The Global Young Leadership Conference is advertised as a program where teenage scholars learn about global cultures and politics, hear from qualified speakers, and practice leadership skills in a challenging environment.
Although the program format did consist of all those things, it ended up greatly exceeding my expectations. What the website did not tell me was that I would make lifelong friends, become obsessed with everyone else’s accents, live with two girls from Ghana, two Australians, one Saudi Arabian, and one from the US, put more thought into South Africa than I have in my entire life, recognize how the song “Desparcito” could unite an excessive amount of people, have access to the actual United Nations council room, visit the State Department, tour multiple embassies, and most importantly, help me to decide what I want to do with my life.
This program was specifically extraordinary because it took place in both Washington DC and New York City! In each city, we participated in activities geared towards global politics.
The entire conference was amazing, so I could go on and on about all the things I did. Instead, I’ve decided to share some of the highlights.
When I first walked through the door to the “scholar activities” room (aka the holding area until about 5:30, when the first Leadership Group Meeting, referred to as “LGM” began), I was nervous. I love meeting new people, but I will admit that sometimes beginning conversations is hard for me. I saw a few tables full of participants, and they all looked like they were already friends. I walked up to a table of friendly looking girls and basically said, “Hey guys I’m Lily. Can I sit with you?”
Immediately my nerves were calmed as all twelve welcomed me with open arms. As the time in our “scholar activities” room continued, I learned an excessive amount of names, home countries, and country groups of the people around me. I also immediately knew I was obsessed with the people here.
Celebrating the 4th with people not from the US:
My second day at the conference was the FOURTH OF JULY! Most of the other people did not celebrate it because they came from all round the world. Being one of few Americans, I taught them all about the culture of the United States. I even tricked a few into thinking we rode bald eagles (no lie)!
We watched the DC firework show on the top of the hill at the Air Force Memorial. Watching the DC fireworks was an amazing experience! I loved being able to share my culture with so many people from around the world.
The State Department was so strict (no phones or bags), but the speaker, who is a world affairs officer to China, really knew how to appeal to his audience. He used recently released movies to connect the Chinese and United States entertainment system to politics. Although I could not physically keep my eyes open due to sleep deprivation (tip: ACTUALLY SLEEP! BOY TALK CAN WAIT UNTIL BREAKFAST THE NEXT MORNING!), he was a very interactive speaker.
A cup of coffee later, I made it through the Saudi Arabian embassy. Before attending the embassy, we discussed stereotypes of those living in Saudi. For a long time, the American point of view of the women’s rights situation was that women did not have many rights. For example, women cannot drive, they wear full body coverings, they are almost always expected to skip education to begin a family… but after talking to a Saudi women, the rules are changing. Women are now a major part of the political system, more women are attending higher education than ever, and apparently it won’t be long before women are allowed to drive cars, which is a huge step in the right direction!
The Saudi ambassador explained that the reason they cannot implement immediate change is because of culture shock. It is so easy for Americans to say, “Oh, just pass a law giving women rights,” but it does not work like that. The new rules must first be accepted by the culture, which is currently in the works!
The day concluded with a speaker from the Peace Players organization. This organization uses children’s sports to bring together rival ethnic groups in third world countries. We heard success stories from a town in the Middle East where two religious groups were in a conflict, but were brought to peaceful terms through their children’s participation in the community basketball program. It was eye opening because some people say that children are so small that they cannot make a difference. But when the parents are brought together on the sidelines, get to talking, and realize the rival ethnic group is not all that bad, it’s life-changing.
United National Security Council Simulation:
Thursday was simulation day! During the past three days, we were preparing for the UN security council simulation. We were given a fictional problem based on the situation in Cyprus between Greek and Turkish Cypriots. Each country was in charge of creating a solution based on their country’s values. South Africa was focused on human rights, so our proposal did not side with one country or the other, we simply recommended a civil resolution be arranged within a certain time frame. There was more to it, but I won’t bore you with that. Overall, the simulation was a great way to truly see how the United Nations Security Council resolved conflicts (although Russia vetoed EVERYTHING).
The “Olympics” were such fun!!! My country group (South Africa) really bonded through mini relays, cup stacking, charades, and more! Although we didn’t win, we had the BEST time!
The Holocaust Museum, a photoshoot, and the memorials + monuments:
Visiting the Holocaust Museum was another eye opening experience. In the United States, we learn all about the Holocaust. In most countries, that is not the case. Most of the other scholars explained that they understood the general idea, but they did not know much about it. What is even more crazy is that some countries refuse to recognize it even happened. The museum was established to make sure we never forget, and to pay tribute to those who were a part of those horrific times.
Aside from the museum, my girls and I found the perfect photoshoot spot (instead of visiting more museums… oops)!
The travel day to New York City was actually fun. Five hours on the bus felt like no time at all because I was talking, laughing, and singing with my friends. We got the speaker going, and I realized that music is truly international. Most people from all the other countries listen to American music, and it’s pretty amazing that the US has that kind of influence.
We had a pit stop at the University of Pensilvania, stopped at the gift shop (shocking), and took some cute pictures!
We Visited Little Italy, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and Times Square. We shopped, took pictures, ate excessive amounts of Starbucks, laughed, and had the time of our lives.
United Nations Simulation:
The UN Global Summit Simulation was the big thing we were working towards throughout the program. We were placed on different councils (I was chair of the health council!!) to create resolutions to global problems. During the actual summit, we carried out procedures just as the United Nations would!
The farewell cruise was the highlight of my time at GYLC. It the final goodbye, but we danced and sang the night away on a boat in the Hudson River! We sailed around the Statue of Liberty, which was a first for me. The food was fantastic and the DJ knew how to keep the party going!! Overall, the cruise was my favorite part.
In the end, it’s really about the people. The friendships I made within the ten days given are friendships that I can guarantee will last a lifetime. Not very often do you have 350 people from 58 different countries in one place. It’s remarkable and almost surreal that now I have friends in all corners of the globe.
I loved having a fresh start. No one knew anything about me except my name and where I was from. It was so refreshing to build concrete relationships with people, knowing that I could truly be myself.
The one major thing that I will take away from this conference is that the world revolves around relationships. In the United Nations, many resolutions do not get passed because every country holds different values. It is so important to have the capability to respect each other. When culture’s clash, it is imperative that one is able to not necessary understand, but respect each other’s way of life. Exposing yourself to people who are so different than you is a crucial part of respecting culture.
It total, every single second of this journey was incredible. My worldview was changed, I grew within myself, and I had the time of my life. I cannot wait to travel the world to visit my new friends.
“Don’t cry because it’s over, smile because it happened.” -Dr. Sues