Students Represent Hackley at RoundSquare Conference

Credit: Emily Koch
Phoebe Abrahms and Teddy Roberts on their way to see Six the Musical on the last night of their trip. The show was a great capstone to such an amazing experience.

This fall, Hackley was one school out of a hundred within an international network of schools to send delegates to the Oxford University campus for the Round Square International Conference. Hackley has been a part of this organization for some time but hasn’t been able to attend events in person since COVID started.
Round Square is a network of 230 schools that are dedicated to global discussions and international connections across schools as well as a celebration for diversity.
Last year, the conference was held virtually with a computer game-based forum in which each delegate would be assigned an avatar. When someone walked up to another delegate’s avatar, their camera would pop up as if they were in person. This was only a stand-in for the actual conference; it made do during the COVID year when international schools coming together was not possible because of safety and travel restrictions.
This year, Round Square planned to make up for the lost year by taking on the conference theme from last year – Take Less: Be More – in their new location in the United Kingdom. A total of 5 schools (​​AKS Lytham in the Northwest of England, Felsted School in Essex, Latymer Upper School in London, Ryde School with Upper Chine, on the Isle of Wight, and Box Hill School in Surrey) hosted delegates from all around the world at Oxford University. The conference took over all of Oxford campus, requiring housing from multiple colleges to accommodate all of the delegates from all over the world. Since Oxford was on break at the time, this was the perfect location for the conference.
The University hosted more than 800 delegates from over 50 different countries around the world for the 53rd annual conference. Hackley’s delegates were staying at Balliol college with schools from Japan, Chile, Switzerland, South Africa, England, North Carolina, Germany, and even Armenia.
The two-part Conference was split up into sections: the first part with all delegates at Oxford, the second portion with schools separating into 4 different locations. Hackley students were going to Wales, and the last portion was added on for Hackley students in London.

At Oxford, each day there were several speakers from different walks of life that came to talk about sustainability and their life experiences. Emily Penn, Marine Biologist and explorer spoke about her time sailing and her hunt for ocean plastics. Ben Forbes, an avid hiker and mountain climber, talked about his journey from loving adrenaline and climbing the highest mountains in the world to how he lost his ability to walk following a motorcycling accident. An Oxford professor even spoke about the climate change epidemic and the exact science behind what is happening in the world with the consumption of fossil fuels and how cutting individual carbon emissions makes no difference as individuals, but even difference as a community.
These speakers were only some highlights from the conference. To hear these speakers, all 800+ delegates gathered in a theater that was a ten-minute walk from campus and would then come back to talk in their baraza groups; these are these little pods made up of delegates from each place. Hackley students were split up into different groups where they would talk about speakers and how this relates to our own community. One of the Hackley delegates, senior Teddy Roberts said that “hearing the varying opinions from people coming from wide range cultures, backgrounds, and countries was really inspiring and eye-opening.”
In addition to speakers, there were also special events that were held explicitly throughout our college. One of these events that was a fan favorite of all delegates was the Cultural Evening. This was basically a talent show, where each school had the opportunity to get on stage and showcase something about their culture. There were dances in traditional attire, original songs performed, and one school even performed karate. Students said that it was really challenging to get out of their comfort zones, especially given the number of people in the audience. However, the crowd was extremely supportive and cheered enthusiastically for each of the performances – giving each one a spirited standing ovation and their full attention. Highlights from this evening included South African rainboot-dancing, Armenian step dancing, and Indian dances with vibrant attire.

Another one of these special evening activities was a traditional Irish Chalieh. This is Irish Step-Dancing, sort of similar to a Square Dance. The night was filled with music from a live band and dancing with a mix of students from different colleges.

Along with the Cultural Evening and the dance night, the groups also did an Alice-In-Wonderland-themed scavenger hunt with their baraza groups and had special tents where delegates would socialize on the quad. These events were designed to connect different cultures and to promote communication between people of different cultures to lead to an understanding of traditions.

After the students were at Oxford, they took a five-hour bus ride to one of the host schools’ locations in Pembrokeshire, Wales. Here, the students stayed with a program called Flooglebinder in order to reconnect the students with nature and encourage sustainability within the community. To do this, delegates slept out in tents of up to ten people from different nations. This location was on a grassy plain on a cliff overlooking the coast. Many students took nature walks by the beach and hiked around the beautiful terrain.

The experience emphasized connecting with nature, which meant that the use of phones was limited (especially since access to charging was limited and half a mile away). One of the most rewarding experiences actually happened on the first day when the students were brought to a Bug Farm to learn about sustainability in the animal-product industry. Here, students saw hundreds of bugs from spiders to ants within an ant farm found all throughout the local community. There was also a segment on this trip where delegates were asked to get out of their comfort zones and hold bugs like cockroaches and foot-long stick bugs. The trip taught delegates about the future of sustainable food production and made them aware of the bugs that do so much for our world yet barely get any recognition. Furthermore, during their time in Wales, students scaled the Wales cliffside to see the natural environment of this unique place, ate seaweed and learned about its health benefits, and even developed their own sustainable brands that were modeled after companies that they learned about like Ben and Jerry’s and Patagonia which get classified as a B-Corp for their contributions to make a cleaner world.

Each night in Wales, the students had time to interact with each other and to get to learn about the cultures of each of the different participating countries. Students from India taught traditional dances, Armenians showed off the step-dancing routine that they performed just a couple of nights before, and the Americans blasted the lyrics to “Party in the USA” by Miley Cyrus – the adopted pop-culture national anthem.

After adventuring around the Wales countryside and catching colds, the Hackley delegates and their chaperones decided to stay in London for a couple of days as tourists. They stayed in Paddington (like the bear) and became versed in English culture. The students walked all around the city, toured Shakespeare’s Globe Theater, and even watched the changing of the guards at Buckingham Palace. However, the one thing that made this part of the trip especially rewarding was the fact that they were there within the week of Queen Elizabeth the Second’s funeral. The passing of the queen was marked throughout every park and monument within London, which were covered with posters, flowers, and drawings of the queen to support the royal family during this difficult time and to honor their beloved monarch.

Personal Note:
I was honored to be selected to represent Hackley as a delegate for this year’s conference. I had traveled to England before but was eager to visit Oxford, meet students from across the globe, learn about issues that connect us, and see Wales and London. The highlight of my trip was the opening ceremony at Oxford where it was so powerful to see the students from the 100 other schools that had traveled across the globe to participate. As an avid hater of bugs, I was stretched beyond my comfort zone when we held and ate bugs that were bigger than I had ever seen – as big as the palm of my hand. And of course, experiencing all this with the other Hackley delegates.