18 Oct 2019
From the second you exit the airport in India you know you have been transported to another world: the heat and humidity, the noise, the sights, the smells, the crowds, the chaos … everything is different, and there is so much to discover.
Year 12 students Toby Oliver and Ollie King, and Year 13 student Mark Ma, accompanied by Deputy Principal Rob Donaldson, represented College at the Round Square International Conference (RSIC) 2019 hosted by Emerald Heights International School, Indore, Madhya Pradesh, India, from Wednesday 2–Tuesday 8 October. But prior to joining over 800 delegates from Round Square schools all over they world, they took the opportunity to take a pre conference tour, organised by Shri Ram School, Aravali. The tour took in some of India’s most significant sites in and around Delhi, including the Old Fort, Agra and the Taj Mahal, Keoladeo National Park and Bharatpur Bird Sanctuary, and Jaipur.
“India is totally different from anywhere I’ve ever been before,” says Mark. “The pre tour was incredible. No matter how much you think you might know, it’s extraordinary to actually be there and see such amazing places.”
The boys agree the pre-tour gave them some insight into the “real” India. “Travelling around we got to see more than just the pretty tourist sites,” says Ollie. “We got to see the lows of the lows and the highs of the highs, and could be fully immersed in the Indian world.”
The theme of RSIC 2019 was “Sarvodaya – The world we wish to see”. Sarvodaya is a Sanskrit word meaning progress for all. Once at Emerald Heights, all their attention was focused on the packed schedule of conference activities and experiences, meeting new people and embracing all the opportunities being part of Round Square can bring.
The boys gained many memories to treasure in a conference full of highlights. Inspirational presentations from guest speakers – including Nobel Peace Prize recipient Kailash Satyarthi, an outspoken children’s rights activist who has devoted his life to putting a stop to child trafficking and abuse; electronic music artist and activist Kiran Gandhi, who performs as Madame Gandhi; war veteran and India’s first blade runner Major Devender Pal Singh; and life coach Swami Gaur Gopal Das – gave them much to think about.
“It was really eye-opening stuff, especially the talk about child trafficking in India … and we got some good advice on how to look after yourself, follow your passions and take control of your life from some of the other speakers,” says Ollie.
They appreciated the way activities were framed around the Round Square ideals. Participating in service projects in local schools – including Shri Shri Utkarsh Samiti, a school for disabled children, the Indore Deaf Bilingual Academy, and Manovruddhi Kendra, an education and training centre for developmentally delayed children – and in a walk/run to support cancer research were both fun and rewarding experiences; and seeing democracy in action in the barazza group discussions.
“We spent more time with people from other countries than we did with each other,” says Toby. “Talking about world issues in the barazza groups, discussing amazing ideas, getting to know and understand each other’s perspectives – it was an incredible way to connect with students from all over the world.”
Every evening introduced a different aspect of Indian life and culture – from religious festivals, regional food and flavours, dancing and performance, even Bollywood – giving a fantastic insight into the rich diversity of India and celebrating the Indian experience.
While the trip took the boys out of their comfort zone and into an environment very different from New Zealand, they all agree it was well worth it.
“There’s a saying in India ‘The guest is God’, and Emerald Heights did an extraordinary job of hosting the conference,” says Rob Donaldson. “They were extremely hospitable, warm, friendly, and very well organised. People from all over the world came together and learned so much about life in India and its challenges and opportunities. And that, in the end, is what Round Square is all about – developing a global perspective, making friends with people from many different countries, understanding them and forming friendships that will last for a long time.”