Howdy! My name is Dan Zager, writing to you from the Deep South. I am one of the Jewish males in the Operation Understanding Class of 2013. With two weeks already passed on our travels thus far, I can write a novel about any concrete experience that we have had. Instead, however, I’m switching gears and discussing a more abstract idea: the group dynamic. Even though the sites we have seen and the people we have met are amazing and do admirable work, the real magic of the famous OU summer study comes in the form of the people on the trip.

            Only in the past few days have I begun to actually realize the absolute necessity of the unorthodox application process and interview for OU. In my interview, I had to cover much deeper parts of my identity and even had to recite a haiku and perform the air guitar in front of a room of 10 professionals. Because of this unusual interview, the interviewers were able to handpick the perfect personalities to participate in our program. There is a calculated balance of complementary personality and leadership traits: talkative people and people who are reserved. Vocal leaders and quiet ones who lead by example. Comedic geniuses and those who focus the group. Those who outwardly express their emotions and those who are stoic. Each of the sixteen members of OU ’13 are a piece of the jigsaw puzzle; the picture is incomplete if even one person is missing. We run as a cohesive unit, especially in group discussions, building off each other’s ideas and energy. “OU Squad Deep” has been thrown around to describe our crew because it not only is a catchy phrase that shows pride, but also encompasses our chemistry perfectly. We run deep in our intellectual capacity, analytical skills, our emotions and especially our unconditional love for one another, connecting on levels much deeper than the surface. Superficial conversation topics such as sports or the weather are rare and looked down upon. Despite the fact that this group dynamic sounds like something out of a utopia, there has been a lot of difficult work behind the scenes to gain such close bonds.

            The only way a group can form genuine bonds is not by just weathering the storm of conflict, but inviting it and facing it with confidence. Conflict is a welcome member of our group, and with so many different personalities, it is inevitable. It is the only way a group can mature as a whole. Believe it or not, every single member of OU has said something that has caused a conflict at one point. But being in OU, we are forced to confront the conflict instead of brushing it under the rug so as to open our minds and learn the necessary human skills of handling disputes. The best part is that when two (or more) people are headed in the direction of a potentially heated exchange, every other member of the squad cares about what is going on, and whoever is present will mediate, provide support, or do anything else to make sure the conflict is resolved in a complete, mature manner and that the people involved will learn something new, whether it be a personality trait, an emotional part of history, or deep, personal feelings inside of themselves and others.

            As the heat of the Southern sun increases, so does the heat within our group. Unlike the Southern heat, however, our heat can be channeled to create a positive experience for those feeling it. Every resolved conflict is a maturing experience. The only way to create lasting friendships is by getting through disputes. Our group connects on such a deep level only as the result of countless hours of discussion, getting to know each other and working through conflict. With just a few days left on our journey, I can visibly see the progress we have made as a group when I compare our current group to the wide-eyed, naïve kids who first left Philadelphia on July 8th.

Daniel Luis Zagar OU ’13, William Penn Charter School ’14