Youth Summit Provides Global-Interest Niche for Students

The 2014 school year culminated with international flare for 41 student ambassadors from 12 high schools in Durham, North Carolina who gathered for the Sister Cities of Durham’s Youth Summit.  The Summit allowed students to learn more about global affairs, while participating in engaging activities with their peers.

To make this program a success, Sister Cities of Durham’s Youth Council Members opened the opportunity to public, private, and charter schools in the Durham area after reaching out to principals and Social Studies department chairs. Students were chosen based off of school-specific requirements, where Social Studies teachers chose four to five students from each class to receive formal invitations to participate. The Summit was constrained to underclassmen and juniors to encourage participation in subsequent school years. 

Goals of the Summit were to promote a connection between students and Durham’s Sister Cities for possible future exchanges, to make a difference in the community and beyond through service, and to encourage continuing friendships, both at home and overseas. “I feel it is really important for people our age to be aware and involved in the international community,” said Student Ambassador Georgia Marion Spencer, while reflecting on the importance of the Summit.

The day of the event, Student Ambassadors explored global connections by using maps, photos of sister city events, and listening to world music. After a welcoming introduction from Sister Cities of Durham’s President, Brady Surles, keynote speaker, Diplomat Julie Ruterbories, shared personal stories from working for the State Department. Diplomat Ruterbories gave students insights into pursuing an education and career in the Foreign Service, as well as how to apply for State Department-sponsored exchange programs. 

Student Ambassadors and Youth Committee Members presented information about their sister cities, Arusha, Tanzania; Durham, England; Kostroma, Russia; Toyama, Japan; and Zhuzhou, China. Following this, the students partook in a project called “Student Rebuild Water Challenge.” With their connection to Arusha, Tanzania, the Youth Committee saw an opportunity for students to not only participate in a service activity, but have fun learning about their sister city in an interactive, concrete manner. 

During the project, students were challenged to roll paper beads as quickly as they could in a 15-minute period to raise awareness to clean water issues in Tanzania. For every 20-paper beads rolled, the Bezos Family Foundation donated funds to provide access to clean water for one person in a village. By the end of the challenge, the Student Ambassadors rolled 191 beads, adding to the 323,460 beads needed to completely fund the project!

The Summit turned out to be a great success as local students learned more about their sister cities and global affairs. In the future, the Summit participants plan to take back what they learned to their schools and peers. Youth Committee Member Eve Marion said, “Extra-curricular programs in international affairs and global learning are not as catered to as other subjects in high schools, so this was a great enrichment opportunity.”

In order to continue this program, Durham Student Ambassador Kyra Pierce explained, “We need to get teachers involved.” With all forces combined and increased involvement from the principals, department chairs and teachers, Sister Cities Youth Committee Members, and especially the students themselves, the Youth Summit promises to be an ongoing success. 

To uphold their goals, the Youth Committee is arranging to meet in August to begin planning for next year’s Summit. Youth Committee Member, Margaret Harrison, explained, “It’s essential that kids come up with ideas for what they’re committing to. In August they’ll elect student officers to take charge and encourage others to explore international relations and using organizational skills.” For more information about Sister Cities of Durham, please visit the City of Durham website.

Want to provide youth with an opportunity to learn more about international affairs? Sister Cities International will be hosting a 2014 Youth Leadership Summit in San Jose at the 58th Annual Conference! The Summit’s theme is “Water as a Shared Commodity” and will take place from July 31-August 2. If you or a student you know is interested in participating in the 2014 Youth Leadership Summit, please visit for more information and to register!