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Developing the Next Generation of World Leaders

Two days before the world paused to celebrate the Nov. 9 fall of the Berlin Wall, high school students from Northeast Florida got a glimpse of what it’s like in modern-day Eastern Europe’s business, government and nonprofit sectors. Six Clay High students from the school’s global logistics career academy were among 165 students from Baker, Columbia, Clay, Duval and St. Johns counties to take part in the Going Global Summit 2014 sponsored by the Jacksonville-based nonprofit GlobalJax. It’s part of a U.S. State Department Culture and Education exchange program designed to help students to explore future education and career options in the global economy.

However, the summit also aims to teach students that business begins with open communication. “If communication is there, the economy will follow,” said Tim Champagne, who heads the Clay High Blue Innovations Academy. He said the summit was not just about global economics or doing business on a global scale so much as its goal was to help students understand global communication. “It gets them interested in maybe traveling later on in life and moving beyond our borders and then bringing that culture back to our borders,” said Champagne, who has attended the summit each of its six years. International guests first flew into Washington, D.C. on Nov. 4 where they were briefed on their mission. From the nation’s capital, they flew to Jacksonville for the Nov. 7 summit, which was held at the Advanced technology Center on the downtown campus of Florida State College at Jacksonville. Representatives from Albania, Belgium, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Finland, Norway, Poland, Romania, Russia, Slovenia and Switzerland hailed from a wide range of careers, including government economic development agencies and small business entrepreneurs. Matej Skocir, 33, an executive with Spirit, the official economic development agency of Slovenia, encouraged students to learn about other countries and always be open to learning other languages. His goal at the summit in terms of the students was “to get their view, their way of thinking and try to combine that with our view because, I guess, we all have differing views, but at the end of the day, the world is one. We just have to see it from that perspective,” Skocir said. He urged students to not be afraid of pursuing their dreams. “I think they’re doing a great job here with the kids,” Skocir said. “They showed a lot of interest. They are not afraid. They know how to raise their hand. They know how to ask the right questions and collect the answers. All my compliments to your kids.” On a more local scale, students from the different high schools got to share ideas and meet other students from each of the different schools. Clay High students, like those from the other schools, were split up from their local peer groups as a means of jump-starting the concept of business networking. “A lot of times the people that we sit around, we don’t take the time out to have a conversation with them and we’re missing out on common knowledge just because we won’t say hi, hello, how are you doing,” said Janae McPhaul, 21, of Jacksonville, who served as a summit volunteer after having attended the summit years ago as a First Coast High School student. “My hope for the kids in terms of what they take away from the summit is that regardless of whether they are interested in pursuing a business career after high school or not, just learn that when they see an opportunity, take it.” But the summit did not focus solely on business. Skocir, for example, told students about what teenagers in his country do for fun and what sports Slovenians take part in. Like other guests, he wanted to share the story of his people’s culture. “Most students have no idea about how students from other countries dress and a lot of those questions will come out here – just the basic understanding that there are a lot of people in this world that are their age and their parents’ age that are actually living the same way as they are but the way they are living is a little bit different and so the food, the language, the dress, the music, the customs – those are the things that I find that the students really want to know about,” said Joanne Kazmierski, a GlobalJax board member, and volunteer organizer of the summit. In her time speaking with the students, Carmen Ciobanu, a project coordinator for Civitas Foundation for Civil Society in Romania, encouraged students to remain curious. “Curiosity is very important for these kids because curiosity can open a lot of doors. I told them you can never know where the opportunities can come from, you can never know. I urged them just to be good in everything they do, in school, with your family, with your friends, everywhere,” Ciobanu said.

If what Ciobanu said is accurate, the summit achieved its goal with at least two Clay High students. Rachel Arsenault, 16, and Bryant Harmon, 18, both said they hope to travel abroad now, whereas, before it was not something they’d considered. “It definitely stretched my mind,” Harmon said. “It opened my eyes to all the similarities and also to all the differences between and now I’m just more curious than I was before about what all these countries are like.” Arsenault agrees with Skocir about the similarities the cultures share with Americans. She said the summit changed the way she thinks.

“I think it’s pretty cool how the different countries are all connected. This definitely expanded the way I think about the world and how that we all do a lot of the same kind of stuff,” Arsenault said. [As Published in Clay Today]

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