Salut tout le monde!
A few weeks ago on the 17th March all the young ambassadors met for the first time in Wellington, where we were able to find out more about our trip to France and upcoming plans in regard to this program. Before this workshop, all communication had been done over email and skype, so it was great to be able to finally meet everyone participating and involved in the organisation face to face. I am really looking forward to getting to know the other ambassadors over the course of this trip as we all got along very well and had many shared interests. It was also great to meet Pascale Seignolles, from the French Embassy and Robin and Madame Bush-Daumec who will be supporting and accompanying us on the trip.
At the workshop, it was really exciting to hear about all the interesting places that we are going to visit in France, such as Péronne and Arras, where we will be hosted by french students and their families. I am really thankful for this opportunity to stay with host families as we will be able to immerse ourselves in another culture which will in turn enable us to improve our french listening and speaking skills. This is the first time that the young ambassadors trip has involved an exchange with french students and I feel that this will really compliment the whole purpose of this program in that we will be able to form connections with people in France and it will also help us to learn more about the perspectives of people from different countries in relation to the war. I am excited to meet our french counterparts next week and going to places with them such as Te Papa, Waiouru Military camp and the Great War exhibition and attending ANZAC celebrations. After this, we will all be returning to our home cities with our french ambassador partners where they will stay with us for a couple of days, during which we will be able to show them around our city and give them a small taste of New Zealand. Also, at the workshop we discovered that we would be visiting places in France that are specifically related to where our ancestors fought during the war which makes this trip all the more meaningful and significant for each of us ambassadors.
As part of participating in this trip, I will be researching my two great-grandfathers who were in France during World War I, John Sydney Hickey and John Leo O’Sullivan (the photo at the top is of John Sydney's brother in his army uniform). So far, I have been able to recover a letter from my grandfather that John Sydney wrote to his sister while he was in France. The letter details many of the places he travelled through in France including Marseilles, Estaires, Bois Grenier and Abbeville and he explains many of the horrors that the soldiers had to witness and endure daily. I found it really encouraging how he explained in his letter how he did not blame the German soldiers for what they did because he believed that they were merely acting out of a fear of the consequences that not obeying their orders would bring. My great grandfather said about the Germans, “I realised for the first time that they were men, the same as we were and that we were victims of circumstances-national lunacy or something of the kind.” I think there is a really important message to be learnt from this; if someone who was in the middle of a war could empathise with the opposition and in a way forgive their actions, surely we can be more forgiving and have more empathy for one another in our daily lives.
À la prochaine!