Residential School on respect and understanding: view from Robbie Francis

Robbie Francis is a PhD candidate at Otago University in New Zealand. She attended the ACU Residential School 2017, held at Heriot-Watt University Malaysia in December 2017. Robbie tells us how attending the Residential School has had a positive impact on her. 

Robbie Francis, Otago

In December 2017, 30 students from 22 universities located in 20 Commonwealth countries descended on Malaysia to participate in a four-day leadership programme. Hosted by the Association of Commonwealth Universities (ACU) and Common Purpose, I, a Kiwi PhD candidate, was one of the 30 students selected to embark on this exciting adventure.

As our flights arrived from near and far, we were little more than strangers nervously inquiring where each other was from, what each other studied and how long it took to get to Malaysia. But our nerves soon dissipated as we discovered we were all in the same boat; slightly anxious and unsure about what lay ahead, but excited to get going.

Over the next four days we talked, listened, learned and grew. We were encouraged to leave preconceived ideas at the door and were challenged to look beyond our own faiths, beliefs, cultures and identities to consider the journeys of those we were now journeying with. The programme began with an exercise where we used objects to explain our leadership styles. We then explored our ‘core and flex’ – a task that was more difficult than expected, as we asked ourselves which of our values were non-negotiable and which were flexible. Over the next few days conversations about diversity and respect continued as we visited activists and leaders in Kuala Lumpur and began to develop our own ideas about how to foster these things within our own communities.

Having worked and studied around the world in different cultures and spaces, I have always passionately believed in getting to know the ‘other’ as a mechanism for building peace, respect and understanding. But even here, writing these words in this blog, it can sometimes feel abstract and even a little bit superficial. Practically and tangibly, what does respect look like in everyday life?

Yet, over the programme I got to see peace and respect in practice, up close and personal, in a short space of time. It works. Bringing together young people from diverse backgrounds to work on a shared goal actually works. This was eloquently summarised by students who shared at the end of the programme; students who had held preconceived ideas about certain cultures, faiths and identities, but who throughout the programme had reconsidered their positions after meeting people from those cultures, faiths and identities. Naturally, this reaffirmed my own faith in the value of people with diverse life experiences coming together to work towards a common goal.

Upon reflection, there are many moments of transformation I could write about. However, my greatest take-away from these four days are the 29 young brilliant leaders who I now call friends, colleagues and comrades in our shared pursuit of tolerance, diversity, respect and understanding. We started the programme as 30 strangers but are now returning to our countries as a global whanau (family) of young leaders. We, ourselves, exemplify the value of bringing brilliant young minds together to build respect and mutual understanding. If we can do it, anyone can.

Robbie Francis

  • Read our round-up of the event
  • Read other student's views on the Residential School: Jiwani (from the University of the West Indies St Augustine campus, Trinidad and Tobago), Zaman (from Daffodil International University, Bangladesh), and Ruth Grace (from Mbarara University of Science and Technology, Uganda)
Last modified on 11/01/2018
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