The alarm rang and I forced my eyes open. It was 2:45 am, and I begrudgingly crawled out of bed, as I was only to achieve two hours of sleep. I wasn’t getting ready for work. I wasn’t going to school. I was preparing for a Skype interview with someone I had never met before. They were calling from Lithuania and had a good eight hours ahead of my time zone. I was positive that when it came to who would be more energetic, there would be no contest. After a 30 minute conversation, I went back to sleep with the dreadful knowledge that I would have to be up at 8 for work. I was exhausted, and I did not know the reward that was ahead of me.
I had been out of school for two years and was looking for options abroad. I had already applied and been accepted into the Peace Corps, but I knew that I had to go on a solo backpacking trip through the Baltics before I would be stationed elsewhere for 27 months.
Then one day I was browsing through a website called opportunity desk, (shout out to my friend Kevin Pham for telling me about it!) and I saw that there was a youth conference going to be held in Lithuania. It was called Youth to Youth International, they were going to focus on youth in social entrepreneurship, public policy, gender equality, and peace building. This was a conference that was right up my alley when it came to my interests and passions.
Flash forward three months and an epic backpacking adventure through the Baltics, I was one of three Americans in a conference with over 150 participants from all over the world.
It changed my life forever, and one of the reasons why I decided not to go into the Peace Corps.
Are you in college, or have you recently graduated?
Perhaps you just landed your first job, or maybe you’re still looking and realizing that your college internship and Linkedin connections aren’t as resourceful as you thought they were going to be.
Well, if that resonates with you, my best piece of advice is to attend an international youth conference.
Here are six reasons why.
You will enhance your career
First of all, attending a youth conference looks great on a resume. It tells hiring managers that you are well traveled, work well with others, and most important, that you are involved and passionate. While it looks good on a resume, there is also an unlimited amount of networking opportunities. Since I have attended the first Youth to Youth conference, I have written freelance articles for a European based magazine, attended two more conferences, and currently working for Youth to Youth Initiative as their alumni coordinator.
You will learn about new ideas, cultures, and practices
The second conference I attended is an annual conference called the Muslim Jewish Conference (thanks again, Kevin!). This one was held in Berlin, Germany. I learned so much about Islam, Judaism, and Christianity by attending this conference. I discovered new traditions and customs, and met with people from ethnic and cultural groups I had never heard of. The whole experience was incredibly humbling and mentally stimulating.
You will become more empathetic
When you attend international youth conferences, you meet people from all walks of life. During my attendance at the Muslim Jewish Conference, I was part of a group that focused on marginalization in Muslim and Jewish communities. I also met victims of terrorist attacks and refugees. By simply listening to their stories and what they have endured has hardened something I wrote in the past: sometimes it’s not enough to simply walk in someone else’s shoes when you’re still coasting on a soft, flat surface of sand. Sometimes you need to crawl on the rocks upon which the waves crash to understand why someone’s head is filled with salt, and your conscience is clear.
You will pick up healthy habits
There are plenty of habits you can pick up from your colleagues at these conferences, for me, it was meditation. I always dabbled in meditation, but did not fully immerse myself in it until I attended a guided meditation one early morning in Lithuania. Some of the participants had been previous members in a meditative-based conference called Peace Revolution, and one of them was kind enough to volunteer their time and guide over 15 participants in a session. Since then, I have been an advocate and practitioner.
You will have more opportunities to travel and attend more conferences
As I previously wrote, since applying to my first conference in Lithuania, I have attended two other international conferences. I have also met with participants from these conferences all over the world. Whether it was lunch in Prague, hiking mountains in a village 40 minutes outside of Vienna, staying with friends and given a private tour of their city, or discussing religion with Muslims in Dubai. You will meet people who will want to host you, and you will want to host them.
Which brings me to my last and most important reason.
You will make new friends for life
One of the main reasons why I still keep Facebook is so that I can keep in touch with all the wonderful people I’ve met through my travels and conferences. I still Skype with the friends that I made, whether it’s to catch up, interview them for the Y2Y Newsletter, or to practice my Russian. I love seeing what they are doing, and I like sharing with them what I’ve been up to. It’s been a wonderful experience overall.
I can’t predict what the future has in store for me, but I know that my opportunities are endless because of attending these conferences.
So apply to anything that catches your eye. I’ve applied to numerous conferences and have only been to three, but those three have changed my life for the better. You have everything to gain and nothing to lose.
What are you waiting for? Go do it!