Greeted by cherry-blossoms and sponsored by the Gulen Institute, the top thirty essayists, along with their guardian of choice, from all across the seven seas embarked on a trip to Washington DC. The Gulen Institute Youth Platform Essay Contest of 2013 achieved exactly what it stands for – promoting a dialogue between young people from all around the globe on current issues that most youths do not get a chance to reflect on.
Being the first Bangladeshi to be selected to receive the award, I was very excited about this trip. Later, on reaching the US, I also learned that I was the only 9th grader selected for this year. Despite that, I felt at ease there because thankfully everyone was very open minded and eager to listen to each other regardless of age, race and religion.
The trip kicked off with an orientation at the Salon of the hotel. We discussed the trip with eagerness to get started immediately. The day continued on as we occupied a classroom within the George Mason University and discussed our papers on ‘Hospitality in the Global Village’. Dr Tom Gage conducted the discussion in such a way that everyone got the opportunity to speak their mind. Amazingly enough, each of our essays were unique individual pieces of work that shed light on how we believe the situations can be improved for people that are uprooted from their motherland and must stay in a host nation. We continued this discussion further at the Turkic American Alliance. Then we viewed a key note presentation on what the TAA stands for and how it is relevant to us. After enjoying an amazing dinner on the rooftop of the TAA building, we were driven back to our hotel.
The following day was the day of our Award Ceremony which was scheduled for the evening. Before that, we were taken out to the National Air and Space Museum and were free to take in the beautiful sites Washington DC has to offer.
An interesting coincidence was on that particular day –April 10, 2013 – thousands of people flooded to the grounds of the Capital Building demanding the broken immigration system to be repaired for the best. We got a glance into the real situation we based our essays upon.
The Award Ceremony was a very glorious moment for all of the winning students and also for their guardians. Invitations were sent out to the embassies of all the countries from which students were selected to get an award. We were honoured by the presence of important personalities across the world who took time out of their busy schedules to present us with our awards. Congressmen Scott Peters, Gene Green, Andy Barr, Pete Olson, Gallego and Al Green along with Congresswoman Susan W Brooks came from various states of America to appreciate the essays written by the students of their country and countries far and near. We were graced by the presence of the Ambassador of Bosnia and Herzegovina H E Jadranka Negodic, Minister Plenipotentiary and Deputy Chief of Mission Koji Tomita from Embassy of Japan, President of Rumi Forum, Emre Celik, Deputy Chief of Mission Arjun Kant Mainali from Embassy of Nepal, Consular Behic Hatipoglu from Embassy of Turkey, Social and Education Affairs Attaché Karim Kabore, Minister Counselor Magnus Rydén from Embassy of Sweden, Minister/Deputy Chief of Mission Saroj Thanasunti from Royal Thai Embassy, First Secretary Ahmad Al-Sobai from Embassy of Qatar presented awards. Of the other respected personalities, we had the President of the Rumi Forum, Emre Celik, Dr Tom Gage, and Dr Ken Bedell and from the Gulen Institute Sait Yavuz and Hakan Yagci. I got the honour of receiving my award from respected Emre Celik.
On the last day, our goal was to soak up all the Washington DC experience as much as possible. Firstly, we went to the Library of Congress – a truly majestic place. By the end of the trip, such a special bond was shared by the all top essayists. This competition has single handedly brought together people from across the world and urged people from diverse ethnic and religious backgrounds to interact with one another about research topics that are of the utmost importance but falls out of reach for most youths.
(The author is a student of International Turkish Hope School.)