Samantha Dornan, who represented Bangor Rotary Club in the regional final of the Youth Leadership Development Competition, and was selected to go on the winner’s trip to Strasbourg, visited the Club to give us her report on the trip.
Our thanks again to Hon Secretary Stephen Connolly who organised the Competition both at Club and Zone Level. If ever we needed to be reminded of why we are Rotarians, then Samantha’s inspiring report is it.
Her presentation is reprinted in full.
Good afternoon everyone. My name is Samantha and I represented Bangor Rotary Club in the regional final of the Youth Leadership Development Competition, and was lucky enough to be selected to go on the winner’s trip to Strasbourg. I just wanted to tell you a little bit about the amazing experience I had and my highlights of the trip.
The first day started off in Belfast, learning about the political system in Northern Ireland. That first morning I was extremely nervous, and walking into a room of people already chatting was very daunting, but I quickly realised everybody was feeling the same and before long I was chatting and laughing with them. As soon as we started with the day’s activities, it was clear we had a completely packed schedule, and with lots of walking so I had to pick my shoes wisely.
We started off going to the European Commission Office in Belfast and learnt about the role it had in implementing the policies of the EU here in Northern Ireland. Next we went up to Stormont, a place that I have been to many times, but going through the main doors is always highly impressive. Here we got the opportunity to ask questions to members of 4 of the major political parties.
I really enjoyed this and found very interesting as I was able to ask about issues that directly mattered to me, but their answers weren’t always as straight as I hoped, which is politicians for you.
The second day was spent down in Dublin. In my opinion this was the busiest day, as we literally did not stop from 7am till about 11pm. I learnt a great amount as I previously knew extremely little of the Republic of Ireland’s political system. Some of my highlights from this day are, getting my winner’s certificate from the Rotary District Governor Declan-he was quite a character and sends his regards to every single club, visiting the mansion house and meeting the Lord Mayor of Dublin who was so warm and welcoming, getting a guided tour of the Dail (Doyl) which Im still not a 100% sure how to actually pronounce, and lastly visiting Stephen Green Hibernian Club for a rotary meeting.
Although it was a very long session, the range of speakers was absolutely fantastic. We heard from people who had been involved rotary international on a charity level, from those who had started up roteract clubs, to even Junior world mountain bike champions. It really opened my eyes to the diversity of Rotary, and the amazing work it is doing on a local, national and international level.
The next morning we were up at 4am to catch our plane to Frankfurt which was very tough, and although we all wanted to sleep on the long coach ride from the airport to Strasbourg, we all knew this was valuable time to work on our group topics. On arriving at our hotel, we were given some precious free time to explore the beautifully historic French city of Strasbourg.
We saw the cathedral, which is an absolutely breath-taking piece of architecture, and entered multiple French bakeries and chocolatiers where a lot of amazing French foods were sampled. But our relaxation time was soon up and we were back to the hotel for a couple of hours of intense work on our topics and presentation techniques.
I woke up on Friday morning at a reasonable 6.15am compared to our previous day, and went down to breakfast to an air of excitement. Everybody, including me, had saved their best clothes for today, the Euroschola at the European Parliament.
This day was definitely my favourite. All the late nights, hard work, and intense preparation was all so worth it and the Irish delegation shone the brightest. In the morning we had a question session with members of the European Parliament, after lunch we split into a topic groups for smaller debates, then a spokesperson from each group presented the decided motion back to everybody else in the semi circle, where we all voted on whether or not we agreed.
The Irish completely dominated the questions so much it got to the point, when we were encouraged by the chairperson to actually stop asking questions! I am proud to also say that the Irish led the group debates. My debate topic was the vaguest one of them all which was ‘What does the future hold for Europe’, which led to a range of animated discussions on issues such as climate change, nuclear energy, the issue of Brexit, immigration and education to name a few. In my small group of about 15, there was people from Spain, Sweden, the Netherlands and Germany which was quite a surreal experience.
I have one disappointment of the trip, which was not being selected to ask a question in the main semi-circle, I had endless lists of questions and was never picked, but as my hand was up the entire time, I had to accept there was nothing more I could have done but was simply just unlucky. But that is such a minor disappointment in the bigger picture.
That day I was so proud to be part of an incredible group of young people that collectively shone on an international stage. Being around such motivated, brilliant and inspiring people made me challenge and push myself out of my comfort zone, without a sense of negative competitiveness.
The last night was one of celebration and reflection. We had to be up at 4 the next morning so it made sense to us to just not go to sleep, which led to all 23 young people being crammed into one of our rooms.
After a long morning of travelling, which I’m sure you can imagine was spent in a very deep sleep, we arrived in Dublin airport where we were met with the reality of emotional good byes, and the promises of seeing each other again soon.
When I say this was one of the best experiences of my life, I’m really not lying.
Throughout the process I’ve learnt so much about myself, and even in the handful of days I was away, I personally developed enormously, and I feel that is due to the trip being so challenging. It really was a packed schedule and we all were pretty much running on adrenaline so get us through the late nights and early mornings. And it was very hard work, where you really had to be on your toes constantly.
All the evenings, with the exceptions of the last one, involved us working hard in our groups, and the night before Euroschola we did spend a good 3-4 hours working on giving individual presentations which we had very little time to prepare for.
I also think that the competition process itself is so very important. It gives young people the opportunity to experience the process of filling out an application but also the experience of an interview procedure. I really have learnt so much about being interviewed, and this experience I’m sure will prove invaluable when it comes to university interviews for me next year.
And finally, I want to thank you all, Bangor rotary, first for even picking me out of all my amazing and deserving classmates at Glenlola, but for then selecting me as your club nominee in the regional final.
I am ever so thankful for all your support and you truly gave me an experience of a lifetime. All the other young people on the trip were all incredible so I’m adamant that their contact details will be very useful when they running the country as I am sure some of them will be, so thank you for that.
Before going on the trip, I didn’t really know what I wanted to do when I was older, but eyes were truly opened to the range of possibilities and now I am looking at Universities that offer International relations courses, so that is how much of an impact this trip had on me.
Thank you so much for having me back to speak to you, and I hope you found what I had to say somewhat interesting, so thank for listening.