Global Young Leaders Conference

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Sunday 12th July
I left Belfast on a mid morning flight to New York, my connecting flight to Washington was delayed by 4 hours so I arrived at the Global Young Leader’s Conference after all the introductions had been made. There were 350 scholars from all over the world at the conference, the simulations involved everyone but we were also divided into smaller working groups. I arrived at 2am Belfast time, which was 9pm Washington time and introduced myself to my Leadership Group, of course they all remembered me but it took me a while to get to know their names. I joined in the ‘ice-breaker’ games they were playing and got to know Lucy when we won a game of ‘pirate ship’ by being far too strategic and competitive for our own good!
Monday 13th July

We had our first serious Leadership Group Meeting. The Leadership Groups were groups of about 25 scholars. Most of our time was spent in discussions and debates with our group. Each group was assigned a country to represent in the various simulations throughout the conference. Our country group was Saudi Arabia, so I had done some research on the country before leaving. The meeting in the morning was to discuss the speaker we would hear, Dr Gary Weaver, a professor in American University. Our FA (faculty advisor / teacher) Ms. Nora gave us the analogy of the iceberg to explain cultural differences. In our group we marked some things such as architecture or dress as on the top of the iceberg as we can see these cultural effects. We placed things such as beliefs and tradition under the iceberg as these are parts of culture that cannot always be seen. Dr Gary Weaver outlined in his speech that whilst globalisation might make different cultures, such as those from the Eastern and Western world, seem identical above the surface this is not the case in beliefs below the surface.

We had lunch in Washington’s famous Union Station. After this we visited the Franklin D. Roosevelt and Thomas Jefferson memorials. Upon returning to the Sheraton National Hotel we heard from Ms Molly Blank who had made a documentary film about racial attacks in South Africa. It reminded me of news back in Northern Ireland just before I’d left about the Romanians who had left their homes due to racist attacks and intimidation. The attacks that had been occurring in South Africa were far more serious but similar in nature and with similar causes. The documentary film focused especially on why so many normally moderate people either joined in the attacks or did nothing to help the victims. Tutsi in our group was in Johannesburg at the time of the attacks and so was able to share her first hand experience with us later on when we were being debriefed in our leadership group meeting.

Tuesday 14th July

Ms Angelica Silvero was the first speaker of the day when we visited to World Bank Headquarters. Her speech detailed the World Bank’s transition from simply functioning as a bank to actively working for humanitarian improvement. She gave examples of many projects from around the world that had been supported by the World Bank and different nations’ roles as lenders and borrowers and she answered many tough questions from the scholars on cases of corruption. She pointed out that many of the countries where money is lost to corruption are the countries than need it the most, so simply refusing to give anything to these countries was not a solution to the issue as it would inevitably affect those in poverty more than the wealthy.

We had lunch in Georgetown and it was interesting to see around the American University. I also heard from a member of the Carnegie think-tank who visited Guantanamo Bay to investigate the effectiveness of US interrogation techniques especially in comparison to the Saudi Arabian system, which he had also visited. Finally that evening we took part in a World Trade Organisation simulation in which we had to resolve a dispute between the EU’s Airbus and the US’s Boeing, both of which had received unfair grants from their respective governments.

Wednesday 15th July

The day started with a visit to the US Department of State where the speaker outlined the Department’s commitment to securing peace and stability in the world through long-term development rather than short-term military action. However, he found it difficult to justify the large discrepancy between the budget for US aid and foreign development schemes and the far larger military budget.

In the afternoon we visited the Israeli Embassy, which prompted a healthy debate on the Middle East situation. It was particularily interesting to hear the views of people from Arabic countries and I expect that for many of them it was their first time hearing what Lucy had to say, as many of the scholars from Muslim backgrounds had never met someone of Jewish ancestry before. Our group also gained from Lucy’s personal connection to the Holocaust Museum which we visited the next day. I found many parallels between problems that exist in the Middle East and problems that have existed in Northern Ireland and I saw many cases were Northern Ireland was used as an example of how to resolve such conflict.

Thursday 16th July

In the morning we visited the US Holocaust Memorial Museum which really brought home many of the concepts of human rights that we had been discussing previously in our Leadership Group Meetings. We were able to explore Washington D.C and visit some of the Smithsonian Museums. That evening we prepared for the United Nations Security Council simulation.

