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The Ulster Project This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. This work has won the Teen Ink contest in its category.

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   "No way!" I shouted at my parents, trying ashard as I could not to use the words I was thinking.

"Look, it'sjust for a month, you won't miss soccer or anything," my parents replied."You have the opportunity to change someone's life."

"Butit's a whole month!" I declared.

We were discussing my participationin the Ulster Project, a program designed for Catholic and Protestant teenagersfrom Northern Ireland. Northern Ireland is a divided country, not by race, but byreligion. Each session of the project brings together six boys and six girls, sixCatholics and six Protestants, and two counselors. They come to Utah to spend amonth with a host family and learn how to get along.

"I don't knowanyone!" I continued, trying to persuade my parents to let me notparticipate. Spending an entire month with strangers was not on my Can't Wait ToDo list. I didn't care if I could make a difference in someone's life. But, nomatter how much I complained, I had already been selected and a teen fromNorthern Ireland was coming to stay with me.

And so began the "getacquainted" meetings with the American teens; it was miserable. I was shyand wanted to leave because everyone was irritating. Finally, though, the daycame that the Northern Irish teens arrived. I was feeling a little better and wasexcited after waiting so long for them to arrive.

The plane pulled up tothe gate and the first kid off was the boy who'd be staying with me. His name wasIan. We were both glad to see each other, but still really shy. It was hard tounderstand his accent, too.

It took almost the entire first week for me toopen up to anyone in the group. I just sat quietly and watched everyone elseparticipate in the activities. Ian and I got along well, though, and playedsoccer every chance we got. We had lots of outdoor activities planned, includingriver trips, camping trips, swim parties and service projects.

Ithought the month would be an eternity, but it went by quickly. Before I knew it,we had a closing ceremony and all my now-close Northern Ireland friends boardedthe plane. I felt like a physical part of me had been taken away. The friendshipsI ended up forming with all those people were extremelystrong.

Ironically, I'm glad I came into the Project with the attitude Ihad, because now I know I have changed. I know I can respect others, no matterwhat race, sexual preference or religion they are.

When they left Utah,they went back to the same situation they had left. A few days later, I saw anewspaper article about a bombing. I read that 30 people had been killed in a carbomb in Northern Ireland in Omagh, the very town where all my close friendslived. I called Ian immediately and found out everyone I knew wasokay.

The next summer I had another great life experience; I got to travelto Northern Ireland and spend two weeks with Ian and his family. It was hard forme to relate to the problems they have over there. I couldn't see any differencesamong the people of the town; Catholic or Protestant - they all looked thesame.

My family has been very involved in the Ulster Project since thatsummer. My sister has participated, we have hosted a counselor, and my brotherhopes to take part next summer. We realize we are actually impacting the lives ofthose who come to stay with us.

The Ulster Project has made a major difference in my life, but perhaps more important, it's made a difference in theworld by promoting peace in the lives of all my friends and their country.



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This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.

This work has won the Teen Ink contest in its category. This piece won the March 2002 Teen Ink Travel Contest.




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