The Most Life Changing Experience

Words cannot describe the empowerment and inspiration I have gained and learned this week. I cannot get over how lucky I was to have been selected from 2100 other applicants to meet 44 other young and motivated change makers from 39 countries from across the world. 

We arrived as strangers from different cultures, backgrounds and upbringings. Yet we were all there for one reason. To make a change. 

It was this reason that made it so easy for us to work together and become friends. We all had different things we wanted to change and raise awareness of in our communities, yet we were open minded and communicated with each other effectively to teach and learn about other cultures. 

The summit was held at American University, Washington D.C. at which we arrived on Monday afternoon. Each fellow was given a registration pack which consisted of two t-shirts, a waterbottle, a notebook and pen, sunglasses and a schedule. 

Amongst the pack was a passion worksheet which consisted of 5 fairly challenging questions. We then had the opportunity to speak to the other individuals whilst having dinner. After dinner was  cultural orientation, which required us to talk to people we had not yet spoken to about our name story, then answer 5 deep questions to someone different. After a bit of housekeeping and rules it was time for bed. 

The second day was long, but so amazing, motivating and inspiring. Breakfast began at 7.30, followed by the opening ceremony at 8.15 where we learned about the background of CIEE and receieved a talk from Kevin Saba (Department of State’s Global Partnership Initiative ) who said ” your life will be shaped by the people you meet, the books you read and the experiences you collect.” We then had more intercultural training regarding communication and knowing what is effective and appropriate when talking to people from different cultures. Mentor Dida from Ashoka then gave a talk about how to change the world, and emphasised the importance of commitment to your passion, taking action on what you can do and taking one step at a time. He was so inspiring and motivating and got us all excited for the day ahead.

The rest of the day was spent in our five smaller groups. In which we began by introducing ourselves in a throw and catch game, then thought about our passions, skills, problems, groups and ventures. It was so interesting to talk about all our different passions, skills and problems and discovered that the education system was the root of many of our issues in all 9 of our countries but for different reasons. After a quick lunch break, we broke off into three smaller groups of three to work on a venture combining all three of our ideas. We were then taught the art of a good pitch which we used to talk to strangers around campus to gain their thoughts and feedback before presenting to the group and picking our favourite. For the closing activity, we each got to write something positive on each other’s t-shirts.

Dinner consisted of pizza and chocolate cake as it was a fellows’ birthday, before listening to a presentation by Girl Rising who demonstrated the importance of educating girls by using the “story of us” to make a change. At 9pm we were dismissed for the day.

Day 2 began with breakfast at 7.15 followed by more intercultural training. In this session, we were required to sit with someone we weren’t familiar with, and together, draw a house with one pen without talking. Funnily enough, despite being from 40 countries, the majority, minus one or two exceptions, drew a basic square house with a triangular roof and possibly a chimney. We then had a quick break and a talk from The Rule of Law, discussing corruption in politics and around the world. For me, it was astounding and quite upsetting how much corruption there is in the world and how little power the people have over it. It made me realise how lucky I am to live in the UK. 

Afterward, Street Law came in and we broke off into three groups and four smaller subgroups. In these groups we discussed and wrote down the attitudes, skills, knowledge and actions of a good citizen and explain to the rest of the group why these were important. In the next exercise, we were given scenarios and we had to stand on different sides of the room depending on whether they should, or should not be, a crime, enabling a debate on our reasonings. 

It was then the moment we had all been waiting for. The tour of Washington D.C.! We began the tour on the bus and hopped on and off it at various points around the city. It was a quick and tiring tour due to the time restraint, heat and humidity but it was very interesting and inspiring to learn about the history of each site. We managed to see Capitol Hill, The White House (which is much smaller in real life), the Abraham Lincoln memorial, the Washington Monument, the Vietnam War memorial and my favourite- the Martin Luther King Memorial. All in just over 3 hours!

After dinner, it was time for the venture “pitch off” between each groups’ venture winners. It was really good to see what everyone had done and how they were all different. We then had a few emotional final words followed by a closing ceremony, where we each received certificates and could say our farewells to the CIEE leaders. 

It was now our turn to control the schedule, so we got changed and ready to head out into D.C.. However it took about two hours as we realised we could not organise ourselves! Eventually, we managed to decide on a jazz bar which had an awesome live jazz band playing. It was so unique and we all managed to have deep and meaningful conversations about current issues as well as have fun. And, like any other night out, it finished in McDonald’s! 

It may seem as though the tour of D.C. would be an obvious favourite part of the week, but for me, I loved the cultural development sessions and the other deep conversations I had with the fellows regarding our cultures and global issues. This week has ignited something within me to make a change and difference, as well as travel to all these amazing countries and experience their cultures for myself. “You can make a change if you have a passion, the willingness to take a risk and taking this risk”, (Kevin Saba, 2017). 

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