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Round Square International Conference 2016
Aiglon College, Switzerland
9th to 14th October 2016

“It’s always the journey that makes us who we are.”

There is something inspiring in these words, which encapsulate our entire experience at the Round Square International Conference – which was held at the Aiglon College, located in the remote areas of the south-western Swiss Alps. The theme of this year’s conference was set as ‘The Journey That Makes Us’, and truly this conference at large, has sparked great levels of inspiration within each of us, as we witnessed a week full of motivating keynote speeches, engaging activities and fruitful Barraza sessions. Through this conference and all that it embodied, it is safe to say that each and every one of us has learnt what it takes to sustain a level of excellence, as we were presented with stories of success that exemplified the 12 Round Square values – sense of responsibility, appreciation for diversity, inquisitiveness, commitment to sustainability, courage, compassion, self-awareness, teamwork, ability to solve problems, communication skills, tenacity and inventiveness. With the Round Square organization turning 50 years old, this conference was a way of celebrating the organizations past achievements as well as a pledge to the continuation of this long-standing legacy of excellence. For us, as participants in this enormous conference – with a staggering attendance of over 400 student delegates – we had the opportunity to interact with students from six different continents, and over 35 different countries. Consequently, the conference symbolised the highest level of cultural diversity in which each one of us from Dhirubhai Ambani International School had found a place, as over the duration of the week-long conference, each of us left Aiglon with lifelong learnings and experiences, making friends from all over the world.

On the first day we were welcomed by the Aiglon Students at the Geneva Airport and were guided towards the train station. After the long, tedious journey we finally reached Aiglon where the students and faculty were present to welcome us and help us complete the formalities. This was followed by a short campus tour and all of us were escorted to our houses (dorms). We were all taken aback when we realised that we wouldn’t be sharing rooms with each other, but with other students from other countries around the world instead. At first, we were disappointed, however when we looked at this as an opportunity to make new friends, we headed to our rooms, looking forward to the socialising that was to follow. The evening was free so we interacted and played football with delegates from different schools from various parts of the world. Then, the opening ceremony took place where the students from Aiglon performed, with immense enthusiasm and joy, various dances and acts on the conference's theme 'The Journey That Made Us'. The flag hoisting ceremony took place and His Majesty King Constantine inaugurated the conference, setting us a challenge: to make a difference in our communities within a year.

On the next day, we listened to the captivating student speakers who spoke about their journeys in the meditation session. This was followed by the guest speakers; Jackie Stewart – the legendary Formula One race-car driver – and Mark Grist – a poet and rap battler – as well as three alumni from Aiglon, each of whom had made a name for themselves in today’s world as a result of their dedication and persistence throughout their struggles. Following these keynotes, we dispersed into our Barraza groups and headed for our respective Barraza sessions, where we discussed in detail what we learned from these speeches and how each speaker’s life learnings could be applicable in each of our lives. Fundamentally, through these sessions it was assured that these learnings were turned from being just speeches that we witnessed to learnings that are bound to stay with us for a long time.

On the third day of the conference, we embarked on our IDEALS Day activities. Each of the six of us had chosen one of the several choices which had been offered to us prior to the conference, and as most of us had undertaken different IDEALS Day activities, this meant that we had to interact with a whole new group of people. The activities that we attended included an Alpine Hike in the mountains surrounding the campus of Aiglon, a tour of a historical castle at the base of the mountains in a town called Montreux and an adventure course which posed challenges in the forms of exhilarating activities such as zip-lining and rappelling. Though each of these activities was set in a variety of locations, the breath-taking views of the serene nature were amongst those that instil peace by the simple sight of such marvels. Needless to say, this day probably resulted in the capturing of the most number of pictures during the entire trip; here are some of the marvellous sights that we got to enjoy. From these activities, each of us learned something new; those of us who went on the Alpine Hike experienced adventure and environmentalism first hand; likewise, those who went on the High Ropes Adventure course engaged in adventure through teamwork; those who went to see the ancient castle saw the beautiful meeting point of internationalism and environmentalism, in other words, the stunning intertwinement of culture and nature.

The following day was the Aiglon team challenge, which was an adventurous hike, similar to the Alpine Hike undertaken by some of us on the previous day. This team challenge was to reach the top of a mountain, covering over 600 metres of elevation alongside over 10 kilometres in terms of length. Our team consisted of the delegation from our school as well as the delegation from Brookside College from Nairobi, Kenya. While this hike was physically challenging, it also was amongst one of the only activities that we participated in as a school delegation, as ranging from our Barraza sessions to our rooms, we barely did any activities together. Consequently, this hike was one of our best experiences on the trip, as within the delegation of our school, we got to spend time with each other, learning things about ourselves that we never knew before.

