When the school year begins in the US, 20 Irish American students will have particularly envy-inspiring answers to the question “How was your summer?”

These are the graduates of the first-ever Global Irish Summer Camp (GISC), a program smaller in scale but similar in scope to Israel’s famous Birthright initiative. The 20 students of Irish descent who participated in the pilot program ranged in ages from 15 to 17 and hailed from Arizona, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Illinois, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Texas, Virginia, Washington D.C., and Washington State. The group consisted of a mix of second, third and fourth generation Irish, none of whom had ever been to Ireland before.

From July 20 - August 4, they received an immersive crash course in Ireland – its culture, history, language and landscape – at the Institute of Study Abroad, Ireland in Bundoran, Co. Donegal. The program was first outlined in Ireland’s first official diaspora policy, published in March 2015, and was funded by the Irish Department of Foreign Affairs. All program expenses within Ireland were covered; participants and their families were responsible only for the cost of their travel to and from the Emerald Isle.

The three core aims of the GISC were, according to Mary Connery, the Deputy Director of Irish Abroad with the DFA, to “To encourage participants to have a greater awareness of their Irish heritage, to solidify links with the Irish diaspora, and to encourage greater links with Irish communities throughout the US.”

So, how did it go?

Connery told IrishCentral that during a farewell ceremony at the DFA’s Iveagh House in Dublin on August 3, after Minister for the Diaspora Joe McHugh presented the students with special certificates, they were each asked to talk about their experiences over the past two weeks.

“It was clear that these young adults were leaving Ireland which a much greater awareness and appreciation of their Irish heritage and were keen to develop this further on their return to the US.”

(Note: The DFA did not accept media requests to talk with any of the students since they were minors, but if you went on the program and are reading this we would love to hear from you!)

Here’s a look at what they got up to:

Visited Google HQ:

The Letterkenny Institute of Technology:

Learned all about hurling:

Visited Glenveagh Castle:

Learned about Ireland’s Great Hunger at the Ballyshannon Workhouse:

And saw the port where so many left for the US:

Went cliff diving in Bundoran:

Visited the Ulster American Folk Park:

Had a vital cultural encounter with 99s:

Met the Bogside Artists at the Derry Peace Murals:

Traveled to Galway:

Met their counterparts at University College Dublin’s Clinton Institute:

Visited Áras an Uachtaráin, the home of the Irish president:

And the residence of US Ambassador to Ireland Kevin O’Malley, also in Dublin’s Phoenix Park:

For those of you reading this who would like to apply for next summer, don’t start filling out the forms just yet. Connery told IrishCentral that the DFA is in the process of getting more feedback from the first participants. “As this year’s program was a pilot project, an evaluation of the first year of the Camp will be undertaken before any decision will be taken on whether a similar program will take place in subsequent years,” she explained. “Feedback from the 20 participants is currently being sought which will form an important part of this evaluation. A number of other aspects, including issues such as the future financial sustainability of any program and its geographic focus, will also be important factors in this analysis.”

But, if the Global Irish Summer Camp gets the green light for a second year, she did offer this insight: “It must be said that the enthusiasm and willingness to take part and learn displayed by the 20 participants in the inaugural [summer], as well as their passion to continue exploring their Irish heritage and connection to Ireland when they return home, were extremely important in ensuring the success of the pilot program.”

For more info, visit the Global Irish Summer Camp website.