As one of 25 students chosen to represent Northern Ireland, Enniskillen Royal Grammar School student Holly Cobain recently travelled to Leipzig, Germany to take part in the ‘Peacing it Together’ youth seminar.

Hosted by the organisation UK-German Connection, the aim of the seminar was to bring together young people from two post-conflict societies to learn about the past divisions in their countries, to discuss current topical issues and to provoke ideas for future governments to prevent similar conflicts from recurring.

“Their motivation for everything is the idea that the youth of today are the future, so if we can build strong connections now, we can have strong connections in future governments,” Holly (17) told The Impartial Reporter.

Sharing her highlight of the trip, Holly said: “It was definitely getting to meet up with my German peers. On the trip there were 25 from Northern Ireland and 17 from all over Germany and we did a lot of workshops together.”

Noting how the workshops were very historical based, Holly added: “So it was about understanding the past divisions in Germany and the division in Berlin and the west Germany, east Germany division and also about the conflict in Northern Ireland like the Troubles.”

Holly explained that her German peers didn’t know a lot about the conflict in Northern Ireland before it was discussed on the trip.

“We learn about Germany in GCSE History but when we talked about the Troubles they really didn’t know anything about it so it was up to us to try and teach them to the best that we could,” said Holly.

She said: “There were people from the protestant and catholic community there and also people from different minority groups and we were all working together to try and put across what happened in Northern Ireland’s history.

“It was really interesting to hear different perspectives on the situation as well as hearing what the German people thought about it too.”

Talking about the divisions that she has personally experienced in her society, Holly shared: “I went to a protestant primary school and we did some shared education programmes. I remember at the start I thought it was a bit strange as I wasn’t sure what to expect because you are very young and in Northern Ireland, even from a very young age there’s that ‘us and them’ mentality.

“There’s two different communities and even from a young age you can see the division.”

She added: “We learned a fact when we were away in Germany that 96 per cent of Northern Ireland pupils go to a single religion school, which is actually really shocking to me.”

In school, Holly is currently doing a peace studies programme with pupils from St. Michael’s where they work together and learn about historical events.

“I think from working with pupils from St. Michael’s it’s really helped open my mind to people of other religions and not just the protestant/catholic situation, also people from religions like Islam.”

“To see that at the end of the day we are all the same and that we can find ways to work together, and definitely that trip to Germany really helped that because a lot of the German people were saying to us, ‘why are you going to separate schools because you are all Christians?

“Why should it matter?’ It was really amazing to hear that and when we were talking about politics and going, ‘oh people from this religion tend to vote for this party’ and they were saying, ‘why would your religion have an impact on what party you vote for?’ because in Germany it’s not like that at all, so it was really interesting to hear that kind of a perspective from them,” Holly shared.

Brexit was also a topic that was discussed during the trip. “The Germans were definitely very anti-Brexit, they definitely view it as a breakdown of relations and actually it was very interesting,” Holly commented.

“When asked by the programme leaders to raise their hand if they were for Brexit, Holly revealed that the majority of the young people on the trip were actually anti-Brexit.

“The leaders there thought this was very interesting because they thought young people would be behind that but we discussed it for a bit and the view we kind of had was that we’ve worked so hard to build up the EU and have all these positive relations between us and European countries across the water, why would we want to sever those ties when we could be working together to make them even stronger?” Holly said.

Adding her own personal opinion, she commented: “I really like the idea of the EU, I know it has its flaws but I really like the idea of us all working together to try and come towards a common goal and be friends with each other.”

Holly also noted that she is concerned that her future travel opportunities may be restricted due to Brexit: “I’ve always liked the idea of being able to study in a European country because I would like to continue on and do languages at university level, hopefully German, and I also do Mandarin Chinese outside of school.

“It kind of has been a bit of a concern for me if its travel and different programmes like the Erasmus programme, that might be impacted by Britain leaving the EU but I hope that they can sort out some kind of deal that doesn’t really affect young people and students.”

At the end of the trip, the young people were asked to present on topics that been discussed during the seminar.

Explaining that her group’s presentation was on ‘Lessons for Current and Future Governments’, Holly said: “A lot of the things we discussed were to do with relations between countries and trying to break down barriers between different religions and races. To have more programmes like more shared education in Northern Ireland and having more integrated schools so that from a young age we don’t have that ‘us and them mentality’ so we are not divided, that we are all together.”