I sat enveloped by my tutu as I scribbled several ideas on a sheet of paper. It was Halloween night of 2012 and I was applying for EF Tour’s Global Citizenship Scholarship while passing out candy to kids. Global Citizenship, I pondered. I had an idea of what it meant, but I couldn’t quite describe it. If someone were to ask me today what it means, I would have a few hundred words and stories for them, but I’ll try to outline just a few. To me, a Global Citizen is innovative, passionate and concerned with the well-being of humanity on a local and global scale. They are conscious of their own and others actions, embrace change, and have the constant desire to learn.
I was later informed that I had received the scholarship and would be embarking on a journey of a lifetime with 19 other young people to a Global Student Leaders Summit in Costa Rica. Over the course of a few months we had several group phone calls and video chats to review trip details and get acquainted with each other. Also, we were introduced to our four brilliant chaperones who worked at EF Tours. As my departure date was fast approaching, I couldn’t have been more excited. But full disclosure-‒ I was extremely nervous. It was my very first time leaving the country and in a few days I was hopping on a plane to meet 19 kids I’d never met and traveling to Costa Rica! Little did I know, I was making the best decision of my life.
Upon meeting the other students, I felt an immediate sense of belonging. I’d never had an opportunity to be around such like-minded people. We were such a diverse group from every corner of the United States and Canada. All of our different backgrounds, experiences, and strengths allowed us to learn from one another while we were all connected by global citizenship and our passion for the environment. I especially enjoyed getting to learn about EF through our chaperones; they all were so well-traveled and knowledgeable. I am proud to call all of my fellow participants and our chaperones my family. Even after the trip, we are a close knit group that is constantly in contact. We regularly have Skype calls and send letters to one another. Not a day goes by where I don’t treasure the experiences I had with each individual I traveled with.
From the moment the lights faded at the opening ceremony to the end of conference, I knew I was in the right place. I was surrounded by 500 students from all over the world who had traveled to Costa Rica to be ambassadors for the environment. We heard from influential figures such as former Vice President Al Gore and Director of the Environmentally Sustainable Development Group at the United Nations Development Program, Dr. Alvaro Umaña. One of my favorite things about the summit was when the Global Citizens and I ate dinner with one of the conference speakers, Severn Cullis-Suzuki. She is also referred to as ‘the girl who silenced the world for five minutes,’ after she spoke at the 1993 United Nations Conference on Climate Change in Rio at the age of twelve. Her speech was eye-opening, just as the talk she gave to us at the conference was. There was one phrase in particular that Mrs. Suzuki said that stuck out to me: “I have to disagree with what everyone says. You all are not the leaders of tomorrow; you are the leaders of today.” She really helped define a true Global Citizen, and left me with a sense of empowerment.
During the summit I participated in the Innovation Village Workshop, where the process of design thinking and problem solving was outlined for us. We were challenged to create an eco-friendly project in either the category of transportation, food, waste, and urban planning. My group worked to eliminate car emissions near schools that have drop off and pick up lines, so we created the Hydroad! It was a system of canoe shaped paddle boats that transported students to a school on a lake. I appreciated how we were all treated with professionalism during the workshop and the opportunity to be a leader within our groups. The summit helped me decide that youth education and environmental science are what I want to pursue a career in. I made several contacts while in Costa Rica and have collected a pool of professional resources.
As we said our goodbyes to one another, we decided separating would be a sort of ‘new beginning.’ We wanted to go home and use our newfound knowledge from the Leaders Summit to make a difference in our communities. I’m proud to say I am fulfilling this with help from EF Tours. I was the recipient of a grant to install light shelves in my school’s classrooms. The shelves are an easy accessory to windows that disperse light throughout a room to limit energy consumption. The summit equipped me with the skills needed to design, manage, and implement the project. Outside of the project, I apply things I learned from the summit on a daily basis. Whether I am rising to a challenge or facing adversity I am confident that I can reach a solution. The trip as a whole gave me a chance to see sights and experience culture I would not have seen without the Global Citizen Scholarship. I encourage everyone to apply and share with the world what you, as a Global Citizen, have to offer.