‘My year abroad taught me the value of civil discourse’
Meet young member and volunteer Erin Young
When did you join the ESU?
I joined the ESU when I was 14 or 15, after entering the ESU-Churchill Public Speaking Competition (PSC).
I really loved being in the competition, and found meeting the members and other competitors a lot of fun. Through joining, I thought that other similar opportunities might come along and, as joining the ESU was free, I didn’t see any reason not to. I’m very glad that I did!
What is your role?
I am currently a volunteer, and I have judged heats of both the PSC and the Mace over the last two years. I also helped to run the Festival of Speaking during last summer’s lockdown, and am part of the ESU Young Members’ Forum.
How are you finding it?
I really love it. I think there is tremendous value in helping to facilitate an opportunity for others that gave me so much confidence, and placed so much value on my voice and opinions, at such a formative age.
Have you taken part in any other ESU programmes?
Apart from entering various competitions as a teenager, I also won a place on the Secondary School Exchange after my A levels. The experience allowed me to study at an American boarding school, and I was placed at The Stony Brook School on Long Island for an immersive year of learning in a totally new environment and culture.
What did you get out of the experience?
The impact of my year in America has been huge. As well as being a wonderful opportunity to travel and meet new people, it taught me the real value of civil discourse amongst groups who disagree. Never was this more apparent than in Trump’s polarised America, and I was forced to hold back, ask questions, and really seek to understand people who are easily dismissed and demonised in the British media.
What words of advice do you have for other alumni/young members?
Set goals for yourself as to how much you want to be involved and stick to it. Say yes to as much as you can. I realise that at our time of life, as a student and beyond, the world is opening up and there are lots of opportunities available, but I see this time that I spend volunteering with the ESU as paying forward an opportunity that I was given, and a positive act of gratitude.
Whom do you admire and why?
Although there are many potential answers, one which immediately springs to mind is Jane Austen. Apart from creating wonderful literary works fuelled by satire and with an eye for comedy, she did so in a world which did not always support her endeavours because she was a woman. Yet here we are, reading her books centuries later.
What’s your guiltiest pleasure?
It’s a little odd, but I love watching reality TV documentaries about cults and fringe religious groups, such as those by Louis Theroux, but also much trashier ones. I don’t really know why, but it’s fascinating to me.
Tell us something surprising about you.
I’m not sure how surprising this is, but I always feel the odd one out when I tell people that I can’t ride a bike.
What’s the most important lesson life has taught you?
I’m only 21, so I haven’t had a great deal of time to pick up life lessons yet, but what I can offer is this: I believe it is extremely important to be constantly engaging in discussion with people with whom one disagrees. Not to seek out an argument; in order to do that, one might just go on Twitter. But neither should we relax in the echo chamber. We should seek to humanise and understand the perspective of people who are very easy to dismiss with any number of negative adjectives. I see discussion as a way to sharpen my mind, and my arguments, so that I can better defend myself in future. However, it is important to have the humility to be able to change one’s mind if the situation requires, though (I must admit), I find that this part has been most difficult to me.
Find out more about how you can volunteer here.