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GYLC: The Experience of a Lifetime

August, 2011
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How did you spend your summer? Relaxing on the beach under the sun? Shopping in the luxurious malls? Or frequently hanging out with your best friends? This year, a group from Shanghai Singapore International School spent 12 days of our summer from July 3 to 14 in Washington DC and New York attending the Global Young Leaders Conference along with 400 fellow teenagers from around the world.

gylc-group-photoThe Global Young Leaders Conference (GYLC) was founded by Dr Marguerite C. Reagan and “is designed to educate, inspire and motivate students by giving them the opportunity to explore cultural differences firsthand, absorb diplomatic skills daily, build confidence and enhance decision-making skills in an exciting atmosphere that is challenging and fun.” (Congressional Young Leadership Council, 2011).

Some of my peers had previously attended GYLC and most of them said that it was a great exposure. When it was ultimately our year to attend, around 20 of us submitted letters of recommendation and went through interviews with some of our teachers. We knew it wasn’t an opportunity to miss.

Though I was looking forward to this experience, I was quite jittery during the last few hours of the flight to Washington DC. When we arrived at the airport, we were greeted by staff of the GYLC and other teenagers like ourselves. I was very shy but when I saw others take the initiative to approach one another, I decided I had to do the same. I mean, we shouldn’t always be waiting for others to step up to us, because what if they’re also waiting for us. At the start of the conference, we got to meet our groups as we were to represent various countries. I was in the Bolivia group and there were approximately 20 of us under one supervisor. Through time, the ice broke as individuals’ true personalities came out. Those who seemed serious in the beginning started doing funky things like moonwalking and there were a few who always led the laughter that broke the silence. We got to learn more about each other’s cultures and most of all our personal opinions through leadership group meetings (LGMs). There was one particular LGM when everyone had to share at least one aspect of their nationality. Some brought in gifts which vanished immediately while others brought bizarre food items. By the end of it, I learned that licorice is popular in Argentina, Kenya coffee beans have a very strong aroma and that vuvuzela are horns blown during some African events. As gifts, I gave everyone a pair of user-friendly chopsticks. Well, how are they user-friendly? Because there’s a rubber holder on top, it allows convenient use. Many of them really liked the chopsticks because they didn’t have chopsticks and were eager to learn how to use them. I wasn’t the only person from Hong Kong in the group, hence I was worried that someone else would bring the same gifts. On the contrary, the two boys brought red packets. Everyone was disappointed to find no money in the red packets. I guess we all felt cheated.

In addition to a multi-cultural experience, we got to listen to speeches made by a college professor, the ambassador of the State Department in DC and the senior advisor and national advocate of the United Nations Foundation to name but a few. Speaking of the United Nations, our final simulation, the global summit, was held at the United Nations at New York. Before the global summit, we had provisions and trials. It took time to grasp the simulation at first but after a few run-throughs, we started getting used to it. Basically, during a simulation, there would be two or more parties involved with opposite or similar standpoints. After stating our views, the parties negotiate or debate between each other. Resolutions are made from 1 party or several parties. From there, all parties vote for the final resolution to the issue addressed. Throughout the process, I enjoyed the negotiations and debate sessions the most. Everyone sounded like leaders of the world attending a crucial meeting. It was a chance for us to use a serious tone and to have people take us seriously.

I am sure you have heard the phrase “Work hard, play hard!” Well, in the midst of the simulations, speeches and the global summit, we had the opportunity to visit tourist attractions in New York and DC. In DC, we went to renowned sights including the Lincoln Memorial, the United States Holocaust Memorial museum, the US Department of State and many others. We also had the privilege of viewing the fireworks of July 4th at the US Air Force Memorial. Out of all the sites we visited, I had the strongest impression from the Holocaust Memorial Museum. Both memorials are related to events of war I’ve studied in history class. In chronological order, the Holocaust Memorial Museum brought me through the persecution of Jews by the Nazis in WWII. The atmosphere in the museum was intense and subdued. Seeing that the displays follow a chronological order, I was witnessing the holocaust through evidence of the event. I remember walking on a bridge on top of a pile of shoes worn by the victims of the holocaust. Summarizing the quote at the display, it said, "We managed to escape the gas chambers while our owners didn’t." The museum brought my history lesson to life and though it wasn’t a pleasant, it taught us to not repeat mistakes made in the past.

bolivia-groupAway from the many superb memorials of DC, we witnessed the glamorous, florescent and bustling streets of Times Square in New York. Girls yelled as they scurried their way into Forever 21, and people were drooling as they stepped into both M&M and Hershey stores. Away from the busy streets, my friends and I had pizza for lunch at Little Italy. It reminded me of "The Godfather," and in fact the area was featured in several scenes.. Another site featured in the movie was Ellis Island, where back at the 1890s to 1900s it was the port of immigration. On our way to Ellis Island, we passed by the Statue of Liberty where my friends and I managed to stick our camera out the window to get the perfect shot of the figure. Other than shopping and visiting historical places, we got to watch Mary Poppins the musical! The singing, dancing, sets and special effects were superb! Everyone even sang along to "Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious!”

Our 12-day conference ended with a breathtaking cruise around NYC, passing by the Empire State building, the Brooklyn Bridge and most of all the statue of liberty just as it hit sunset. On the day we had to leave, one representative from each group went up to give a farewell speech. Some talked about the lessons they’ve learned on becoming a leader, some talked about the friendships made and some talked on the goals they’ve set and achieved through the conference. Everyone had something to take home with them from this experience. And just as we set out to return to our homes, we spoke or shall I say cried our farewells. I am usually not emotional during farewells, but I cried when the first friend I made in my group came over to say goodbye. Though there were moments in the conference when I was homesick, I don’t regret coming to the conference at all.

The conference taught me to step out of my comfort zone. I learned to approach people instead of waiting for others to approach me. My group mates also motivated me to give my opinion. During a meeting, my group mate encouraged me to comment on the topic. When I raised my hand, she lifted it up higher so that the advisor could see me. I was too bashful at first to contribute during discussions but I learned that there’s no point in considering what other people think of you. When we worry about that, it prevents us from being ourselves. How do we make a difference if all we care about is doing the same as others? GYLC allowed us to come together despite our differences to discuss issues faced by the world. It motivated us through organizations, individuals and one another to make a difference; whether it is in our own communities or maybe even on a global scale.

 

By Helena Halim,

Shanghai Singapore International School

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