The Laidlaw Scholarship has let me see more of the world. My first time visiting Madrid, London, and Boston have all been made possible by my involvement in this programme. It is, of course, fascinating to visit a new city as a tourist. It is in my mind, however, even better to travel with a mission.
This is a lesson I learned as far back as 2019. I spent ten days travelling across France and Italy in a small party of three, with good friends I had made from scouting. The trip contrasted to others I had taken before. I had previously gone to lengths to organise strict itineraries on scout trips, considering the needs of a larger group. Now, freed from a strict itinerary, experiencing the sprawl of the French and Italian Alps for the first time and letting lake water lap at my feet, I felt at once a peace of mind and a hunger. I asked myself - what is travel if not a path to people? I had realised that the most memorable and instructive experiences on that trip had been those spent interacting and listening to new people. I carried this lesson with me into the start of the Laidlaw programme.
I jumped at the chance to travel to Madrid to attend the South Summit conference. This conference was aimed at stimulating investment in the Spanish-speaking economy. Companies and guest speakers took to the stage to spread optimism and awareness about their projects. Over the course of the three-day conference, I made it my mission to speak to almost all the stalls set up in the main concourse. I spoke to enterprise software companies, language learning startups, educational game designers. I got free trials for apps, connected with some very cool people, and did some furious note-taking. I felt that going to every stall, going to every event, and simply listening had welcomed an entirely new corner of the world into my consciousness. Growing to understand what everybody else’s personal mission was led me to better understand my own.
Becoming a global leader in reality means constantly teaching yourself. For me, this has come to mean taking the less obvious option. If I’m in a room full of people, I’ll try to talk to the person in the far corner. If I’m learning about the culture or history of a place, I’ll try to find the most compelling sources. If I’m visiting a city, I’ll take a bus out to some distant village or suburb. It’s about being in search of the silent truth beneath all the loud distractions of the world, the less conveniently packaged version.
Throughout my summer 2023 in Boston, I tried to put this conviction into action. The role of teacher or mentor is in fact one primarily of listening. My students all came from backgrounds extremely different to mine. From the first day, I realised that I would only be of service to them if I could hear what they really needed and expected of me. Finding common ground over lunchtime chats, making sure nobody was sitting alone, taking a personal interest in their interests outside the immediate scope of what I was teaching helped me in creating a sense of trust and fun over the course of my six weeks.
The more groups I find myself thrust into, especially international groups, the more I realise that this is a skill that will never not be useful. Even across both Laidlaw Scholar Conferences, I found myself embedding with other scholar groups from across the universities on the same foundation of genuine excitement to learn about life in a different city. It is important to note that it is a constant practice; even with those who we meet or work with on a regular basis, such as the scholars within our own cohort, we can always learn more about people. The ongoing effort to understand others and take genuine interest in their affairs lies at the heart of global leadership, and is a key learning I have made that will serve me well throughout the future.