An A Level student from Friends’ School Lisburn was among 24 young leaders selected by Rotary Ireland to travel to the Euroscola debate in Strasbourg, France recently.
Kathryn Allen got the chance to experience the drama and excitement of taking to the floor of the European Parliament to debate and vote on a number of key issues, alongside around 600 other young people from across Europe.
As part of the experience, the 17-year-old also took part in events in Dublin and Belfast, during which she got the opportunity to interview local politicians and gauge their opinions on a number of issues.
Explaining how she got involved in this year’s Euroscola debate, Kathryn said: “I first heard about the Rotary Youth Leadership Development Competition through my history teacher, and I decided to take a form and apply thinking that the competition would give me interview experience.
“My first interview was in Lisburn Cathedral, where members of the Lisburn Rotary Club asked me questions about leadership and my interests. I was very surprised but pleased to find out that I had been successful at the schools stage and was being put forward by Lisburn Rotary Club to the regional finals which were to be held in Navan in November 2017.
“During my final interview I was asked about a wide range of topics covering everything from my opinions on the European Union’s environmental policy to the work of Rotary in Ireland. I was excited when my name was called out as a winner later that afternoon.”
Describing her selection for the 2018 Euroscola as “a fantastic opportunity”, Kathryn continued: “Our trip began in Belfast on February 11 where I met the other winners and we split into smaller groups to work on our topics for the Euroscola day. My group were assigned the topic of ‘Youth Unemployment in Europe’, and we began to research how we could propose to resolve this issue.
“The next day we went to Belfast City Hall and Stormont and got the chance to interview some MLAs. I found it extremely interesting to get a closer look into politics in my own country. We then travelled to Dublin where we stayed the night and the following morning we visited the European Parliament Information Office before jetting off to Strasbourg.”
Having taken time to explore some of Strasbourg’s many places of interest and sample the local cuisine, Kathryn and her fellow Euroscola participants finished off their preparations for the big day.
“We set out early - and in the snow - to go to the impressive European Parliament Building,” she said. “In the morning we had a session with French MEP Édouard Martin, where young people from all over the EU had a chance to ask him questions about the issues important to them.
“After lunch we split into smaller working groups and here we had the opportunity, as a team of four, to discuss youth unemployment with other young Europeans. I found this was one of the most interesting parts of the trip, as people from other countries have had a very different experience from me and it was fascinating to hear their thoughts and feelings on this topic.
“Our group proposed an updated European job seeking system named Euremex, and this idea was accepted by our working group through a majority vote. Later that afternoon the spokesperson from our committee presented the proposal to the Youth Parliament during the mock plenary session and I’m very proud to say that the idea was passed with a large majority.
“During the plenary session I also had the chance to ask a question about a proposal from another working group concerning renewable energy.”
After some tearful goodbyes, Kathryn and her fellow students set off on their journeys home.
“I can definitely say that the week with Rotary was one of the best of my life,” she added. “I met many interesting and genuinely lovely young people from all across Ireland who I am now happy to call my friends. The trip brought us so close together and I already miss everyone so much. It was an amazing chance to develop my skills in leadership, public speaking and teamwork, and learn more about others and myself. I’m very thankful to have had the opportunity through my school, the Rotary Club of Lisburn and Rotary Ireland.”