Five students and two teachers shared experiences with international peers, discussed current events, and got acquainted with the city of Ottawa at this year’s Round Square International Conference in Canada.
Each year, Round Square organizes the conference for a range of international schools to share global perspectives. Ashbury College, Lower Canada College, and Appleby College hosted around 90 schools and 300 students at the September 27 to October 3 conference that staged “Bring Your Difference” as this year’s theme.
Director of Global Education Karina Baum attended the conference along with Special Assistant to the Head of School for Inclusive Communities Leila Bailey-Stewart and five students: Emma Harden, Claire Zhang (both ’20), Lily Garvey, Ollie Garvey, and Alan Bers (all ’21). After students applied to attend with a description of how the opportunity would benefit themselves and the greater community, Dr. Baum notified them of their acceptance over the summer.
In anticipation of the conference, Emma expressed her eagerness to partake in an international event.
“I loved the idea of going to a conference with students from all over the world to talk about matters that are very important,” she said. “I’m excited to meet and have discussions with students from different cultures that are just as passionate about these topics as I am!”
The conference dedicated various days to theme-linked activities, with an “Adventure Day” for activities like zip-lining and cave-exploring followed by a “Service Day” constructing things like birdhouses and bat-houses. There was also a day dedicated to the indigenous peoples of Canada, during which students and teachers enjoyed song and dance performances by indigenous artists and spoke with a panel of people from different indigenous groups who talked about their experiences with persecution in Canada.
“I was fascinated to learn more about how the Canadian government is working toward a process of reconciliation with indigenous peoples,” Dr. Baum said. “Canada is a model of what America could be if we decide to engage in open dialogue with our Native American populations, and I’m hopeful that one day in the near future we will also engage in such a reconciliation process.”
Students also heard from various guest speakers throughout their trip, including anthropologist Wade Davis, Sophie Trudeau (wife of Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau), and Olympic hockey player Jayna Hefford, among others.
Among the educational exercises run by the conference was a “refugee simulation” in which students were assigned to groups of hypothetical “families” looking to immigrate to specific countries. The student groups making up the families had to complete challenges like defending themselves against robbers, carrying water buckets, and setting up tents in order to obtain food, water, and housing stamps.
“It felt real,” Claire said, “and we got to experience how hard it must be for refugees to get what they needed and the dangers they could meet along the way.”
The conference ended with a cultural evening, where students had the opportunity to share parts of their own cultures through songs, dances, and other performances. Emma performed a song on ukulele, a Hawaiian instrument, as an expression of our American culture.
Claire said she was impressed by the conference’s focus on current events and reflected on how students become informed about important global issues.
“We realized that we find out more about current events through social media than we do from school,” Claire said. “We think that current events need to be more talked about in school.”
Established in 1966, Round Square is a network of 200 schools in 50 countries. Their six “IDEALS” are international understanding, democracy, environmental stewardship, adventure, leadership, and service.
Conference attendees experienced these ideals firsthand and returned home having formed lasting bonds with their new international peers, Lily said.
“I thought it was so amazing to meet students from all over the world,” she said. “I had such a great time getting to know new people with such diverse beliefs and backgrounds.”
Ms. Bailey-Stewart said she attended the conference in order to learn more about one of the ways the school is involved with global education and to observe what this type of immersive experience entails. Afterward, she emphasized the value of human diversity.
“This conference was about the fact that as human beings, we’re all unique, and that uniqueness is what makes us amazing,” she said. “When you acknowledge and respect that uniqueness, that’s when you see the greatest things happening.”