What, exactly, is Round Square? That’s a question that members of the Providence Day community were asking when the school joined the worldwide network of over 180 schools in 50 countries across six continents known as Round Square International. The membership hit home when PD hosted the 2018 Round Square International Conference for the Americas on its campus.
And now, word about what Round Square is - and does - has spread, thanks to an array of global experiences being offered to students and faculty.
Under the leadership of Jessica Williams, Providence Day’s Director of Global Education, the school has been broadening its participation in Round Square conferences, exchanges, and service projects.
“Round Square conferences are so valuable because they are intentional learning experiences for students with peers from around the world,” says Williams. While adults are involved and present in all aspects of the conferences, “Students start to see how other students lead the service group and understand the possibilities by seeing it modeled elsewhere. They are not just led by adults; they are hearing and learning peer-to-peer.”
Student-led international conferences occur twice a year, along with additional service-learning trips and student exchanges aimed at developing global competence, character, and confidence in students. It’s all in services of the organization’s six identified ideals: internationalism, democracy, environmentalism, adventure, leadership, and service.
Round Square Big Builds are international service projects bringing together participants from member schools all over the world in teams of 15-50 international students supporting communities in need. Each year, no more than two students are selected from a school.
Round Square exchanges are global opportunities for PD students to connect with other schools during which students study at another Round Square school or host a student from another Round Square school for two to four weeks. Providence Day is just beginning to explore these exchanges and will continue to provide new opportunities for students in the coming years.
Providence Day student Aubrey Briggs ’20 went on a Big Build trip in Ecuador and an international exchange in South Africa. The Big Build included work on two projects - a children’s center and a mixed-use center. Briggs’ group built a bamboo fence, worked on a building foundation, and built playground equipment.
Another Round Square trip took place in Peru. “Round Square is an opportunity that everyone should take advantage of," says Olivia Grace Brooks '21. "I met so many amazing people from around the world and did things that I never thought I would ever do. Overall, I will never forget my time in Peru and am forever grateful for it.” Spencer Wood '20 adds, “My experience with Round Square was unbelievable. It was something that pushed me way outside of my comfort zone and I learned so much about myself from this opportunity. I met so many great people from all over the world. This trip helped me realize that no matter where you are in the world, there will always be great people.”
“I got to experience what it was like to be surrounded by a truly diverse group of people,” Briggs says. “I made connections and friendships with people that were unlike any that I had made before. They closed a cultural divide that during this era, has often gotten in the way of people realizing how similar we are.”
More often, PD students participate in Round Square conferences. They offer a combination of guest speakers, group discussions, workshops, cultural visits, community service, and adventure activities. They provide outstanding personal development opportunities for enhancing social and leadership skills, broadening intercultural understanding, and forging lifelong friendships.
Participation in a conference involves a selection process
which includes completing an application and interviewing with previous conference attendees and school administrators. The goal is to determine why students are interested in attending and what they hope to gain through the experience. The number of eligible attendees for each school is based on a ratio of the student body; Providence Day opens the Upper School Round Square exchange trips to current sophomores and juniors.
In October of 2019, four Providence Day students visited The Emerald Heights International School in Indore, India for a Round Square International Conference. Students were among 1,000 delegates from 156 schools in 55 countries, and with such a large group in attendance, around 30 smaller groups called barazas were created to facilitate discussions. During baraza time, students discussed the daily speakers and took part in group activities.
“The conference theme was ‘Sarvodaya—the world we wish to see,’ which I feel was reflected in our service day and our baraza discussions on how we want to make a difference in our lives and the world,” says Kareena Gor ’21, one of the PD students who attended. “The week before the conference we did a preview tour and visited cities around India where we saw famous landmarks including UNESCO World Heritage Sites. There is a service day during the conference and we went to other landmarks around the boarding school.” New Delhi, Jaipur, Agra, and Indore were some of the cities explored during the trip.
Kati Rady-Pentek ’21 appreciated the ease of traveling with her peers during the conference. “I really love global travel, experiencing different cultures, and seeing new things, so I thought this was the perfect opportunity. It’s woven in with the school and the school takes care of things so it was easy to set it up. You are still in your comfort zone but you get to explore this amazing city.”
It was her first trip to India, and a highlight was the Taj Mahal. “You look at it in pictures and say ‘that’s so pretty,’ but then when you get there you feel like you’re in a movie. It’s so grand and beautiful and so big. It was really crowded, and there were a lot of monkeys which was kind of cool – monkeys were just five feet away.”
The best part of the trip for Gor was the opportunity to form new friendships. “It wasn’t my first time in India because my family is Indian, but because it is an international conference, it’s definitely worth it to be able to go to another country and meet so many other people your age. I have friends now in New Zealand, South Africa – all over.”
Rady-Pentek agrees that the trip opened her eyes to how much all students have in common. “I think something cool is just meeting so many kids from all over the world. It’s kind of crazy to meet people your age who are from Japan or Jordan, people like me who live in all of these cool places. We are all just teenagers who joke around, having daily conversations.”
The experience also offered a lesson in contrasts. “In India there were things as grand as the Taj Mahal and the boarding school we stayed at was really nice and prestigious, but right outside the school there were children begging on the street, barefoot. It was striking and really crazy to see all of these extremes,” said Rady-Pentek. “It was a really emotional experience. You want to help people but then how do you help people because it’s everywhere? It’s kind of hard to tackle a problem as large as that.”
There is no doubt that participants encourage their Providence Day peers to take advantage of the numerous Round Square opportunities. Gor says, “You should definitely go on one of the Round Square trips. A lot of people are nervous about missing school but that’s not really a problem because your teachers will help you with any work you miss.”
“Honestly, it’s the experience of a lifetime,” says Rady-Pentek. “Just take that step out there. I would encourage people to go on these trips so they can see for themselves thatthere’s more than our little bubble in Charlotte.” Since the trip, a group of students have created a Round Square Club with a mission of making PD an even more global school. They hope to introduce more international food and hold club meetings where they discuss events. “Go on a Round Square trip! It’s really cool. I encourage everyone to do it.”
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