Round Square Regional Conference 2019 - Woodleigh School, Australia
By Vihaan Iyer, Grade 8, Dover Campus
On 6 April 2019, I returned to Singapore after three weeks of traveling for various tennis tournaments. I had been to places some may have never heard of, let alone set foot in, such as Dushanbe and Khujand in Tajikistan, and Almaty in Kazakhstan. My exhausted self just wanted to lie down flat at home and not move for a few days. Instead, I had barely two hours in Singapore (most of which I spent getting a bad hair cut) before boarding yet another flight to travel to Melbourne, Australia for the Round Square Conference. I stepped on that plane, feeling tired, shy and anxious. I didn’t know what to expect at the Conference but whatever it was, I did not feel prepared for it. Five days later, when I landed back in Singapore I felt my life had been transformed. This is the amazing story of what happened in those five days.
The theme of the Round Square Regional Conference was GenZ, MindShifters. When we reached Woodleigh School, I was expecting a usual school trip but when I saw the other schools arriving, my negative feelings and misgivings came rushing back. Then it hit me: all of the others were in the same boat, they too were apprehensive about making new friends. While it was comforting to know there were others who felt like me, it was equally exciting to think that some of them would end up becoming my new friends. I could see my mind was already shifting. My “shy-self,” evolved into someone who went around introducing himself to anyone and everyone he met. I wasn’t particularly bothered if some did not immediately reciprocate my greetings and enthusiasm. I was just happy that from the time I arrived at the camp, I had started to change myself. The next three days went by in a whiz, although I still remember the many stand-out moments.
Our first activity was one of my most memorable parts of the trip. I started off thinking these activities would just be “school-like-boring” but now I can’t stop talking about them. We learned how to turn waste plastic into an electric guitar (yes, you read that right), the importance of categorising plastics when you want to upcycle or recycle them as they all have different properties, and that some mats melt quickly as their chemical bonds may be weak while others have stronger bonds, making them catch fire rather than melt. We also took a look at a table containing all the machines you need to turn waste plastic into a skateboard - it was one of the coolest things I had ever seen. I was struck by the contrast between people in the outside world who don’t care and litter, to these people who are invested in changing the planet for the better.
At the end of that first day, I felt exhilarated yet sad. This had so quickly turned out to be one of the best experiences of my life but it would end. I was already ruing the fact that I may never see these awesome friends again or get a chance to do these amazing activities.
The activity on the second day made me feel a bit self-conscious. It was called “Making Music From Junk.” We learned about acapella and using your mouth to make beats for songs. For the people who were not beat-boxing, we each had to come up with one line connected with the theme of the song to add to it. I wanted to say something funny and came up with a line, but wasn’t sure if anyone would get it and was generally feeling quite fretful. During lunch, I went up to a group of people I did not know very well but who were in that same activity with me and told them what I wanted to say. They loved it and burst out laughing. To my amazement, I started sharing my proposed line with other people in the room, those who weren’t even in the activity and the guy running the event! He asked me to go for it. When we finally got on stage, we all sang the harmony in the chorus and I was just focused on screaming my one line. After one chorus and two lame verses, my part came along. Everyone went silent, the beat went off as planned, and I screamed my line. After what felt like an eternity of silence, one person started laughing, then another, then another, and then it became contagious and caught the whole auditorium. The song went on to become the hit of Round Square.
The third day brought along my favorite activity of the lot, Point Nepean Bike Ride. We rode to the top of a hill on an extremely windy day. I didn’t know just how bad the wind was until we started to cycle downhill, and the howling wind was rocking our bikes. The others seemed to be experts at going downhill in these conditions but I have a fear of heights and eventually found myself near paralysed and hanging back. The others had raced down. The teacher who was at the rear end of our group started talking to me. She asked me if I wanted some tips on how to ride down hills properly. She told me to stop pedaling, hold the brakes and let the hill do the rest. We got to some flat ground and then to our second slope. I managed to will myself into doing what I had just been taught. I soon felt like I was flying, effortlessly bolting down the hill like I was an old hand at this. It was only when we reached our destination that I realised I had made it to the front of the group! Another fear conquered.
The last day did not involve conquering any fears but it did involve the coolest part of the trip; a silent disco. For those who are not in the know, that’s a disco where you have headphones with the music to dance to. When you take it off everyone looks kind of stupid because it looks like they're dancing to nothing. We all thought it was going to be super lame but we had no idea how much fun it would be. When songs like Bohemian Rhapsody came along, everyone totally jived. My friends and I danced the night away, and it was a night I will never forget.
But all good things come to an end. When the conference closed we all hugged each other, took loads of photos, exchanged contact details and Instagram names and I took a deep breath and stepped on to the bus. I nudged people out of the way so that I could get a window seat at the back to say one last goodbye to my friends. However, as the bus drivers were loading the bags onto the bus, without asking anyone, my classmate and I bolted back down to give our friends one last emotional hug. Much as we never wanted to part ways, we knew that this was the end. We got back on the bus, and as the driver started the engine, we waved one final goodbye to our new friends and Round Square.
The theme of this conference was Mind Shifters and I can safely say my mind has way shifted. I am no longer intimidated by the fear of a new activity, I carry all the perspectives I learned during the conference with me in whatever I do and most importantly I have made friendships that have enriched and elevated me. Thanks to social media, we are all in touch and I have no doubt in this shrinking world our paths will cross again soon in another illuminating encounter. Meantime, I am counting down months, weeks and days until the next Round Square. And plotting my own new activity to change the world a little bit for the better.
UWCSEA is a Global member of Round Square, a world-wide association with over 160 member schools in 40 countries. Students attending Round Square schools share a commitment beyond academic excellence, to personal development and responsibility. Learn more here.