Students visit new places and make new lifelong friendships

Mayor Fraser Agnew hosted a barbecue at Sentry Hill for the visiting students from Gilbert, Arizona and their guest families. INNT 32-039-FP
Mayor Fraser Agnew hosted a barbecue at Sentry Hill for the visiting students from Gilbert, Arizona and their guest families. INNT 32-039-FP

Two Newtownabbey school pupils who won places on the council-run Sister Cities Student Exchange Programme have recently returned from their three-week visit to the USA.

Through the programme, Mark Hetherington from Belfast High School and Peter Bowden from Ballyclare High School had an unforgettable time in Gilbert, Arizona.

Their three-week stay allowed them to develop an understanding of a different culture and people through a family living experience.

The Newtownabbey students were each matched with a student partner in the USA with whom to spend the duration of the programme.

And in return, Sarah Serrano and Jezzica Smith from the Gilbert Exchange Committee are now spending time with their host families in Newtownabbey.

So far, the American visitors have enjoyed a variety of activities and day trips – including helping out at the Donkey Sanctuary in Templepatrick through Volunteer Now.

Ballyclare MLA, Alderman Paul Girvan also took the pair on a tour of the Parliament Buildings at Stormont before they attended a barbecue at Sentry Hill to welcome them to the borough.

Speaking at the welcome event on July 30, Mayor Fraser Agnew commented: “This programme is an amazing opportunity for Newtownabbey and Gilbert students to share their culture, visit new and exciting places and hopefully make lifelong friendships.

“The programme gives our young people a fantastic opportunity for personal development through participation in volunteering activities in conjunction with Volunteer Now.”

For more information about what Mark and Peter got up to on their trip stateside, check out their ‘Wish you Were Here’ travel blog at www.newtownabbey.gov.uk/studentexchange

Anyone aged 16 or 17 who lives in Newtownabbey and would like to be considered for the 2014 Student Exchange programme should call Carol Shane on 028 9034 0073 or email cshane@newtownabbey.gov.uk to obtain more information.