In the beginning of May this year I was approached by my project manager for the charity I work for that’s part of a large organisation for volunteering, about a five day trip to Strasbourg to attend the 150th anniversary of La Ligue de l’enseignement. I would participate in workshops with many other young people like myself, to learn about each other’s values, learn about culture, to make friends and attend the opening and closing of the Congress. After going away to think about it, I decided to go because I knew it was going to be a really good experience for me. I was both nervous and excited.
Tuesday 21st June 2016
The morning I was to travel to Strasbourg arrived, and I hadn’t slept at all. I knew I would end up sleeping late because I would be too nervous, so I stayed awake listening to music and writing. At half four in the morning a taxi would pick me up to take me to the train station, where I would be heading to London. I met the group of people from the same organisation I volunteer at, whom I would be staying with and hopefully become friends with.
We headed off to London and arrived at London Liverpool Street and I met the young woman who would be my roommate for the next five days, we had to get the Underground to Kings Cross St Pancras which I am not fond of but it had to be done. We had a long train ride ahead of us, we would be getting the Eurostar to Paris and then changing over onto a different train to Strasbourg. I have never been a fan of trains, so I was glad that I had charged up my MP3 player and had enough music to get me through it.
When we finally arrived at our hotel, we dropped off our luggage and then participated in ice breaker activities where we would find out a bit about each other and learn each other’s names.
We had a break after the activities, and this was my opportunity to converse with the people I would be spending time with. I was still quite nervous and out of my comfort zone, but I did my best and everyone seemed really nice. I had a conversation with a few people about the LGBT community, and I decided that on this trip I would completely be myself. I didn’t feel the need to hide it.
We headed off to have dinner at a pizza restaurant. The pizza was really good, and I ate so much of it! They also brought out dessert pizza, which had a different name but it was still dessert pizza and it was amazing. After dinner we checked out the music festival in town, I had never experienced such a diverse range of music before. I had a lot of fun, but I was also really tired and couldn’t wait to get to the hotel room and sleep. When I went to bed that night it really hit me that this was the first time I had ever been away from home without my family and close friends; I went to sleep feeling a little homesick.
Wednesday 22nd June 2016
I woke up early to have breakfast, it was going to be a busy day as we were heading to the Congress centre. At the centre we took part in group presentations, where we talked about our organisations and a bit about our interests. This was my chance to promote both the charity I help out at and the fantastic work they do for adults struggling with mental health, and the organisation we are a part of and the fantastic work that they do.
After lunch we had a discussion about value; it was really interesting to listen to other people’s views and to be listened to on my own views without being interrupted. We headed back to the Congress and had a session about Raspberry Pi and there was a little robot on wheels that looked like Wall E. After that brief session, we spoke more about values.
Thursday 23rd June 2016
In the morning we headed off to the Congress centre, and finished up the topic on values. The group I was in had to discuss the negatives for human rights on how all European countries must help newcomers, and it felt uncomfortable to have to play devil’s advocate as if I agreed with the negativity that was being expressed. In the afternoon it was the opening of the Congress, however I was only able to attend the opening speech as it was not translated.
Friday 24th June 2016
On Friday we visited the European Parliament, it was an absolutely incredible experience to be there. We had a tour around the building and learned a lot about the European Union and the European Parliament buildings in Strasbourg, Luxembourg and Brussels. On the same day I learned that the UK had voted to leave the EU, news that I was not happy to hear about.
After the tour, we went to lunch and had some free time. I spent time with a small group of people where we wandered around Strasbourg, and headed inside a cathedral. I had a lovely long chat with one of the young women who had arrived with me, and she was just so understanding and so kind and I hope we will become great friends in the future. I know that we are already friends now.
We went to the town hall to listen to a speech and have dinner, however it got way too crowded for me and I didn’t enjoy being pushed out of the way when I was trying to get food too much. After dinner we went on a party boat on the docks, I stayed for a while but soon wanted to head back because I had to be up really early the next morning for the closing speech of the Congress.
Saturday 25th June 2016
I ended up not sleeping so well, as I waited up a while for my roommate because I didn’t know whether or not she had a key so I was worried that I wouldn’t hear her knock. However I ended up falling asleep before she got back, and it turned out she got a spare key. I attended the closing speech of the Congress.
After the closing speech, we met up at the Congress meeting room where we had our workshops and we said our official goodbyes to the three women who had guided us and translated for us. It was pretty sad because they were all so lovely and worked really hard to make the trip a good experience for us. We left the Congress centre for the last time, we headed off into the town to have four hours free time. We went inside the large cathedral and I brought a little souvenir from a gift shop.
We headed off to have our final dinner in the town, the food there was really good and possibly one of my favourite restaurants we went to on the trip, I headed back to the hotel room to sleep. I had to be up early in the morning because we were leaving.
Sunday 26th June 2016
I woke up early, and was feeling kind of bittersweet. I had really enjoyed my trip in Strasbourg, being able to meet new people, have new experiences; it was such an amazing trip. But I had also missed home, I had missed my family and I had missed going to work.
The journey back was hectic, we were stuck at customs for ages to board the Eurostar and I could feel myself becoming stressed out. As soon as we boarded the train I settled down, and listened to my Mp3 player. However there was an issue with the channel tunnel, they were only letting one train through at a time which delayed us by about twenty minutes. Once we were back in London I hoped that the journey would be easier, but the Underground in London is a nightmare on a Sunday and I was beginning to worry about missing our train home. Thankfully we got there in time, and as soon as I was on the train back home I felt myself relax.
The journey home was quick, and before I knew it I was at the train station and getting a taxi back home. As much as I loved Strasbourg, it was good to be back into my usual routine. The funny thing is I’ve never slept quicker than I did in Strasbourg, because I was constantly on the go and had done a lot of walking even though I was going to bed late and waking up early. Since I’ve been back, I have been making it a habit to go on long walks, and appreciate nature. Since I’ve been back, I’ve been a lot more open about discussing politics. I also have an incentive to start learning a new language, from this experience.
I couldn’t be more thankful to my project manager and to the manager of the organisation I volunteer at for giving me this amazing opportunity. I was taken aback when they were thanking me for going and telling me how well I had done on the trip, and how proud they were that I was representing them. It means so much to me, a year ago I wouldn’t have dreamed I would have these experiences. I am also thankful to everyone who organised the assignment, particularly the three women that translated and guided us for all of their hard work. And to everyone that I met on the trip, who I now am keeping in contact with. It’s been almost a month now, but I know I will never forget.
Kira Hurry volunteers for Volunteering Matters in Ipswich.
This is an abridged version, the original can be found here