What a year 2014 was. It marked the end of an era being my final year of school. I finished on a high, with the Young Ambassadors Trip certainly being one of the highlights of my 13 years at school.
Looking back on the trip there are two main things I can take away from it, that will benefit me for the rest of my life.
Who would have thought a group of 11 teenagers from around the country who had never met before, would get along so well? I certainly didn’t this time last year! I am so happy to say that I have made life long friends in the Young Ambassadors group. Some of which will be studying at Otago University with me this year. Emma is in the hostel next door, and Lucy’s hostel is only a stone’s throw away.
Glenda and Ruth were terrific chaperones, who gave us the freedom we needed to explore in France and Belgium and discover and experience the World War I sites when we visited them. And let’s not forget Pascale – the charismatic driving force behind the Shared Histories initiative!
Finally I can’t forget my wonderful homestay family, who I have kept in touch with since leaving Arras. Only last week I got a postcard from my homestay sister Delphine, as well as a souvenir Stork from Alsace. I am looking forward to the day I can go back to visit them.
I really didn’t appreciate the magnitude of the destruction WWI caused until I visited France. I will never forget standing in the Menin gate, feeling like I was drowning in the 55,000 names that surrounded me. Or walking along the top of a ridge with a trench to my right and a crater left by a bomb to my left, which came a meter short of hitting the soldiers that would have sheltered in that trench. Reflecting on how upset I was when I saw my great-great-grandfathers name on the memorial wall at The Caterpillar Valley Cemetery, knowing his name was only one of thousands on that wall alone, truly hit home the overwhelming loss of life and emotional impact on those who survived the deceased.
The most rewarding part of the Young Ambassador’s WWI commemorations came after the trip itself, when I went into the community to share my experiences. I went to three rotary groups, the Alliance Française and three primary schools around Palmerston North. I was pleasantly surprised by how attentive audiences were (especially the primary schools), and how willing people were to share their stories with me after I had finished mine!
I am sad that my involvement with Shared Histories as a Young Ambassador is coming to a close. However, I know that the Shared Histories project has only just started with many more schools in France and New Zealand to connect and work together on a project that will bring back alive our devastating shared history.
I will be watching on with a keen eye over the coming years,