Your family, school, and especially French and history teachers will be immensely proud, and rightly so!
You have a big year ahead, managing this project, your schoolwork and no doubt other responsibilities you have at school and in your community.
Let me tell you a bit about what I've been up to since our tour in 2016, and some reflections on my journey.
Landing back in New Zealand after a whirlwind two weeks, it was straight back to the books in preparation for Level Three exams, before graduating from Dilworth School, Auckland in December. As it turns out, I was to head straight back to France just after Christmas to see my host family from my exchange a few years prior, who live in Paris, and my host family from the Shared Histories Project, in Arras! We had a nice time together around the New Year period before I hopped over the Channel in early January to begin my gap year job as a sports tutor at Whitgift, a school in South London.
I had an awesome time working in the busy sports department with other gappies from Australia and South Africa, and making the most of London during the weekend. In addition, we had generous school holidays, of which I made the most, travelling to forty countries across five continents throughout the year.
Some highlights included visiting the UN in New York, sailing around the Greek islands, road-tripping and festival going in Sweden, travelling around the Balkans on a two-week Contiki, cycling from coast to coast in Scotland, and seeing the Northern Lights in Norway. I finished up my job at the school in December, and spent another month travelling before finally arriving home just over a week ago! Now, I have turned my sights to pre-med at The University of Auckland, which will be an immense challenge, but I am excited to start a new chapter of my life.
The Young Ambassadors' Tour really is an amazing, once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to represent New Zealand in a cultural and historical context. For me, it was a unique experience to be involved with something about which I am hugely passionate - the French language and culture - as well as providing the impetus to explore the story of my great grandfather, a remarkable life about which I knew very little.
So, embrace and seek to maximise whatever it is that you can personally bring to this project - your passions, expertise, and family, school or community stories and connections. Actively look for people to support you on your journey- again family, school, and local organisations.
For me, I got my whole school involved in a short reflection of commemoration, and partnered with local historical and charitable organisations, who helped me financially in return for a presentation to their members and some written and photographic work. In many of the places we visited, the Remuera Historical Society had graves or a memorial for me to track down, about which they wanted a photo or some information. This really gave a sense of purpose to some of the trips we made, which can otherwise seem quite overwhelming, simply given the sheer magnitude of some of the places you will visit.
I would also recommend that you do your research early; there is some flexibility in the schedule to make short detours to visit sites where there might be a former pupil of your school or even someone from your family. However, if this is something which could be of interest to you, let Pascale and the team know as soon as possible! Trying to find this information let alone get it incorporated in the itinerary when you're already in France won't happen!
Finally, cherish the time you spend together with your host families, the people you meet along the way, and indeed each other. While you are undertaking a solemn tour on an important commemorative milestone, this is not at all to say that you cannot have great fun along the way at the appropriate times.
Allow your heart and your mind to be moved by what you experience and the people you meet, and you will have an amazing time.
I wish all of you the very best as you embark on this exciting trip. And, if there is anything with which I can help or advise, whether that be fundraising, project ideas or something else, feel free to get in touch.
Warm regards, Thomas Swinburn