This year, a Saint Andrew’s School student delegation packed up their passion for global-mindedness and the IDEALS by attending the 2019 Round Square International Conference in Indore, India. The conference was hosted by Emerald Heights International School. While expectations were extraordinarily high for the six Saint Andrew’s students and two chaperones, nothing could have prepared the Saint Andrew’s delegation for what proved to be the journey of a lifetime.
Scots Christina Salvadore ’21, Nikolas Zelenikovski ’21, Ethan Palmer ’20, Ava Allegre ’21, Maya Patel ’21, and Emily Link ’21 represented our school with grace and aplomb and made Director of Student Life, Jason Glick, and Upper School Academic Technology Faculty member, Dr. Carolina Seiden incredibly proud.
The excursion began with a pre-conference tour of Northern India as led by the staff of the prestigious Punjab Public School (PPS) in Nabha, with exceptional leadership from their Round Square Representative, Mr. Russelljeet Singh Khatra. Highlights of the tour included a bike ride through the monkey roads of Nabha and a visit to the Golden Temple and Wagah Border in Amritsar. “It was incredible to experience life as a PPS student,” said Christina Salvadore. “It was so different, which made it amazing and invigorating,” she added.
During the visit to the Golden Temple, students witnessed the purest form of generosity. “The temple is home to the world’s largest community kitchen, and it was jaw-dropping to see how Sikh volunteers, many of whom don’t come from wealth themselves, gave hearty meals to thousands of visitors, regardless of religion,” said Ethan Palmer.
Of course, no student’s first visit to India is complete without taking in the wondrous Taj Mahal in all of its magnificent splendor. Walking along the brick pathway towards the World Wonder, the students breathed in the unseasonably cool air and shot furtive glances in every direction, unsure from which angle their first glimpse of the Taj would come. Once at the main inner gate, the guide, Gandu Chutia, stopped to prepare them for what was in store. Following his historical lecture, it was finally time to pass through the sacred and hallowed Main Gates. As the Taj materialized from beyond the arched entryway, one had to ask if the mighty panorama before them was a mirage or a hallucination of some sort.
“I enjoyed our visit to the Taj Mahal for the beauty and meaning. I was astonished to learn that Mughal emperor Shah Jahan, who reigned from 1628 to 1658, made the Taj Mahal for his wife. It is incredible how his love created an amazing wonder that the world has appreciated for so many years,” said Ava Allegre.
In preparation for the RSIC, the pre-conference delegation boarded a domestic flight from Delhi to Indore and soon arrived at the beautiful Emerald Heights campus. Over the next week, delegations were treated to wedding-grade receptions, jaw-dropping cultural performances, and first-rate keynote speakers, with appearances from Nobel Laureate Kailash Satyarthi, Indian Member of Parliament Shashi Tharoor, and musician and activist Madame Gandhi, among others. “During Shashi Tharoor’s speech, he highlighted the rich history of India, and stressed the importance of embracing diversity in today’s divided times,” offered Ethan.
“I enjoyed the small group portion of the conference as well as meeting new people from all over the world,” added Nikolas Zelenikovski.
The student delegates even “Ran 4 Cancer” with India’s first Blade Runner Major DP Singh, who was also one of the final keynote speakers of the conference. Having lost his leg on the battlefield in the Kargil War, Major Singh recovered from near death to become a motivational speaker and the first Indian to complete a marathon with a prosthetic. Shortly after running 1.5 miles with him just outside the school grounds, the students reconvened in the main auditorium for Singh’s keynote. Repeating the mantra I am the boss of my life, the inspirational keynote explained that adversity should be viewed as a welcomed gift, as adverse situations such as losing a limb can be a catalyst for positive change. “I loved Major Singh’s ‘I am the boss of my own life’ message. I really took to heart the idea of being accountable for one’s own actions and that life is about taking advantage of opportunities,” said Emily Link.
Maya also learned a great deal from Major Singh. “The run was fun and rewarding. After that event, we planted trees symbolizing that our service and compassion are part of the positive changes we are making in Indore and around the world.”
As the week progressed, students were immersed in the Indian culture as they partook in multi-cultural celebrations, donned traditional Indian garb, and even, in some cases, tied turbans in tandem with their new friends. Delegates also took part in adventure treks and lent their talents to a myriad of service projects. Highlights of the service excursions included border fence renovation at the Indore Cancer Foundation, interactions with underprivileged students at Gyanodaya School, rehabilitation efforts at the Kalyanmitra Smiti orphanage, and a visit to bring temporary warmth and whimsy to the old folks living at Aashtha Vriddhajan, amongst many other initiatives.
“While the work was difficult and emotional, it was important for our students to have this exposure and to learn from the plight of others. The students agreed that travel can teach us more about our own condition than the culture we are visiting. Only when we have taken a step back from our own lives can we begin to fully comprehend the privileges and problems we have, and to see ourselves with a renewed perspective,” said Mr. Glick.
In what seemed like the blinking of an eye, the India experience came to an end, and it was time to bid farewell to the people and places that left an indelible mark on the conference participants. “To put it plainly, the conference was an incredible experience which successfully fostered international understanding and literally brought people together from all over the globe,” reflected Mr. Glick. “Ms. Seiden, the students and I bonded together in a way that solidified relationships both at home and abroad, and further contributed to our healthy school spirit,” he added.
For an insider’s look into the 2019 Round Square experience, please click the following video link. https://youtu.be/xRFThQPbfA0