How do you make global friends and change your worldview? Just ask this Pittsburgh high school senior.

Seton LaSalle High School senior Faith Kisker was selected from thousands of applicants to participate in last month’s Model G20 Beijing Youth Leadership Summit run by Knovva Academy.

 Preparation began with a six-week course before heading to China. The eight-day trip included exploring Beijing along with two days of research and three days of negotiations between countries, similar to the practice of a model UN.

 This was the second Model G20 for Faith, who previously participated in the Model G20 Summit in Boston. “I was able to make friends from all over the world. Through Snapchat, I’m still able to stay in contact with some of them.”

 Faith plans to major in biochemistry and minor in Spanish in college and go on to medical school with the ultimate goal of working with Doctors Without Borders. Her involvement in the Model G20 has expanded her view of the world and the ways she can contribute to positive change.

 We asked Faith to share her Model G20 Beijing experience with Kidsburgh.

Exploring the city with new friends.

欢迎到北京 (Huānyíng dào běijīng) or Welcome to Beijing

Once a foreign enigma, these letters now represent the feeling of love and coming home – even in a country not my own. At the Beijing Model G20, I met some of the most amazing people and was able to experience not only Chinese culture first-hand, but also cultures from 23 other countries. I was able to learn from, and interact with, keynote speakers who teach at Harvard University or who work for government agencies like the U.S. Department of Defense.

Some lessons learned:

  • Though nervous, I gained the confidence to give four different speeches as Minister of Trade for Italy – three of them in front of 40 people, and one speech to a crowd of nearly 300.
  • I developed my negotiation skills through high-pressure negotiations and was able to persuade seven major countries to sign onto my team’s Refugees for the World Agreement. I spoke three languages – though as rudimentary as my non-fluent speaking was, it was the effort that counted.
  • I honed my chopstick skills and tried a large variety of traditional Chinese food while finding out the history of each dish from my Chinese friends.
  • I became immersed in the wonders of China, from the Forbidden City to the Temple of Confucius, and felt alexithymia at the beauty before my eyes.

And I did it all for (virtually) free.

Faith was recognized for her hard work with the Best Ministerial Delegate for Trade Award and a scholarship.

Knovva Academy runs three to five summits every year, where high school students are invited to gather in a city to learn about, work on, and discuss current global social issues. It is said that youth are the future, and after attending the Summit in Beijing, I couldn’t agree more. Having the privilege to meet people from around the world who have already accomplished so much and aspire to become future leaders, as well as being able to work on current problems with them was a great blessing.

Before I left for China, I learned five simple phrases in Mandarin – not knowing the impact they would soon have on my life:

Faith loves forming connections with other kids from around the world.

你好 (Nǐ hǎo) – Hello

Hello is one of the simplest phrases you can learn in any language. It shows someone that their presence matters to you, and it’s even more powerful when you speak it in that person’s native language. So, I began to learn simple words like Hello in many languages to interact with the people I met from all over the world.

谢谢 (Xièxiè) – Thank you – and 别客气 (Bié kèqì) – You’re welcome

Thank you and you’re welcome can express the simple notion of gratitude beyond barriers. People perform many actions for you daily, whether that be opening a door, helping you pick up loose papers, or possibly even translating languages or cultural innuendos for you. Those words can mean the world to someone. It shows that you appreciate them, especially if you say it in their native language. The Chinese culture of hospitality is treating every foreign guest in your proximity as though it’s your responsibility to showcase your country and provide for them. My Chinese friends loved teaching me about different foods and always offered to pay for my market purchases. That pure generosity is something I hope to embody in the future.

Students at the Model G20 Summit were assigned to represent nations and seek to negotiate agreements with other countries to further diplomatic progress.

劳驾 (Láojià) – Excuse me

Saying excuse me is a common reaction to the hazard of walking with people. However, it can also be a metaphor for entering into a new culture, as I did. My Chinese roommate, Sibyl Li, taught me the significance of every food dish and, in the spirit of Chinese hospitality, bought me even more different dishes to try from a Chinese delivery platform akin to GrubHub. I bought a beautiful bracelet in a market with the traditional flower, and she helped me develop a deeper appreciation for it by explaining what it represents in Chinese culture. Genuine respect for other cultures, it seems, is about conversation – not conformation.

“What excites me most about the Model G20 is being able to learn about a different country more in-depth, as well as being able to meet people from all over the world and experience a different culture.”

说英语吗 (Nǐ huì shuō yīngyǔ ma?) – Do you speak English?

Despite my attempts to utilize my feeble Chinese vocabulary, I ended up in situations where I recognized I was simply out of my depth and was forced to use this phrase. Finding a new path in any circumstance is found through connections. It’s about being open to new cultures and new experiences, finding a worldwide perspective for your future, not focusing on only what directly affects you. It’s about taking the chance to join into a new life – and not just asking for a fork.