Six young people from across the United States have been working on placements across the Down area and have been getting a flavour of life on this side of the pond.
For the past week, Alexis Nieman, who is a media student from Albany near New York, has been with Down News learning more about journalism in Northern Ireland and generally seeing the sites.
Alexis said: “I am part of the Young Ambassador program for the Friends of Saint Patrick Centre. I’m from Albany, New York and I’m here in Downpatrick for a two-week stay to visit the Centre and learn about the people, the country and the culture here in Northern Ireland.
“I went to High School for four years and graduated in 2017. I love sports and played soccer and lacrosse throughout high school and for many years before. After High School, I started at Pace University, which is a four-year college in Westchester, New York, about 45 minutes from New York City. I’m currently an under-graduate and have just wrapped up my second year. I am majoring in Communications and completing a minor in Public Relations.
“I played lacrosse at University for a year and decided to stop during my second year of school. After I stopped playing, I got involved with some other clubs and organizations around campus. I joined the Pace Chronicle, which is a newspaper and online journal for local school events, feature stories, and opinion pieces where I wrote about mainly campus news.
“After my first year there I was given the title of Digital Editor, where I’m in charge of running social media and our news outlet on www.Medium.com. I also will be interning at Westchester Magazine in the Fall, as well as joining the new Public Relations club on campus, Entrance PR.
“As far as my career goes, I’m still trying to figure it out, like so many college students are. I love the field of Communications and Public Relations, so anything to do with media is in my field of interest. My goal is to find a job after school in New York city and work from there, but I am open to see where my options take me.”
My visit to the Saint Patrick Centre
Alexis added: “The Young Ambassador Program has given me and other young adults the opportunity to visit Northern Ireland. Each summer, the program sends six to eight young adults here through their Friends of Saint Patrick chapters in North America.
“As a Young Ambassador with the Friends of Saint Patrick Centre, the goal is to strengthen ties and knowledge with Northern Ireland, the people, the culture, and the history of Saint Patrick. Young adults from Ireland also come to America, where they stay for a few weeks with host families.
“Ambassadors here become representatives of not only Northern Ireland but Saint Patrick as well. We are also fortunate enough to be able to be placed into local businesses that align with our individual interests, such as politics, history, religion, and journalism. We gain incredible experience by working within our field in a different country for the weeks that we are here. It may be a short time but it is very insightful.”
Working On Placement in Down News
By working at Down News for the week I have been able to see first-hand the struggle and hard work of running an independent online newspaper in Northern Ireland. Down News covers local news and some sport in County Down. The support of people in the community means everything to small hyperlocals here. Change in some areas in Northern Ireland is slow and hyperlocals are catching on slowly and are gaining in support from local readers.
“Down News has strived to remain impartial to politics in the community. Jim Masson, the editor, reports on matters impartially and factually which ensures he is not partisan, and that in itself can at time be a problem in itself. The reality is that the past history of this country has an immense effect on present-day society and the divide in the community is still quite visible.
“Loyalties to certain countries or political parties remain as underlying factors and motivators in Northern Ireland, although no one tends to really speak about it too openly. Jim has great knowledge and understanding of the past and politics in this country and why they are so important to the people here. Jim has done an amazing job by running Down News with barely any help. He works as a photographer, writer, researcher, editor, and boss and manages to keep a successful online newspaper with a social media platform.”
What I’ve Learned On This Trip
This country has such a rich history, and especially in Downpatrick there are so many layers of history. It is famous for being the place where Saint Patrick was buried and he served his ministry nearby, having landing just a few miles away on the shore of Strangford Lough. Being able to see his grave was an incredible experience. His gravestone is a massive piece of granite monolith stone, which bears a faded Celtic cross and the name “Patric”.
“The stone was laid in the year 1900 in the Down Cathedral graveyard in Downpatrick by antiquarian Francis Joseph Bigger. To be able to see the grave is a reminder of what Saint Patrick stood for, and that his legacy needs to be remembered. As an American, Saint Patrick’s Day is a day to celebrate Irish heritage and to partake in a drink of Guinness. But Saint Patrick’s history and legacy is much more significant but is not even mentioned, but there is a growing movement now trying to raise St Patrick onto the pedestal he deserves.
“I’ve learned so much in such a short amount of time. I’ve been able to visit places such as Armagh, St Patrick’s Church at Saul, the site of his first church in Ireland, Saint Patrick’s grave, and the Churches at Loughinisland. The amount of history each site has, still associated with them resonates to this day, and it is almost too much to comprehend – the religion, politics, history, etc. is complex and fascinating.
“I am so grateful for being able to visit the beautiful county of Down. It has such a rich history that was incredible to learn about. Being able to learn from and interact with local people has been so valuable while trying to understand this country. The other Young Ambassadors and I have been very lucky to have had this amazing, life-shaping experience.”