In June 2014, six high school students and two leaders from St Mary’s Youth Centre in Tullamore, Co. Offaly lived a great adventure in Panta Rei, Italy, taking part—together with twenty-six people from Finland, France, Italy and Spain—in a youth exchange project ‘Environment for Inclusion’.
Honor Ridgeway and Niall Whelan share their experience with us.
Interviewer: Why did you decide to take part in “Environment for Inclusion”?
Niall Whelan: I always wanted to experience different cultures and make international friends. I also heard about the fascinating landscape of Panta-Rei and wanted to visit it.
Interviewer: What were the goals of this youth exchange?
Honor Ridgeway: Both leaders and organizers wanted to enhance social inclusion of the young people and encourage them to have a healthy lifestyle and stronger connection with nature. We tried to promote intercultural learning and overcome stereotypes and I think we achieved those goals.
Interviewer: Honor, could you tell us about the week?
Honor Ridgeway: On the first day we had a perfect trip from Ireland to Italy. On the second day we got to know each other through different activities and ice-breaking games. On the third day, called “Discovering”, we made a presentation about Ireland and other groups presented their countries. That way we discovered many new things about all of them. On the fourth day we visited Assisi and Perugia and had an intercultural evening where we could try foods from other countries. The next two days were called “Let’s work!” because we had presentations, discussions and different activities during which we explored the importance of social inclusion and of our natural environment. The seventh day was dedicated to performances about what we had learnt during the exchange. We finished the project with a farewell party. The last day was very sad because we had to say goodbye to our new friends…
Interviewer: Tell me a funny story that happened during these days in Italy.
Honor Ridgeway: A funny story... The Italians organised a brilliant quiz night where countries had to compete against each other to score the highest number of points. At one stage Ireland had to compete against Finland by singing the Italian national anthem. The results were very funny because we struggled to sing the anthem. I'm not even too sure if we won it!
Niall Whelan: I remember one night I was washing my clothes by hand and I took off the clothes I was wearing. I only had my boxers on, and after I washed my clothes I realized I had no dry clothes to wear so I had to get a jumper and put it around my waist to cover my underwear.. Luckily it was at night time! No one really noticed as it was dark!
Interviewer: There isn’t a perfect country. What’s the best thing that Italy has that Ireland doesn’t? And what’s the best thing that Ireland has that Italy doesn’t?
Honor Ridgeway: Italy has fabulous sunshine that Ireland rarely gets in the summer. The Irish participants really enjoyed the sun, especially Niall who kept topping up his tan! However, Ireland doesn’t have scorpions and Italy does. There were lots of creepy crawlies scurrying around Panta Rei but by far the scariest were the scorpions!
Niall Whelan: I agree with Honor; for me the best thing that Italy has that Ireland doesn't is the beautiful weather and also that everyone is tanned. Besides that, I love the Italian language and now I am studying it! However, Ireland has beautiful green scenery and the lovely country smell.
Interviewer: Why would you recommend taking part in a youth exchange?
Honor Ridgeway: I would encourage others to take part in an exchange because you learn so much about all the different countries from the type of food they eat, to their national anthems to environmental projects in their country. All on top of making new friends and having lots of fun.
Niall Whelan: I would definitely recommend youth exchanges because no matter what kind of person you are, you will experience a lot about various cultures and also make friends for a lifetime. You will enjoy yourself and learn new things at the same time. It’s an experience I will never forget! Actually I am thinking of moving to Italy for a few years and learning their language and maybe doing EVS there.
Interviewer: Thank you for your time, Niall and Honor.
Honor Ridgeway/Niall Whelan: You are welcome!
Produced by Silvia Corral