Day 1: As soon as my team members and I had unpacked in our dorm at the University of Maryland College Park, where all the Odyssey of the Mind World Finals competitors were staying, we set off to explore. The cool thing about OM is that it's a huge international competition. On the campus field a team from Africa was playing soccer. Keenan and the five of us girls, including myself, Madisyn, Simona, Erin, and Amanda, sat and watched a bunch of Indian kids doing a dance called "bhangra." After a while we got up the courage to talk to them, and they taught us some of their moves. We stayed out in front of our dorm late that night dancing Indian-style. We had quite the audience leaning out of their dorm windows, too. (This included the insanely cute all-guy team from Russia.)
Day 2: During the day we visited DC, and later that night was the OM Opening Ceremony, where one person from every team was selected to walk in the parade for their state or country. This year it was me, and I walked in front, carrying the Oklahoma flag. On my way to the "O" section backstage, I could hear multiple languages from every direction. I didn't speak a single one of them, but I felt like I knew what every one of them was saying.
Day 3: That day we traded pins from our state at the Stamp Union. Every country and every state have pens to trade. Some are beautiful, some are plain; some are coveted, others a dime a doze, but every OM pin is a little taste of culture and creativity.
Day 4: Today was our short term competition, "spontaneous," where teams demonstrate their on-their-toes problem solving abilities. Beforehand, we waited with multiple teams in the holding room. Random teams were selected to get up on stage and entertain the others who were waiting. I surprised myself when volunteered us to go next. In a matter of minutes we had successfully gotten a whole room of kids from Texas, California, Poland, Germany, China, and North Carolina to their feet, bhangra-ing like pros. When else in my life could I ever declare such a feat?
That night our team took a trip to the pool. We found another OM team from our high school and decided to start a train, which was our favorite thing to do at the local pool. Before we knew it, our train was was growing with more and more people and ceased to stop until the majority of the pool had grabbed hands and formed a Charybdis-like party, ending with everyone closing in and moshing, singing, "Hey now, you're a rockstar..." My last thought was, We started this!
Day 5: Competition day! We didn't get great scores. Our problem involved building an 18-gram structure made of balsa wood and putting weights on it. The winning team's structure held about 1100 lbs. more than us, which we blamed on the extreme humidity in the northeast that we hadn't planned on when we built the structure back home. However, we received many compliments from the judges that our performance had been the funniest they'd seen all day, which made me extremely happy, considering I was one of the lead characters.
After the the closing ceremonies and some heartfelt awards, our team set off to trade our T-shirts. We were just about to give up on finding any eager traders from another country when Simona came running through the crowd to Madisyn and I, shouting that she had found the Russians. After trading shirts at the dorms, one of the Russian boys named Stas asked me of we would like to go to the dance in the Stamp Union ballroom with them. We met the rest of our team there, and were having an amazing time – better than prom in all honesty – when a slow song came on. I would have hung back like every other dance, but when I looked up, Stas and I had mysteriously become separated from the rest of our group. (Well, maybe not so mysteriously.) It's funny how slow-dancing is the same in every language. You don't always need words to communicate, and this was the epitome of a wordless conversation.
Day 7: I woke up alone for the first time in a week. The other girls' flight had left earlier that morning. After I packed and kissed Stas goodbye, I found myself gazing out the taxi window, waving to the team of Russians who were waiting for their bus, and Keenan's family, who were packing up their minivan. This trip had been an inspirational thrill; an international experience I would not be quick to forget. I had a renewed hope for the future, because I knew someday the creative, ingenious children we met this week would be leading it.
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