On June 28, 2016, Emma and the rest of the gang arrived at the New Orleans airport at four in the morning. I had been anticipating their arrival from the moment I signed up, so the night before their arrival, I did not get a wink of sleep. When we finally arrived at the airport, I could not contain my excitement anymore. I was nonstop talking to everyone and could not get myself to sit still. Finally, after waiting for so long, Emma and I met for the first time. She was a little shorter than I and was super pale because she was from Ireland. After meeting and talking to everyone else, my family and I took her to eat at Dot’s Diner. I remember the exact booth we sat in and the delicious food we ate. The next day we slept in til three in the afternoon and then went to our first meeting. I have to admit it was a little awkward between the Americans and the Irish. We did not know each other well enough, so we had separated into groups because we were nervous. At the meeting we were split into discovery groups; this group became your team for any games and group activities throughout the month. My discovery group consisted of Emma, Robbie, Craig, Ben, and Serena. The kick off game was to squirt a whole can of shaving cream onto a plate and then shove it back into the can. My group almost won, but in the end you could not put the shaving cream back into the can. The reason for the game was to show how our words can be said but not be taken back. Everyone had fun and learned a valuable lesson. The counselors wanted us to realize how our words can affect others in a positive or negative way. They wanted us to be aware so that everyone could have an amazing summer.
The next day was the ropes course, which was a day where we participated in trust exercises and games. The ropes course was located at a boy scout camp in Mississippi, so we had a long bus ride ahead of us. On the bus, everyone was still talking in the separate groups and not really mingling. After an hour and a half drive, we arrived at the course! Everyone piled off the bus into the hot, humid, summer air. The Irish were not used to this kind of weather, so it was amusing to see their reactions. We split into our discover groups; each group had a leader from the camp to instruct us on the different activities they had planned. The activities included balancing on ropes, swinging on ropes to hula hoops, and a blind folded game of follow the leader. At noon, everyone went under the gazebo for lunch. As we were eating lunch, the leaders came back to explain the next activity, which was ziplining and rock wall climbing. After hearing this news, I quickly finished my lunch and headed towards the area with ziplining and rock wall climbing. I was the first person ready to zipline and rock climb. I raced up the stairs to the ziplining station. After flying through the air, I went to the rock wall. The instructor for the rock wall gave me the hardest section, but I was up for the challenge. While I was climbing the rock wall, some of the boys decided to give it try. As soon as they began to climb, it became a race to the top. I quickly scrambled up the wall and beat the boys! Since I was the first person to reach the top, the instructor allowed me to sign the special wall. He also gave me one of the rocks from the wall as a trophy. Finally, it was time to return home. On the bus ride home, everyone was silent because we were all sleeping. We were all exhausted from the heat and strenuous activities.
As the days passed, we all became closer and had started develop relationships with everyone. We had an abundant amount of pool parties and cookouts. Our days were constantly filled with fun activities and trips like Blue Bayou, Mardi Gras World, the French Quarter, and kayaking. The Irish love to shop, so when we had free time, we were constantly at the mall. They were all mesmerized by how big our stores were. They were also amazed by the amount and types of stores we had. The girls’ favorite stores were Holister, Kendra Scott, and any shoe store. Even though it sounds like we participated in fun activities, we also worked particularly hard in our service projects. Some of the service projects we participated in was gardening and weeding at churches and parks, visiting the elderly and school children at the Good Shepherd school, organizing and setting up school classrooms, and sorting through food at the Second Harvest Food Bank. The service projects were one of my favorite parts about the summer. I have to admit it was extremely hot and tiring when we pulled weeds and put down mulch, but it was so rewarding to see how grateful the people were for us doing this for them. I also loved visiting the elderly at the old folks home. I was able to talk to a few of them, and they were so excited because their family or friends did not visit them often. The old folks were so cute when we sang them songs; you could see them oozing the excitement and love they had while we sang. Not only did we have fun and hard times, we also had holy times. Wherever we went we always prayed, and we also went to mass every Sunday together. Here’s the catch, we switched between Protestant and Catholic churches because that is what the group consisted of, and the reason for Ulster being created. Long ago in Ireland, the Protestants and Catholics detested each other. The situation was similar to segregation in the United States. Protestants and Catholics would not associate with each other; they had separate schools, buildings, restaurants, etc. In order to help the situation, Ulster was created as a way to bring teens to a neutral area and show that it does not matter the religion you practice and how all people are the same. By doing this, the founders were hoping the teens would return and teach everyone else how everyone is equal. Over the course of time the situation has gotten so much better.
As the end of July approached everyone was more than friends. Everyone was family and our last event was coming. Our final event was a Mardi Gras ball held in St. Dominic's gymnasium. The counselors wanted it to be just like a real Mardi Gras ball, so we had to take ballroom dance lessons. Mikey and I were partners, and honestly, I think we could have been on Dancing with the Stars because our moves were on fire. Finally the day had come. We had nothing to do that morning, so of course Emma and I went shopping for her last time. Once we were done shopping, we drove to the John Jay hair salon on St. Charles. There my Grandma Bev performed her masterful hair and makeup skills on us. When my Grandma Bev was finished, we looked like A list celebrities. As soon as we returned home we basically had a photoshoot. We took so many nice and silly pictures. We wanted to capture every last moment we had together because time was running up. My whole family, Emma, and I left promptly at 6:30 pm. As usual we were late by 15 minutes. As the teens processed in with their dancing partners, we were introduced over the sound system. Everyone was on the dance floor all night dancing their hearts. At 10 o’clock the dj played the final song of the night, which was Bohemian Rhapsody. As soon as the song ended everyone was crying because tonight was our last night together. All the teens and families from the ball came to my house for a pool afterparty. No one wanted the night to end because that meant the Irish were homebound. Eventually the night had to end, so everyone left at two in the morning.
The day of the Irish’s departure was the worst day of my life because the people I had spent the whole summer with were now going back to their home country. We had gotten so close over the summer. I can remember the terrible day perfectly. Everyone was crying, hugging, and saying “Don’t leave!” The counselors had to rip us apart in order for them to load the bus. Once they left, the American teens went to Brock’s house to cry, eat ice cream, and watch movies. In the beginning it was awkward but soon we all felt like family to each other, which made it even harder for everyone. I have to admit the days and months following their departure have been hard, but I continue to talk to everyone on a daily basis. I can not wait to visit them in July of 2018.