Something has happened to me and I have changed. I’m stronger, more confident and more hopeful about the future. I’m happier, more open and more in the present than I’ve been in the past. I have 60 new friends from 30 different countries! And I feel it in my bones: I can do anything!
My week in Washington DC has made me a new person and I’m not exaggerating when I say that the leadership training I-LEAD 2016 was one of the best and finest experiences I’ve ever had.
60 delegates from 30 countries gathered for six days at The American University in Washington D.C. and I had a chance to be a part of it! We learned so much about each other, about ourselves, about leadership, about teamwork, about finding your passion and daring to follow it.
I will never forget the connections that I made during these days. And I will never forget the important lessons that I learned in D.C.
I-LEAD 2016 will be on my thoughts for a long time to come.
Washington D.C. is so close to New York and still I felt like I really changed environment. The two cities are just so different. New York is a chaos of never ending skyscrapers. D.C. is neat, tidy and very much put together.
Walking around the campus and soaking in the experience was an incredible joy. And believe me, I was definitely present in the moment! Each day I reminded myself to enjoy every moment and to be grateful. Grateful for everything that I get to experience.
The best part of the week in D.C. was definitely the people that I met there. We were a group of 60 interns from 30 different countries and all the people that attended the seminar were young and ambitious. We had been selected from a group of over 600 applicants and gathered in D.C. with a common goal: to grow together and to create a better world.
The application video that got me accepted to I-LEAD 2016. Making videos is so much fun, but why do I keep scratching myself?
During the first evening the organisers made sure that we all had the opportunity to get to know each other. We performed various exercises that create openness and trust and our group soon found its form.
— Linda Haglund (@LindHaglund) May 18, 2016
It was an unbelievably great joy to get to know Hector from Mexico who works with finance in Texas. Everywhere you turned at I-LEAD 2016 you got to know wonderful people who all will go far in life!
French Albane who works for an IT company in California became one of my best friends at I-LEAD. When we were divided into groups it just so happened that we always ended up at the same table. And it made me happy. Each time.
— Linda Haglund (@LindHaglund) May 16, 2016
During the week we got the chance to hear several inspirational speeches. James P. Pellow, CEO of CIEE, one of the organisers of the seminar, showered us with motivation. When one of the delegates asked Pellow what he expects from us, Pellow answered that he expects greatness! I remember feeling a tickle in my stomach when he said that.
Every morning we ate breakfast together with the delegates and organisers. I always made sure to get up in time so that I would have the opportunity to explore the full breakfast buffet. Each morning I had pancakes with syrup, bagels, ice cream (?), muffins, bacon and eggs, and of course a delicious mix of American cereal. I, who love trying new things, was in heaven!
We used the days to think about what we want in life, where we are going and where we come from. I felt I could talk openly about all my feelings and we made sure to listen to each other. One day we were tasked to draw a map of how we have taken us to the place we are in right now. Photo: Albane Daney de Marcillac
One morning we were asked to read this sentence and count the number of F’s that we found in the words. Then we were grouped according to how many F’s we had found. I saw three F’s and ended up in the biggest group that also was the clear majority. When the groups were set we read the sentence again. We realized then that the sentence contained six F’s and not three, and we learned that the majority can be the group that is in the wrong. And it’s so true, right?
Mentor Dida, one of the organisers at I-LEAD 2016, did a fantastic job with us. He spoke to us about his own childhood in Kosovo, about his time in the United States and about how you should proceed when you have a good idea that you want to bring to life! Mentor was also great at creating good energy within the group. When he saw that we were tired after a long, long day, he got us to jump, dance and laugh together. Thank you for giving us so much of yourself. Thank you teaching me to see life from new perspectives!
— Linda Haglund (@LindHaglund) May 17, 2016
Mentor gave us an amazing lecture about his time in Kosovo, about the university studies in the US, and about achieving dreams and life goals. A real energy boost!
One afternoon we had the opportunity to visit the amazing 1776 in D.C. At 1776 exciting startups gather in the same workplace to find new ways to develop the world that we live in. There was a lovely vibe at 1776 and the Campus Manager Shahier showed us around the inspiring offices.
— Linda Haglund (@LindHaglund) May 17, 2016
Shahier made me want to move in at 1776 with my own little startup and a bag filled with ambitious world-changing dreams.
One afternoon we had some time off and Lina and I sat down at the same campus café. Lina is from Lithuania, works with finance in New York, and has a natural leadership ability. When our groups were asked to climb through a piece of rope as quickly as possible, Lina took the bull by the horns, and led her team with a quiet but firm grip. She will go far, that Lina!
In the evening we left the campus to go to Georgetown in D.C. and by the waterfront I captured this beautiful photo of handsome Adam from Slovakia. Adam works in the hotel industry and is an incredibly outgoing person. But I’m sure you can see that from his charming smile!
Jinsoo from South Korea is a really wonderful guy! I was honored to work with him when we were tasked to lead each other around on campus with our eyes covered by a blindfold. The point of the assignment was to create trust and build confidence. I immediately felt great trust for Jinsoo.
