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When You Think of the Potato

This afternoon Jennifer Watt, Honorary Peruvian and EF team member, kicked off our seventh Global Leadership Summit in Lima, Peru with a rousing speech—listed below in its entirety—rich with a passionate love for Peru (and the potato!).

Over the next few days, students and teachers from around the world will wear many different hats and discuss how they can solve issues that arise due to our increasingly globalized world—and they’ll walk away as better global citizens.

Read Jennifer’s powerful speech below and let us know what your favorite take away is.

Welcome! It is so good to see all of you. We’re thrilled to have you here at the EF Global Leadership Summit in Lima Peru!! Bienvenidos…My name is Jennifer Watt and on behalf of EF I have the privilege of welcoming you to this experience, because—I love Peru!—I have been here more than 40 times with EF, helping to design tours, develop service projects and create memorable immersive experiences for individuals like you and I’m just as excited to be here now as I was the first time I came. I’m an honorary Peruvian to my friends here, and one even calls me his favorite North American Inca. Meanwhile, back at home, half of my EF colleagues genuinely think I live here. Peru es mi casa fuera de casa—it’s truly my home away from home, and the more I learn about Peru the more I want to know, because I have barely begun to scratch the surface of all there is to experience in this amazing country. I am in constant awe and wonder here. As home to ancient civilizations, vital trade routes, and cultures bringing the wisdom of past traditions into a modern context, I believe there is no better place to discuss Global Citizenship in a Changing World!

We all came here today as global citizens bringing with us a variety of experiences, traditions, and cultures. Each of these make us the individuals that we are today and are represented by the hats that we wear. Many of these hats can be physically seen—they tell stories about us, and may represent specific places we’re from or that we’ve been to, or the roles that we have, or milestones in our lives, while other hats we wear are metaphorical—these hats also represent who we are, and may change based on who we’re with, and what we’re experiencing. Over the course of the next three days, let’s challenge each other to identify the hats we’re wearing that make us who we are, and try on some new ones. Here is a hat to add to your collection. It may look like a regular cap, but it’s also a hat that can forever remind us of the impact we can have as global citizens.

Now let’s kick off our time together by greeting one another. If you haven’t already, look at the card you found on your seat when you came in. Each card has a greeting on it. Please stand, turn to your neighbor and greet each other as described on your card, then quickly share how that felt. Ok, you can sit! Not knowing your neighbors card, was the greeting familiar? Surprising? Well, hopefully, you just experienced that even within a simple greeting, sharing our diverse traditions, demonstrates the impact that globalization can have.

Globalization is the widespread transfer of—everything!—between land masses, cultures, technology, and peoples of the world and, while it seems to be a modern hot topic, globalization dates back long before modern times, including the Silk Road in Asia and the Spanish Conquest of Peru. So many ships sailed back and forth between continents carrying all sorts of things across the ocean that were new to the other side, including one unlikely passenger that went on to change the world. The potato.

When you think of the potato, what springs to mind? Idaho? Ireland? French fries? The potato actually originated thousands of years ago in the Andes, in what is now Peru and Bolivia. We have these ancient cultures to thank for making this originally toxic food edible. And potatoes may seem bland before they’re turned into delicious things like french fries and Inka Chips, but in fact, potatoes are also really good for you, and more of them can grow faster, in less space, than any other crop. So it’s amazing to think that this awesome food growing in these remote, high mountains could one day hitch a ride on Spanish ships, cross the ocean, and make history. But that’s what happened. It took time, but the potato eventually became a huge benefit to Northern Europe—and that’s an understatement—because this new food ended centuries of reoccurring famines. But then, dependency on the potato also made Ireland vulnerable to the worst famine in its history when this sole crop was decimated by a fungus that also came as a visitor, and wreaked havoc.

We could dig so much deeper into the story of the potatoes’ travels from Peru and the resulting global impacts that continue even today. But think about it as one great example of globalization. As we’ll tackle and wrestle over in the next few days, and on into our lives, globalization then and now continues to have both positive and challenging impacts. Addressing these impacts is part of the rights and responsibilities that we share, as global citizens in the global community. And that is what we’re here to do, to have this amazing conversation together.

Considering how to grapple with and influence something that’s been in motion for so many centuries may feel daunting. But for just a moment think about why you’re here. Why have you joined this group of global citizens at this Global Leadership Summit in Peru? Some of you may know and it’s also ok if you’re still figuring it out, but, I want you all to take 30 seconds and think about one thing that you want to get from this weekend. Now, I want you to turn to the person next to you and share that one thing.

Think about what you all just shared in a quick 30 seconds, and imagine what we’ll accomplish together by this time Sunday. Let’s take advantage of this chance to dig a little deeper into finding out who we are as individuals while also learning to embrace this changing world around us, and be part of that give and take, just as Peru has maintained ancient traditions while itself evolving and participating in this global exchange. Let’s explore the roles we might take as Global Citizens—those hats we wear and the new ones we get to start trying on this weekend—that could even be as far reaching as that powerful passenger, the potato, that crossed the ocean and changed the world creating history along the way. Each of us IS a Global Citizen, not just because we travel, but because we know that our actions matter and, no matter how small our actions may seem, we can change the world.

Want to experience a Global Leadership Summit? Learn about our upcoming Berlin Summit.

Jennifer Watt

Before joining EF in January of 2012, Jennifer taught people of all ages (from grade school to grad school), specializing in experiential, environmental and science education. She taught in rural and urban settings here at home in the US, and in Nicaragua, Botswana, Peru, and Ecuador. She is a passionate advocate for immersive intercultural experiences as a gateway for catalyzing personal growth and life-altering experiences, and has been to Peru more than 40 times!

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