The most eye-opening trip I’ve ever been on began with a rather unspectacular form, asking me to put down all my personal information and list how much time I spend on the Internet and what I think about the issues and opportunities it raises for the youth of today. I filled it out, wrote down some of the things I thought on the issues, and promptly forgot about it for a few months. Nonetheless, I remembered it once again when I received word that I had been selected as an American delegate for the International Youth Advisory Congress on Internet Safety—to be held in London.
The Congress’s aims were simple, even if the issues themselves weren’t. It was a conference of one hundred and fifty kids from over a dozen nations, who, in 2008, met for three weeks in London to discuss the safety and security of their fellow youth on the Internet. The actual issues themselves, although fascinating in their own right, didn’t affect me so much as the experience of meeting the world.
First, I met my American colleagues. There were twenty of us, and in our own way we represented America well through our diversity. There was the Mormon from Utah, the Hindu from Nebraska, and the atheist from Oklahoma. We had three people who didn’t even have to fly into Washington D.C. to meet us, as they lived in one of the Northeastern metropolises and two others who were from Southern California. Being with this group let me see my own nation in a bigger light, and considering our differences, forced me to examine what it actually means to be an “American” when there are so few universal qualities among us. We spent half a week in Washington D.C., purveying the Smithsonian, gazing up towards the sky in the shadow of the Washington Monument’s mighty obelisk. Truly, it was such a brief spell that it has only infused me with a desire to go back, and see the great monuments we’ve built to history.
It was only after that initial bonding period that we traveled together to London to meet the others, and what a multitude of others there were. The obvious nations—Britain, Canada, Australia—the English speakers, those were the ones that were there when we arrived, and in many ways the ones we connected the best with. I still have friends I’ll talk to from time to time who are a day ahead or behind, who live in New Zealand or Canberra. At the same time, all of the delegates spoke English, and so I seized the opportunity to meet those whose world experiences were so different to mine. Perhaps the delegation I grew closest with were the three Greeks, who grilled me on U.S. foreign policy, were impressed that I knew Greek mythology, and told me about all the best places to go in Athens. I have a standing invitation should I ever find myself in need of shelter from the Grecian sun.
In the end, if the American delegation forced me to reflect on the nature of nationality, the international delegations I met forced me to reflect on the nature of humanity. There, I learned that I could meet an Australian, an Indian, a Zimbabwean, an Egyptian, and a Spaniard, and find something in common with all of them, could swap information in two minutes and be laughing at common humor in five. I learned that it’s not a small world at all—thankfully.
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