My NFA experience by Ruaidhrí Bleeker
Upon my arrival in Florida, initially, it was not the stone splitting heat, nor it’s accompaniment of sultry, sticky humidity that was most apparent; it was the warm welcome we received. After an exciting eight hour Delta flight to Atlanta, followed by another hour further south toward the equator to Pensacola, it was a welcome reward to be met with southern hospitality, as we were bleary eyed, jet lagged, and in need of a “ time out”. The people we encountered, and the welcome we got, were phenomenal to say the least. Once we had arrived in the NFA, we were delighted to be invited to the mess deck, to enjoy some pizza, before we retired to our staterooms, gradually readjusting to the adverse time difference. The immensely warm welcome we received that first evening, injubitably, was one of our trip’s more memorable chapters. The following afternoon, at the beach, we were reminded of America’s reputation of being an incredibly friendly country; rather than revelling in the incessant heat of Florida’s climate, it was the people we met, our chiefs, and all of the NFA’s staff who welcomed us so heartily to the U.S. that made our excursion so memorable.
The initial sun soaking, obviously, was only a morsel of what was to come for the group. Our presence on that transatlantic Delta flight was solely to attend the NFA, in order to further our knowledge in the fields of Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths; perhaps the subjects considered most difficult among today’s students. And what better place could there be to imbibe, than the International Flight Academy. It offered me the chance to experience some of the most authentic and representational flight simulators in existence. In my opinion, there is no better method to learn something, than to immerse oneself into the topic, and to experience it physically and firsthand. The NFA gave the group the honour to be the first international students to do so. This was an ideal opportunity for the group to augment our knowledge concerning STEM. The NFA allowed us to learn about STEM in a genuinely enjoyable way.
Students often complain that, when learning in a drab, prosaic atmosphere, what goes in one ear, comes out the other as soon as it is needed for an exam. Aboard Ambition, we were educated in such an entertaining, yet informative fashion, that the wealth of new knowledge we acquired there will stay with us, while also imbuing in us an interest in the subjects associated with STEM. The NFA offers an incredibly effective method of instilling a vast interest and indelible knowledge in the minds of youths which would not have otherwise been realised. In hindsight of my experience on Ambition, I can honestly say that it did not contain a dull moment.
I shall be brief as I mention my own personal experience; I was indeed one of four to appear on America’s ABC news – This was an extraordinary experience but it was to be seconded. I was interviewed a second time for the NFA’s own PR requirements. To finish an unexpectedly high profile week, I was elected as AXP of the week, and gave an impromptu speech at our graduation; the experience which was a heady mix of terror and shock at the number of people present, but mostly excitement and appreciation.
Between the systematic excitement of our daily routine, there was always time to meet new people, and of course, room for a little evening entertainment during our dinner. Whoever presented the tidiest stateroom would receive their dinner first. This was, on one occasion our own room. The evening entertainment consisted of renditions of popular songs, performed by AXPs who had lost their possessions, and were trying to earn them back. My own squadron even subjected Ambition to Rick Astley’s “Never gonna give you up”. It wasn’t long until all 108 AXPs had joined in. Aside from the flight simulators, the hours in the JIC and the time spent in the JOC, it was moments like that that completed the NFA experience aboard Ambition, making our time a well rounded and rich mixture of meeting new personalities, enjoying ourselves and becoming more savvy as regards STEM. The mixture of an academic atmosphere anywhere but the dinner table, and the fun we had everywhere, was essential to the NFA’s ability to educate, and to emphasise the importance of Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths, without ever seeming tiresome.
As I remember what I have learned during my stay on Ambition, I must recollect what an immersive experience the NFA was, and the lasting impression it has left on me. Everything we did aboard Ambition; the missions we completed while in the flight simulators especially, were based on the premise of realistic situations, signifying the importance of Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths in reality, and accentuating that each must co-exist for everything to work as they do. This was one of the most important facts the group and I learned aboard Ambition – the consequence compelling us to want to learn more while we could during our stay with the NFA.
To summarise an unforgettable week, my experience with the NFA was entirely positive, and it could probably be isolated as the few days, along with the weeks leading up to the Junior Certificate examination, of my life so far where my learning has been accelerated the most. The interest I gained in the STEM subjects over the period I spent on Ambition would be simply impossible to replicate in school.
I would like to thank the Galway Education Centre for giving me the opportunity to go to the NFA. I would also like to thank the NFA and all aboard Ambition for a very memorable week, and instilling in me an appreciation for Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths which will last me a lifetime.