Five Forsyth County teenagers and a few employees of the local Family YMCA recently returned from a one-week trip to Prague, Czech Republic.
They joined a delegation of about 50 other teens and several chaperones from around the metro Atlanta area at the YMCA Europe Festival, held Aug. 4-10.
Brenda Lajoie, director of branch administration and volunteer engagement at the Forsyth YMCA, was among those who took part in the festival.
Her daughter, Katie Lajoie, was among the teens who participated in the festival, which was themed Live 2 Love.
The other Forsyth teens who took part were Lisa Bonner, Jenna Matteson, Sydney Stein and Elora Wark.
Brenda Lajoie said the festival is held every five years in Prague as a way to celebrate European culture and allow teens from all over the world to come together to learn more about one another.
“There were over 5,000 teens there from all over the world,” she said. “We got to meet people from Spain, Russia, Sweden, the Swiss Republic and many other countries.”
Throughout the course of the week, the teens had plenty of opportunities to “step outside their box” and interact with other high school and college students from different cultures, Lajoie said.
She said they learned all about different sports and pastimes from the different countries represented.
They also took part in numerous workshops that each nation’s delegation presented.
Lajoie said the Atlanta delegation worked many weeks leading up to the event to organize its program on being a teenager in the United States.
She said the trip was an eye-opener for many of the teens, who are used to having many comforts at home.
“First of all, it was a 13-hour flight,” she said. “Then we stayed in a hostel, where they all shared a room with another student. Most of these kids are used to staying in very nice hotels if they go anywhere, so that was very different for them.”
The city itself was a highlight, Lajoie said.
“We had a few blocks of time when we got to just explore Prague and it’s an amazing city,” she said. “The architecture is so unique and beautiful.”
The students who took part in the festival had to apply last fall for the chance to be named a delegate.
Anyone, regardless of whether he or she was a YMCA member, could fill out the application. Each student was then interviewed by a selection panel.
“The students who the panel felt would be the best fit for the program were chosen,” Lajoie said. “This was around Thanksgiving and they then had from December on for their fundraising. They each had to raise $3,000 for the trip, which covered airfare and all their expenses.”
During the festival, which was Christian-based, the students also took part in worship experiences and prayer times, as well as several Christian music concerts.
Lajoie said all of the participants seemed to get a lot of out the festival experience.
“Everywhere you looked, the kids were talking and interacting with other people from all over the world,” she said. “You never had a kid sitting off to the side by themselves.
“It was a wonderful experience and chance for them to all really break out of their comfort zones and learn more about the world.”