The 2016 TABU party of 6th form students and Belfast Club Rotarians (shown from left) Rtn. Brian Gillespie, students Bronagh Hughes - Our Lady & St Patrick's; Hannah Al-Qaryooti - Friends School; James Graham - Friends School; Aimee Reid - St Dominic's; Cameron Hamilton – Grosvenor Grammar, Sarah Hanley - Victoria College and Rtn. Chris Warnock (Past President Bryan Johnston travelled separately) departed on Wednesday 23 March 2016 for their 10 day exchange in Chicago. This 25th Exchange had, as usual, a profound effect on the students.
A summary of the trip is given below based on the blog completed daily by the students.
Day 1 started with a full day visit to Highland Park School which they found striking with its great facilities and strong student-teacher relationships so very different to those here. They found most impressive their school counselling service which welcomes students dropping in any time for a chat about any issues they're facing. They had a lengthy discussion with the head of the department about mental illness and the stigma around it and felt "there's a lot our schools back home could learn from Highland Park on the issue of mental health as a huge stigma does still surround the subject in Northern Ireland".
Day 2 heralded Chicago city centre and meeting with former Police Sergeant Tom McMahon at the Cook County Recorder of Deeds Office where they had a tour and an interesting presentation from Recorder of Deeds Karen A. Yarbrough concerning the property industry, the rules and regulations surrounding it and fraud cases within the City of Chicago.
This was followed by a visit to the Richard J Daley Centre Courthouse where they were delighted to meet the Chief Judge of Traffic and 3 other Judges (all of whom had Irish backgrounds!) for a talk about the American legal system and hear their views on the Irish and British legal systems.
At the District 1 Police Station they met the Captain who kindly took them around the station where they got to see the cells and learn about the procedures which take place daily. This was followed by a "most interesting and insightful Q&A session discussing current affairs concerning the public and the police, gun laws and their experiences as police officers".
Saturday dawned and Sylvia Aruffo, Fred Orkin's wife, kindly imparted her skill as a tour guide and impressive knowledge of the iconic buildings and interesting places in Chicago which gave a sense of Chicago history, in particular the Marquette building whose beautiful Tiffany glass mosaics tell the story of the establishment of Chicago by native Americans and its development ever since and the Millennium Park and Silver Bean.
The day concluded with a party at Belfast Club Hon. Member Past President Martha & Jim Gray's house. All enjoyed the opportunity for adults and students to get together and particularly the "exquisite food". Sunday was spent with the host families.
Monday began with a visit to the Lake County Health Department where they were given an insightful presentation on health equity and learnt that in the 52 towns of Lake County, the town with the highest average household income had an average life expectancy of 81 compared to the town at the opposing end of the scale, which had an average life expectancy of 64, making a 17 year difference. Another fact which shocked them all was that the USA spends twice as much on healthcare compared to the rest of the world yet is only ranked 37th internationally. This was followed by a tour of North Chicago, the poorest area in Lake County, which had potholed roads and boarded up windows and which they found "a really eye-opening experience". Pictured here are Jordan-Lindsay Morris, Jon Ashworth, Sean Collins and Maria Acosta who kindly provided the presentation and tour of North Chicago with student Sarah Hanley.
They were particularly appreciative of the high level of hospitality afforded by the Highland Park Rotarians during their lunchtime meeting. Each student spoke to the Club about themselves, their upbringings and why that made them want to apply for the TABU exchange programme. They articulated themselves with confidence and let their personalities shine through. The Club are particularly honoured to have been presented by President Cynthia Plouche with the Proclamation by the Mayor of Highland Park, Nancy Rotering, declaring March 23 – 1 April 2016 as TABU Week.
The day concluded with a visit to the Holocaust museum. They found it a "truly sobering and moving experience" with Mimi Brin being a "most fantastic tour guide". They were privileged to receive a harrowing talk from a Holocaust survivor, Judy, which they found to be an "inspiring and unforgettable event". Picture right shows from left: Hannah, James, Cameron, Sarah, Mimi Brin, Bronagh, Aimee and Judy at the Holocaust Museum.
