we got ice creams and went home to bed.
The next morning we had an amazing sleep in, which was well needed after the previous 2 weeks. We watched some more T.V. and then Monica took Olivia and I to get a pedicure. It was my first time and it was so fun. We drove through the scenic area of Roanoke and it was breath taking. On the way home we went into Bojangles, a very famous place here for its biscuit’s (the buttery scone type ones) and gravy. I went in and Monica got me biscuits and pinto beans which were surprisingly nice.
Monday was basically reorientation day after the weeklong trip. I had my first faculty lunch on Monday. A faculty lunch is a lunch with a faculty member (an expert in their field). I spoke with Christy Buchanan, Professor of Psychology, Senior Associate Dean for Academic Advising at Wake Forest University. She spoke a lot about stereotypes and how millennials are seen as people who don’t care and do nothing. It was a very interesting talk. In the evening, Jarrod Atchison’s debate class came in and 2 of them paired up with 4 BFTF members. We debate voting age again. However, we were on the opposite side, that the voting age should remain at 18. We made points, such as, saying that 16 year-olds who are interested in politics are in the minority, and that the majority of 16 year-olds are not like them.
On Tuesday the 11th of July I signed up for Arts & Community class with Christina Tsoules Soriano, a Professor at Wake Forest. We headed down to Wake Downtown and did some dancing and creativity exercises. From this we organically arranged a dance piece, which we would perform for the talent show the next day. We practiced the whole day. I had an Irish Dance piece and a bad tin whistle performance of ‘My heart will go on’ from Titanic. Our dance piece was called Abstract Unity and based around the idea of togetherness. That evening Monica brought Olivia and I to the shopping mall. I bought clothes and presents for my family there.
The next day was the talent show and I had to practice my separate dance piece. The whole talent show was amazing and everyone did really well. My tin whistle performance was interesting and I think it was pretty obvious I haven’t played in 4 years. We performed in the Wake Downtown Campus reception area. It had a very rustic urban feel to it and the acoustics were amazing, so it made for an excellent performance. After the talent show I went on a trip around Winston Salem to get some homemade pottery, made with Winston Salem clay. After that we went to Old Salem to visit the first college set up for women called Salem College. We saw the area and how it was preserved. We also passed a B&B called ‘The Tavern’, in which George Washington stayed. It was a real history lesson. Monica bought sugar bread which was like a loaf/cake/pastry covered in cinnamon sugar - it was really good. I bought some jam and a honey lollipop. When I got home I made homemade brown bread for my host family. They were very impressed and had never tried brown bread before. That night I played some board games with their neighbors. We played Balderdash which is very popular in America.
The next day I had Good Governance class with Mads, a mentor. We made up a government by filling out a form. It wasn’t necessarily our ideal government, but we set it up and then went through various tasks with it, to see if it was still standing. Our ‘Neverlandia’ government was a constitutional monarchy which passed votes based on the super majority (75%). After this, I went to Fundraising Class with Sarah. This class was actually very good, and helped us come up with really good ideas for our project. She told us about the After Program Alumni Fund, which only we and other alumni can apply for. We were encouraged to ask our Embassies and the European Council for funding also. That evening we went bowling and everyone had great fun.
The last day of the school week, Friday the 14th of July, was spent exploring the campus garden with Nate French. It was really interesting to see. There were tomatoes being grown with certain things taken out and put in for the Biology Department. There was a ‘Bee Waterer’ with rocks being put in to just at the height of the of water so bees can stand on them and drink the water from the rock without falling in and a bee hive where they produce honey. Despite all the fun activities and the classes, this was one of my favourite experiences. After this we had team building and volunteer recruitment class with Efthymios Skoufas. In this he talked about how critical volunteers are to projects. He told us of the 3 types of volunteers: volunteers that need to pay dues; volunteers who lose interest along the way; and volunteers who are in for the long terms - these are the ones you’ll hand the keys to in the future. Then we had a lecture and class with an organization called ‘Authoring Action’ which basically worked with people to show their creative side. We wrote a poem using their technique. I wrote a poem about waves. It was interesting and easier to write a poem from scratch using their method. That evening we went to a restaurant called ‘Mellow Mushroom’, where I got a delicious pizza.
The next day Olivia, Monica and I went to Tweetsie Railroad, an amusement park with rides, a locomotive and petting zoo. We had great fun on all the rides and my personal favourite, the petting zoo. I got to see people perform the Can-Can, clogging dancers, and eat funnel cake. It was a great day. After that we went to McAdoo’s and I had a fish taco which was amazing. We signed our names on the table and then went home. Later we went to a Nascar race in Bowman Grey Stadium. The cars that were racing for most of it were very bad and cheap and people always had fights and hit each other. This type of race was known for the fights and it was so good. We got some more funnel cake and had to put ear buds in, the cars were that loud. During the interval we saw a breath taking Monster Truck Display! Two monster trucks were crushing and jumping over scrapped cars, and did a pretty good job of destroying them. After the race, we got fried Oreos which were interesting but so nice.
The last day with my host family was spent as a lazy/ packing day. I got up and started to make potato cakes for them. Then we went to make up an Irish Dancing vs. Clogging routine in Olivia’s Dance School. After making up the routine, Monica brought me to an old vintage emporium to get magnets. I ended up getting a t-shirt as well. When we went home I began packing and then made the potato cakes for dinner. My last evening with my host family was spent watching Netflix, while Olivia gave me a temporary tattoo using last thing I did with my host family was I watched Netflix with Olivia as she gave me a temporary tattoo using Jagua. I had an amazing with my host family, and I will miss them to bits!