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Youth delegates and educators from 17 of the 21 APEC economies gathered in monsoonal Da Nang, Vietnam for a week of collaboration, cultural exchanges and good times. It was a great opportunity to represent not only Australia but also the Duke of Edinburgh’s International Award – Australia. Despite the devastation of Typhoon Damrey, we were welcomed by the generosity and friendliness of the Vietnamese people.

The significance of where we were truly dawned on us as we were greeted by a flurry of camera flashes upon entering Da Nang University for the Opening Ceremony. Our energy (though more so our height) seemed to attract local news crews and interviewers from every angle. Buzzing from the attention, we settled down for opening remarks from high-ranking Vietnamese officials and Voices of the Future coordinators to commence our week of addressing the theme, “Creating New Dynamism, Fostering a Shared Future.” If you asked me a week before what this theme meant, I could only give you a text book answer of which I didn’t entirely comprehend… fast forward a week, and I experienced the atmosphere of a dynamic and diverse group of young people all with the same ambition to work collectively for a prosperous and interconnected future.

We presented Australia’s position of encouraging social mobility, recognising gender equality as concurrent to economic prosperity and embracing technological and digital innovation, all whilst collaborating with other youth in our region. Our sentiments were echoed by the other economies and were reflected in the final youth declaration that we collectively drafted.

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Day 2 saw us escorted (by a police motorcade, no less!) throughout the Quan Province for a day of cultural learning. We visited the government-funded orphanage, Quang Nam Peace Village, where we were treated to a Vietnamese dance by a group of the girls there. In turn, the Australian, Canadian, New Zealand and Mexican delegations then performed some exhilarating performances of nursery rhymes and the Macarena, to which the entire orphanage and even the officials and media crew joined in for. We also enjoyed a guided tour of Tam Tanh City’s mural village, a seaside lunch and were treated to a lantern-making class.

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The CEO Summit occupied the following two days, in which we mixed with leading CEOs and political leaders from across the region. Highlights from the summit ranged from a panel discussion on digital innovation in rural Australia and other marginalised localities across the region between the Australian Prime Minister, the Hon. Malcolm Turnbull MP and COO of Facebook, Sheryl Sandberg to keynote addresses from President of the United States, Donald Trump and from President of the People’s Republic of China, Xi Jinping. It was surreal to be amongst such influential world leaders, which demonstrated the complexities and significance of diplomacy and inter-cultural partnerships in such an integrated and interconnected world. Further to this, the Australian youth delegates were afforded the opportunity to meet with our Trade Minister, the Hon. Steven Ciobo, where we gained a deeper understanding of Australia’s role in our region.

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We celebrated our final night in Vietnam at the Voices of the Future Closing Ceremony with emotional closing remarks, enthralling cultural performances and a lavish feast. Bidding farewell to the other delegates after a whirlwind of a week was bittersweet; we made lifelong bonds but were sure our paths would meet again. We learnt so much from each other on both personal and professional levels and it was reassuring to know that these bright minds will be those of our future political and business leaders across the region.

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By Eleanor Kirkpatrick

With thanks to the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award and the other Australian delegates: Sophie Batey, Robert Deppeler, Georgia Eccles, Liam Jones (Educator) and Cath Pilley


If you want to read the reports from the four other Australian representatives, head to the links below:

Sophie Batey Report

Robert Deppeler Report

Georgia Eccles Report

Liam Jones Report

Catherine Pilley Report