Day 6 and Tuesday morning brought an event that each of the group had been looking forward to "with interest, curiosity, and perhaps even just a little apprehension" - an educational workshop with the Anti-Defamation League. The ADL, are a Jewish organisation that fights to tackle and address anti-Semitism where ever it finds it in the world, but also one which has grown into a larger civil rights organisation that deals with, in the words of our "wonderful facilitator, Jessica Gall, 'all the -isms and all the -obias'". They felt that as in NI "we tend to go to school with people like ourselves, and live in communities and within families with people like ourselves, and primarily interact with people like us" this visit provided an opportunity for openness in expressing how the divisions in Northern Ireland "still affect each of us, particularly with other young people from backgrounds other than our own" and was "perhaps the first time I had discussed issues about the troubles with other young people who mostly did not automatically share my views, which allowed for a powerful shift in perspective that I had not previously been afforded". It also gave one of the students, Hannah, the confidence to discuss her experiences as a young woman of Palestinian background, and they were all very grateful for her contribution and unique perspective. They were particularly fortunate to meet with Lonnie Nasatir, the regional director of the Anti-Defamation League for the area, who was able to answer our questions about the work of the ADL, the position of the organisation on the Israeli-Palestine situation in the Middle East, the need for a two state solution, global anti-Semitism trends, boycotts of Israel and growing anti-Semitism in the political left.
They received a full and comprehensive history of the famous and the infamous Irish members of the Chicago community from Irish American writer, Thomas J O'Gorman, hearing about many great men, a few unsavoury characters and even a rogue cow which they found enlightening and informative and could "only marvel at Mr O'Gorman's wealth of knowledge on the topic".
They spent a full school day in Antioch Community High School on Wednesday being welcomed on their arrival with an electronic sign outside reading; 'Welcome to the Northern Ireland Delegation'. This was only "the beginning of the fantastic hospitality we received from the principal Mr Brad Hubbard and all the teaching staff and students of the high school." They found the day enlightening and impressive of particular note being the Law Class where the students discussed the issue of cyber bulling and whether schools should be allowed to punish students for it and found it "really enlightening to listen to the different opinions of the students because this style of class is something we simply do not have back home" and a live Chicago band named Sidewalk Chalk who amazed them when they brought one of the Antioch students up to the front, asked him a couple of simple questions and then wrote part of a song based on his answers. They felt this was so impressive and was definitely an experience unique to American High Schools and the diverse range of activity options available was "really something that schools in Northern Ireland could benefit from".
At the Zacharais Centre for Sexual Abuse and Harassment on day 8, after a tour of the centre and facilities, they had an extremely interesting question and answer session with some of the counsellors who were also very interested in how the issue of sexual abuse is addressed in Northern Ireland.
This action packed visit concluded with an exciting visit to the Highland Park Police Department and concluded with lunch and stroll around the beautiful Chicago Botanic Gardens (pictured right).
However there was some leisure time! The students bonded really well and really enjoyed the karate class taken by Highland Park Club Treasurer, Sensai (Martial Arts Teacher) Diana Sotelo, activities including bowling, movies etc. but perhaps the 2 highlights were shopping at Gurnee Mills Shopping Mall which was "bigger than anything that we are used to and it such an amazing experience" and the legendary "Deep dish, Chicago style pizza, sauce on top with everything certainly lived up to the hype, and I'm not sure I'll be able to return to thin crust when I get back to Belfast".
The visit concluded with 'the last night get together' where thanks and gratitude were expressed for the welcoming embrace of everyone at Highland Park and to all who had helped to make "this wonderful experience possible".
Picture right shows the 2015 & 16 students : Aimee Reid(B), Enrique Aguero(HP), Cameron Hamilton(B), Niky Washington(HP), Drew Gaines(HP), Zach Seinfeld (HP), Sarah Hanley(B), Bronagh Hughes(B), Hannah Al-Qaryooti(B), Judy Rodriguez(HP) and James Graham(B)