The Stag.(Photo: Ana Lucia Azcunaga)

   Hello reader, my name is Claudio, Claudio Gonzalez. And you are?

We were just talking about the stag. . .I wasn’t there (too many coupons spent at the bar the evening before) but witnesses described the scene: It was just after 8AM when the deer appeared; its prodigious horns wrapped by the early morning mist. The stag stood in front of an enormous statue of George III on horseback. Despite the sculptor’s best efforts, however, the deer thoroughly outshone the monarch. 

 That was the last morning of the trip. Two days earlier, the Weidfenfeld-Hoffmann Trust scholars arrived at Cumberland Lodge for what was to be a jam-packed series of events: public speaking training, networking coaching, resume-writing exercises and most importantly, several WHT Enterprise Challenge pitches to an expert panel of business and thought leaders.

Breakfast in the grand dining room with Ana Lucia and Alan. 

First came the public speaking training. After a brief introduction, we were assembled into small teams of three or four and proceeded to our corresponding working rooms. There, one by one, the facilitators pointed a camera at our noses and briskly snapped, “rolling”. An awkward silence set in. Then, sitting with a sloped back and gesturing with wild-waving arms, I faced the menacing camera and spoke at a pace so fast that only small phrases were decipherable, but the overall meaning of what I said was hidden. That wasn’t the worse part; We were then all forced to watch ourselves on camera. It was painful! After around of feedback from facilitators and colleagues alike, every second round speech improved very noticeably (in my room, June Samo was especially impressive). 

A while  later we all convened in the grandest room of the lodge, where those brave enough were invited to put their new-learned skills to practice in front of the larger group. There’s scant room here to go into the details but one speaker is worth highlighting: Samuel Taylor Tagore (née Kapil Yadav). Dancing across the room as he spoke, our Tagore deftly conveyed the autumn landscape giving birth to the winter scenery, contrasting it with the change from shy caterpillar into confident butterfly. 

Learning how to network with Sue Tonks.

The next day the excellent Sue Tonks provided an insightful training on networking norms in the UK. But we were all mostly focused on the event that would take place later that night; the WHT Challenge pitches. When the time came, we all scrambled into the large room to face our colleagues and the expert panel. The projects were very diverse – from waste management in Ecuador to early education in Jordan – linked only by a clear social purpose. After every pitch came rounds of applause of varying length and excitement; as well as rounds of equally stringent questioning and supporting advice voiced by the panel. As with the speeches, there’s a lot to highlight here but only time for one notable mention. Project Dastaan, spearheaded by Saadia Gardezi together with a group of five WHT scholars which proposes to use state of the art technology to soothe deeply entrenched wounds. It aims to use Virtual Reality to take Pakistanis and Indians on a tour of their pre-partition homes. 

A fun photo with the full cohort of 2018-2019 WHT Scholars. 

               After dinner that night, the scholars once again came together in the large room, this time to exchange Christmas gifts. Predictably, the most common gifts were books (among them were Alice in Wonderland, Red Rising, El Señor Presidente, and The Choice). Less predictably, the second most common gift was stroop waffles (Dutch cookies). The evening was then carried forward by Zuzana Hlavkova leading on the piano, accompanied by Ramón Narváez on the guitar, and Moshin Ali Mustafa on surprisingly smooth vocals. The group fizzled after awhile, but some moved slowly underground, struggling to match David Hernández at Despacito. Witnesses of that scene were remiss to share the highlights.

An early WHT Christmas complete with Secret Santa gifts. 

 The last morning of the trip some woke-up early to walk to the statue with the stag; others lay in their comfy rooms an extra hour. Then, we all hesitantly packed into the coach that would take us to Windsor Castle en route to Oxford. As we watched Cumberland Lodge disappear behind us, Alfredo Ortega got it exactly right when he said that, “Being here is like a feeling of nostalgia for a moment that hasn’t passed.”

About the Scholar

Claudio Gonzalez

Master of Public Policy (MPP), 2019
The Queen's College, Oxford
Oxford-Weidenfeld and Hoffmann Scholar