We heard from the Humanitarian Issues Panel which was made up of guest speakers Ms Anderson from Mercy Corps, Ms Hill from Catholic Charities SUA and Mr Doyle a reporter for the McClatchy Newspapers. Mr Doyle was an especially interesting speaker as he often questioned the other speakers. Questions from the scholars ranged from whether vegetarianism was a moral imperative given food shortages to the impact of the Catholic Church’s teachings on contraception. We continued to prepare for the UN Security Council simulation throughout our Leadership Group Meetings that day.
The 17th of July was also my 17th birthday so at dinner Lucy and Camilla had organised a birthday party for me. They’d made a card for me of shared GYLC memories and wearing some makeshift party hats, they along with the other 350 scholars down for dinner sang happy birthday. Afterwards we went up to the rooftop of the Sheraton Hotel, which had a view over all of Washington D.C for an impromtu birthday party.
This was our last night in Washington D.C so we continued the party atmosphere back in our Leadership Group Meetings where we had a Cultural Exchange. I found out more about the different cultures represented in our group and I was also able to share a bit about Northern Ireland. Many of the other scholars were very amused when I showed them a photograph of Belfast’s skyline and named the Harland and Wolf cranes, they couldn’t understand how cranes, no matter how big, could be considered landmarks or have ‘names’. I explained to them about the heritage of ship building, including the Titanic. Some scholars also misunderstood the nature of the Giants Causeway, asking “how did they do that?” When I explained about the sudden cooling of volcanic magma when it hit the sea they still asked “Yes, but how did they get it to flow into the sea?” because they were still under the impression that it was man-made. In my cultural exchange I was also able to show them an unusually lightweight, blue ‘rock’ which was formed when a blue ulsterbus seat melted into the tarmac of the road. I found this rock when I was much younger a few days after the bus had been burned out one 11th night. I was also able to show them the Good Friday agreement and give a brief explanation of the troubles and what effect the agreement had.
Even though the other scholars’ knowledge of Northern Ireland would seem poor to us, it actually greatly impressed me as they had all heard of Northern Ireland whereas often I would be approached by people whose countries were much larger but I’d barely heard of. For example a representative from Belize was surprised that I didn’t know more about their country given that they’d been a part of the British Empire and still to this day export their entire banana crop (their main industry and largest employer) to Ireland through Fyffes which largely ‘owns’ their country. In fact, something I shared in common with the rest of the UK representatives was surprise at exactly how far the UKs news and influence extended across the world.
I noticed how despite everyone having many similarities, particularily as most of the scholars had received western style educations and had educated liberal families, even people from places such as Texas could have very different lifestyles from people here in Northern Ireland. Everyone in the group made it clear they’d love to welcome guests to their homes if other scholars wished to visit their country.