Empowering the next generation of independent thinkers

By Will Mathison

Will Mathison is a senior at Pope High School in Georgia and will go on to college in 2018 with interests in International Affairs.

This summer I attended EF Educational Tour’s Global Leadership Summit in Milan, Italy on “The Future of Food,” which gave me the unique experience to communicate with others from around the world and empowered me to develop my own perspectives and solutions. EF’s Global Leadership Summits give teens the opportunity to learn about global problems and develop their own opinions. At the Summit, I strengthened my independent thinking and collaborative skills through listening to keynote speakers, interacting with other students, and participating in workshops where we formulated solutions to some of our largest problems.

Students with Stephen Ritz at the EF Educational Tours Global Leadership Summit
Students with Stephen Ritz at the EF Educational Tours Global Leadership Summit

One of the most enlightening experiences of the Summit was hearing from the three keynote speakers, who espoused a wealth of knowledge on our current global food situation. These individuals, including community activist and entrepreneur Stephen Ritz, writer and academic Raj Patel, and celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain, covered a multitude of topics ranging from food sustainability to the global food system. Students gathered information from these experienced sources to develop their own viewpoints on the future of food. The goal of the Summit was to provide a variety of perspectives on our global food crises, especially because the future of food has widespread, unique effects on us all. Therefore, no simple solution was evident in the presentations given by the keynote speakers, and I believed this allowed us, as students, to develop our own opinions on the issues.

The real power of the Summit was displayed in the differing opinions of the keynote speakers. While all highly experienced and influential in guiding the future of food, the keynote speakers presented different perspectives, sometimes even sharing highly contrasting ideas. On the topic of veganism, for example, keynote speakers Raj Patel and Anthony Bourdain voiced opposing opinions. Raj Patel believes a decrease in meat consumption globally is essential to repairing our inefficient food system for the future. Anthony Bourdain argued that vegans adamantly in favor of animal rights should have empathy for humans who may rely on meat as a source of sustenance or cultural heritage. This was extremely empowering to hear these contrasting opinions firsthand, and realize that I was capable of deciding for myself what I believed. Students gathered information and perspectives from highly qualified sources without feeling compelled to believe one idea over the other. Instead we experienced the real purpose of the Summit, which is as Stephen Ritz exclaims, “to hear new views in order to formulate our own.”

Using information gathered from the keynote speakers, we were given the opportunity to share our perspectives with peers our age from all around the world. In collaborative innovation sessions, over 1,600 students from 20 different countries and backgrounds discussed the pressing issues of food sustainability, further expanding their perspectives and beliefs on the subject. In his speech, Anthony Bourdain advised students to “get out of your bubble completely and whenever possible.” The innovation sessions served to facilitate this type of interaction by giving us the chance to connect with others from around the world. In assigned small groups, students worked together to develop ways to solve the global food crisis.

Carly Briggs, a senior from the United States, explained, “Hearing the perspectives from the keynote speakers and from other students gave me a deeper understanding of how people view and are affected by these issues with sustainability and distribution [of food] around the world.” Discussing these issues with people from different backgrounds served to widen the horizons of the students and forced us to consider perspectives other than our own. Through speaking and comparing viewpoints with people from all over the United States, as well as countries like Austria and the Netherlands, I was able to learn that despite our differences, we all face very similar issues.

Students solving global food issues in innovation groups.
Students solving global food issues in innovation groups.

After presenting and examining various opinions from expert speakers and partners, as well as other students in the innovation sessions, we formulated solutions to a variety of food challenges. Using our own independent critical thinking skills, we were empowered to actively take part in solving the global crisis. These innovation sessions, along with other hands-on activities and thematic workshops, gave us the tools needed to develop and express our ideas on the future of food. In these sessions, students were able to apply what they learned to develop real solutions. Senior Nicky Roth, explained, “Working with other students to come up with solutions showed me I have the power to make an impact in my community and really, the world, today.” Nicky shared his personal story of how his family’s Louisiana Cajun culture is being threatened by new environmental concerns, and this story inspired one group to work to formulate a solution. Other groups followed suit, as students took personal stories and expanded on them in order to address global problems with food sustainability.

The EF Global Leadership Summit was a unique opportunity for students that provided tools needed to develop independent thinking skills and become empowered to take action. Listening to the keynote speakers gave us a wealth of information, and our time working with international students broadened our perspectives. After developing ideas and opinions on the future of food, we were then empowered to speak up and work to achieve our goals. The EF Global Leadership Summit cultivated the next generation of educated problem solvers by calling on us to think for ourselves and develop solutions because, as Stephen Ritz made clear, “Superman is not coming. You are the ones that will save the world!”

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