On the last day of the conference, four more keynote speeches were made, each one being more and more engaging than the previous; we heard from Peter Charaf, the director of the Race for Water, Koome Gikunda, who was one of Aiglon’s alumni, Peter Charaf and Col. Al Worden, an astronaut who was a part of the Apollo 15 mission to the moon. Each speaker was a testament to the power of dedication and the power of dreaming, conveying to us the importance of passion in doing absolutely anything in life. These keynotes were followed by our final Barraza sessions, which involved a lot of engaging discussions on how to translate the learnings from these monumental journeys into our daily routines. Following these, we prepared for our cultural performances; we were to perform the traditional Ganesh Vandana along with a more upbeat dance in honour of the festival of Ganesh Chaturthi. The cultural evening was another memorable event, as several schools from around the world put up glamorous performances that encapsulated each individual country’s culture. Simply standing in the auditorium and being a part of this cultural melting pot made each one of us realize the value of each of the Round Square IDEALS, as while watching several others perform after us, we had the opportunity to look back on the activities of the past week and celebrate the friendships, the memories and the values we had created. It was an experience in itself to put up a performance for faces that we had seen for the first time only a week ago, let aside the fact that we also got the opportunity to watch these very faces put up equally exquisite performances for us; amongst the several performances put up in the course of the evening, there was none that stood out more than the other, given the fact that each delegation managed to put up a show that was representative of their culture to the greatest extent. To all of us, we weren’t just representatives of our school or our country; we were representative of the world, as the conference had managed to bring together these several cultures from every corner of the world, barring no continent except for Antarctica.

In all, it is hard to sum up our experiences from this trip to Aiglon. But probably the words that would perfectly sum this trip up are “It’s always the journey that makes us who we are.” These words are not only representative of the theme of the conference and the learnings that we take from the conference, but they are also symbolic of the fact that there was no one particular event that defined the conference for us, there was no make-or-break point, but rather, a series of events and memories that made this experience phenomenal for each and every one of us.

Reflections of delegates:

This RSIC experience was truly memorable and I’m going to cherish it for the rest of my life. I have been able to interact and learn from so many people from various parts of the world and have made so many new friends. I thoroughly enjoyed it!

- Shourya Agarwal

Over the 5 days of this Round Square International Conference, I was exposed to several inspiring stories and was given the opportunity to interact with children my age from across the world. I believe that through these opportunities, I not only gained inspiration and motivation to bring about change in society, I also gained awareness of who I am as an individual. I learnt that not everybody has life as easy as a few of us, and to do justice to our privileges, we must give back to society in some way or the other; I learnt that the world is a beautiful place, regardless of the times; I learnt that everybody is different from one another, yet every single person is special in their own way. As I met people from various countries including Kenya, Australia, Namibia and Jordan, I realised that while cultures across the world have their differences, the similarities between these cultures are surprising. In a few short words, I can confidently say that this conference showed me the opportunities that can be seized in order to bring about positive change in our imperfect worlds, all of which I came to realise while making new friends and lifelong memories.

– Bhaven Shah

Being my first International Round Square Conference I was really nervous at the beginning. But those 5 days, which I now refer to - as the “best week of my life” impacted me in a great way. From the extremely inspiring keynote speeches every morning, supplemented by the unique meditation sessions sparked a fire in me and helped me discover the inner me and the motivation needed to make an impact to the world. Apart from this, everything from the baraza sessions, the adventure activities to the house meetings, made me realize how big and different the world is, how much it has to offer and the magnitude of things we can do to make it a better place. Most importantly, staying and constantly interacting with similar aged like – minded people, not only resulted in me making several new friends, but also in understanding that even though we all come from different cultures, we all share a similar aim – to make a difference in whatever small way we can. Lastly, the conference left me with a ever-lasting thought that “WHEREEVER ARE WANDERING TAKES US…….ITS ALWAYS THE JOURNEY THAT MAKES US WHO WE ARE”.

– Yuvansh Khokhani

I was eagerly looking forward to this trip as it was my first international Round Square Trip. On the first day after we were split up, I got slightly anxious with the new environment I was presented with. However, after the basic “Where are you from?” questions, I got more comfortable with the crowd and started enjoying it. We had talks throughout the day where many successful people shared their stories which went with the theme of “ The Journey that makes us “; I admired most of their stories and was most impressed by Mark Gristo who is a poet turned rapper, his talk was hilarious and his way of perceiving stressing situations was truly admirable. There were an equal number of falls, jokes and laughs that were shared between the IDEALS Activity and the Adventure Day hike; I found a new found appreciation for tight rope walkers after losing my balance and falling of a ledge in front of more than 20 people. Overall, this may sound clichéd, but on the last day, it seemed like the days had passed by in a second but the friendships we made seemed like we had known each other for a lifetime.

– Manavi Mehrotra

The RSIC AIGLON 2016 enabled me to venture out of my comfort zone on numerous occasions. The talks were highly inspirational, enriching and made us think about important matters on a global scale. I was exposed to different perspectives and views from all over the world and understood a lot about different cultures and people. It was a great experience that has helped me grow tremendously as a person.

- Anika Birewar

Delegates: Shourya Agarwal, Yuvansh Khokhani, Bhaven Shah, Meera Rohera, Anika Birewar and Manavi Mehrotra

Accompanying teacher: Manisha Nanda