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Once in a lifetime

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Irish ijso team
IRISH PRIDE Sam Duffy, fourth from left, with members of the Irish IJSO team and mentors in Sao Paulo.

Once in a lifetime

Sam Duffy


SAO Paulo, Brazil, host city for the Third International Junior Science Olympiad, and I was lucky enough to win a place on the Irish team and spend an amazing ten days there.
The International Junior Science Olympiad (IJSO) is a worldwide competition for students under the age of 16. It consists of three science-based exams spaced over a week, and includes many interesting and entertaining events. Each country sends one or two teams of three students, and it is a wonderful chance to get to know young people from all over the world.
The trip began when I first arrived in Dublin, on November 30. The six-member team met in DCU, unsure of what to expect, and wondering how much each one had studied of the diploma level science books we had been given at the beginning of the month. Padraic James, one of our mentors, explained to us and some of our parents what would be happening. After worried mothers and concerned fathers were shuffled out of the room (waving last goodbyes all the way), we were brought to another room expecting our training to begin. Instead, a team bonding exercise had been prepared for us, and we were taken to our hotel for the night.
The following day we were awakened early and taken back to the college to begin our training. As the third exam was to be an experimental exam, it was felt that practice was needed most in this area, and so we spent the whole day designing and performing experiments to the satisfaction of our mentors, before leaving again that evening to spend our last night in Ireland in the hotel.
At 6.30am in the morning we left for the airport, where our long and relatively boring flight to Sao Paulo (passing through Shannon and Newark on the way) began.
When we arrived in Brazil, we were all tired, cramped and in desperate need of some food, as the plane food was mostly inedible. We passed through customs and went to the main entrance with our luggage to await the arrival of our taxi, organised by the IJSO. Thankfully, it arrived before long, and we were taken to the hotel we would be staying in for the next nine days, along with the teams from Mongolia, Serbia, Kuwait, and Hong Kong.
This was where we met our guide, who looked after us during our stay, as our mentors from Ireland were busy correcting and contributing to the exams and were not permitted contact with us. An opening dinner took place later that evening, where we met many of the other countries that would be competing alongside us. Upon returning to the hotel that night, we had already made many friends and all anxiety about the forthcoming exams was gone.
The following day we had the opening ceremony, before being wished good luck in our exams by the organiser and taken to see some of Sao Paulo. On the days between exams we were taken to many places around Sao Paulo, allowing us to stay relaxed and be kept entertained. These included the Zoo, the Energy Museum, the Formula One race track (which we were driven around by bus), an amusement park and a shopping mall. Sao Paulo is a beautiful city and the Brazilian people were very friendly, cheerful and colourful.
The exams began on the Tuesday. They were all different (the first based on multiple choice questions, the second a theory test and the last a practical), but each of them covered all of the sciences – biology, chemistry, and physics – equally. The exams were very difficult, and all of us were glad when they were over, but still very anxious as to how many medals we would receive.
The whole event was very well-organised in the main, but not everything went smoothly. While waiting for the closing ceremony on the last night, we were told that we had ten minutes to pack our bags and get out of the hotel! Apparently, the official responsible for paying the student accommodation bills had vanished and the hotels had not been paid. Many of the students had great difficulty checking out without paying, but Michael Cotter, our other mentor, assisted by the British Embassy, whisked us away to his hotel to spend our last night. Here, a small awards ceremony was held for all the students and I was delighted to be told I had won a Bronze Medal! The Irish team also scooped a Silver Medal, which was won by my friend Victor from County Clare.
It was hard to leave Brazil and all our new friends, but finally we were taken to the airport for the 36-hour journey home. As we had a 14-hour stop-over in New York, we got the chance to see Manhattan and the Empire State Building and shop for presents before the final leg of our journey. It was great to be met at Dublin Airport by our parents and get home for some much-needed sleep.
The whole event is one which I will treasure always, but would not have been possible without the support and sponsorship of my school, Rice College, Mr Frank McCarrick, my Principal, my science teachers – Mrs Mary Gibbons and Mr Peter McManamon, my family and my friends. I would also like to thank The Mayo News for their sponsorship and for giving me the opportunity to share my experience. Hopefully, there will be another IJSO team member from Mayo next year!

Sam Duffy is a Transition Year student
of Rice College, Westport