One of the benefits of working at the International Office is that I am entitled to a period of holiday which could be taken any time during my internship. It was therefore not out of place that I decided to use this entitlement at the middle of my internship as an interlude so as to go to recharge and re-energise for the remainder of the internship.
I also saw this period as an opportunity to continue my exploration of Europe which partly led to my choice to travel to Spain. But this was not the sole reason as I and a number of friends from the Catholic Society of the University had already planned to attend the 26th World Youth Day in Spain. We were also joined by friends from other parts of the United Kingdom which meant we had a group of about 25 of us!
The World Youth Day is a youth-oriented event organised by the Catholic Church but with participation not restricted to Catholic youths which means even non-Catholics attend the event. It is believed to be the largest youth event in the world and the edition just held in Spain had between 1.5 and 2 million youths in attendance. The last edition was held in Sydney, Australia in 2008 while the next will be in Brazil in 2013.
We attended activities in different parts of Spain with our journey beginning in Siete Aguas, Valencia where we spent four days participating in different events lined up such as concerts, workshops, sight-seeing, sports, reflections, prayers and much more. An interesting aspect was the fact that we had participants from all continents and so many countries. This reminded me of the University of Southampton’s international outlook.
Our next port of call was Madrid which would host the climax of the event at the Cuatro Vientos Airfield but that would be after spending the week there. The event was planned such that groups were assigned accommodation in different parts of the city or even in surrounding suburbs. Our group was posted to stay in Valdemoro, a district about one hour drive from Madrid where we were further split into smaller numbers to be hosted by different families. On our first night in Valdemoro, all the host families gave us a massive welcome which of course included a huge dinner and for the first time I had fig fruits! Their hospitality was priceless.
The week saw us shuttling between Valdemoro and Madrid attending different events such as the Opening Mass, concerts, catechesis, sight-seeing, workshops, seminars, colloquia and very importantly making friends everywhere we went. We also visited Getafe and El Escorial where we saw The Royal Seat of San Lorenzo de El Escorial. Since participants were located all over Madrid, it was always easy to spot them which meant we found ourselves saying ‘Hola’ to people we never even knew wherever we went be it on the streets, the Metro, cafes, bars or parks. I am not sure I have ever been in such a strange friendly atmosphere as I always saw myself blurting out ‘hola’ intermittently and getting a very warm response which at times led to long conversations. I learnt to say ‘hello’ in Mandarin, German, Polish, French, Pidgin English, Italian, Portuguese, Russian and of course Spanish!
After Madrid, we headed to Toledo, a well-known World Heritage Site where we probably had the most captivating sight-seeing. We were fortunate to have one of our group members who hails from Toledo and studying Archaeology at the University of Southampton. He made it quite an experience.
The WYD has left me with fond memories to always be cherished. It has also made me appreciate unity in diversity. With temperatures of up to 41 degrees Celsius, it was quite a warm period which reminded me of back home in Nigeria. I also made friends from all continents and we have kept in touch. As I return to complete my internship, this experience has no doubt recharged me for what lies ahead.