For the past five years, teacher Beata Olszewska has been bringing students from her school in Rybnik in the South of Poland to Derry.
The passionate teacher says the visits have been life changing for all the young people who have taken part, their stays organised in partnership with the North West Academy of English on Derry’s Northland Road.
The students who’ve travelled with Beata all share one thing – a love of the craft of hairdressing. And Beata firmly believes that there’s no better place in the world to train than right here in the North West.
“The students get so much out of their time here. Hairdressing is much more than a job here in Derry, it’s a creative career and they get to be a part of that during the time they spend here, while improving their English, thanks to the North West Academy.”
Beata explained how the area the students are from has a rich heritage of coal mining, although it is largely a low paid working class economy – something which she believes people in Derry can identify with.
“There are plenty of people who work very hard where we are from – but sometimes they aren’t as well paid as they should be, and for the young people in those places, they would never have a chance to travel and experience something like this if it wasn’t for the Leonardo Da Vinci project and the great support we have here in Derry.”
Speaking of her own experience in the North West, Beata said she felt at home here straight away, and looks forward to her visits every year.
“I just loved it, and everyone was so keen to work with us and help us – and that has always been the case.
“During this visit, our students have been attending classes at ROCO and they’ve been so excited to see what the stylists do there. They’ve learned so much.”
Beata said the students have varying levels of English, but that all abilities are catered for.
“For some of them it can be difficult when they arrive here at first, but being here and experiencing the language is an amazing opportunity. Mostly, these are young people who would not have the money to do something like this themselves, and the experience they get from their time here is a big help to them, and can help them find a job. Many of them have jobs during their last year of education and some of them will even find work here in Derry. Those are very positive results for us because it shows what can happen when you take part in a project like this and it encourages other young people to think about it.”
Aislinn McDevitt, Work Placement officer at the NW Academy added: “It’s fantastic to see the change in the young people who come through here for this project. “The skills they pick up greatly improve confidence and boost self esteem, and they get the chance to enjoy some of the more glamorous aspects to hairdressing here in Derry.
“It’s opening the door to another world really, and here at the Academy we’re delighted to be a part of that in terms of organising the group’s accommodation, work placements and providing English classes.
“Some of the students come on a real journey during their time in Derry and the confidence they take away with them is amazing.”
Beata is hopeful that the relationship with the North West academy is something which will continue for a long time to come.
“We’re hoping to bring our students here for as long as possible, I can’t imagine us wanting to go anywhere else,” she smiles.