IAEA International Student Competition 2018
Gyeongju, South Korea

After what seemed like a near impossible task, ADOMHS senior Cristopher Cruz, and juniors Yeslie Barrios and Edgar Lopez (with me in tow) embarked on a trip to the Republic of Korea where they would present their initiatives to promote youth engagement in the nuclear industry at the Third Annual International Atomic Energy Agency’s Human Resource Development for Nuclear Power Programmes: Meeting Challenges to Ensure the Nuclear Workforce Capability (May 28-June 1, 2018).

 

From the beginning, our attendance in the conference seemed like a long shot. We were already in the midst of planning our presentation for the international student symposium (Critical Issues Forum) to be held in Monterey, CA, and we were deeply entrenched in researching the Nuclear Ban Treaty, and the roots of why nuclear-powered states possess nuclear weapons. Taking on a second project on a related, but seemingly divergent issue, was a formidable challenge, especially given our time constraints. But, as youth do, their excitement and energy to take on such challenges resulted in our submitting an abstract as our entry submission into the IAEA’s International Student Competition.

After nearly 200 submissions from 31 countries, and a second round of selections that required a video submission of our project (featured on the right), our ADOMHS Nuclear Free Schools team was selected to present on behalf of the United States of America. Four other schools were chosen Malaysia, Hungary, the Republic of Korea, and Japan.   We were ecstatic, overjoyed, and proud to share all the work that we’d done and planned to do in the name of youth engagement and the nuclear workforce.

We arrived in Seoul on Monday, May 28 and did some light exploring in downtown Seoul before connecting with the students from the other countries for the first time. A culturally relevant moment happened when we entered the conference room. The other students did not immediately recognize Cris, Yeslie, or Edgar as Team USA, and instead assumed that the Hungarians were the American team. And when I arrived,  we discussed logistics and did some quick exploring around Seoul via the subway before heading to bed.

The next morning, we traveled to Cheongwadae Sarangchae, one of the Imperial Palaces in Korea, and got dressed up in the “Hanbok,” or traditional Korean attire. After the cultural visit, we visited Hongdae, a university-area shopping district where the students got to visit the modern side of Korea, and partake in some unique eats, and silly photo opportunities. After the festivities, we made our way from Seoul to Gyeongju via a five-hour bus ride. 

Wednesday was the big day. All students were rightly nervous to present their initiatives to a 600-person room full of diplomats, scientists, engineers, and nuclear power plant operators. To calm their nerves, Cris, Edgar, and Yeslie suggested a game of Uno to help take the edge off. Apparently, Uno transcends all cultures since every student team knew the rules of Uno and had their own unique spin on the game. Once their nerves were calmed, they took part in media interviews, faced the rain storm to/from lunch, finally got up on the beautiful stage and presented their project

Our NuclearFree kids presented their project, titled: “Turning Fear into Advocacy and Shared Progress: Careers in Disarmament, Monitoring & Verification, and Peaceful Nuclear Use.” They discussed their nuclear power plant visit, the curriculum that they have been helping to develop, and the upcoming conference in the fall. The other schools presented on surveys they conducted and apps that they developed. All the students were impressive in their presentations, and it was agreed by all that a lot of stealing of ideas would be going on to continue their work back at home.

On the final day of the trip, we explored the historical and cultural sites of Gyeongju. The students visited the Gyeongju National Museum, beautiful Buddhist Temples, and attended a traditional fan-making workshop. As students departed the bus for the last time, they said their final goodbyes, committed themselves to keeping in touch and reflected on their short but meaningful moments spent together.

It was an incredible experience as an educator to watch our students perform at such a high level on an international stage. They spoke with poise and confidence, and I was proud to be their teacher as they represented themselves, our school, and our country. Out of the 200 schools that submitted applications from around the world, Yeslie, Edgar, and Cris proved that they belonged right at the top.

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