A group of five students traveled around South Africa for a Round Square conference for ten days in October. Kelsey Gallagher ’13, Anna Pettee ’13, Cole Horton ’14, Caroline Ashford ’14 and Jared Armes ’15 were selected to attend through Round Square’s application and interview process. Health and anatomy teacher Kristen Loftus accompanied the students. They traveled to Johannesburg, where they stayed at the Oprah Windfrey Leadership Academy for girls with roommates from all around the world, and Nelspruit, where they attended the conference held at Penryn College.
The theme of the conference was “No Existence without Co-Existence,” which focused mainly on what individuals could accomplish with the confidence to pursue their dreams, according to Gallagher.
This theme was embodied throughout the students’ journey in South Africa. Pettee said, “I feel that my experience totally manifested that ideal. I met amazing kids my age, with whom I could relate, from countries all over the world that I dream of visiting,”
Though the conference was the main reason for travelling sixteen hours to South Africa, there were many activities and excursions outside of the conference. The group visited the Apartheid museum, explored the city of Johannesburg and interacted with children at a primary school in a rural area of Nelspruit. “South Africa is a beautiful and profound country,” said Pettee. “You can see shadows of tall buildings casted over shantytowns.”
While Pettee admired her surroundings, her fellow team member enjoyed meeting children at the primary school. “Visiting the primary school was the most touching experience I had on the trip,” said Gallagher, “I taught them how to play duck-duck-goose, and instead of chasing eachother around the circle, the children held hands and skipped together.”
Pettee also agreed with Gallagher, “The children were so enthusiastic and excited to see all of us; it was like we were family.”
The culture shock impacted the group as well. Gallagher said, “The whole experience certainly changed my perspective on life and showed me how privileged I am. I have always lived in the same town in New Jersey and never experienced such a different culture.”
Horton stated, “the conference taught me a lot about how to analyze certain international issues from a variety of viewpoints.”
Mrs. Loftus said, “I was very impressed with all the students who attended from all parts of the world. I can only imagine how different the world would be if conferences like this could have happened 100 years ago.”
Gallagher and Pettee described the farewell to South Africa as “bittersweet.” However, each of the group members said that they walked away with valuable experiences and encourage others to apply for next year’s conference in Florida.