Friday 17th July

We heard from the Humanitarian Issues Panel which was made up of guest speakers Ms Anderson from Mercy Corps, Ms Hill from Catholic Charities SUA and Mr Doyle a reporter for the McClatchy Newspapers. Mr Doyle was an especially interesting speaker as he often questioned the other speakers. Questions from the scholars ranged from whether vegetarianism was a moral imperative given food shortages to the impact of the Catholic Church’s teachings on contraception. We continued to prepare for the UN Security Council simulation throughout our Leadership Group Meetings that day.

The 17th of July was also my 17th birthday so at dinner Lucy and Camilla had organised a birthday party for me. They’d made a card for me of shared GYLC memories and wearing some makeshift party hats, they along with the other 350 scholars down for dinner sang happy birthday. Afterwards we went up to the rooftop of the Sheraton Hotel, which had a view over all of Washington D.C for an impromtu birthday party.

This was our last night in Washington D.C so we continued the party atmosphere back in our Leadership Group Meetings where we had a Cultural Exchange. I found out more about the different cultures represented in our group and I was also able to share a bit about Northern Ireland. Many of the other scholars were very amused when I showed them a photograph of Belfast’s skyline and named the Harland and Wolf cranes, they couldn’t understand how cranes, no matter how big, could be considered landmarks or have ‘names’. I explained to them about the heritage of ship building, including the Titanic. Some scholars also misunderstood the nature of the Giants Causeway, asking “how did they do that?” When I explained about the sudden cooling of volcanic magma when it hit the sea they still asked “Yes, but how did they get it to flow into the sea?” because they were still under the impression that it was man-made. In my cultural exchange I was also able to show them an unusually lightweight, blue ‘rock’ which was formed when a blue ulsterbus seat melted into the tarmac of the road. I found this rock when I was much younger a few days after the bus had been burned out one 11th night. I was also able to show them the Good Friday agreement and give a brief explanation of the troubles and what effect the agreement had.

Even though the other scholars’ knowledge of Northern Ireland would seem poor to us, it actually greatly impressed me as they had all heard of Northern Ireland whereas often I would be approached by people whose countries were much larger but I’d barely heard of. For example a representative from Belize was surprised that I didn’t know more about their country given that they’d been a part of the British Empire and still to this day export their entire banana crop (their main industry and largest employer) to Ireland through Fyffes which largely ‘owns’ their country. In fact, something I shared in common with the rest of the UK representatives was surprise at exactly how far the UKs news and influence extended across the world.

I noticed how despite everyone having many similarities, particularily as most of the scholars had received western style educations and had educated liberal families, even people from places such as Texas could have very different lifestyles from people here in Northern Ireland. Everyone in the group made it clear they’d love to welcome guests to their homes if other scholars wished to visit their country.

Saturday 18th July

Most of this day was spent travelling. We had a bus ride up to Philedelphia where we stopped to get lunch. Then we continued our journey to New York city. Upon arrival my luggage didn’t come out of the bus, though I was certain I had loaded it. Later on that night it turned up, in the girls dorms, thanks to the pink ribbon my mum had tied onto it! Manhattan College was a beautiful campus and we particularly enjoyed being able to congregate in the ‘quadrangle’ of grass in the courtyard.

Sunday 19th July

In the morning I went on my site visit to Ellis Island. I enjoyed the boat journey past Liberty Island to Ellis Island and it was interesting to see the buildings that some of my ancestors probably passed through. When I did a search for my family name on the records more results came up than I could look through. Back on Manhattan we ate lunch in Times Square, which has now been pedestrianised. It amused me that many Americans seemed to think it was a radically new idea, despite it being common in the centres of most European towns and cities. We then went to see Mary Poppins on Broadway, the first time I had ever been to a musical.

Upon returning to Manhattan College we had our first Commission Meeting. In these Commission Meetings we prepared resolutions to various issues for our United Nations Global Summit happening at the end of the week. I was repesenting Saudi Arabia on the Political Committee and argued for a resolution which would give Saudi Arabia permanent Security Council membership, on the basis that despite being the world’s 2nd largest and fastest growing religion Islam was not represented on the Security Council and that Saudi Arabia’s oil made it an important world power.

