2018 Youth Leadership Summit Impact

Sister Cities International’s Youth Leadership Summit offers high school youth from around the world the opportunity to meet with like-minded peers to learn about global challenges while exploring the field of international affairs and diplomacy. The 2018 Youth Leadership Summit focused on the theme of “Immigrants and Refugees.”

Ninety-nine students from the United States, Jamaica and South Korea began their stay in Aurora, CO with a tour of the University of Denver where they were housed in dorms followed by dinner and orientation activities including an epic game of rock, paper, scissors! 

Students Learn the Value of Community Service and Volunteering 

  • Students participated in a variety of community service projects in the Aurora/Denver area. Host organizations/activities included:
    Providing volunteer support, gardening and artwork activities at Asian Pacific Development Center
  • Stocking the pantry and doing maintenance and cleaning activities at Mango House which provides services for refugees and immigrants
  • Participating in art project with young children, many of whom are refugees/immigrants, at Downtown Aurora Visual Arts
  • Engaging in morning movement/yoga, gardening and painting at Delaney Community Farm which grows food for the local community
  • Sorting medical supplies at Project C.U.R.E. which provides supplies and equipment to other countries; and
  • Processing donations for local children and families at A Precious Child.

For many of our youth delegates this was their first time learning about these topics, interacting with community organizations and volunteering. Some local students even expressed interest in continuing their volunteer work!

Students then participated in a walking tour of downtown Denver where they learned about the history and famous landmarks including ‘the blue bear’ and some students learned about the history of the local Aurora community at the Aurora History Museum.

Thinking about an International Career

  • Students also had an opportunity to meet with leaders in the field of diplomacy and international development. These included:
    Irina Karmanova, Public Affairs Officer at the U.S. Department of State, who shared with the students her career path and her own experience immigrating to the United States.
  • Anthony Catajan, from ADEC Innovations, who chatted with the students about his company and his experience working in communities globally on
    environmental and sustainability programs. 
  • Cynthia Matson, President of Texas A&M, San Antonio. She told the students about her role and emphasis on increasing diversity in her institution. She also got the students excited about study abroad opportunities available in college.
  • John Thon Majok, Wilson Center in Washington D.C., presented on the issue of refugees, immigration and resilience, sharing his personal story as ‘Lost Boy’ from Sudan and how engaging with refugees and welcoming them in the United States could help build stronger U.S. communities.

Diplomatic Experiences
A highlight for many of the student diplomats is the cornerstone of the Youth Leadership Summit, the Diplomatic Simulation. After splitting into four groups,
students assumed different roles and practiced their communication and negotiation skills as they worked together to attempt to resolve a fictitious international migration crisis. On the last full day, the students finished the diplomatic simulation and prepared presentations for the Annual Conference attendees where they shared their experiences during the Youth Leadership Summit including lessons learned from the simulation.

They then wrapped up their week with a night of celebration, reflection and dancing at the Annual Awards Dinner and Gala. On Sunday, students said their goodbyes to their new friends and returned home with a new passion for citizen diplomacy, more information about careers in international affairs, and a better understanding of issues surrounding support of refugees and immigrants in the United States.

Pull out quotes:
“My favorite part of the summit was the (diplomatic) simulation. The simulation created a great challenge many diplomats face every day…”

“Sister Cities International is hands a down phenomenal experience, the activities we did were non-stop, the new people I met from all around the world was great.”

“Many of us learned how stressful diplomacy can be and why big decisions can take time. It was very eye opening and I think a lot of us needed that new perspective to really understand today's current situations.”

“This experience has opened my eyes to different cultures and their views in and outside of the United States. It made me think in a way that I didn't think was possible.”

“Upon arriving, I was super nervous and slightly terrified, simply because I didn’t have very much knowledge about what it means to be a citizen diplomat. However, that completely changed by the end of the week.”

  • “This program was life changing for me with all the experiences that I was given. I changed how I interacted with others and was able to meet my new best friends for life.”- “Sune”- Sarasota, FL (Student participant in YLS)
  • “I gained an even better understanding of refugees and immigrants, especially during the service project at Asian Pacific Development Center.” – Yvonna (Student participant in YLS)
  • “(SCI’s) Youth Leadership Summit provides the perfect opportunity for students to come together, learn together, and leave with new friendships based upon mutual appreciation and passion for world issues. The importance of Sister Cities International exchanges cannot be overstated. Thank you for your passion for citizen diplomacy and for creating a more peaceful world through exchanges and initiatives.” – Ms. Karen Pence

Sister Cities International (SCI) hosted its annual conference in Houston, Texas in July focused on the theme “Cities Mean Business.” Pre-conference events included an all-day U.S.-China Mayors’ Summit and an all-day Africa Forum, held at Texas Southern University. A range of interactive sessions and round-tables explored the conference theme from the perspectives of SCI’s program areas: Trade and Investment; Community Development; Youth Leadership; and Arts and Culture. Parallel to the Conference, we hosted our Youth Leadership Summit at Rice University. The Annual Conference all included mini-summits on U.S.-Mexico, and U.S.-German relations. Reflecting on the 2019 Annual Conference, several key themes emerge from panels and discussions. Uniting these themes is the principle of innovation, which is a core element infused into all SCI initiatives.