The unique global conference, hosted by Collegiate School, brought together students from China, India, Italy, Kazakhstan, Lebanon, Malaysia, Mexico, Morocco, South Africa, Spain and the U.S. and tasked them with designing viable solutions to real-world problems their countries face.
“This is the single most important part of my education,” said Collegiate senior Sonja Kapadia about the conference. “International relations is an interest of mine and now I have a social network and an academic network that reaches all corners of the world.”
The students’ full schedule included discussions with local marketing, branding and design experts. They visited an environmental center, as well as the University of Richmond and Virginia Commonwealth University, where they participated in a design thinking session with leaders of the daVinci Center for Innovation. Later in the week, the students participated in a forum on terrorism and the media, took part in a Cultural Fair for 3rd and 4th Grade students and their families, and visited JK-12 classrooms, where they engaged in conversation with students about life in their home countries.
The week led up to the DesignPitch event, during which student groups pitched their product designs to an audience of Collegiate community members and the general public.
“It was exhausting but rewarding,” said Collegiate senior Parker Conquest. “I’m naturally an introvert but participating in the conference makes me an extrovert. When’s the next time I’m going to be able to meet someone from Kazakhstan or Lebanon?”
International delegate Haya Ghandour from Lebanon enjoyed being in a completely different setting and teaming up with high school students from around the world.
“I feel privileged to be here,” she said. “We’re learning a whole new way of doing things. It is a whole new learning experience. We see the similarities between us and we’re breaking down stereotypes.”
While in Richmond, the international delegates stayed with host families in the Collegiate community, giving an even larger number of people a chance to engage in the conference.
Haley and Julian Ottley, parents of 6th Grader Lucy, sophomore Catherine and senior Mary, have hosted a student for three years. This year, they welcomed a student from Mexico.
“We’re getting to see different perspectives and it’s incredible for my children,” Mrs. Ottley said. “These are lifelong relationships that are forming.”
Janet Dibbs and Michael Laming, parents of sophomore Stephen and senior Gillian, have served as hosts for five years. Ms. Dibbs says the experience benefits her entire family and that the international students serve as positive role models.
“The exposure to cultures and points of view is so important and helpful for my children,” she said. “Hosting an international guest personalizes the world for them. These are terrific young men and women our students are exposed to.”
The international delegates travel back to their home countries on Oct. 10.