5:30 am, July 19th. I woke up to an unwelcome alarm, jolting me awake from the 3 hours sleep I got the night before between a delayed flight back from Portugal, trying to unpack and repack bags, and get ready for a new journey. But it was only minutes before the excitement of the day kicked in – in a few short hours I would be on my way to Boston to participate in the Women2Women Leadership Conference.
Once at the airport, I met up with Priyanka, the other girl coming from the UK, and we indulged in a bit of book shopping before heading off on the 7-hour journey which culminated in girls from Peru, Portugal, Norway and the UK piling into a big yellow school bus and driving off to the Fenway district.
Simmons Hall, part of Simmons College, was to be the residence of 130 girls from over 30 countries for the next 10 days. However, we weren’t in there long, as after unpacking everything we headed out to target, and I then went to meet some friends from Launch X 2017. The day ended claiming free Ben&Jerry’s from Seaport, and then a very stressful Uber ride back to the residence, arriving just in time for our first day social.
The first official day of the conference, but day 2 on the trip, was mostly about orienteering, learning about everyone and everything to do with the program. We had a lovely lunch at the City Winery, and then ended up heading back to Target for some unknown reason???
The official second day of the conference was by far one of the best days, but also the one with the earliest start – Martha’s Vineyard! Having visited Cape Cod last summer but not getting to visit the Island, I was super excited to get to go, and it didn’t disappoint. Although, my only regret was not listening to everyone telling me to bring a jumper for the trip, and for accidentally breaking a magnet with my bag.
Having started out as a small group, we soon ended up as a group of 5, with Lia from Massachusetts, USA (and my roommate!) giving us a quick tour of Oak Bluffs, the town we found ourselves in for the day. Despite amusing gingerbread houses, a million different flavours of ice cream and beautiful beaches, after a quick stop at Backdoor Donuts we found ourselves in the local arcade, unsurprisingly. This proved to be the greatest decision of the day, entertaining us for hours with games we’d never seen before, and resulting in taking home a huge collection of prizes after carefully calculating the best way to maximise our points (my maths teachers would be so proud).
Although I didn’t get to eat a lobster roll for lunch, we did get to enjoy great seafood by the ocean, and then enjoyed a quick nap and swim on the beach. However, the highlight of the beach experience was definitely the seagulls stealing both a whole bagel AND Isabel’s Boston Cream Donut (which she hadn’t tried before since she comes from Spain). I made up for the loss by indulging in yet more food, this time a slice of Pizza, before we head back for the ferry and then whizzed off back to the dorms. This evening, we managed to go without visiting target, but we did venture out for some Greek dinner, and to take photos in the *artistic* circular sculptures.
Sunday began with Mindfulness and yoga, discovering our inner ‘golden ball’ and learning how to meditate. It was super relaxing, and I’m pretty sure I almost fell asleep a couple times. Then we had Mason West, who spoke about the Leader in You. He has always been a favourite on the program, and many left feeling empowered. After lunch, we had BOUNCE Life skills workshop, where we looked at how we felt about our lives at the moment, and where we wanted to be in the future. Finally, we had a session from George Batah called Your Inner Activist, which was by far my favourite session of all. I loved how he had combined a consulting job at Deloitte with social action through his organisation, which is exactly the kind of path I would like to follow. He was incredibly inspirational and a real success story to look up to.
However, the highlight of the day had to be going to see Mamma Mia 2: Here We Go Again in the Cinema. ABBA is my favourite band ever and I thoroughly enjoyed the second film, especially since we had reclining, super comfy seats, and I managed to sneak in a Panera Bread Lemonade into the viewing!
New day, new adventures. Today we headed off to Babson College and Harvard Kennedy School of Government. This day was incredibly inspiring, and definitely motivated me to actually get down to business and revise for the SATs! At Babson, we worked on Entrepreneurial Thought and Action, the famous methodology which attracts people to study there, and when we went to Harvard we met the Masom Fellows, who are scholars from all over the world doing a masters. Then, we had time to explore Harvard Square, where we enjoyed street art, shopping and, of course, bubble tea! The highlight of the day was definitely meeting a fellow English person testing American’s on slang such as “fresh creps” and “my whip” (which, I didn’t even acknowledge as English slang), as well as singing High School Musical and The Greatest Showman at full pelt on the bus.
Tuesday was incredible – we went to Converse! This was the first time that Women2Women went, and it did not disappoint. Of course, initially we were all overexcited at the prospect of getting free Converse, but we soon also got immersed in the content of the day, which including digital marketing, working with Miley Cyrus for PRIDE, and using your business to communicate messages you care about. I really enjoyed meeting all of the staff, and learning more about the stories of a few particular powerhouse females there. I really especially enjoyed Emma Johnson, who started her business at 16. She was doing some super cool stuff and I admired her strong ability to just go for it, as well as the fact that her business was soooo cool.