This is Mate from Hungary! Mate is working in the hotel industry in Florida and he is a confident guy! One evening we planned and performed short sketches for each other and I remember how Mate calmly and steadily took the scene. I think he was made for talking in front of people and I look forward to booking a room in his hotel empire as soon as it opens worldwide.
— Linda Haglund (@LindHaglund) May 18, 2016
Andy Rabens from The U.S. Department of State spoke to us about young leadership and about following your dreams. Rabens is an incredibly charismatic man, and when he spoke, we listened carefully. And when he joked, we laughed wholeheartedly!
I’m not always the most articulate, but I do like to talk! This was something that I truly realized during the leadership training. Several times I had to silence myself to make room for other people. All the things that I would want say are not always worth the whole group’s time. Sometimes I have to calm down and maybe save it for blog instead. Photo: Albane Daney de Marcillac
This is the lovely Matheus from Brazil. Matheus and I became good friends during the first evening when we got paired together and told each other secrets. Matheus is working with research in Minneapolis, Minnesota, and has a wonderfully happy energy around him. You just need to sit close to him and you’ll quickly get in a good mood! I miss Matheus!
These gorgeous girls know how to laugh and have fun and I have so many happy memories from I-LEAD because of them. Mandy (in the middle) is from Germany but works in Michigan. I really hope that I will have the opportunity to visit as many I-LEAD delegates as possible!
We took so many group photos during this trip. Wherever you turned there was an image being taken. I like people who like to document what is happening around them. That’s what I do all the time! During the week I Snapchatted me so much that I had enough material to make a tiny documentary. You should definitely follow me on Snapchat (@linons)!
— Hilton Lam (@LamHilton) May 19, 2016
The days flew by and we had more fun than you can imagine! When we got as far as to Wednesday evening it was time for us to start working in our project groups. We sat down and thought about what we are really passionate about. After discussing together we decided which projects we wanted to continue working on. I decided to work with the gender equality group. Gender equality is close to my heart and something I’m truly passionate about. We brainstormed ideas and decided that we wanted to create an organization that would raise awareness and support media in producing more gender equal content.
The Gender Blender was a great group and we started working on developing our idea further. Marta designed our beautiful logo while we continued to plan how to sell our project. The next night, it was already time for our pitch!
This is lovely Johanna from Ireland who was my roommate during the week in D.C.! Johanna also lives in New York and is working with fashion in the Big Apple. I’m so glad that Johanna lives in the same town as me! And I really hope that we will find time to hang out as much as possible.
This happy face belongs amazing Jakob from Sweden who works with film in Los Angeles. Jakob is too much fun! Some people just spread a great feeling around them. I love being surrounded by those kinds of people.
By the United States Capitol, I sat down on the stairs to think about all the incredible things that I get to experience during my time here in the United States. Had someone told me about it a year ago I would not have been able to believe it.
This is wonderful Amira from Canada. Amira works with energy and environmental issues in Minneapolis in Minnesota and is an obvious future leader. Rarely have I met people with so much confidence combined with such calmness.
This lovely smile belongs to Rachel who was one of the organisers of I-LEAD. Rachel has an amazing ability to bring people together and I’m grateful for everything she taught us about being open and stripping away your own prejudices. By trying to understand each other, and by always seeing the best in people, we can grow a better society.
”Take the first step in faith. You don’t have to see the whole staircase, just take the first step.”- Martin Luther King, Jr.
This is Laura. Laura was one of the organisers of I-LEAD 2016 and did an amazing job. I saw Laura as a guardian, a parent, that you could talk to about anything. Laura listened, welcomed all feedback, and spread a calm within the group. Thank you Laura for everything that you did for us during the week in D.C.
Me and Albane at The Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall. The memorial was powerful and built like a furrow in the otherwise smooth ground. As a scar that always makes itself felt. The wound has healed but the memories will always remain.
After the tour we went to a restaurant where we all ate together. When our stomachs were full, it was time for us to pitch our projects. Here you can see The Gender Blender on stage, right after our fantastic pitch! In this picture I’m high on life. I’m high on being me!
That evening we danced all night. We laughed and jumped and danced until our blue I-LEAD t-shirts were wrinkled from celebration and sweat. The next morning I-LEAD 2016 came to an end and it was tough to hear Laura give us the last task of the seminar.
During the first day of I-LEAD Laura was careful to point out that this experience would not last forever. It is not ”for keeps” she said. We can take part in it for a while, but then it’s time for us to return to our tasks.
I know I couldn’t stay at The American University forever, but I really wish I was able to experience this amazing week once again. I really wish I could experience the connection, the community, and our wonderful team spirit, over and over again. And maybe I will someday!
The last task that Laura gave us was to give each other feedback. We all wrote greetings on each other’s backs, and I will treasure the feedback I got for as long as I live. On the bus trip home to New York, I read through all the encouraging comments. Thank you for all the beautiful words!
When we were saying goodbye, I started to cry. We gave each other a big group hug and promised each other to visit each other’s cities. This is one of the last pictures I took before the group disbanded. Today, everyone is back in their workplaces, all over the United States.