By Alex Byrne and Grace Goldberg
“There is more in us than we know. If we can be made to see it, perhaps for the rest of our lives, we will be unwilling to settle for less.” These words by Kurt Hahn, founder of two Round Square schools, relate to the theme of this year’s Round Square International Conference, ‘Bring your Difference’. The event was held at Appleby College’s beautiful Oakville campus. Over 400 students from 40 countries met on the shores of Lake Ontario in order to participate in this once-in-a-lifetime leadership opportunity.
Our international peers were excited to have a Canadian wilderness experience, and Appleby granted this wish by taking us to the Muskoka Woods Camp on Lake Rosseau. We spent three days participating in leadership and team-building activities, which included building giant cardboard bridges, changing the wheels on real race cars, simulating international trade relationships, and sampling maple syrup. Through all this we grew closer as a group and made friendships with people from many countries and diverse cultures.
We also had the opportunity to listen to some truly inspirational guest speakers, who shared their stories about how they brought their difference to the world. Our first speaker, BC anthropologist and author, Wade Davis, spoke about his experiences living in traditional societies around the world. He taught us that we should embrace our differences and recognize our similarities. We also heard from activist, lawyer, comedian and TV show host, Candy Palmater, who, through her inspirational life story, taught us about the importance of believing in yourself even in the face of adversity. Her experience of being a Mi’kmaw woman in Canada proved that our differences are not a hindrance but an advantage —so long as you find the strength to be resilient against adversity. The Rt. Honourable Adrienne Clarkson, former Governor General, journalist, author and founder of Six Degrees, an organization that allows for a conversation of inclusion, belonging and diversity in the 21st century, capped off our fifth day. Her journey from three-year-old refugee to the highest political office in Canada astonished the delegates and also reminded us about the importance of equal education for all. She was particularly passionate about having moved to a country where diversity is embraced. Lastly, we heard from award-winning poet, activist and multimedia artist, Ian Keketu, who entertained us with three slam poems that explored themes of being different—highlighting left-handedness in a right-handed world, racial divides, and how important it is to be committed.
However, this conference was certainly not all work and no play; we were entertained by team-building activities, cultural evenings, dances and a live performance from Canada’s own Arrogant Worms. The nights closed with captivating campfires and a final fireworks show. Our international peers got a taste of some of the things Canada has to offer.
Saying goodbye to the group that we grew so close to was bittersweet. We made life-long friendships with people we otherwise would have never had the opportunity to meet had we not attended this life-changing Round Square International Conference. Fortunately, we know that our paths will cross in the future. As Kurt Hahn said, “There is more in us than we know,” and we discovered the truth of these words this past week.