Wednesday, 8 March 2017 3:19pm
I was one of 14 university students selected from around New Zealand to attend the UN Youth US Leadership Tour in February, this year. Over the month, we visited San Francisco, Washington D.C, Boston and New York to meet with government, non government and UN bodies. In these meetings we gained great insight into how political and social change is made in various pathways, as well as learning about how some incredible kiwis and americans found their way to where they are now.
These meetings included: the Wikimedia Foundation, The Asia Foundation, NZ Trade and Enterprise, Helen Clark at the UN Development Programme, the US State Department, the US Foreign Relations Committee, Human Rights Watch, the Centre for Strategic International Studies (CSIS), the NZ Embassy, the World Bank, as well as professors from Colombia and Georgetown Universities. We were shown around Harvard and Colombia by NZ Fulbright scholars, explored the Smithsonian Museums, the 9/11 Memorial and Museum, the Pentagon and the Capitol.
In Boston, we attended the Harvard National Model United Nations, which brought together almost 3000 tertiary students from around the world to discuss critical world issues. I represented India on the Special Summit for Sustainable Development, which discussed “Development After Health Crises”. As I had not previously participated in a model UN, this was an incredible opportunity to debate alongside many of the world’s future leaders. The biggest takeaways being the connections and friendships I made with delegates, what I learned about not only into the state which they represented, but their homes as well.
Our days were filled with ideas that opened our perspectives, and this was complimented by the experiences that come with travelling! This was my first visit the United States, it certainly puts into perspective the size of NZ. The US is a huge player politically, making it very interesting in relation to my study. I loved learning about its history and how it navigates being a collection of such diverse
states. We were lucky to do some awesome things, tourist wise as well! We visited Alcatraz, biked over the Golden Gate bridge, watched the sunset at the top of the Rockefeller Centre, visited the Metropolitan Museum of Art, walked across the Brooklyn Bridge, did a lot of exploring and a lot of people watching- just trying to take in as much of it as possible! Walking down the street or riding the subway, you heard so many different languages and saw people co-existing, all bringing with them an incredible range of backgrounds. I look forward to travelling further, applying what I learnt in this experience to new contexts, cultures, countries!
This trip illustrated to me how much thinking about the world, can allow us to reflect on ourselves. No other experience has challenged me so much to think about which pathways I want to take, both on a personal and professional level, in order to create positive change. I have also become aware of the range and number of opportunities available, interested in career paths I did not know existed and am incredibly motivated to effectively utilise my time and work towards some pretty major goals. Moving forward, I am very lucky that my fellow delegates and the coordinators -15 of the most inspiring people I have ever met- have become some of my best friends and people that I hope to work with in the future.
The USLT was not funded, but I was fortunate to have the support of the Nelson community and the University of Otago which relieved the financial pressure of the trip greatly. This also meant that I was able to devote my January to another incredible opportunity, rather than working right through. I spent three weeks on Motutapu Island, in the Inner Hauraki Gulf, assisting with conservation projects through the Sir Peter Blake Trust in collaboration with the Department of Conservation. I learnt about how political and legal decisions really affect people in their work, specifically in the area of environment. I assisted with bird monitoring, growing and planting natives, and a really special kiwi release. The volunteers and DOC employees were wonderful people and taught me a great deal about working towards a vision when you are truly passionate about something.
I have had the most incredible summer of my life and I am so grateful that these opportunities are available to me to take advantage of. These experiences will not be limited to the memories I have of them, but will absolutely be carried forward with me. The future is looking bright and exciting!
Sophie Ross is a BA (Politics) student. Fellow BA (Politics) student Meghan Stewart-Ward was also part of the New Zealand delegation.