For my STEP Experience, I went to the TEDActive 2014. This is the annual TED conference where TED enthusiasts and TEDx organizers, like myself, go to not only watch TED Talks live but also where we can learn how to improve our own TEDx events. The TEDActive conference, which takes place in Whistler, British Columbia, Canada is a simulcast of the TED event, which occurs in Vancouver. TED is primarily focused on TED sponsors, donors, and the actual speakers, while TEDActive is focused on TEDx organizers. By attending this conference, I was able to be the license holder for TEDxOhioStateUniversity
This week-long conference started at 7 AM on a chilly Saturday. My flight left from Port Columbus Airport, and headed to Dallas (where I had a 4 hour layover). On the flight, I sat next to this gentleman, and in order to make everything more comfortable (as we were about to be sitting next to each other for nearly two and a half hours), I introduced myself and he did the same. Through out conversations about food, languages, culture, and the world, I discovered that he was a cultural anthropology professor at Duke University who could speak English, Spanish, French, Portuguese, and Yerba (a Nigerian language). For most of the flight, Dr. Matory entertained and informed me of his stories around the world and all the fascinating cultural anthropology research he has done in his lifetime.
While waiting for my flight from Dallas to Vancouver, I emailed Dr. Matory thanking him for sharing his stories. My flight to Vancouver was rather uneventful as it was late in the evening. Walking into the Vancouver airport was absolutely amazing as it was my first time in the Pacific Northwest, and the airport itself took pride in its Pacific Northwest heritage as the airport was filled with art and sculptures from the indigenous people of the area.
After getting much needed sleep, I woke up the next morning and headed to the Vancouver Convention Center where TED had planned a special day-long workshop for TEDx organizers specifically. This first started with showing us the behind-the-scenes of the TED mainstage. Afterwards, we were all taken on coach buses to Grouse Mountain where the actual workshop began with breakout sessions on different topics that pertain to TEDx organizers such as how to raise money, ways to improve audience engagement, facilitating discussion around your talks, etc. In addition to the various workshops, TED had activities for us to do in the mountain such as snowshoeing.
Snowshoeing at the top of Grouse Mountain, BC
After a day of learning, meeting people from all over the world, and adventure, we were taken from Vancouver to Whistler, a resort town two hours north where I would spend the next five days.
The next five days were the actual days of the conference over the course of which I watched nearly 120 TED Talks about things which I study like neuroscience and public health to fascinating things like architecture, artificial intelligence, and social entrepreneurship. Every day would start at 7 AM and end around 2 AM. From 8 AM to 7 PM, we watched TED Talks, had breaks to eat and socialize, and attend different workshops not only hosted by TED but also by companies such as Google, Microsoft, and Vice. From 7 PM to 11 PM, there would be social events that included dinner and fun activities. On one of the days, we were allowed to skate on the Olympic ice rink. On another, we were taken up on gondolas to the top of Whistler mountain where the vistas were breath-taking to say the least.
From 11 PM to 2 AM almost every day, my fellow TEDActive attendees and I had conversations about so many things, and this was the time where we got to know one another very personally and deeply. After repeating this crazy schedule for five straight days, I headed back to Vancouver.
After spending a few hours exploring Vancouver I started my journey back home the next monring, which started with a 12-hour layover in Dallas. During this layover, I met another TEDActive attendee (who was also stuck on the delay) with whom I decided to explore downtown Dallas. While she and I were riding a train from Dallas-Ft. Worth Airport to the heart of the city, we ran into a man named Stuart, who was in town for a technology conference. After bonding over the 30-minute ride, the three of us decided to explore a cool, eclectic part of Dallas. While lounging and eating from various food trucks, I got to know my TED friend and Stuart much better. In fact, I found out Stuart is a senior director at Apple, and is the man who pioneered the technology that allows one’s phones, tablets, printers, and other devices to talk on the same network. I was a bit star-struck. After an enjoyable evening, Stuart actually let us crash on his couches in his suite at the Fairmont before my TED friend and I left for the airport the next morning.
After an exhausting yet invigorating nine days, I finally concluded my STEP experience.
Through the course of those few days, I developed strong friendships with absolutely amazing people from all over the world. This experience, which STEP allowed me to do, has been one of the hallmark experiences of my career here at The Ohio State University. Not only did I learn how to be a better TEDx organizers and bring that back to my peers on the TEDxOhioStateUniversity team, but I was able to grow as a person.
The environment throughout the conference was so warm and inviting. So much so that I was able to go up to a random person and spark up a conversation for two hours. The energy was electrifying, and it allowed me to learn and explore even on five or fewer hours of sleep. I made deep connections with people from all over the country and all over the world. I still keep up with several of those friends like Sonia from San Diego, Lyn from the Yukon Territory, Brian and Eli from George Washington University, Norberto and Pedro from Porto, and Paul from Cyprus. I was able to meet so many people who were enthusiastic about TED like myself, and all of these people are doing great things all over the world and making an impact in their communities.
I am truly humbled and grateful to Ohio State for providing me the opportunity to explore this experience. I hope to be able to go to a TED conference many more times.
This STEP experience has already affected my academic, personal and life goals in innumerable ways. The biggest impact deals with all three of these aspects. By talking to so many unique people who all have very different perspectives, I was able to learn lots and able to do quite a bit of introspection. I was in an atmosphere that was filled with people who did what they loved. It got me thinking about what I truly wanted to do, how I wanted to impact my community. Because of this personal experience, I decided to abandon my former career path of becoming a doctor and made changes to my academic goals. I realized that being a clinician would not use my skills and personality to impact the most people. Since then, I have added public health to my studies. Through these academic changes, I was able to see how wealth and health are intimately connected in the United States. I believe that healthcare is a basic human right, and was disturbed my the inequality and inequity I have read about and I have seen. Because my academic goals were affected, so were my personal goals. I have decided to pursue a life in public health policy and law, so that I can hopefully break the intimate connection that wealth and health have in this country. After graduation, I plan to pursue Master’s degrees in Public Health and Public Administration.
This STEP experience has completely changed the trajectory of my life, and for that I am deeply grateful to The Ohio State University.