GIN Conference 2019

Katharine K. is currently a junior at SYA Italy and a blogger for the Campus Reporter program. She comes to SYA from Denver School of Science and Technology in Colorado.

I remember the phone call quite clearly. In fact, I was wandering through La Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore in Rome, when not once, but twice, my phone rang. I was hoping not to answer the call, but after the second ring I caved. “Pronto?” I answered in a hushed voice. “We got accepted for GIN!” My friend shouted over the phone, reading an email she’d received moments earlier. I remember the feelings that came next: pride, joy, and indescribable excitement. We were headed to Luxembourg.

Let me backup a bit. Global Issues Network (GIN) is a series of conferences around the globe that bring international schools together to discuss today’s most pressing issues. Our conference was themed “protecting the world’s most vulnerable people, places, and resources” and in order to attend one must start a project to share in workshop-style presentations. My project was on the importance of eating locally, specifically the cultural and environmental impacts. At SYA Italy, students are offered three conferences: Model UN, a conference in Cyprus, and GIN. After applications and decisions, my project was selected for GIN. We worked from November to mid-March to spread awareness, do research, and create an engaging workshop for other students around the world.

After all the preparation, several weekends ago was the conference itself. It was one of the best weekends I’ve had all year and I came home ready to change my lifestyle and my community. We learned about the refugee crisis in Greece from Ayesha Keller, a woman who co-founded an organization called Better Days to start a refugee camp in Lesbos. We talked about fast-fashion with a speaker working with the NGO Fashion Revolution to call-out brands on their inhumane production practices. On the final morning, a student from one of the attending schools, Kesz Valdez, shared his work with street children in the Philippines. Everything was inspiring, and to see students work on profound projects and get involved in the community, I realized the importance of staying vocal about current issues.

With time off, we explored Luxembourg, practiced our presentation, and went to Germany. After living in Italy for so long, having the freedom to take an hour train ride to Germany was incredible, so we explored Trier, a town with Roman ruins and a traditional German feel. It reminded me the importance of exploring, and we all enjoyed our time to be tourists and eat food different than pizza and pasta. We also encountered bits of American culture, like good cupcakes or Starbucks, and it was culture shock in an entirely new light. I got a glimpse into how foreign the States will feel returning home.  It was refreshing to hear a new language, see the impacts of an “updated” country such as Germany or Luxembourg, and to get away from our tiny town Viterbo.

Coming home from GIN, several things stood out. Firstly, we must change how we live, not only for the safety of future generations, but because we are destroying the planet to a point of no repair. Secondly, whether it is GIN or another conference, it is really important to collaborate and work together internationally to share ideas. Lastly, SYA is an incredible program and I appreciate the environment, our teachers, and Viterbo so much more after a weekend away. I can only hope to encourage interactions such as these, and SYA is a great way to start!

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