Speakers inspire students at the World Health Summit in Berlin


Students posed for a group photo during their time in Berlin. They attended the World Health Summit conference in October.

Madison Sklaver, Staff Writer
January 12, 2018

All teenagers know the anxiety that can come with sitting down next to strangers at lunch. But that feeling of anxiety becomes a lot worse when you are in a foreign country trying to put your plate down next to a full-fledged medical professional.

For 17 students, this was a reality for a week in October. Being given the chance to attend the World Health Summit in Berlin gave these students new experiences and knowledge about global health, global health security, cancer in Africa and other skills.

To be accepted to be a part of the trip, students filled out an application last spring, consisting of multiple essay questions. The 17 students, along with three teacher chaperones, left on Oct. 13.

Junior Katie Rotenberg, one of the students who attended the trip, said that since students are not medical health professionals, the purpose of the trip was to expand their experience in the fields discussed, including medical and scientific fields.

“We went to Berlin for the World Health Summit, which was a gathering of international scientists, doctors, global health leaders, politicians and all kinds of different things, so it was a really great mix of science and global policy,” Rotenberg said.

Social studies teacher Ben Kahrl, who teaches the Global Leadership class, said that one benefit the trip offers for him is the perspective on international health and the views of other countries.

“Boston has huge amounts of medical stuff; it’s world class. But when you go to Germany or Montreal or Portugal, you meet people from all over the world and see how they look at the world differently than us,” Kahrl said.

This trip allowed students to see and meet many professional doctors and politicians who had influence over the medical community. Rotenberg said they met the uppermost people of the field.

According to senior Jerry Chen, being the youngest members of the conference provided the group with unique opportunities.

“We were the only high school students there and we were able to meet so many professionals and famous people you can normally only see on TV or social media,” Chen said.

The conference hall was arranged as a rotunda, with an auditorium in the middle, surrounded by a circular hallway. Keynote speakers held talks in the middle, while conference rooms around the outside of the hallway were for smaller conferences or workshops.

Rotenberg said her favorite speech was made by the princess of Jordan. Since she is a princess and the head of multiple cancer organizations, she uses her authority to administrate others helping find cures, Rotenberg said.

“She was just in the audience two rows behind us, and she gets up and makes this very, very passionate speech about how you can’t begin to have all this high tech stuff in communities until you first have the structure there,” Rotenberg said. “You can’t go and give everyone laptops when they don’t have running water and basic things like that.”

Chen said he thought the most inspiring speaker was the host of a talk concerning cancer in Africa. This speaker talked about his experience and brought his message to the audience.

“He decided to study abroad in England for five years to learn skills to treat cancer, but it was very sad when he came back and realized they wouldn’t have any clinics or technology available in Africa to actually use these skills,” Chen said. “That was very powerful.”

Chen said he didn’t realize how many obstacles there are within public health, including political and technological challenges.

“Before I went on the trip, I wasn’t super interested in public health, but afterward, I felt like it really was our job to make sure that people in the world have access to proper medical care and treatment to their diseases,” Chen said.

Rotenberg said that being part of the conference could be intimidating. Chen agreed that meeting and talking with the professionals at the conference was difficult, especially since they were strangers, but it got easier throughout the week.

“You had to really just go out there and be aggressive. During lunch, put your plate down in front of some scientist and be like, ‘I’m going to sit here now; let’s talk,’” Rotenberg said. “If you didn’t do that, I think you really missed out on a lot of good opportunities.”

The conference helped provide students with the unique experience of learning about possible future career paths. Rotenberg said she probably wants to go into medicine. Chen said he wants to go into medical engineering to research new treatments for Down syndrome.

Kahrl said that being in an environment with professionals who have pursued these dreams for themselves offered a good example for students on how many career opportunities now exist.

“In terms of exploring careers and the breadth of careers, rather than just saying ‘I’m going to be a nurse or a doctor,’ there are all sorts of roles in public health that people can get into,” Kahrl said.



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