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 will be writing a weekly blog about her experience on the programme.
After 2 long flights, I finally reached North Carolina tired and excited. My host family met me at the airport and brought me to campus. After a brief introduction to everyone and some pizza, we all went to bed to rest for our first day.
Our first day was spent getting to know each other, and doing a scavenger hunt. We received a very inspirational talk from Dr. Allen. He spoke about how our mentors started off as BFTF fellows and have now grown alongside each other throughout all of the years. He showed us a video of the last day of the BFTF programme last year and it brought a tear to some of our eyes to think that perhaps in a month from now we will all be as emotional as those in the video, about leaving these people we, as of now, hardly know.
The second day was Monday and our classes began in Carswell Hall, and continued there throughout the week. I was in Group 1, so I was doing Sustainability Class first. To be honest, I wasn’t entirely sure what it was, and I had to ask people. However, I very quickly learned. In the class, taught by Rowie Kirbie-Straker, we talked about the meaning of sustainability and how the media have ruined the word by using it to describe things like shoes. The meaning of sustainability is “Sustainability meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of the next generation’s future needs”.
The sustainability elements according to Dr. Geetika Saluja, Head of the Centre of Excellence at Varmora Granite, Esd Curriculum are: environment in the outside ring of the circle meaning everything else is inside the environment; society in the second ring of the circle; economy in the center of the circle. We discussed how it is hard to generalize what should be at the center of sustainability, depending on country. 3 out of 4 of the groups picked quality education as the most important UN sustainable development goals. I like everyone on the programme and it’s very seldom you’ll get that, but there are a few people I had a lot in common with.
The third day was spent in Citizenship Class with Alessandra Von Burg - Department of Communication. We discussed the different problems in our countries, and we found out that the problems that we each have, aren’t so different. She taught us the basics of communication theory i.e., ethos, (ethics and character) pathos (emotions) and logos (logic). That evening we got a talk from Shelley Sizemore, Director of Academic Programs and Community Engaged Research in the Pro Humanitate Institute, Wake Forest University. She gave us a lecture on “Leading Community Change”, and got us engaged in the class by getting us to do activities around the topic e.g. Role play of having to sell an item using improv, but everyone can only say one line. At this stage we all began to know so much about each other that we kept having to repeat to each other “it is only day three”
Wednesday, the 28th of June was spent in Citizenship again, but this time we took part in a simulation. The class was divided into 4 groups the North, South, East and West of the world. I was in the West group. We were given a list of details about each of the places i.e. economic position, population, etc. My region ended up drawing the short straw however, and we said that we would meet up in 2020 again, and see if the West are able to join the union of the N.S.E. I learned a lot about debating and that you need to be tactical and not act like you come from a position of power, even if you do. After our daily lunch, in what was known as ‘The Pit’, we received a talk by Chris Zaluski from the University's Department of Communication. He spoke not just about new and old media, which is very common to hear about in an average English class, but he also talked about misleading information. He asked us what words come to mind when we he says 'media'. We say misleading, propaganda, ambiguous, one sided, inaccurate, etc.Later, he asked someone 'what a documentary is?'. They used words such as informative, facts, real, etc. He then asked if we think all documentaries are checked by experts. He pointed out to us that we have been taught to believe documentaries, but they are not always true and most of them have something wrong with them. He also spoke about the god like voice in a documentary that leads us to believe the content is true, because we think it is the voice of something more powerful than us. I found his talk so interesting that he really may have tapped into something I didn’t know I liked. That night we had a cook out to mark the 4th of July, because we won’t be on campus for it - instead we will be in the capital. One of the mentors made an amazing meal for everyone and we all had a great time.
Thursday, June 20th was our first day in Debate Class with the amazing Jarrod Atchison, Assistant Professor/Director of Debate, Department of Communication. The amount of respect I have for this teacher is amazing. We walked into his class and I was instantaneously interested. Jarrod taught us so much in just one session, which was split into two days. He explained the idea of 'flipping the warrant', which means using someone’s argument against them by extending further into their thought of the argument they have put forward e.g. Negative: “If we lower the voting age to 16, then 14 year olds will want to start voting. Where does the government draw the line?” This is how you flip the warrant in the rebuttal for the affirmative side: “Isn’t it good that 14 year olds will then take an interest in voting. This is engaging an even younger audience in paying attention to politics.”
That evening we got a theory and physical class in yoga with Sarah Jennings- Wake Forest University student. She taught us the most important factors of yoga, which are; postures, breathing, withdrawal, focus, meditation and enlighten. We each thought of how we will be more sustainable like Sarah, who is vegan and eats very little food with packaging. After that we went outside and did an hour of yoga. Surrounded by all of the trees and grass, it was very peaceful. That night we had the International Bizarre - Global Village. This is where every country had a table to display things associated with their country. Lots of people gave out food, but instead I gave out pieces of turf wrapped in brown paper and twine. I told them if they burn it on Christmas Day that we’d light a candle and say a prayer of good luck for them for all year round. Everyone had a great night and we all learnt so much about other countries. I learnt a dance called Dabke originating from the Middle East. I found it interesting how so many people identified as Irish even though they had never even been there. It made me feel proud to call myself Irish considering so many people wanted that.
Friday the 30th of June we continued our class with Jarrod Atchison. As soon as we walked in he said “This house believes the BFTF should be abolished and I am the affirmative”. We all had to make points against his argument which was very hard as he made good points such as, the amount of money it costs, and how it doesn’t show us the rough sides of America, and therefore we’re not getting the whole picture. He also said that we were handpicked as the most knowledgeable young people of our region which ,he said doesn’t make it fair as it may not be a true representation of the average person. However, we fought back with points such as, if we are the alleged “most knowledgeable young people of our region”, wouldn’t it be most likely that we would be the people to become prime ministers, presidents, etc. and then wouldn’t it be important if there was ever a serious decision to be made with another country that has a BFTF fellow as a leader. Wouldn’t I be more likely to talk the situation through with a BFTF friend rather than a stranger? Our point of fostering relationship for the present and future was the central point of our argument. We later discussed more about argument fallacies and how Trump uses them on the media. Then we had a debate on the voting age in which I said it should be lowered to 16. No winner was chosen but I believe our team won it with using the flip the warrant method, I mentioned earlier. That evening we received all the details about our trip the next day to Philadelphia. We all bonded that night over a few games in what we nicknamed "The Shade Room" outside the dorms.
Next day we departed for Philadelphia at 8.20 am and here I am on the bus, typing up my adventures. Got to go, were getting off at a pit stop now. Chat next week.