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Celebrating 50 years of bringing intercultural learning to Ireland

EIL Ireland director Kevin Hickey said that Ireland is no longer the mono-cultural country it was when the non-profit was first set up.

Image: Holding hands via Shutterstock

THE EIL INTERCULTURAL Learning Centre has seen Ireland change hugely in the 50 years it has been in operation.

Its director Kevin Hickey told TheJournal.ie: “The difference between now and 1964 when the organisation was first founded is absolutely dramatic. At that stage [Ireland] was a very mono-cultural, very white, very Catholic society. It was also a very inward-looking society.”

Today, EIL Intercultural Learning is Ireland’s oldest intercultural learning organisation and this morning it launches a year-long programme of events to mark its 50th anniversary.

EIL Intercultural Learning is a non-profit organisation and a member of the worldwide Experiment in International Living (EIL) network.

The first group to arrive in 1964 was from the USA, and the participants lived with local families for their stay. Author Maeve Binchy was one of the people involved in the organisation for the first couple of years.

Since then, they have had about 36,000 people involved in programmes coming to and from Ireland, including exchanges, volunteering, school exchanges and other opportunities.

The age range is a wide one – from students to retired people. EIL has a big travel award programme that offers fully-funded opportunities for Irish people to volunteer as part of exchange programmes.

This year is the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King’s Nobel Peace Prize, so EIL is looking to provide opportunities for young people showing leadership around issues that focus on civil rights and minority rights.

“The functioning of society in Ireland at the moment is very dependent on people having strong intercultural skills,” said Hickey.

He said that some people who have taken part in EIL programmes have even changed careers and fields of study due to their experiences.

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“It’s a very, very powerful experience that really sticks with people for life,” said Hickey. “You can’t unlearn it.”

If you grow up having friends from other cultures, friends who speak different languages or are a different colour, it becomes normal, for the rest of our life, and you normalise that for everyone around you.

There are 14 staff members working at the Cork offices. EIL is a not-for-profit organisation. Information on its special travel awards can be found here.

The awards are for people who may not have the money to travel, but want to take part in such a programme.

EIL offers study abroad, volunteering, language training, travel scholarships and cultural immersion activities, with over 2,000 people participating in its programmes each year.

The Minister for Trade and Development, Joe Costello TD, will officiate at today’s launch.

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