It’s true that you do not know what you have until you lose it. It’s also true that you do not know what you have been missing until it arrives. These were the last words that Hannah Sheffield, my faculty adviser from the Global Young Leaders Conference (GYLC), uttered before my fellow delegates and I parted ways and returned home to our respective countries. These were also the same powerful words that echoed inside my ears when I was aboard the Boeing 747 that was bound for Manila. As the plane slowly began to move along the runway minutes later, I told myself that although some of my life experiences had merely come and gone, I would always remember my GYLC experience because I met lots of amazing people from all walks of life, engaged in various eye-opening activities, explored the historical neighborhood of Washington D.C. and the bustling streets of New York City, and finally, changed the way I viewed the world.
I remembered the day when I first set foot at the lobby of the Sheraton Pentagon Hotel, the venue for the first part of the conference. As soon as I got inside, I started to feel lonely because I barely knew anyone in the crowd of foreigners. Fortunately, a Saudi Arabian girl approached me with a friendly smile and asked me what my name was and where I was from. She then introduced herself as Aseel Attar and shook my hand afterwards. Thanks to Aseel, I no longer felt out of place. Instead, I not only felt more welcome during the conference, but I also became more encouraged to reach out to the other delegates as well. Soon, I made friends with all kinds of people from around the world, including a Chinese pianist, a German figure skater, a Swedish gymnast, an Indian photographer, an Omanis fashion designer, and many other talented delegates. The list goes on.
On the contrary, making friends was not always easy. Sometimes, I found it hard to get along with the other delegates due to cultural misunderstandings. For instance, there was a time when I gave a Greek delegate a high five just to congratulate him for a job well done. Instead of also giving me a high five, he glared at me and briskly walked away. Had I known that I did a moutza, an insulting Greek gesture that means “go to the devil”, I would never have offended him. Sadly, I could not turn back time and reverse the damage. Although I had lost a potential friend, this experience changed the way I viewed the world by making me more aware of the culture of others and teaching me to see things from another person’s perspective.
This change, however, would never be possible without several eye-opening activities that took place during the conference. Some of these activities were talks by various leaders from the United Nations (UN), the International Monetary Fund (IMF), and other prominent organizations in the United States. During the talks, some speakers tackled a number of global issues while others discussed how their organizations resolved those problems. After each talk, delegates honed their skills in drafting policy proposals, debating on pressing issues like the Holocaust and global warming, and passing resolutions in their assigned Leadership Group Meetings (LGMs). These skills were then put to the test in the Global Summit Simulation, wherein country representatives from each of the eight commissions — trade and globalization, science and technology, development, environment, health, human rights, peace and security, and politics — had to propose, debate, and vote for one resolution for each commission.
What I liked about the Global Summit was that I got to place myself in the shoes of a diplomat and negotiate with the other delegates . In my case, as representative of the health commission of the United States, I had to voice out my country’s two main concerns, which were funding AIDS research and developing H1N1 vaccines, when it was my turn to speak during the Summit. As expected, Great Britain and France supported my resolution because controlling the spread of global pandemics was also their national interest. However, countries like Brazil and South Africa were against the proposition because they were more focused on providing appropriate medication for malaria and diarrhea. In order to settle the dispute, each country had to vote for one resolution and decisions were made based on the majority of the votes. Unfortunately, a tie occurred; thus, the motion failed. Nevertheless, the Global Summit taught me to respect and eventually appreciate the beliefs of others.
Aside from the talks and the Global Summit, I also obtained valuable insights from the Cultural Exchange Session, wherein each delegate had to share something about his or her culture with the rest of the audience. For example, an Indian named Raja told the legend of the Matsya, the first incarnation of Vishnu, while a Mexican named Ariela shared tamarind sweets with the group. Others like Ismail went as a far as dancing the Raqs Sharqi, a popular folk dance in Egypt. As for me, I taught the audience some basic Tagalog words like bababa ba, katakataka, and nakakapagpapagabag. Surprisingly, everyone loved the Tagalog language because it sounded like an ancient, long-lost language. In fact, Tagalog became so popular that everybody was muttering the three words over and over again for weeks. For the first time in my life, I felt proud to be a Filipino because I was happy to speak a language that people all over the world actually appreciated. It took me a long time, however, to realize this because I never gave much importance to Tagalog prior to the conference. Instead, I devoted much of my time speaking, reading, and writing in English at home. The only time I learned to value the Tagalog language was when I was miles away from home, in a place where there was nothing but my own race and culture to define me as a person.
To take a break from delegate life, I, together with my fellow delegates, toured the historical neighborhood of Washington D.C., where we visited the White House, the World War II Memorial, the Holocaust Museum, and the Natural History Museum. We also explored the bustling streets of New York City, where we watched a Broadway show called Matilda, did some thrift shopping at Chinatown , and did more shopping at Times Square. Sadly, all good things must come to an end, but before the clock struck twelve, we had our farewell dinner inside a cruise ship and danced the night away.
It’s true that you do not know what you have until you lose it. It’s also true that you do not know what you have been missing until it arrives. These were the last words that Hannah Sheffield uttered before my fellow delegates and I parted ways and returned home to our respective countries. After she said those words, tears rolled down on everyone’s cheeks. Come to think of it, we never cried during the start of the conference because we had all the time in the world at our disposal. We only cried when everything — our LGMs, Cultural Exchange Sessions, endless conversations, exciting adventures, and late-night parties — came to an end because we would never have another GYLC with the same people ever again. On the other hand, had this event never turned up in our lives, we would never have realized how incomplete they were. I pondered on these thoughts when I was aboard the Boeing 747 that was bound for Manila. As the plane slowly began to move along the runway minutes later, I told myself that although some of my life experiences had merely come and gone, I will always remember my GYLC experience. After several more minutes, the plane picked up speed, scratched the parched New York soil, and took off straight into the azure sky.