A few weeks ago, I had the privilege of attending the 2016 University Scholars Leadership Symposium (USLS) in Hanoi, Vietnam. Attended by over 700 delegates from 69 countries, USLS aimed to ‘provide the next generation of leaders with a vision of how to distinguish themselves as future leaders of the 21st century.’ The symposium truly did achieve everything it set out to do and much more.
About a month prior to the symposium I was shortlisted to interview for a position as a delegate leader. If I’m perfectly honest, I still have absolutely no idea how this happened. I figure it may have had something to do with the fact that my written communication comes across as far more diplomatic than my verbal communication (fluency in Bogan doesn’t count as a second language, despite what spending my entire life in Queensland says to the contrary). But regardless, it was truly an honour, and I was elated to find out that I had been selected as one of 12 leaders. This involved arriving in Hanoi a couple of days early to run through some of the roles required of myself and the other leaders.
After two days of extensive training and bonding with the other leaders, we were all raring to go. The following is a day-by-day summary of my incredible USLS journey!
The first day of the symposium was Registration Day. This was the day where the majority of delegates arrived in Hanoi. Between 8:30am and 11pm, along with fellow leaders Amanda, Kathryn, Brennan, Ben and Justin, we greeted over 400 delegates at Noi Bai International Airport, before they were transported to the JW Marriott, the official hotel and venue of the symposium. Despite the enormity of the day, it was fantastic to converse with and get to know such a large number of people from every corner of the world.
To pass the time over the course of the day, the Australians (Ben and I) discussed some very important cultural differences with the Americans (Amanda, Brennan, Justin and Kathryn). For example, where Australians call it a ‘bumbag’, it is referred to as a ‘fanny pack’ in the US. Also, while you rarely see anyone outside of 85 year old tourists and Adidas fanatics wearing them in Australia, bumbags/fanny packs are worn unashamedly by most in America.
It was approaching midnight by the time we all arrived at the hotel to finally check in. When I first walked into my hotel room, it was to the soundtrack of Future, which was blaring from a set of speakers inside the room. This is when I met my roommate for the week, Solomon. Solomon was from Nigeria, but our mutual love of basketball and hip hop broke down any cultural barriers that there may have otherwise been. It may be rainy season in Nigeria, winter in Australia and summer in Vietnam, but all over the world Yeezy season is approaching.
‘This world must be changed.’
This stark assessment provided by David Begbie, founder of Crossroads, set the tone for the entire symposium. Personally, this address was my favourite throughout the course of the entire week. David Begbie’s call-to-action was one that resonated with the vast majority of delegates, myself included, because ‘perhaps, being an outlier in a broken system, is actually an inlier in a better, functioning new one.’
Day 3 was definitely the heaviest in terms of content. ‘Human Trafficking’ by Diep Vuong, ‘Crossing Borders’ by 2007 Nobel Peace Prize Finalist, Tim Peters on the plight of North Koreans desperately seeking to escape the tyrannical government regime, and ‘Agent Orange’ by Susan Hammond all painted a bleak picture of hardships still faced by a large number of global citizens.
There were a number of occasions both prior to and after his speech where I was fortunate enough to chat with Tim Peters. Tim is proof that while there is still injustice and suffering in the world, there are incredible people that are willing to risk their freedom and their life to provide others with a brighter future.
Day 4 of USLS saw us move away from the Grand Ballroom of the JW Marriott and break into a number of different learning journeys. Amanda, Anita and I were tasked with organising the UNESCO ‘Education for All’ school visit, which saw 130 delegates and 200 students aged between 7 and 14 come together in the name of learning. Prior to the symposium, delegates were asked to donate books to the ‘Education for All’ program. Across the 700 delegates, over 1,100 books were donated to the cause in a truly amazing effort.
After a string of charming performances from both students and delegates, the two groups came together to read some of the donated books and play some games. Throughout the afternoon, students and delegates were able to participate in a number of activities, ranging from dancing, reading, basketball, soccer and a number of Australian, American and Vietnamese games.
I was in charge of the basketball and soccer aspects of the afternoon. This included participating in a ‘delegates versus students’ game of halfcourt basketball. Heading into the day, I was under the impression that the students would be learning more from the delegates. This proved to not be the case, because throughout the course of this basketball game, the delegates were well and truly taught a lesson. We were absolutely annihilated.
