After their arrival in the nation’s capital this week, 41 high school students from 10 countries, along with 20 Collegiate senior ambassadors, convened at Collegiate School for the start of the 6th Annual International Emerging Leaders Conference.
During their 10-day stay with Collegiate host families, the student guests and their chaperones will visit with JK-12 students and collaborate on business-oriented solutions for environmental challenges facing their countries.
At Sharp Academic Commons, the students were welcomed to Richmond and the Collegiate campus by Collegiate Director of Responsible Citizenship, Clare Sisisky, and Assistant Head of School J.P. Watson. Mrs. Sisisky expressed her delight at the students’ participation in the conference and her excitement at the opportunity for them to explore their surroundings.
“One of the great things for us is to see our own town though the lens of someone else,” she said, “the lens of someone not even from the United States.”
The students then embarked on a whirlwind day of icebreaking activities and team-building exercises designed to foster trust and communication among the group and to help them get to know each other.
“I was worried in the beginning, but in the end it went very well,” said Clelia R. of Italy. “Everyone is so kind and open-minded. It was very fun!”
Monday dawned with a full schedule of activities, workshops, speakers and presentations. At the Upper School Assembly, each international delegation — China, India, Italy, Kazakhstan, Lebanon, Malaysia, Mexico, Morocco, South Africa and Spain — was introduced to thunderous applause. The audience then heard from John Dau, Collegiate’s Global Scholar-in-Residence, who shared his personal story of being one of the “Lost Boys” of Sudan.
“I was not born a leader,” he said. “My situation put me in the position to be a leader.”
Mr. Dau continued, saying that he survived because he kept moving forward.
“Problems are everywhere,” he said. “Situations are everywhere. In every one of our countries. A responsible citizen never gives up. A responsible citizen says, ‘I will be the solution.’”
One goal of the conference is that the international teens — and the Collegiate students participating in the formal conference — will have not only formed meaningful cross-cultural friendships, but also will have devised potentially viable solutions to pressing global environmental issues.
“This unique partnership is preparing all 61 of the student participants to think beyond the borders of their schools and even their nations, to solve real-world problems, within the context of collaborative learning and friendship," said Mrs. Sisisky. “The 10 days these students spend immersing themselves in Richmond's rich offerings and in each other's worlds will shape their views and decisions for a lifetime.”
The conference culminates in a DesignPitch session on Thursday, Oct. 6 from 6:30-8 p.m., in which students present their solutions to the community. The session is open to the general public.
On Friday, the international students will spend the morning visiting JK-12 classrooms and the afternoon participating in a Cultural Fair for 3rd and 4th Grade students and their families. They return to their home countries on Oct. 10.