“You all want to be leaders but not everyone can be the President of Kenya; sometimes you just have to work with the government you’ve got.”

Molly McCammon

“You all want to be leaders but not everyone can be the President of Kenya; sometimes you just have to work with the government you’ve got.” This conclusion, the product of two hectic days of simulating Kenya in the IAS session of Yale Young Global Scholars (YYGS), was an underlying theme in most of the work I performed during my two weeks in the program. This was not a conclusion that I would ever have been able to reach without a team of young diplomats from all over the world who aided me not only in my thought process, but also in developing a better sense of my own leadership capabilities. Let me start by explaining my time at Yale Young Global Scholars through the form of messages to the different groups in which I participated. Hopefully, through this format, I will be able to explain how I reached the conclusion that YYGS brings together not just natural leaders and mindful diplomats, but all around lovely people .

To my Suitemates:

These four girls welcomed me with so much love, even if I was the only one not fluent in at least two languages or a national champion in something. We connected on an almost transcendent level. Okay, to be completely honest, it did take some time for them to warm up to my weird antics, such as refusing to sleep with the door closed at night, eating ketchup with my eggs, and doing my PT exercises in the common room at 12am when we gathered to have our nightly discussion on world culture. The best thing about my suitemates was that, even though on the first night two of them were jetlagged with a 9+ hour time difference and could barely keep their eyes open at dinner, they were so willing to share their lives and cultures with me in exchange for hearing about my home. On the first night we covered universal topic of genocide, we talked about how a Turkish citizen and resident really felt about her president, and we giggled early into the morning hours when the conversation broached topics of top secret girl stuff. If one should ask me my favorite part of this absolutely indescribable experience, I would say that what I relish the most about YYGS is how I was able to travel the world in one night while still remaining grounded by material motifs such as pop culture figures or American food fetishes. What I realized during this program, and with the help of my suite-mates, is that it is ingrained in our natures to be naturally curious and reflective, and thus natural diplomats. I have no fear that if any of my roommates become President of Kenya (to reference my simulation), they will make sure to crack down on the illegal poaching of elephants, respond with immediacy to terrorist cyber-hacks, and implement policies that advance the treatment of women in rural communities. In concluding my message to them, I want to thank my suitemates for teaching me how to say “I love you” in four different languages; a fact I am quite proud of and brag about quite often. More important,, we still continue our nightly discussions via “WhatsApp” and good ol’ fashioned letter writing—communication that would not be possible without YYGS connecting us.

To my Capstone group:

The first day that we sat down together in the hall—without chairs, mind you—I knew that this was going to be an alternative kind of work group, but in a fabulous way. What I did not foresee was a group that would be so committed to each other and to helping their peers succeed that everyone would stay an hour into free time just to finish up what needed to be done so that no one would be left with an extra workload. What I definitely did not foresee was watching ISIS recruitment videos in complete silence and horror in attempts to better understand the rationale that drives vulnerable youth to joining. There is no other group that could have supported me while watching such a video; I could never expect another group of teenagers to possess the level of maturity the content requires. Ultimately, you taught me the importance of taking deep breaths when I get stressed—and why should I have worried? I was with a competent group of young people who were as intent as I was at producing a policy paper that might actually be used in combatting ISIS. I know of no other circumstance that would breed such intensity and commitment, as well as genuine passion, than the YYGS community. My capstone group was a testament to this program’s ability to attract young people who really are attempting to catalyze change, and thus who become agents of change themselves.

To my discussion group:

Somehow, in almost every lecture discussion, we wound up talking about either nuclear proliferation and the benefits of universal mutually assured destruction or how we were going to stop the spread of ISIS. My theory for this occurrence is that we were looking for unanswerable questions to discuss in order to challenge ourselves. We definitely succeeded with finding challenges, but we also excelled at proposing novel ideas that sometimes countered those of popular policy decisions, representative of the fact that we were not content enough to just “go with the flow.” Yes, we had some heated debates, and there were times of intense tension and frustration when we covered sensitive subjects such as abortion and immigration. However, after the session let out we were still able to walk back to lunch together, calmly asking one another for clarification on certain opinions that we wished to better understand. This technique of combining passionate debate with cordial conduct is something many politicians could take a cue from.

To my family:

One of the things that YYGS navigates so well is the need to combine intense intellectual discussion with much-appreciated emotional outlets. This YYGS does through family time, where participants are allotted respite from the fast-paced academia of the program in the form of community (and oftentimes, food). Never one to turn down the lure of Insomnia Cookies, I found a haven of like-minded individuals in my family who were willing to bare all to each other. This specific group engaged me almost subconsciously, as it taught me the power of listening to others and the benefits of being one member of a group. In return for my silence and understanding during their stories, I was able to tell my family group things about my life that I have not been able to tell people back home. It is with gratitude that I thank YYGS for teaching me that sometimes the best leader is the one that listens the most carefully--a lesson that could have greatly benefited our chaotic simulation when all we wanted to do was be heard.

In conclusion, to all of my fellow YYGS constituents: I would like to express my greatest appreciation for engaging me on all levels of intellectual and emotional discussion and for teaching me that I do not need to be the President of Kenya in order to make a difference. Thanks to you all, I will now feel at home in approximately 80 countries of this world—the ones to which you were so gracious to introduce me.

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