Monday 20th July

We had to report back to our Leadership Group and Country Group on what had happened in our Commissions so that we could maintain an overview of the summit as a whole. We then had a speaker from the financial world, Mr DeNaut from Deutsche Bank. He emphasised the impact of globalisation in terms of the current global recession and hinted that perhaps in the future Europe would be favoured as a more stable financial entity because of the origins of the recession in the US financial market. We had a further two Commission Meetings and Leadership Group meetings in preparation for the Global Summit.

Monday 20th July

We had to report back to our Leadership Group and Country Group on what had happened in our Commissions so that we could maintain an overview of the summit as a whole. We then had a speaker from the financial world, Mr DeNaut from Deutsche Bank. He emphasised the impact of globalisation in terms of the current global recession and hinted that perhaps in the future Europe would be favoured as a more stable financial entity because of the origins of the recession in the US financial market. We had a further two Commission Meetings and Leadership Group meetings in preparation for the Global Summit.

Tuesday 21st July

After breakfast we spent some hours negotiating with other country groups to try and win support for our resolution, ahead of the debate in the United Nations. We then boarded buses and drove to the United Nations where we heard from Ms Sorensen who had many years experience in the different functions of the UN. She was able to give us a rare insight into the lives of diplomats and the prerequisits for jobs in international relations. That evening we had our ‘National Delegation Rally’ where each country had to sing a song or dance to show off an aspect of their culture. The Saudi Arabian group danced to ‘Saudi boy – crank dat oil’ (new lyrics to the pop song ‘Soulja boy’) and got Christian from Florida to do a belly dance.

Wednesday 22nd July

Finally after much preparation we had our Global Summit in the United Nations buildings on Manhattan. Being in a real UN conference hall gave a great atmosphere to the debates. Unfortunately Saudi Arabia did not become a permanent Security Council member, but it was a close vote and we definitely won over many member nations. Inevitably the threat of a veto was what killed the resolution. The resolution from Human Rights regarding the problem of Genocide contained a clause that was in breach of the UN charter. To change the charter requires a 2/3 majority vote in the general assembly. I had a copy of the UN Charter with me and realised this wasn’t in order, so Saudi Arabia made a point of order and the resolution failed without reaching the 2/3 majority.

We had lunch in China town and little Italy, it was fascinating to see the diversity on Manhattan island, as these places actually felt as though they were in a different country. We returned to Manhattan College to discuss the events of the summit with our country groups and to get ready for the farewell dinner cruise. The cruise around Manhattan Island was a beautiful way to see the city and to end the experience, and provided many photo opportunities with my friends.

Thursday 23rd July

Everyone had become surprisingly close during the conference and as it was the last day I had to say goodbye to many friends. Even though the conference had a strict schedule and an even stricter lights out at 10.30, that really just marked the start of the evening’s socialising. We moved from room to room after lights out and chatted and got to know many more people than we would have otherwise, these informal gatherings went on into the small hours and we ended up sleeping in whatever room we were in when we got sufficiently tired, returning to our own rooms in the morning to shower and change. I made the most of these opportunities to meet other young people from all around the world and to exchange contact details with them.

The conference ended at 10am but my flight wasn’t until 9pm that night. Luckily there were others who also had late flights so we spent the day together exploring Manhattan.


Keeping in contact with almost 350 people across 5 continents can never be easy, but it’s been possible through Facebook. For the first few days that I was home I existed not in East Coast time or GMT, but in ‘internet time’ which was simply whatever time people were uploading their GYLC photos to facebook. I’ve been able to chat to many of the other scholars so we can keep in touch. I wouldn’t recommend it as a cure for jetlag though, as when I’m talking to people in America it might be early evening for them but 2am for me! Even more complicated are those in Australia, I have to bear in mind that evening for me is morning for them. It’s also strange to be reminded that they are still in their winter so are not off school. The amount of followup on facebook has been incredible, the days after the conference I would be struggling through 75 messages each morning and I’m already organising to meet up with some of the scholars in London at Christmas as well as a reunion being planned for the future.

Download the full schedule.