Off Campus

South Africa conference inspires new collaborations

Eight community members traveled nearly 8,000 miles to Cape Town, South Africa, last month to forge new friendships and to seek and celebrate intercultural understanding at the 51st annual Round Square International Conference (RSIC). 

Established in 1966, Round Square is a coalition of schools from 50 countries around the globe that share a passion for experiential learning built around the six ideals of internationalism, democracy, environmentalism, adventure, leadership, and service, according to its website. The school joined the coalition earlier this year after Head of School Rebecca Upham and Director of Global Education Karina Baum attended last fall’s RSIC in Switzerland.

In addition to Dr. Baum and Ms. Upham, Upper School (US) Counselor Sarah Vollmann and five US students—Emily Angelino ’20, Rebecca Mironko, Kevin Ye (both ’19), Matt Walsh, and Alia Rizvi (both ’18)—made the trip this year. They gained their spots by applying alongside 26 other students with a statement about why they wanted to attend the trip and what they thought of the Round Square ideals. Dr. Baum notified them of their approval over the summer, and they flew into Cape Town on September 28.

The conference kicked off with an activity called Amazing Race, which invited students from the 180 participating schools to perform a variety of tasks relating to Round Square’s main values. One such activity was planting seeds to honor the principle of environmentalism. Another activity focused on teamwork, which required students to collaborate in finding different animals in an aquarium, creating aclay project.

The next morning, students participated in scheduled activities like playing with children at a local preschool. The group spent the third day listening to several keynote speakers. One addressed the importance of lions and leopards in the wild, and another spoke about losing a limb in a shark attack. The students discussed these speeches and other ideas afterward in groups called “barazas

,” the Swahili word for “the coming together of different people,” Dr. Baum said.

Matt said his baraza talked about different subjects ranging from sustainability in the fishing industry to the pronunciation of the word “aluminum.”

“No matter what we talked about, it was always so interesting to hear opinions from all around the world, places like Kenya, India, Bermuda, Canada, and more,” he said.

The next day, students split off into groups and hiked along the Berg River Dam and Paarl Rock, which allowed participants to bond in a setting other than discussion, Ms. Vollmann said.

“The scenery was spectacular, the vegetation was beautiful, [and] there were all these succulents and flowers—it was just so beautiful,” she said.

Ms. Vollmann also spoke enthusiastically about getting to know two South African women on the hike.

“We were walking for hours, so we really got to have a wonderful, in-depth conversation about their school and our different cultures. It was really great.”

The students participated in another baraza on the last day of the conference, and they spent the remaining two days of the trip before their October 10 arrival home purchasing souvenirs, attending local markets, and exploring other parts of Cape Town.

Rebecca said she enjoyed both the conference and the opportunity to return to her childhood country. Although born in the United States, Rebecca spent over a decade of her life, from ages 2 to 13, in South Africa.

“When we were driving from the airport, I saw a lot of places that made me nostalgic—places that I hadn’t seen since my childhood,” she said.

“The trip was valuable [because] we made great connections with people from all around the world,” she added, “which is crazy because we only knew them for five or six days.”

Dr. Baum expressed appreciation for the opportunity to interact with the international community.

“It does not matter what school we come from,” she said. “We all face similar challenges and take advantage of opportunities—like the one the conference presented—to learn from one another.”

Alia said the group returned from the conference inspired to improve BB&N with respect to the Round Square ideals, especially through new service or sustainability projects informed or joined by various members of the Round Square network.

“The conference as a whole helped us deepen our understanding of Round Square and its community,” she said. “We realized how easily we can strengthen BB&N by drawing ideas from other schools, and everyone is looking forward to that collaboration.”

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