Round Square Conference 2016: The Journey That Makes Us
By Sehyr Bhattal, Grade 12, Dover Campus
The Round Square Conference was not your typical conference. A typical conference is a conglomeration of different people, all sprinkled into one big room, sitting together, sharing thoughts delivered in professional jargon; strewing abstract concepts and words like ‘equitable change’, here and there. The conference that we were ever so privileged to participate in I can blissfully guarantee you was far from that. Instead it was a conglomeration of hearts. I say this earnestly because as the theme of the conference was ‘the journey that makes us’, we were easily able to access an assortment of different life narratives: whether it be from record setting astronauts, NGO CEO’s, successful bankers, rap battling poets, or kids just like us trying to shift their young and wide-eyed presence into doing something memorable: trying to change lives. That was the most exquisite aspect of all. Whether these people had solar equipped schools in Rajasthan and provided education for hundreds of young girls, broke through the barriers of the old boys club of oil company executives, or undertook risky excursions to the Gaza Strip to help with communal social programs: a life had changed in the process. This conference urged us to grasp that change, itself, is really an organic concept we ourselves can constantly modify in order for the progress of humanity, the progress of ideas, and the progress of unity. In a world peppered with dismantling liberal institutions, skyrocketing xenophobia, and freshly intolerant politicians with unfortunate hair coloring, this progress is demanded more than ever.
This idea of unity was the most fundamental aspect of the conference as a whole. This is one of the concepts that set the Round Square conferences apart from other conferences as they are attempting to broaden intercultural understanding, enhance leadership skills, and provide opportunity for personal development. A Grade 10 participant, Luke Kang, phrased it beautifully, ‘the real value of the conference comes from it’s ability to bring people together: people who care about the environment, people who care about other people’. This notion of uniting people together to converse eloquently, radically, and enduringly passionately about installments, initiatives, and ideas for integration of change was really the key attribute that underpinned the entire conference. Luke later went on to say that, ‘it taught me that it takes more courage to care about others than to ignore them’. This was undeniably true, as in the Baraza sessions (discussion groups) where we discussed the speeches and round square ideals, a striking amount of students opened up about their own personal afflictions, home, and cultural dilemmas. Despite present obstacles they had endured, some started a program to teach girls to code, or engaged in a nation wide mathematics competition when the entire competition was overwhelming male (her team ended up coming second place by the way). These stories helped us to understand that improving and working for what we care about ultimately unravels layers about ourselves and about the world: it is through this that we find the journey that comes to make us as individuals and as people part of a global community. More than anything, sometimes the hardest thing is to step away from one’s harmonious societal bubble, which features an elite equal education, a zero crime rate neighborhood, and doting parents, to see the conditions of life elsewhere.
Aside from the enriching information we absorbed about different accounts of what ‘the journey that makes us’ meant for the guest speakers and the ways that the Round Square ideals were found in such stories, we were privileged to interact and make friends with other students. These students were from familiar and exotic corners of the world: South Africa, Pakistan, Bermuda, Chile, Tanzania, and Australia, just to name a few. This situation enabled us to exchange experiences and understandings from the array of different countries and cultures. On a personal level through different accounts and characteristics of these other students we were in essence enabled to access snippets of their journeys: snippets of their unique and diverse stories that synthesized to become stores of sustainable knowledge to bring back to Singapore. Such internationalism that manifested was yet another Round Square ideal and also presented itself towards the end of the conference through the beautiful culture night we witnessed which featured Indian traditional dance, Irish dancing, and salsa.
From expanding our intercultural understanding, providing us opportunity for personal development, and allowing us to forge long lasting friendships: it’s safe to say that without a breath of hesitation we would whisk away to sign up once again.