Upper School Students Aanika Patel '21 and Daniel Wang '22 attended the Round Square International Conference (RSIC) in Indore, India in 2019. Not only were they inspired by the vibrant, global discussions that they had along every step of the way—on bus rides, in dorms, and in baraza* discussion groups—they also thought it was important to bring the experience back home. During quarantine, the students attended global meetings hosted by The Athenian School in California. When that ended in June, they wanted to have a more structured, topic-based conversation that would continue with their peers in Ghana, Peru, Tanzania, India, South Africa, and other places around the globe. So, Aanika and Daniel led the effort to stay connected, and as co-presidents of BB&N's Round Square Committee, with the support of Karina Baum, the Round Square Advisor and Director of Global Education, they established a program they named Global Community Conversations.
Aanika and Daniel thought it was important to gather different perspectives from the community to ensure that the topics they discuss aren't US-centric. To that end, they have enlisted the help of guest facilitators from BB&N and other Round Square schools, a pair for every meeting, to choose each meeting's theme and write the discussion guide. The GCC meets biweekly on Zoom, usually with around forty attendees each session. During the hour-long meeting, they put attendees into breakout rooms and shuffle the rooms once or twice so that everyone can meet more people.
In between sessions, Aanika and Daniel have Whatsapp and their email chain to get into contact with students who have attended previous GCC's and who might be interested in coming again. Additionally, they publish an ad/shout-out for these conversations in the Round Square newsletter. As for the actual conversations, they have been able to bond remotely over many topics. Aanika and Daniel find it incredible to hear people's constructive thoughts and opinions; all participants are looking to learn from each other and expand their own bubble of understanding. Aanika says, "I especially feel like within BB&N we don't really get to hear about other school processes and students' ways of life, but with these conversations, we are able to connect with each other and understand concepts like free speech and criticism of government. We all understand and approach subjects not as the spokesperson for our entire country, but from our own experiences which makes these conversations even more valuable."
Aanika's favorite topic the GCC discussed was about the entertainment industry and the impacts of race and gender on how TV shows are written, filmed, and distributed. "We had some really meaningful conversations and realizations about some movies that exposed a different lens on the way I saw my childhood films now. There are so many stereotypes embraced within entertainment, and it was really interesting to hear how those changed based on the different movies and TV shows we saw from our own countries, as well as the movies and TV shows we all had a shared interest in."
Daniel loves to see how happy the participants and guest facilitators are after each meeting. From the variety of topics that they have discussed, from COVID-19 to political parties, the one that has resonated with him the most was education. A girl from Tanzania talked about how international curricula, like the Cambridge system, sacrifice local history and culture for the sake of Euro-centric standardized testing. After the break-out session, his group shared this with the big group, which led people to reflect on the biases in their school's education. A girl told Daniel that because of that day's discussion, she wanted to be a teacher in her local school system.
Aanika and Daniel have found this experience to be invaluable. "We have really enjoyed getting GCC off the ground, and connecting with our Round Square peers all over the world. We have been able to juggle time differences, Wednesday schedules, and WhatsApp/email chains to find the perfect time to meet and discuss various topics in so much depth. That being said, we are looking to come up with an action plan utilizing the plethora of perspectives and opinions from GCC. We hope to use the BB&N's own Round Square Committee to come up with a project that might amplify voices, initiate activism for a cause we all are committed to, or anything else the group might be interested in! Furthermore, the goal of BB&N's Round Square Committee is to expand the network we have created within Round Square to our school, and maybe even beyond, in order to show how privileged we are to have such an amazing network that can be utilized in so many ways."
(* Baraza – Old African word meaning "The coming together of different people". Barazas allow students, teachers, heads and governors to hold debates and free discussions where everyone's opinion is valued equally.)