Converse was also great to take photos with their feminist slogan signs, and in front of the beautiful view. And on top of that, it was my brother’s 11 birthday, so all happy days!
When we got back, we also had a session with Reverend Liz Walker, which was great. I really admire her as a person, how she carries herself, and the work that she does, so I really enjoyed the session.
New day, new sessions, same friends. Today we had lots of people come to talk to us from all over the place, from a representative from the Boston Food Bank, to understanding the power of our social network, as well as people from the Girl Scouts, a session on building our personal brand, and then how to get the attention of the media. We then culminated in a session on understanding sexual harassment, which I found super informative and interesting to learn more about what we can do as Bystanders, as well as getting the opportunity to braid people’s hair, which I find incredibly relaxing. I especially liked the session on understanding our personal networks, as its something I’m interested in in the real world too.
On the second to last day of sessions, we went to Harvard Law School, which made me feel like I was in the middle of a movie. With famed (and fictional) alumnae such as Elle Woods, Mike Ross and Harvey Specter, (think, Legally Blonde and Suits) this day was really another motivation to apply to American Universities. However, before Harvard, myself and my roommate Lia made the daring decision to attend a 6:30am gym class, which definitely woke us up, but left me completely exhausted during the day!
We had a panel on the Power of Women, a session on inspirational women in the world, and a session on the art of negotiation, which I LOVED. If that is what all sessions are Harvard would be like, I think I would be in Heaven. We also had a session from the AHA foundation about Forced Marriage and FGM, which I definitely felt was the most impactful session I attended, as I previously was not aware of the extent of the problem. I think everyone was moved by that session, and all a little shocked at some of the statistics.
Waking up, we attended our final session – part 2 of how to use our social networks. But the best part of the session was finding out that my team won the Converse video challenge, which took hours of filming and staying up late into the night to edit. As long as it was all worth it, I’m happy! After that, it was time to present our ‘action plans’, otherwise known as what we planned to do when we arrived back home. It was the whole purpose of the conference, and what we had been working towards for so long. In my room, I heard about issues ranging from Mass Incarceration, Domestic Violence, integrating refugees, educating children in Nigeria, FGM, and so much more. Everyone’s stories were personal and moving, and I definitely felt more connected to everyone in the room. Added to this, we were in the Massachusettes State House, where all the laws in the state were made, which definitely added to the idea that our opinions were valuable and we were being heard and recognised. Upon returning, we were treated to an INCREDIBLE final night party, completed with inflatables, a giant American buffet, and too many artificially flavoured sweets. after hours of dancing to pop songs, Portuguese classics, and sad songs to make us all cry, it was time to say our goodbyes and back all our bags along with the new photobooth photos and neon bracelets we had collected, and on a sugar high from all the cotton candy.
Goodbye day is always the hardest day:( saying goodbye to such incredible girls was hard, but I know that I’ll see many of them in the future. On the plus, I now have an even bigger worldwide network, and plenty of houses to stay in when I visit new countries. This was an experience I’ll never forget, and I’m so grateful to everyone who helped me achieve it.
Firstly, to Empower Peace, Trisha, Kari, Rick, Greta, Feriel and all the interns. You organised such a great conference that I’m lucky to have attended!
Next, to all the girls in my session. You girls are awesome! I’m so glad to have met you all and you really are a sisterhood.
To all the speakers, companies and universities who volunteered time for us, thank you for shaping the experience we received and making it as amazing as possible.
To my family, for sending me off on this fun little trip, and trusting me to look after myself for such a long time. And especially to my brother, who let me miss his birthday to go and follow my dream.
To my school, for always believing in me and for nominating me for the award that started this whole thing off. Oxford High School has always supported me in all my crazy ideas and allowed me to miss more days of school than I can count to pursue the best future I can achieve.
OF COURSE to the United States Embassy in London, UK for funding the whole trip. Without you, I wouldn’t have been able to experience any of this, and for that I am eternally grateful.
And Finally, to Women of the Future and in particular Pinky Lilani. You are the centre of this whole trip. Without you, none of this would have happened. Your eternal kindness, sincerity and gracefulness is a force for good on this Earth. This opportunity has helped shape my life and I’m so grateful for everything you have done for me. A million times thank you.
If you’re reading this and thinking about applying, do it! It’s a great opportunity that you won’t find in many other, if any, places. Plus, the people you meet are just unforgettable.
And if you’re reading this as part of the Women2Women Family, keep slaying girls!