I walked into the basement of a house in Cambridge, Mass., where twenty-nine scholars were gathered around a circular table. The room was tight and the chairs were full, but that did not stop the scholars from magically shuffling and absorbing me into the circle. Together, we represented ethnicities from every corner of the world. As each one of us shared our story, the 16-by-16-foot room extended thousands of miles around the globe.
I had been welcomed to the Global Citizen Youth Summit earlier that morning, with hugs, water, energy bars, and a whiteboard which asked: “How do you feel?” I wrote “Let’s do it.” The Summit brings high school students from around the world to Cambridge for a nine days culminating in a “Glocal” Project encouraging the students to think global and act local. Our home was Irving House, off Harvard Square, with a kind of London-hotel vibe: vintage furniture, delicious breakfasts, and extra cozy rooms (at least the one my roommate and I got). But the heart of Irving House was its basement, a place where we gathered for morning meetings (which reminded me more of sermons), sang, bonded, did homework, and knit together our relationships.
The summit was more than our basement activities. Lectures and Harkness discussions over the nine days covered subjects ranging from education to psychology. We heard from visiting speakers such as Ben Zanders, director of the Boston Philharmonic Youth Orchestra and the author of The Art of Possibility; Lisa MacFarlane, the current principle of Philip Exeter academy; and Jack Meyer, who is famously known for quadrupling Harvard’s endowment in 15 years.
My favorite was Ms. MacFarlane’s talk, who presented an educational philosophy regarding love of learning and creativity through the children’s story The Cat In The Hat. Her talk was memorable and important in a time where students are only focused on the quantifiable measurement of their learning rather than its immeasurable depth.
The summit did an excellent job at connecting the scholars together. Our white polo-shirts negated any socioeconomic differences. Our daily lunch on a budget pushed us to explore every possible restaurant within our neighborhood—in other words the twelve dollar lunches really gave us a look at what college life looks like in terms of being broke, but in a good way.
Undivided, we would walk to and from lectures and activities in one large group consisting of teachers, TAs, and scholars. During our many walks, each person spoke to at least six people. We were a group of diverse students all united by our polos, laughter, and energy. A sight to behold.
The last four days of the summit, we worked on our Glocal projects, which mirrored the learning from our lectures and environment. They were daring, full of energy, empathy, and creativity. Each group consisted of four scholars and an adviser. (My group: Mongolian, Indian, Chinese, and Syrian, with an American adviser.) Out of the three categories—Energy, Education and Equity—we chose to focus on the latter, and just like that us four teenagers sat down to tackle different problems of the world.
My project was an expansion on a nonprofit I established in Jordan with two of my friends, an NGO called Fikra 3al Mashi (the walking idea in Arabic). We wanted to provide Syrian refugees in Jordan with technological tools to educate themselves. To make it more sustainable, I drew up a plan in consultation with my fellow scholars to establish computer labs which can be used by refugees to educate themselves. Other projects in my group included adding critical thinking to the Mongolian curriculum, writing a book about veteran narratives, and establishing an online tool to help people with mental illness.
As a Syrian, a kidnap victim, and a refugee who was denied education for three years (I’m on schedule to graduate high school at 21), I never thought I would have the chance to attend such summit. However, as Ben Zanders said, “we live in a world of possibilities,” and attending the Global Citizen Youth Summit was a possibility I will never forget. It was a place where I entered as a foreigner and left as a family member, and where I learned that not all Republicans are conservative, especially not my roommate who I am now in constant contact with.
Global Citizenship means global empathy. Our experiences at the summit—the lectures, the Harkness discussions, the laughter—all awoke a sense of purpose in us and taught us that, like our polo shirts, our problems may come in different sizes but we’re united in what we intend to do with them.