My trip to Strasbourg was a fantastic experience and one I am so glad to have been given the opportunity to go on. It was not only educational, it was also so much fun and the people who joined me on it were so interesting and entertaining.
On the day we all met as a team, everyone was lovely and easy to get on with. We went to Cosmos as our first meal together and we slowly got to know each other. That night, the first thing we were asked to do was to go around the group and say where you were from and what each of us intend to do as a future career. There were many doctors and lawyers, an astrophysicist, a pilot, politicians and linguists. This made it clear that we were all a large variety of different people, all whom had such a broad range of interests. Next, we were split into six groups, in which we would research one topic. My group’s topic was the Future of Europe. Other topics were Immigration and Migration, Environment and Renewable Energy, Security and Human Rights, European Year of Cultural Heritage and Youth Employment.
The Future of Europe proved to be a challenging topic, as we not only had to include propositions about the UK and Brexit, but also what we would change about Europe, what should Europe’s role be in a globalised world and to what extent should Europe promote its values in the world. Throughout the week, we sat in our teams and discussed proposals to bring to the day in the European Parliament. These proposals had to be sound and logical as other teams would be questioning us about how it work or how the proposal could be implemented. One of the things I found most difficult was vocalising my ideas without fear of sounding like I didn’t know what I was doing, and perhaps if it was a larger group than four, I may have kept quiet, but I challenged myself and inputted to my group, and was therefore challenged about whether my ideas would work or not, and this increased my confidence in myself. Answering these questions was quite challenging but it got me outside my comfort zone and made me think about issues I hadn’t thought about before.
The trip also helped me learn about our own island itself. Through the team’s visit to the City Hall in Belfast, Stormont and the Europeans Commission’s office in Dublin, I learnt about the politics in Ireland from politicians themselves. In Stormont we had a question and answer sessions with three politicians from the Green Party, SDLP and Alliance respectively. It helped me to develop my own understanding of what I thought of situations happening today. It was also very beneficial to the team to hear from politicians that were from different parties so that we all would receive a range of opinions. We were in Stormont the same day Theresa May was and we were all slightly excited at the idea that we might get to see her.
As part of the Euroscola event, there is a presentation of each country by a young person from their respective country. In order to choose who would do it from our group, those who wanted to present were required to write a short speech about Ireland. Each of us then voted on who we thought would represent our team best. My speech didn’t win but I did make it to the final three contestants.
From Dublin we flew to Frankfurt and then had a 4-hour bus trip to Strasbourg. On the Wednesday of the trip, we were able to explore the town of Strasbourg which has a lovely Old Town to it and is full of very beautiful buildings alongside a river.
It was one of my favourite days as it was a relaxing day in which all of the team could just have a good time together.
Thursday was the big day in the European Parliament. The most striking thing about the building was the sheer size of it. The inside of the building is lovely, with a spiral staircase with each member country’s flag in a row. The first thing that happened was the presentation of each country. David Lalor who was representing Rotary Ireland, spoke very well about how diverse our group was but how we worked so well as a team. Quoting from his speech he said "My dear fellows, are we prepared to set forth a vision for the future of Europe? Should we not strive to be a strong Europe, a diverse Europe, a Europe that looks to the future rather than dwelling on the past?", which was a great summary of what Euroscola is all about, a diverse group of young people together, asking and discussing questions about issues that will impact on us all.
Following this positive introduction of countries, all 540 students from 21 nations had the opportunity to ask their questions directly to the French MEP, Edouard Martin. This was really interesting as it was an opportunity to see what issues other students were concerned about. Questions ranged from issues in Greece about gender pay gap, through to hate speech v freedom of speech, and the risk of robots and digital technology to the EU social model. One of the main concerns of our group were problems that may arise from those holding an Irish passport but living in the north, and whether they would have the benefits of being a citizen of a country still in the European Union.
Throughout lunch we were asked to fill in a team sheet for the Euro Games, where each group had to have a different nationality for each member of the team. This was actually one of the highlights for me, as it was a lot of fun asking people from all over the EU whether they could answer this question that was in Spanish, or this one in Romanian. Unfortunately, our team was not one of the finalists, but on the winning team there was an Irishman, so we all counted it as a win.
In the afternoon, the students debated in working groups on respective key EU issues, before submitting their proposals to the vote of their peers. Together with the 40 students in our group, we were asked to vote for a chairperson and a secretary to relay each idea back to the other 500 students. Our group voted for a girl from Spain to chair and a guy from Scotland to be secretary. The proposals we brought back to the Parliament were the idea of one education system for all, an idea of a EU unified army, and whether the EU should still have special trade agreements with the UK after Brexit. We were motioning against trading with the UK as they left for a reason and shouldn’t continue to have the benefits of member countries of the EU. But we were for the unified army and education system. When the rest of the students voted for or against our proposals, the majority were for.
This really meant we were successful in convincing them that there were benefits to our ideas and that they were possible. In turn, each of the other five groups relayed their proposals and then the same voting system happened. Out of the possible 12 chairpersons or secretaries, 8 of them were from Rotary Ireland.
On this trip, I learnt about how it is so important to be involved in the politics of our country. Although I am not changing career paths to go into politics, it certainly made me more interested to keep up to date with what is going on. I learnt that even though we are young and don’t have the chance to vote, there are still many ways that, as young people, we can make our voice heard. It showed me that young people from all over our country from all different backgrounds can work together and have such a fun time being together for a week.
I would like to thank Rotary Limavady, as without their support in my application and the process of the competition, I wouldn’t have had this fantastic experience which I will never forget, not only because of what I discussed and learnt about the European Parliament, but because of the amazing people who joined me on it, people I would have never met without this project, all amazingly smart and impressive, but all just fun people who made my time so enjoyable.