Round Square Conference

‘The Journey that Makes Us.’
The Round Square International Conference at Louisenlund, Germany

On 10th October, four Y12 students – Lola Boddington-Rees, Julia Reinstein, Honor Granville and Aliya Ismagilova (who had been involved in setting up Round Square in Latymer) embarked on a week long trip to the Round Square International Conference at Stiftung Louisenlund - a boarding school not far from Hamburg - alongside Deputy Head Mr Matthews and Miss Lathan. We were attending a week long conference with approximately 400 students from around 100 countries. The conference’s theme was becoming very clear; we were all going to go on a journey together.

On arriving in Hamburg, the group was transported to the school campus near the Danish border and spent the remainder of the day settling into dormitories and adjusting to the much (much!) colder climate. The evening’s activity marked an unforgettable start to the trip; a treasure hunt around the beautiful grounds of the school followed by a cheery mingling session at a campfire by the lake. On the second day, all attendees of the conference were officially welcomed to Louisenlund in the Opening ceremony. Despite not being able to locate the Latymer flag, the ceremony was impressive, with lots of dancing and many speeches, and proved to be a fantastic start to the week ahead.

Over the week, the activities and keynotes centered around the theme of that year’s conference: “The journey that makes us...” and the Round Square’s six IDEALS: Internationalism, Democracy, Environment, Adventure, Leadership and Service. All six ideals are very much alive around Latymer - from leadership opportunities in Sport’s teams and becoming school captains to adventure in activities week. Through bonding exercises and moving keynotes, students were lead to question the aspects of the “journey”, whether it be determination or the courage to ask for help.

The six keynote speakers were definitely the crown jewels of the week. Kicking it off on Tuesday was Ben Saunders, a courageous and inspiring polar explorer who spoke about this record breaking walk across the South Pole - and the lessons it taught him. He spoke to us about both the challenges of his literal and personal journey in respect to the ideals; he told us of the importance of leadership in an arduous environment. Another remarkable and motivational speaker was Souad Mekhennet, a journalist reporting on the middle east, who was met with a standing ovation after telling her story. Even though she was always dissuaded of a career in the journalism by her family, after 9 11 shattered the world 15 years ago, her life changed. As a Muslim woman growing up in Hamburg, upon finding out that the suicide pilots grew up near her, she was compelled to find out their stories. Fast forward today, she is a renowned journalist for the New York Times, who most notably uncovered the identity of Jihadi John. Indeed, what was prevalent after she had finished talking was that she had empowered the girls in the audience that your sex should not hold you back. However, the stand out moment of the conference will be remembered as the extraordinary story of Saria Samakie. At the mere age of 15, Saria was kidnapped and tortured on two different occasions by both troops of the Assad Regime and the Free Syrian Army. Having told his sensational story of the courage and determination to keep moving forward on his journey through life after these shattering events, he revealed that he was accepted and is currently studying at a Round Square school in Jordan. In fact, this year Saria is the recipient for the prestigious Kurt Hahn prize for his charity work for refugees in Jordan.

On the ‘Service Day’, the students boarded buses destined to various locations in order to help the local community. These activities included picking up litter from a beach or working on the school farm. It is an important part of the conference to take part in charity work to help the local community; there was a great sense of fulfilment after the challenging day. The following day (and most notably the coldest!) was the conference’s ‘Adventure Day’. The student delegates, wearing all the clothes they had, set off on kutters and traditional sailing boats on the picturesque lake. It was an enjoyable experience and a perfect time to create and strengthen new friendship whilst spending 10 hours on a boat. The day perfectly portrayed the “journey that makes us” because everyone has tackled a personal challenge over the day; one frightened student had never sailed before.

Another highlight of the week was the cultural evening on the friday night. Traditional dancing and music from across the globe performed by students entertained all, including a gumboot dance from South Africa that captured the room - the dance was created by miners as a form of communication.

On the penultimate day, the conference was drawn to a dramatic and moving finish at the closing ceremony by the flag ceremony (where Latymer’s flag was finally paraded!), and an inspiring appearance by King Constantin to say a few words to mark Round Square’s 50th anniversary. In the evening, the sports hall transformed into a dance party and many tearful farewells were made. On the morning of the departure, the students said their emotional goodbyes before transferring to Hamburg airport, and back to their home countries with plenty of stories to tell. Lola Boddington Rees, a student on the trip, says “I definitely feel like I've been on a mental journey over week. From being shy at the beginning of the week to talk to people, by the end I could talk to anyone and had made friends for life.”

Lola Boddington Rees and Aliya Ismagilova

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