However, the day was not without challenge. Between a delegate losing a student(!), the debacle that was organising lunch for upwards of 350 people, and a delegate being rushed to hospital (If you ever go to Vietnam, steer clear of Jollibee), there was never a shortage of stress. Also, this happened:
Despite this, it was clear that both the students and delegates took a whole lot away from this experience, and the overall success of the day can be attributed largely to the gargantuan efforts of Amanda and Anita.
Later that night, fellow leaders Alicia, Anita, Ben and I were lucky enough to attend Ionah, which was essentially the Vietnamese Cirque Du Soleil. Regardless of how tired each of us was from our respective learning journey, we were all completely enthralled with this show.
Day 5 was the most emotionally turbulent. The day began with ‘Sex Slave’ by Shandra Woworuntu, a human trafficking survivor and a Member of the United States Advisory Council on Human Trafficking. Shandra detailed her attempt to find work abroad, only to become a victim of human trafficking, as well as her remarkable escape from her captors. While Shandra’s address was heartbreaking, it was also uplifting, as she is an incredible individual with a beautiful message. The main point behind Shandra’s experience is to ‘believe, together we will change the world. Together we will make a better world.’
Next up was ‘Street Fighter’ by Lina Khalifeh. Lina is the founder of SheFighter in Jordan, an organisation that empowers women through teaching them to defend themselves in times of conflict. SheFighter’s mission is to become the global leader in self-defence for women, empower females to defend and protect themselves, increase awareness in regards to the importance of saving women’s lives, and increase the self-esteem of women. Lina’s address had an extremely important purpose, but was also absolutely hilarious due to the hands on demonstrations by willing (and unsuspecting) delegates.
The third speech of the day was ‘Child Saver’ by Geraldine Cox. Geraldine is the founder and president of Sunshine Cambodia, an organisation that assists orphaned children. This address moved delegates through a whirlwind of emotions, with a range of hysterical, heartbreaking, inspirational and uplifting stories relating to her decades-long career caring for Cambodian children displaced as a result of the ongoing conflict in the region. Personally, this was another favourite address of mine, as Geraldine is a wonderful lady and an unsung hero.
The final session of the day saw a number of delegate speakers discuss projects in which they are involved and invested. This session was particularly edifying as it illustrated the dedication of some of our brighter peers, as well as demonstrating that making a difference as an individual is within reach.
Day 6 saw the symposium end with a workshop session and closing ceremony. The closing ceremony was stunning, with the standout performance delivered by the Hope Choir and Orchestra. This collection of vision impaired students demonstrates through perseverance and hard work that the potential of the human spirit has no limits. Hope finished their set with a moving rendition of ‘You Raise Me Up’, which was met with a standing ovation and the loudest cheer of the symposium. It was an incredible end to an unforgettable week.
At the conclusion of the day, I met with fellow QUT delegates Ambar and Tim in an attempt to take a photo that showcased the best and brightest the university has to offer. This effort had mixed results:
Even though the formal proceedings had ended, there were still 700 young people in Hanoi looking for something to do, which meant it was time to give USLS 2016 an almighty send off. That is exactly what we did.
Departure Day was filled with a lot of tough goodbyes. Despite only knowing most of the leaders and delegates for a week or so, I grew close to a lot of people. Luckily for me, I was in Hanoi for another night, and this was the case for a handful of others, which meant there was still a chance to continue immersing myself in the Vietnamese culture, and to further establish connections that I’ll hopefully maintain for the rest of my life.
Overall, I would rate the 11 days I spent in Hanoi as one of my greatest experiences. Challenged to view an array of global issues from a new perspective, it was eye-opening to witness how little it takes to make even a small difference. Equipped with a newfound confidence and the relevant tools to instigate change, I believe that I am capable of making this world a better place. Particularly as a marketing major, I have the ability to change this sense of helplessness in terms of an individual being too small to initiate a global transformation.
Finally, I want to extend a massive thank you to Kim and Janice, all of the leaders (Alicia, Amanda, Anita, Aslihan, Ben, Brennan, Daniela, Justin, Kathryn, Yvonne and Zaina), the other two QUT delegates (Ambar and Tim), and every single delegate and speaker I had the pleasure of meeting. See you all next year in Beijing!
If you would like to find out more about the University Scholars Leadership Symposium, you can leave a comment here, get in touch with me via Instagram (@jackgreen17), or go to