University Scholars Leadership Symposium in Vietnam

By Sarah Brackenridge

Sarah Brackenridge is a third year student in the Politics program at Swinburne University. This month, four of our students attended the University Scholars Leadership Symposium in Vietnam. We asked Sarah to report on her experience.

During the first week of August I attended the 7th University Scholars Leadership Symposium (USLS) in Hanoi, Vietnam. Along with three other students from Swinburne I was sponsored by SSAA to attend the symposium. The symposium is an international leadership-training program aimed at educating future leaders on humanitarian issues and social change.

We arrived three days before the symposium began and spent these couple of days exploring Hanoi and even went on a day trip to the incredible Ha Long Bay. This time was fantastic to bond with my travel companions and to also get a taste of Vietnam. From the unbelievable food to the colonial architecture to the hectic, sometimes, frightening traffic––Vietnam is amazing!


I have attended conferences before and did not really know what to expect or how different this would be to other events I have been too. My expectations were exceeded more than I ever imagined! The symposium was attended by 700 young emerging leaders from 69 countries. It was one of the most inspirational and moving experience of my life. To share this experience with so many other amazing young people with whom we all share the same passion and desire to change this world was wonderful.

The theme for this year was “Inspiring Individuals, Transforming Communities”. It included speakers that covered different humanitarian issues from the refugee crisis, human trafficking, sex slavery, poverty and the effects of the Vietnam War and Agent Orange. It was an emotional rollercoaster – challenging me to look at who I am and what I have. It has empowered me to believe in myself, that I have the potential and ability to be the change this world needs. There is no contribution to society that is too small.

Some highlights for me were: David Begbie on the opening day and his passion that this world is not ok and must be changed. He left us with this final thought “Who am I?” which has had a profound effect on me personally and what I want to achieve in this lifetime. Another moving highlight was listening to Shandra Woworuntu talk of her experience of human trafficking as a sex slave. Also, the most inspirational woman I have ever met – Geraldine Cox. Her talk has made me realise that no one is ever too old or young to make a change in this world. She had me laughing one minute and crying the next with her stories of how she is changing the lives of Cambodian children. Lastly, the wonderful Lina Khalifeh talked about gender inequality and taught us some self-defence moves she teaches women in the Middle East through her organisation SheFighter. There were many other speakers and they all have broadened my knowledge on so many topics.

Part of the symposium also included a learning journey. The learning journey I chose was to the Hoa Binh province where we visited a local village and helped with some projects around the area. I helped with concreting a floor and roofing the building in the morning. In the afternoon, we helped with completing a bamboo bridge across the river. It was an amazing experience to be able to experience rural life in Vietnam and to work with so many amazing people from all over the world on these projects. Everyone pitched in and helped each other. This ended with some wonderful local performances and we walked barefooted back to the bus. I have never been involved in manual labour community work but it was very rewarding to contribute in this way.

Helping on the Learning Journey.jpg

Another thing I will take away from the symposium is the lifelong friendships and networks. I met so many incredible people and have been inspired by their stories: of who they are and what causes they are passionate about.


I am hoping this will lead to many collaborations and projects in the future that we can be the change needed to bring hope and peace in this world. I know it may sound like a cliché but after attending USLS I really do believe that we must be the change we want to see in this world and we all have the ability to be this change.  So on that note, I would like to finish with something from Geraldine Cox:

“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light and not our darkness that most frightens us”.

Check out the video from this year’s symposium.



Published by Labour History Melbourne

The Melbourne Branch of the Labour History Society promotes, preserves and produces radical, political, and working class history.

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