Four students from T.C. Williams High School “” Ariana Meltzer-Bruhn, Harry Lester Schonberger, Maeve Bracken and Briana Land “” along with two students from St. Stephen’s and St. Agnes School “” Sarah Allen and Bianka Michalski “” traveled to Dundee, Scotland this past week for the Dundee Youth Festival. Accompanying them on the city-sponsored trip were Mayor Bill Euille, Rose Boyd, John Chapman, Fredericka Dunn, Brad Brown, Mark Aleckson and Laura Aleckson.
“We all very much enjoyed our recent trip to Dundee, Scotland, for the Annual Twinning of their four International Sister Cities, including their Annual Youth Festival. I was like a proud father to have six outstanding and exceptional students, and their two teacher chaperones, as part of our Youth Delegation to join us on the trip, as they were well received by their hosts and others as they represented not only Alexandria, but also, the United States of America as outstanding Ambassadors,” Bill Euille says.
The students met with members of the Dundee City Council, including Lord Provost John Letford. While there, the students held a conference discussing various topics, including the availability of sport and leisure, the global economy and education in the 21st Century. The students were joined by fellow delegates representing Dundee’s other sister cities from Orleans, France, and Wurzburg, Germany, and the host city. Here, the students were split up into smaller groups to discuss one of the given topics in much more depth.
After hours filled with discussion and brainstorming, the students created presentations to share with the adult delegation at a ceremony later that evening. The issues were presented in creative ways through the use of film, photography and other dramatic interpretations. At the ceremony later that evening, a Youth Charter was signed by a City Government Official and a Youth Delegate representing each city. For the City of Alexandria, Mayor Euille and student delegate Harry Lester Schonberger were the signatories. The Charter was simply a way to include the Youth in the foundations of the sister city agreements.
Throughout the week, the delegates had the chance to learn about and explore the city of Dundee. The students visited the Dundee Contemporary Arts (DCA) Museum and dined with the art director and some local Dundonians. Later in the week, the students had the opportunity to spend the day at the Dundee School of Music and Theater with the cast of “Little Shop of Horrors,” a show they would see later that week.
That evening at the APEX Quay Hotel (where the delegates were also staying), a formal dinner was given in honor of the Youth Festival. The evening was filled with many courses, great fun and traditional Scottish Dancing in which both students and adults partook. As a spontaneous treat, one of the local Alexandria delegates, Maeve Bracken, displayed her exceptional talent of Scottish highland dancing. The dinner was a way of giving the delegates a taste of Scottish culture and as a fundraiser to collect money for future trips.
That Saturday, the whole city came out in celebration of the festival with the Lord Provost’s Youth Parade. Along with over 800 local youth, the delegates represented their cities by parading the streets of Dundee behind their cities flag. The Alexandria flag was carried by student delegate Sarah Allen. Led and followed by men, women and children in kilts and other traditional attire, the youth marched through the streets to the beat of a traditional fife band. The afternoon was dedicated for a celebration of youth.
On Sunday, a nondenominational service was held in honor of the twinning cities. Many delegates took part in the service by either reading or carrying their cities’ flags. Alexandria was represented by student delegate Ariana Meltzer-Bruhn, who read a passage from the Bible. Passages from other religious texts such the Torah, the Qu’ran, and Traditional Celtic Prayers were also read. Following the service, there was a light luncheon held in the adjacent reception hall. That afternoon, the Alexandria Delegation traveled to Glamis Castle, a childhood home of Her Majesty The Queen Mother. That night, the delegates spent the rest of their time amongst each other exchanging e-mails among other things.
Overall, the delegates had a life-changing experience by meeting new people and learning about new cultures. Brianna Land said, “This is the greatest trip of my life. I got to meet so many people from different cultures.” The Alexandria delegation wanted to thank all of the members of the twinning committee. The work they put in made for an amazing week. On a different note, the delegates wanted to give a special thank you to Dundee, Scotland, resident Stan Frew, who sadly passed away at the age of 76 after defying medical odds during the conference. Stan was a vital member of both the twinning committee and as simply a citizen of Dundee. He will be sorely missed, but his visions were and will be continued in future festivals.
On a happier note, this festival meant something special to everyone who participated. The experience brought people together who would have otherwise never met, thus fulfilling the point of the festival. Much knowledge was brought back, such as that Dundee is the sunniest city in all of Scotland (which is not saying much) and that Scotland is the only place in the world where a Coca-Cola product is not the No. 1 selling beverage (it is outsold by Irn-Bru—which is not a brand of whisky, it is a soft drink). The delegates have all said, that given the opportunity, all would return to Dundee in a heartbeat. This just goes to show how astounding of an experience a week of friendship, growth, and understanding on a global stage can truly be.