By Hayeong Rho, J-1 intern

2016 was the year in which the first ever I-LEAD Conference (Intern Leadership Enrichment And Development Program) was held, right in the heart of the United States of America: Washington, DC.The conference was held from May 15 to 20. A total of 58 J-1 intern delegates from 30 different countries came together in the U.S. capital to share their experiences and build a strong, diverse community. What I initially thought was going to be a simple networking leadership gathering became a once in a lifetime experience. The 5-day conference not only provided me with valuable information on intercultural communications, leadership skills, and social enterprises, but cultured a strong sense of belonging, where I  felt comfortable and safe among a group of 58 people with unbelievably diverse backgrounds.

Each one of us came with a different set of values, beliefs, cultures, and experiences. Knowing this, CIEE (organizer of the conference) carefully planned their sessions; starting with fun icebreaker games, introductions and networking ensued, followed by a series of intense but very informative lessons on team working and leadership skill development. After 12-hour long days, we came together to socialize, reflect, and relax.

Throughout the conference, I tried my best to talk to, and learn from each individual delegate present. My only regret is that there was simply not enough time for deeper connection, and I left on the last day wanting to stay longer in Washington, DC with everyone.

The overall experience was surreal; it started and ended so quickly. I enjoyed every moment of the conference, and felt privileged to have met such amazing people all across the world. I now feel confident that – wherever and everywhere I travel – I will be able to find a pair of welcoming arms waiting for me.