Is Facebook the cure for the World School Blues?

8 Nov

Five days ago I attended the World School International Forum 2012 closing banquet. It was the last event on a packed schedule for delegates from 21 countries around the world and while I expected it to be emotional for the nearly 100 high school students and teacher chaperones that had spent two weeks forming friendships and unbreakable bonds, I wasn’t prepared for the abundance of tears.

The mission of World School is to create a truly borderless entity for the purpose of helping the participants create their image of an ideal educational program. The program is designed to train students to adopt a global perspective by becoming receptive to differences and to enable them to form lasting friendships. It will also prepare them to excel in a globalized society. To accomplish this, a forum has been held once a year since 1997 to give students from around the world an opportunity to come together and learn from each other. These forums were held in Tokyo, Japan, from 1997 – 2001, then LMU became the first institution to host the event outside of the founding country in 2002. Ten years later, it was the University’s turn to host the event again.

It’s no wonder the students, and teachers too, shed some tears on their last day, because in the 11 days that came before life changing friendships were made, borders were torn down and a truly global community built on respect was created.

Hailing from Australia, Canada, South Korea, New Zealand, Indonesia, South Africa, Turkey, Romania, France, Russia, Italy, United Kingdom, Japan, Thailand, Germany, India, Sri Lanka, China, Finland and Macau the delegates all landed in Knoxville before boarding buses and vans to take them to the Cumberland Mountains that LMU calls home. After settling into LMU residence Halls and celebrating the opening of the Forum with the Opening Ceremonies, the international contingent was on the road again for an excursion to Washington, D.C.

Things didn’t slow any on their return to Tennessee, as home stay would greet them. The students and teachers were split among community members to get a taste of home life in America. They returned to LMU for an intense second week of more academic pursuits. The education theme for the forum was Environment: Housing and Volunteerism and the students spent a lot of time preparing for a debate on the topic. The second week also included booth day and country performances where they shared information about their country with over 1,000 community members and school children.

The country performances included everything from –

the evolution of dance in the United States:

To the international sensation that is South Korea’s PSY Gangham Style (check it out around the 3 minute mark).

To the Aussies sharing a holiday favorite from Down Under.  Jingle Bells with no snow?

I had a very limited role in World School, mainly to photograph selected events as my schedule permitted. My family also played host for a pair of students during home stay (more on that in another post). Even as an outside observer, it was clear that special bonds were formed every step of the way.

During the closing banquet the delegates were warned of the “World School Blues” that could greet them when they returned to their home countries. At first, I was skeptical. I thought, these kids have been away from home and their families for nearly two weeks, surely they will be happy to have the comforts of home. They have been staying in institutional residence halls without the benefits of customizing them like college students do. They had been eating strange food and kept on a tight schedule with little down time to just chill. Surely, home was calling. But then I watched as they shared memories throughout the banquet and at its conclusion began moving around in small groups alternately hugging, crying and snapping pictures and I knew home was far from their minds.

 In that moment, as an adult who has said goodbye to my fair share of friends over the years, I was envious of their connections.  I remember crying over friends as I said goodbye every summer at the end of summer camp. I cried because I knew that I was not likely to see or hear from until the next summer. These World School delegates weren’t crying over that. They may never be in the same room again, but they would always know what was happening in Montreal, Paris, New Zealand or even Harrogate. Technology has changed everything. Facebook is now a conduit to maintaining these friendships. While the delegates may get the “World School Blues” longing to sneak out of a residence hall to meet up for midnight talks or miss a certain delegate’s unforgettable laugh, they’ll always be just a few clicks away from seeing their friends.

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