Organizers of the Summer School summit held at Tarrytown’s EF school this week faced the daunting task of narrowing a pool of 22,000 international applicants down to 100 participants from 94 countries.
Ultimately this number shrunk to 98 participants – two faced visa troubles – who are here on an all-expenses-paid week of hobnobbing and hard work on behalf of forging a better world. Most days are spent on the EF campus with an important excursion Wednesday to New York City mixed in.
For the first time, the United Nations Alliance on Civilizations (UNAOC), which has held similar summits in Portugal for the past several years, has partnered with a private company, EF Education First, to broaden their global reach. The two seem a perfect fit – the organization working toward building a more peaceful, socially inclusive world; the school aiming to break down barriers of language, culture and geography.
And for the first time, the summit is held on U.S. soil, “really putting Tarrytown on the map,” said Carl-Johan Westring, Swiss EF Vice President from their Zurich headquarters, to a group of community members gathered at a cocktail reception Tuesday night in the grandly columned Butler Hall.
EF seems eager to better connect with the village it sits perched atop, along with restoring the former beauty of the old Marymount Campus. Executive Director Philip Johnson spoke of renovation and landscaping plans to come as workers now fix the sports complex across the street whose leaking roof recently closed down the pool. More on the proposed campus improvements in a Patch article to come.
Meanwhile, in another large hall at EF on Tuesday, participants broke into small lively circles, each brainstorming solutions to a given problem and creating presentations against the sound of many fans whirring.
These young people – aged 18 to 35 – were selected because they are already making a difference with their activism, leadership and professional work in their native countries, and for the potential this summit has to really further and expand their missions.
The mission of the summit – and there are many – is officially from the program literature, “to discuss the challenges they face when engaging with existing leadership structures, to conceptualize new platforms for youth engagement based on best practices from around the world, and to hone their leadership skills around critical topics such as poverty alleviation, global development, preventing identity based conflicts, climate change, and cross-border collaboration.”
Over the course of a week, participants will visit the United Nations; hear lectures from world leaders including Jan Eliasson, Deputy Secretary-General, and Nassir Abdulaziz Al-Nasser, United Nations, High Representative for the Alliance of Civilizations; conduct field visits in various city boroughs; and engage in brainstorming and collective projects to “develop new approaches to mobilize young people in their home countries to solve pressing challenges."
In the end though, it’s quite simply about coming together and communicating. I thought with so amazing people gathered in one place, it was best to focus for me as a reporter to hone in on one question that might inspire Patch readers here to help change in the world in their own small everyday ways.
I asked about 10 people – including two EF officials and Thomas Werner, assistant professor at Parsons leading this afternoon’s seminar on “Creating and Telling Compelling Stories” surrounding the day’s outreach/media theme:
“What can we do TODAY to help make the world a better place?”
It amazed me as the answers kept coming one by one how similar each response was, each with their own twist. I will be posting them on Patch day by day starting Thursday, but certainly the resounding answer of empathy and outreach is what brought these folks here in the first place.
Their badges proclaim their far-flung, and often dangerous, homelands – Baghdad, Iraq, Azerbaijan, and on and on. They spoke of war, and of hope. One lucky woman represents the U.S. here, a very well spoken L.A.-based journalist interested in telling such global stories to bring people together rather than pull them apart.
Follow Patch in the days to come for daily doses of words of wisdom from these young leaders already making the world a better place.
UNAOC is a special initiative of the UN Secretary-General, initially proposed and cosponsored by the governments of Spain and Turkey, that works toward a more peaceful, more socially inclusive world by building mutual respect among peoples of different cultural and religious identities. UNAOC operates in situations where it can contribute to broader efforts to ameliorate identitybased crises and promote culturally sensitive development policies. Learn more about the UNAOC at www.unaoc.org.
Education First was founded in Sweden in 1965 with the mission to break down the barriers of language, culture and geography that divide us. Now the world’s largest private education company, EF offers programs focused on language learning, travel, and cultural exchange. From Berlin to Beijing, Moscow to Mexico City, Dubai to Denver, EF operates 460 schools and offices in over 50 countries. To date, EF has helped millions of people to learn a new language, discover the world or earn an academic degree.