When a few Dominion High School students were told by their teachers that they could change the world if they just put their mind to it, they believed them. So seven years ago, after they returned home from a trip to India, they set out to do just that.
The result was the creation of the Loudoun International Youth Leadership Summit. In its first year, in 2012, the event welcomed students from five countries, and it’s only grown from there. The sixth annual summit kicked off Monday with an opening ceremony that welcomed 97 students from 22 countries.
“This is the most countries—the most students—we’ve ever had participating. It’s multiplied every year,” said Matthew Traenkle, president of Dominion’s Global Ambassadors club, which puts on the event.
The students were inspired to go out and leave their mark on the world by the ceremony’s keynote speaker, Joan Trumpauer Mulholland, an American civil rights activist and a Freedom Rider living in Arlington. She took part in several peaceful protests during the Civil Rights movement, and was arrested multiple times for her efforts.
Global peace will be a major topic of discussion throughout the 10-day summit. Under the theme, “Reconcile the Past, Shape the Future: Building Peace Within and Among Nations,” the students will take part in discussions and activities that examine countries’ internal conflicts, including the United States’ Civil Rights movement and other international conflicts.
The final panel discussion of the week will be on how to bridge racial and ethnic divisions. “We want to take our very tangible differences and be able to discuss them and find ways to connect,” Traenkle said.
“We think it’s important for the younger generation to build these connections now, so that when we’re running the world, we’ll already have these relationships,” said Meghan Grove, vice president of Dominion’s Global Ambassadors club. “That’s why this is so important to us.”
Several of the international students said they came to the summit because they wanted to do their part to tackle big, global problems and that starts by getting to know people with different backgrounds.
Erasmo Mkhago traveled to Loudoun County from Dar es Salaam, the largest city in Tanzania. The 18-year-old said he couldn’t pass up the opportunity to visit the U.S. “I want to make friendships with people from other countries, learn from them, and then return to share a piece of those different cultures with people at home,” he said.
While there’s plenty of common ground for the students to begin their discussions, the international students said they have already noticed many cultural differences in their first few days in the U.S.
“Everything here is so enormous—the houses, the schools, the shopping centers, the plazas with all different types of fast food,” said Anne Van den Berg, of The Netherlands. She noticed the differences the moment she walked out of the airport. “There’s 17-year-olds driving these huge BMWs. It’s so different.”
The meals here are also larger, her classmate Nathalie Marcellis added. In The Netherlands, breakfast is typically bread and jam. Their host Loudoun families have served up waffles, muffins and donuts to start their days.
“We won’t go hungry,” Van den Berg quipped.
The International Summit includes students from: Australia, Austria, Chile, China, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Lebanon, Mexico, Norway, The Netherlands, Poland, Republic of Korea, Romania, Scotland, Singapore, South Africa, Spain and Tanzania.
Students from Dominion, Park View, Potomac Falls, Broad Run, Rock Ridge and John Champe high schools are hosting international students and their sponsors.