By Nida Merchant

The Ambassadors in Sneakers program is a four-week transatlantic academy where twelve students from both the United States and Germany are given the opportunity to visit each country and learn about its local and international affairs. With the primary focus being human rights, the German portion of the trip focused on the problems regarding the refugee crisis making its way into the German society. While in the United States, we focused primarily on the aspect of the Civil Rights and how its effects still linger into the mind and heart of many today. Each lesson learned in the academy proved to be life changing because it allowed us to invest time and energy into the devotion of these movements in the heart of its locations.

I was able to join this program as a representative from the Sugar Hill Youth Council. The Youth Council is an outlet for student representation in the City of Sugar Hill. We are a group of eight ambitious students who provide a youth’s perspective in city-related activities and receive an insightful background on local municipalities by engaging youths in their local government system.

Upon my acceptance into the program, I was asked to raise funds for the AIS trip to help us in our endeavors. With the help of the Sugar Hill City Council and close family and friends, I was able to raise the expected funds through a GoFundMe page.

It is surprising how so quickly we began to unite with each other. Our likes and dislikes, consideration and appreciation, love and friendship all masked itself into a relationship which felt much stronger than two weeks worth of time. Twelve students from Germany and twelve from the United States; cultural and perspective differences would become inevitable. Those differences, however, became our armor and allowed us to go in depth into conversations about our similarities and differences. Ironically enough, the things that were supposed to divide us became the very things that brought us closer together.

But my trip to Germany was not just memorable for the people I met, but also the experiences and lessons I learned while there. Human rights is a topic that we, as humans, should be familiar with. The reality, however, is that we are deprived of the knowledge that unites us as a species. Human rights exist every place humans exist and its effect, or lack thereof, can result in consequences that not only affect immediate situations but rather a global political agenda.

This unforgettable experience would not have been possible without the guidance and knowledge I have gained in the last three years on the Sugar Hill Youth Council. It has allowed me to not only look at local municipalities with greater importance and newfound understanding but has taught me its international worth as well. The City of Sugar Hill has always been an ally in all my encounters with local government and has given me so much to learn and cherish from.

Though I am a current senior at North Gwinnett High school and I am about to embark one of the most exhilarating phases of my life in just a few months, the lessons I have been able to gain from the Youth Council and the Ambassadors in Sneakers program will always be something I cherish. This program allowed me the excitement to learn beyond the classroom and textbook method and to actually live within the experiences of history. Ibn Battuta, the man who seems to have traveled the world had once said, “Traveling – it leaves you speechless, then turns you into a storyteller.”

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