Michael Marzouca is a 2019 Dart Scholar and member of the Cayman Islands national robotics team that recently competed in Geneva, Switzerland, as part of the 2022 FIRST Global Challenge. The competition featured high school students from more than 180 countries and aims to promote science and technology leadership and innovation in young people. We asked Michael to reflect on the experience.

The opening ceremony was filled with excitement and pride as teams prepared for an Olympic-style flag ceremony and team introduction. I was proud to be the Team Cayman flag bearer, with our flag flying high and audience cheering as we entered the arena.

The founder of FIRST Robotics, Dean Kamen, welcomed students and let us know that “this competition would be the absolute hardest fun you will ever have, and as the competition gets tough, you will remember that we are at FIRST Global for something much bigger than which robot wins."

Our first day was spent setting up our Cayman "pits." This area of the arena was buzzing with activity as teams worked on their robots, showed off unique aspects of their culture and welcomed team members from near and far. A walk through the pits was like a geography lesson, learning about countries rarely spoken of and meeting students from those countries.

We all had at least once thing in common – we were students passionate about robotics. I made new friends at FIRST Global. One team I felt an immediate connection to was Team Serbia. I learned about the history of Nikola Tesla, who’s face appears on the Serbian 100-dinar note. My new Serbian friends gifted me the note, which I reciprocated with a CI dollar. By the end of the event my collection of foreign currency was impressive!

The way of life in Geneva differs from ours.

Swiss people expect punctuality and things are on time. Everywhere we went was on public transportation – electric tram, bus and even a water bus across Lake Geneva. Getting around the city was very easy and is free for visitors. Most people in Switzerland speak multiple languages, with French being one of the most common. I was able to practice my French, although on a much different level.

The day after the competition the team spent a full day exploring the city. Walking around old Geneva was inspiring with its historic stone buildings and many world-famous watch shops. We enjoyed taking in the sights of Lake Geneva and the famous Jet d'Eau fountain. The afternoon was spent visiting CERN [European Organization for Nuclear Research]. Although there was limited access due to the campus expansion renovations, it was interesting to learn that after three years of upgrades and maintenance work, the Large Hadron Collider [LHC] resumed operations in July. These upgrades will allow the LHC to smash protons together at even greater speeds, in the hope of discovering dark matter and other scientific discoveries.

We learned that CERN has always been open to scientific communities around the globe, overcoming political barriers, where scientists from across the planet work side by side in the laboratory, a philosophy that FIRST Global and CERN both share. Our day of sightseeing finished at Auberge De Savièse, where we all tried traditional Swiss fondue and local specialties.

Our hope for winning the FIRST Global Challenge was not to be; however, the experience and memories of representing my country in Geneva and being part of something that unites students like me from 165 countries was much bigger than a winning robot.

This article was originally published in the November 2022 print edition of Camana Bay Times.