The summer after my sophomore year at Suffield High, I was offered a spot along with two fellow Interact peers at a state-wide conference at Springfield College to demonstrate our leadership abilities and learn how to work better in groups. That same day, very unexpectedly I was announced a winner of the all-expenses-paid-for trip to Interact’s 2018 international World Affairs Seminar (WAS), held at Carroll University in Wisconsin. I accepted the invitation to the conference nearly a year away and left feeling accomplished, yet unsure of what was to come.
This year’s WAS theme was Innovation. There were about 300 kids from 36 different countries, and I would be attending many lectures and activities based around the theme. This information was nothing like what I uncovered upon my arrival.
When my bus arrived with the ten other Connecticut students I had come with, we were introduced to a universe of students from all over, holding many of the same interests as us. We got right into the day with our first lecture on the philosophy of business and innovative new techniques. That same day, I took part in a Model UN meeting in the World Bank group, and worked to solve conflict between two international businesses.
Later that night after dinner, I got to work with my small group session to begin building our capstone project, which would soon be our very own non-profit organization known as W.A.T.E.R. (Water Access to Every Region).
The days were mostly filled with speakers discussing a world of topics like the flying car, elevated farming, situational virtual reality (where you could put on the goggles and become a Syrian refugee), the fair trade market, and aquaponics. I was introduced to innovation in ways that I didn’t even realize existed. I was shocked to learn that farming in the future will have to take place on terraces of buildings due to overpopulation. I was shocked to learn that the Tesla was only a stage two fully-autonomous vehicle and one day we would get to a level five fully self-driving car. I was shocked to learn that water could be brought to locations in need and fully cleaned by using plants. And lastly, I was shocked to attend a lecture on the future of farming taught by a former NBA player. Of course, at the end of each lecture attendees would be allowed a Question and Answer.
Aside from the mandatory speaker sessions, we chose our own lessons that we found more interesting and personalized, with a group of about 50 instead of 300. My personal favorite was innovation in the ‘new’ prison, in which we learned of rehabilitation and looked at an online module of what these prisons would look like.
My favorite part was the field trip, a group of about 65 of us, to a Johnson Controls smart building in the heart of Wisconsin. This smart, energy-efficient building took rain water from the parking lot and transferred it into energy as well as drinking water. I learned of the smart windows that controlled the blinds depending on sun placement. I also saw a force field in action when the building self-landed an “infiltrating” drone.
I left the conference feeling a new sense of empowerment from the knowledge I had learned about myself and the future of the world. Most importantly I left with the hopes and aspirations that I would become a part of all of it. I was thankful to meet so many people who were on the same path as me, and thankful to Rotary International as well as Suffield Rotary for giving me the chance to be a part of this experience. I left the conference with a different mindset about my path and what was important to me.