Kate Major

Scoil Chríost Rí, Portlaoise

At about 4am on the 19th of April, myself and 23 other students from around Ireland arrived at Dublin Airport. We chatted and all immediately became friends before taking to the sky and landing a few hours later in Brussels. After we arrived, we travelled to the European Parliament where we were met by MEP Maria Walsh who welcomed us so warmly. She showed us around the building as we walked to where she would eventually sit us down around a table where we all shared our opinions and concerns regarding issues facing European and Irish youths today, such as the lack of resources available for those struggling with their mental health, the housing crisis, particularly in Ireland and what this means for us as students and we questioned just how accessible is education for young people in Europe today.

After this valuable discussion, we were free to get lunch in a nearby restaurant. Just our luck, there were actually food markets set up just outside the Parliament building. We got to try different cuisines and things we never had before. We then went back on the bus to check into the hotel. While on the bus, we had a guide who was telling us about the history of different buildings around the city of Brussels, while cracking a few jokes too. We stopped at the famous ‘Atomium’, which is much more impressive in real life than in photos!

We arrived at the hotel where we dropped our bags and then went on a guided tour of Brussels. We saw Manneken Pis (my own personal favourite), Grand Place, Stoofstraat and Theatre Royal de la Monnaie. We then had the evening to ourselves where we got to try some famous Belgian snacks like waffles and frites before going back to the hotel.

The next morning after breakfast we were back on our way to the European Parliament building. This was an exciting day. MEP Maria Walsh welcomed us back and had organised for us to meet with some of her colleagues in the EU. Firstly, European Youth Coordinator Biliana Sirakova came and informed us of the many opportunities available to us as young Europeans, especially now as 2022 is actually the European Year of Youth. She also told us about all the projects and efforts currently underway, always trying to improve the future for young people in Europe. We were then introduced to MEP Vladimir Bilcik, a university lecturer and politician from Bratislava, Slovakia. He was so informative and gave a much more personal insight on what the war on Ukraine really meant, in comparison to what we hear on the news at home. He answered any questions we had on the history behind the war and was so helpful in solving any confusions we had. Thirdly, we got to meet with the President of the European Parliament, Roberta Metsola (!!!). She summed up the points made previously by her EPP colleagues and also spoke about her own journey in politics. She faced knockbacks and had many doubts but concluded with the sentiment that if you truly believe something is right and that changes need to be made then it’s important to stay true to yourself and to stay fighting for what you believe in. The lessons and stories we got to hear from these people were invaluable and all of us, both students and supervisors, agreed that we were so lucky to be given the opportunity to meet with them. Towards the end of the meeting, we were introduced to MEP Seán Kelly and MEP Deirdre Clune who we had light-hearted debates with.

After leaving the Parliament building, we had time to ourselves to sight-see and do some shopping. We then returned to the hotel before leaving for Drug Opera, a restaurant in Brussels, where we all had dinner together, joined by MEP Maria Walsh, MEP Seán Kelly and MEP Deirdre Clune. They were so kind and down to earth and it was appreciated by the whole group the time they set aside for us to listen to our voices and chat with us.

The next morning we checked out of the hotel and got the bus to Ghent, a town in the Flemish region of Belgium. It’s famous for its architecture and history as a port-city and we were lucky enough to hear all

about it from our tour guide. The weather was beautiful and we got some time to relax in the sun and buy some gifts for our families at home before we got the bus to the airport to begin our journey back to Ireland.

We were all so sad to go home and all 24 of us agreed it had been the experience of a lifetime. Personally, my trip was sponsored by Midlands Regional Drug and Alcohol Task Force and I would like to thank them ever so much. It would have been so easy to put the trip on the back burner and forget all about it after the last difficult two years but we were lucky enough to have travelled to the Parliament even still. I cannot commend everyone involved enough: Martin Heneghan from Graduate.ie, Maria, Seán, Deirdre and their Fine Gael colleagues, Tina, Marie and Aisling who supervised the trip with Martin and of course all those at the Parliament who took the time to speak with us. I hope that students in the future are fortunate enough to be afforded the same opportunity as the 24 of us were and that local organisations and County Councils will continue to invest in young people, giving them brilliant out-of-classroom learning experiences like the trip to Brussels. It is so much more valuable to young people than they realise and again, I would like to thank absolutely everybody involved in making it happen.