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.
Monday 17th of July, the first day we were back to the dorms. As much as we missed living together, it pained us to leave our host families. After dragging endless amount of baggage into my dorms I said goodbye to Monica and began my day with Second Harvest. Second harvest is a food bank that supplies food for people near and far. There we worked on packing and tossing any food that was of use or food that wasn’t up to their standard. It was a fun morning and it felt good to do good. Next we had navigating truth with Aaron and Kory. This was a little hard, and I found it a challenge to keep up. Basically what we discussed was, who first began to question truth? He went through many philosophers and explained what each did. We spoke of fake news, etc. It was probably the most complex class, but also a very interesting one.
On the way back from a delicious lunch at The Pit, I raced my friends to the dorms. I managed to jump over a few steps and hurt my ankle. Because of this, I couldn’t take part in the Olympic Games that night. I was really disappointed because I heard how much fun it was.
On Tuesday, we had the second workshop with Authoring Action. Everyone read their poems. A lot of them were very touching. After, we all got some pizza. That evening, 28 of us had the EU Simulation, with the topic being based around the Dublin regulation. I was Viktor Orbán, Prime Minister of Hungary. I was told by the Hungarian student, Bogi, that in his opinion, he isn’t a very nice person and that he doesn’t want to take the refugees. I wasn’t exactly looking forward to playing the bad guy, until I did. It was so fun ruining everyone else’s plans and going against the grain, however it baffled me even more how someone could actually be like this in real life. I got the semi seal of approval from Bogi, saying I played the stereo typical version of what everyone thinks Orbán is, and that was good enough for me. I didn’t get my way in the simulation and thank god for that! That evening I worked on my final project on the topic of mental health.
First class I had Wednesday morning was with Mads and Sarah and it was about setting up a sustainable organisation which they have done successfully, so many times. They talked about what constitutes an organisation and we came to a conclusion that it is: social capital, statutes, budget and accounting, outreach and archives. After this, we had social inequality and civic engagement with Jenn. She got us to explain governance, equality, social movement, social equality and civic engagement. We noticed that it was hard for us to distinguish between equality and social equality. Later, she taught us the 5 stages of social movement;
- Social unrest
- Enthusiastic mobilization
Next I had food and culture class with T in which each of us had to collaborsate with 3 other countries to make a 3 course meal that considers each country. I was with the girls from Ukraine, Serbia and Slovenia. We chose a thick vegetable soup for starter, beef, potatoes, broccoli and cabbage for main course, served with wine and a pancake type of dessert. Again, that evening I worked on my final project and then prepared for our farewell dinner dedicated to our host families. We had dinner with them and a slide show and recording of all of our good times. Unable to perform my dance with Olivia due to my sore ankle, I was making the most of my final minutes with my family. When the end of the night drew near, it all became real that I was leaving some of the best friends that I had ever made in just a few days. We began to plan when we would see each other again. I kept crying at the thought of leaving all of my friends. BFTF had really become family at this stage.
The next day was final project presentations day. I was involved in 2 projects. First my solo one, iCollaborate to aid the state of Longford’s mental health and the group one, EYE (European Youth Engagement) to try get youth more involved and educated with the EU. Both presentations went amazingly. We spent the whole day listening to everyones amazing ideas. That night, we had all the work out of the way, so we spent the night talking and enjoying our time together.
The next day, the morning was spent listening to presentations and after, we hurried back for our graduation. The mentors did superlatives for everyone. Each was very personal and made each person feel special. They weren’t serious ones but were instead adapted to the BFTF experience. I got most likely to take advantage of the phrase ‘break a leg’. I found this hilarious because all week the mentors were calling me hobbles (Aaron and Sarah in particular). That night, we danced the night away in a place called The Barn, which had an amazing view through the windows. The DJ played any and every song we wanted and it was amazing. Until Sam Smith came on, which triggered the tears. We got a fun ride home with T which lifted our spirits again. We all tried to do an all-nighter, but the dancing was too much for most of us and majority fell asleep. Each person had an envelope and in it we could write a letter for that person. I got some amazing letters and feel so honoured to be friends with these people. I had a 15 minute power nap, but survived the rest of the night. One by one, two by two, people left. Words literally can’t describe what I felt, watching each of my friends drive away that morning, but I will never forget the fun and the laughs that I had with them, and I guess that’s what matters most.
Thank you to anyone who made this experience possible, I don’t want to list people because I will forget people. Thank you, mentors for putting up with our craziness. I’m just so grateful to be a BFTF Alumni of 2017!