DCU’s Centre for Talented Youth was set up to inspire gifted children across the country. Our 17 year old "The way I see it" columnist Ellie Menton filled us in on what she gets out of Ireland’s real life "nerdcamp".
Where do I begin?” is the classic way to start writing about the CTYI. This is probably due to how unexplainably difficult it is to try and describe such a wonderful and complex place.
CTYI is in the simplest, most mundane terms, a three week long, academic summer camp, which runs over two sessions in Dublin City University. CTYI stands for the “Centre for Talented Youth, Ireland”, but most students refer to it as nerdcamp. Or home.
Teachers had been recommending I attend since primary school. I became frustrated in second year with how underwhelmed I was at school, and my mom suggested I try the test to see if I was eligible.
You do the test a few months before the summer course and if you excel, you are admitted. You can get in on either maths or English, and for me it was English. I think CTYI attendees are the top 5 percentile in the country in standardised tests.
My time at CTYI has finished as of July 10, so forgive me if I begin to sound as though I am sitting in front of an open fire, telling my grandchildren about the glory days of my youth. It’s just one of those things.
First of all, there is always a great range of courses to study for the three weeks you spend on the residential course. In my first year, I chose Japanese Language and Culture, in 2014 I studied Popular Fiction where we learnt about critical analysis, science fiction’s impact on innovation and even 3D animation, and this summer I studied Game Theory which examines what happens when people interact but are seeking different outcomes from the interaction.
We were all so interested in what we were learning; the teachers ( third level students )were laid back yet still got copious amounts of material covered and I just felt so accepted, listened to, and respected.
Students are treated as mature young adults and encouraged to be creative. Because there are no examinations, there is plenty of freedom to explore the topic you are studying, not just a curriculum. Most classes I had revolved around group discussions, whereby people discussed ideas or worked through problems together.
In Popular Fiction, our instructor played soft music in the background while we wrote, which made for a really pleasant, relaxed atmosphere. In Japanese Language & Culture, we ate ‘bento’ (Japanese lunchboxes, essentially). Game Theory had Matheson, the law firm, come in and we had a mock business deal negotiation.
Studying these courses in CYTI has helped to shape my interests and even my future. For example, I am currently studying Japanese as a subject for my Leaving Cert. Popular Fiction undoubtedly helped to solidify my dream of studying English in college. And Game Theory?
Challenge me to a game of noughts and crosses. I dare you.
Incredible as the classes may be, the social side to nerdcamp holds the magic. One of my endlessly wise friends coined the phrase, “CTYI is a place for firsts” this year, and I could not agree more; first love, first kiss, first best friend, or sometimes, first real friend at all if you’re not one for mainstream pop culture. Often, it’s the first time you ever step back to look at yourself.
Not unlike Irish college for others (I never went), sticking a couple hundred teenagers together for three weeks leads to pretty amazing times. One of these is the weekly disco. CTYI discos are, like many things in nerdcamp, unusual.
Every week there’s a theme; for example, the theme was the Back To The Future films at one disco this year. I’m not really one for dancing, but after spending two hours working on my makeup for a Bambi costume, there’s little you can do at that point to make yourself look sophisticated.
Not that nerdcamp has normal dancing anyway; every time Street Spirit by Radiohead comes on, everyone lies on the floor and waves their arms above their heads. There are even traditional songs that are obligatory at each disco, the most important of these is Don Mclean’s “American Pie”. It’s surreal to stand shoulder to shoulder and sing with people you consider family.
After the final disco, everyone makes their way back to the quad’ for the candlelight ceremony. Bleary eyed, students huddle together, surrounding flickering candles and a tower made of our Snapple bottles.
Those in their last year, called nevermores, share stories, someone usually plays a song or two on the guitar, and everyone is hugging or holding hands while crying. Saying goodbye to nerdcamp is bittersweet.
Each time I came home from CTYI, I was changed. Somehow, while learning hiragana or the origins of modern vampires, I learned more about what I liked and disliked and how I wanted to grow. No matter how lost I got during the year, CTYI helped to remind me of myself and who I am.
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