This month last year, I volunteered as a media assistant for the 2014 G20 Leaders’ Summit in my beautiful hometown of Brisbane. I can’t believe it has been a year and, perhaps more surprisingly, I can’t believe I have never blogged about it! I guess I was just too busy spending the week rubbing shoulders with (read: stalking) some of the most powerful people in the world at the time. In all seriousness, it was one of the best experiences of my life and I thought it was about time I shared it on here! I am the type of person who is more likely to ‘fan girl’ over an international leader than over almost any celebrity. So, G20 was basically my idea of heaven. It never got old seeing world leaders walking around the Brisbane Convention Centre. On one occasion, some fellow volunteers and I came within inches of literally running into the Prime Minister of Japan. Oh, the things that can only happen at a world leaders summit….
There were two major highlights of G20 for me. The first was attending the G20 airport to watch the arrival of several world leaders. It was simply surreal to see the planes of the world’s most powerful man and woman, President Vladimir Putin and Chancellor Angela Merkel, pull up next to each other on the tarmac. Needless to say, my excitement levels were out of control by the time I saw them step out of their planes just moments apart. I was able to see the leaders from the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia and Indonesia arrive as well. It was also fascinating to see how different news crews from all around the world operated. Special thanks to our volunteer coordinator, David, for affording me this opportunity, as there was only a handful of volunteers who were selected to go to the airport!
The second highlight was sneaking into President Barack Obama’s press conference. And when I say ‘sneaking’, I seriously mean it. This press conference was one of the most anticipated events of G20 for the volunteers – especially me, given my well-known love for President Obama. It was to be held at the end of the summit and we all wanted to watch it. We were allowed to sit in Prime Minister Tony Abbott’s press conference, so we assumed it would be the same for President Obama’s one. All we thought we needed was the ‘go ahead’ from the Secret Service. The Secret Service did not have an issue with it at all, but one of the Australian staff for the Prime Minister did. She seemed to be on a power trip and refused to allow us to go in. No one else, including other government staff, could see why we should not be allowed. Arguments ensued, which I completely avoided because I knew they would not end well. Instead, I opted to just speedily walk straight into the press conference when she was not around and sit down. My sister, who was also a volunteer, followed. We sat somewhere out of plain sight and waited anxiously for President Obama to come on to the stage, knowing that we could be kicked out any second before this. It was nerve-racking. Eventually, other staff let more volunteers in. The whole situation was still extremely tense, as we could have all been made to leave if the original stick-in-the-mud caught wind of what was happening. When President Obama finally came out, it was such a relief. I was elated to see him and I thoroughly enjoyed watching how his press conference worked. It was the perfect end to our G20 experience. Funnily enough, it was exactly two years to the day that I first saw President Obama in person in Canberra.
By the end of G20, I had seen leaders from 14 countries, as well as Ban Ki-moon, the Secretary-General of the UN, and Christina Lagarde, the Managing Director of the IMF. It was unbelievable. However, the biggest impact G20 had on me probably came from the connections I made with fellow volunteers and staff, from both G20 itself and from the news media who were covering it. It was a networking opportunity like no other and I was truly inspired by many of the people I met. I still keep in contact with quite a few, particularly a couple who work for overseas media outlets. We had a very genuine connection. All in all, volunteering at G20 was a priceless opportunity and I will carry these memories for the rest of my life. I hope the volunteers at this year’s G20 Leaders’ Summit in Turkey (which starts in just over a week) enjoy the experience just as much!