Teen Talk

Ulster Experience

The summer that I participated in the Ulster Project is still one of the best summers of my life. I had no idea that I could have such a good time spending an entire month with a bunch of people that I had never met before. I was very nervous about whether or not I would get along with the teen that I was paired with, but we ended up becoming great friends. We hit it off almost instantly and found that we had similar interests in sports, music, and food. Joseph fit right in with our family, and for a few weeks I found out what it was like to have a brother.

The Ulster Project is set up to teach the Northern Irish teens that their faith does not have to be a barrier to friendship, with the hope that the teens can learn to bridge the gap in their community, but it ends up doing so much more. The Ulster project enabled me to learn about an entirely new culture. The activities and events that we participated in were not only informative and fun, but they helped teach leadership and community building, which are skills that I still try to incorporate into my life today. I found that total strangers could become close friends if you are open to it, and that being from different backgrounds does not have to hinder that friendship.

When I was in college, I was able to visit Joseph and his family in Portadown. They welcomed me into their home and treated me like I was one of their own. Seeing Northern Ireland was such an incredible experience. I was able to see first hand the culture that I had heard so much about, and experience what life was like for Joseph. Unfortunately there are still some tensions between religions, but by experiencing that first hand, I realized how important it is to be inclusive, instead of exclusive. I truly believe that the Ulster Project had a profound impact on my life, and I would not be the person I am today without that experience.

Joel Higgins

Graduated from KU in 2009

Graduated from Palmer College of Chiropractic in 2013

Practices chiropractic in Hutchinson, Kansas at Bothwell Chiropractic and Acupuncture.

Rachel 2003 - I may not be going back to a country divided by religion, but I live in a place where stereotypes and divisions remain.  It takes small steps to make the world better, but through the Ulster Project I will now be able to take those steps more firmly.   Overall, our group has come to realize that what ultimately matters is what a person has to offer spiritually, emotionally and mentally, and that what has been given to us is not for us to judge, but rather to be used as a guide for life.   I leave you with a quote by Mario, a Catholic organizer of the UP, to hopefully help you understand what this month has meant:  “Peace begins with me”.  

Keith 1975 - Having been on the first ever UP to Manchester Conn. In 1975 as a teen and now working alongside my friend Mario as joint co-coordinators (Mario was on that same first Project) the mission and purpose of the UP still burns as bright now as it did 32 years ago.  … I owe so much in my life to the vision, sacrifice and determination of the people and my American family 32 years ago who helped take a teenager with fears and helped in the process of shaping me into the person God intended me to be.  Many, many young people and adults now have that same story to tell.  The mission and focus for us in Portadown….and across Northern Ireland is still as strong.   

Teen Comments about their Experiences

Simon 2000 - Being a teen and  counselor on the project has helped me gain significant insight into what teens want from their lives – and how their faith, values and family/friends shape that.  In many ways when I was 16 and came back that summer, I was more of a man, that period of time had changed me – changed how I saw people, not as a label but as individuals who are actually more like you than you think – and I at least hope I was able to encourage others to think similarly, to engage with their faith and God, and to see how treating others fairly, treating others and loving others like Jesus did, unconditionally, can make a difference. …the bonds and friendships that you made in that summer/those summers are for life.

Tyler  2004 - The UP was probably one of the most fun and memorable experiences that I have ever had.  It was one of the best summers of my life and I gained friends from home, and overseas.  I would recommend this project to anyone who is interested in world culture and making a difference.  Not only will it be the most fun month of your life, but it will be an experience you take with you the rest of your life. 

Debra 2001 - The UP remains one of the best things I ever did with my summer.  I honestly can’t believe it’s been 8 years already since I participated in it.  It’s really one of my fondest memories.  I remember feeling hesitant about giving up a month of my time or giving up what I thought would be my freedom, but ultimately I’m so glad I chose to do it because I gained so much more.  Those four weeks are forever shared between 24 teenagers and four counselors, but it’s even cooler that we share the experience with an even bigger Ulster community around the nation.  I really made great friendships during the project and felt supported by this group of people.  The night we had to say goodbye was just so sad, and my eyes were red from crying so much.  I’ve had the chance to see some of my group from time to time.  I was lucky enough to have visited Ireland last year and saw Nicola for the first time since the project as well as two other people from my year and one of the counselors and his family.  It was great.  I would highly encourage anyone who’s thinking about participating to do so.  It was such a fun time!

Susan 2007 - The UP opened my eyes to another world, and I am eternally grateful.  I don’t regret anything about the project and I will carry lessons and experiences from it for the rest of my life!   

Paul 2005 (Counselor) - I think more about how my decisions will affect others, and whether or not my choices are Christ centered.   I was moved from a self-centered way of thinking to a way of thinking centered around others and finally to more of a Christ-centered way of thinking…