“Ah, this stuff is incredible!” exclaimed Abe in his South African accent as he threw up a pile of snow. This was the first time he had seen or felt the white magic as it descended softly upon us. It was the middle of December and there had just been a huge blizzard in Colorado.
My foreign friend, Abe Bagus, had just flown in from Johannesburg to share the holidays with the Musso family in Denver, despite a two-day delay from the storm. We met back in July at a leadership summit held at the University of California at Los Angeles through People to People (PTP). After becoming such close friends, we made a deal to meet up again soon, and the planned and anxious moment had just arrived.
Abe was here to spend his summer vacation with us and celebrate Christmas. He is Muslim, so it was a new experience for him when we all went to church on Christmas Eve. Abe was so excited to share in the Christmas celebration that he brought with him gifts of beautifully hand-painted ostrich eggs and native paintings.
We had even made for him his very own Christmas stocking. As we sat beneath our heavily decorated Christmas tree unwrapping presents and sipping on hot cocoa, Abe opened one of his gifts from me. He tore back the green and red wrapping to reveal a collage of pictures from our leadership conference.
As snowflakes gathered into enormous piles outside our window, we reminisced about how we met. Let me go back a few months to July 17, 2007. The California heat wave was smothering.
Coming from Colorado, I can deal better with frostbite than heatstroke. My maroon People to People polo and khaki pants we had to wear didn’t help the situation. I had just arrived on the UCLA campus for the first day of the leadership program.
After locating my dorm room and meeting my bubbly roommate Amanda from Pennsylvania, the first day zipped by. It included a challenge course where we were put into four different teams and had to work together to finish difficult tasks with complete strangers. I soon met many interesting students, including Abe, from all across the country and even around the globe.
The evening concluded with small group meetings where I met the group of students I would spend the remainder of the conference with. Over the course of ten days, our group discussions included our school activities, subjects we were passionate about, and one thing we each wanted to work on to take back to our school community. These discussions were great opportunities to experience what other students my age from all over had to say.
I decided to work on changing a policy that would make the atmosphere at my school more enjoyable for both students and the administration. I wanted to change the school district’s dress code policy so students are allowed to wear hats. I am currently meeting with the Denver Public School Board this upcoming September to work on changing the policy. As Abe and I finished our cups of hot chocolate, we smiled looking back on the memories from the trip. The rest of his time in Colorado was spent sledding down nearby hills covered in four feet of snow and learning how to snowboard. It was almost as good as the first time we met in California. Meeting the students I met and engaging in all the conversations I did lead me to sharing my home and lifestyle with a teenager my age from halfway across the world. Through this UCLA PTP Leadership Conference I expanded on my abilities to act with honor, integrity and accountability in my interactions with those around me as well as respect the rights of others, accept our differences and contribute to the greater good of my community.
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