My school, St. Mary’s College, was honoured with the chance to take part in the UCAPE (Union to promote culture and professional advancement in Europe) meeting in Compiègne, France, which commenced from 9th to 12th November. Commemorating the 100th year since World War I ended, this meeting of schools from all over Europe allowed many cultures to mix and create a charter in order to establish more unity in our world today.
On Thursday afternoon we departed from Belfast international airport to the renowned Charles De Gaulle airport near Paris. From there we were greeted by the principal of Lycée Saint Vincent who took us from there to their school to meet our host families. For our first night we got to experience true french culture at its finest as we each stayed with different families, with varying backgrounds. As for me, I stayed with a literary student who specialised in history and English and taught me a lot about how the French school system differs from ours. We got our own rooms and the following morning we got to have a proper french breakfast. I learned a lot about french families and their relationships from my stay and I also got to practise the language with them and work on my pronunciation. We then left their houses to go to school with them where we met our school group again. We got an exclusive tour of the school and got to see their classrooms, social areas, canteen and more. Then we went into the town of Senlis and roamed the market-filled streets, making a few purchases along the way. After that we went to Lycée Jean Paul II in Compiègne and that evening the UCAPE ceremony began with presentations from every student delegation about a hero of their choice. After some fact-filled lectures, my school played their part as we presented in Irish, French and English about the lives lost on the SS Dundalk and RMS Leinster. Each member of my group got the job of presenting several slides as we spoke about the brave people in Dundalk who worked so hard to contribute to war effort 100 years ago. Unknown to many, our small town played a huge part in delivering supplies to troops in Britain. Dinner followed the presentations and after we were taken to our accommodation in the shared dormitories.
Saturday morning started with an early rise as we were treated to breakfast and a packed lunch for the long day ahead. We boarded our bus and ventured into the French countryside as we visited various cemeteries for the soldiers who tragically lost their lives fighting in the war. We then visited trenches in Peronne where we learned about the conditions in trenches and how hard life was for the soldiers back then. From trench foot to rats, life was not easy for them and more than two soldiers died per square metre. We travelled to a war memorial museum where I even discovered one of my ancestors, William Phair, who participated in World War I alongside the British army. Afterwards we went to the Museum of the Great displaying detailed works portraying some scenes from war and also many reconstructed and real artefacts. When we returned to the lycée, we were separated into working groups with students from all over Europe as we began work on our charter for peace. We had dinner and got to know each other and then we brainstormed ideas and contrasted Europe 100 years ago to today. We came up with a list of six rules to abide by in order to keep europe a safe place.
The following morning we attended a service at Eglise Saint Jacques in the Compiègne parish. Here we celebrated the life of the soldiers lost as we commemorated exactly 100 years since World War I ended for all. The French, british and american national anthems were sung in honour while afterwards balloons were let go in front of the church. My friends and I explored the town of Compiègne following the beautiful ceremony and also a minute silence was held in honour of all the lives lost. Later that day we travelled to the Glade of the Armistice in Compiègne Forest, which held a museum housing a replica train, the ‘Compiègne Wagon’, where the Germans surrendered at the end of World War I. French President Macron had visited the Armistice event the day prior with German Chancellor, Angela Merkel. Sixth year Student Joe Sweeney was honoured to read a passage at the site of the clearing in honour of the lost heroes. Sunday evening we worked again in groups to complete our charter which was eventually presented to the attendees. We worked hard in order to create a better Europe and hopefully our ideas can come to life with a bit of help. Following the presentation, we got to mix with the students from other countries and eat together, leading to us making many new friends from countries like Scotland, Belgium, Ukraine, France, Hungary and many more! We all had a great time and before we went to bed everyone danced together and had a flash mob.
Monday was our last day, when everyone had to bid farewell to their newfound friends. We all decided to stay in contact and then we departed to go to Lycee St Vincent again. After a brief visit, we went to Aeroville shopping centre just outside Paris, where we spent the remainder of our trip (and our money!) We left Paris that night, still on a high from our adventures that day. The UCAPE project brought people from all over Europe together and we worked hard to create a chart that will hopefully benefit us in the future. I’m grateful for the teachers Ms. Hughes and Mr. Murphy for taking us. We were also very grateful to have the chairperson of our Board of Management Mr Diarmuid O Mhurchu travel out to join us and letting us have an amazing time and I think we can all agree it was a trip of a lifetime.
6th year Student