Two teenagers enjoyed a trip of a lifetime after they were invited to the International Arab Youth Congress in Jordan.
Alex Batey and Rebecca Wareham, pupils at Park View Community School in Chester-le-Street, joined 1,500 other 12- to 14-year-olds from around the world at the week-long event in Amman.
The congress began in style with the 13-year-olds meeting Princess Iman Bint Al Hussein at the opening ceremony, held at the Palace of Culture.
The pupils enjoyed seminars, displays, creative arts workshops and group discussions exploring attitudes to emigration, peace and conflict. The girls also experienced local events and archaeological and cultural sites.
Alongside visits to Petra and meeting the local Household Cavalry, there was time to see a horse show, a demonstration of martial arts and spend time with a Jordanian family.
The girls took posters and information from Visit County Durham to promote the county and show everyone where they were from.
Alex said: “It was an experience like no other. I’ve met so many different people and found out that they're completely different to me and yet, at the same time, we’re exactly alike.
“Janine, a girl I met there, was Muslim, so had different beliefs. She’s amazing when it comes to languages and she lives a very different lifestyle to me. However, the things we liked, the places we wanted to go, even our personalities were almost exactly the same.
“It doesn’t matter what country you’re from or what has happened in your past, some people may judge you for it and maybe even taunt you for it, but there will always be people out there who will be your friend and stick up for you.”
She said: “My favourite thing was going to one of the Jordanians’ houses, because I felt very privileged to be invited into the family’s household, treated with such care and welcomed so warmly.”
The trip came about after a special invitation was extended to Durham County Council’s International Relations Office as a result of four years’ work in conjunction with the British Council’s Connecting Classrooms programme, linking schools in Durham and Jordan.
Park View teacher Laura Cariss said: “We not only got to experience completely different cultures, but in a unique way through the use of creative arts, which completely broke down the language barrier between the pupils.
“It was great to see how schoolchildren from across the world had such similar goals and dreams despite the difference in their backgrounds.”