Ximena and her student team from Panama pose for a photo with Operation Smile Co-Founders Dr. Bill and Kathy Magee during our LEA conference in 2020.

The Magic of ISLC

Looking toward a future in health care, Ximena Gonzales Revilla reflects on how Operation Smile’s student conference ‘really changed everything’ for the Panamanian student volunteer.

By Nick Ciuffreda, Student Programs Media Intern

Walking into Mission Training Workshop, Ximena Gonzalez Revilla could just feel the “magic” and the “good vibes” all around her. 

Ximena got the chance to come early to Seattle, the site of Operation Smile’s 2018 International Student Leadership Conference (ISLC), and take part in the workshop. Mission Training prepares high schoolers to serve as health care educators on medical missions. 

And when ISLC started, she was nervous — but excited — for the week ahead of her. As a student from Panama, Ximena had been to Operation Smile’s Latinoamérica en Acción (LEA) conference the previous winter, where she met fellow volunteers from across Latin America. But she had never been to an ISLC before. 

Before coming to Seattle, Ximena knew that Operation Smile provided free surgical care for people born with cleft conditions. 

“But what I didn’t know was that they were literally preparing the next generation of leaders,” she said. 

In fact, Ximena said her time with Operation Smile has inspired her to join the medical field when she graduates university. 

At first uneasy to be at such a large international conference, she was at first only to really make connections with other students spoke Spanish. But, after meeting her team and getting the chance to open up, that’s when she said she really felt the “magic” of Operation Smile and everything it has to offer.

From the traffic-filled bus rides to the conference center to the team games day of the conference, Ximena enjoyed every minute of meeting her new international friends. 

The speakers at the conference were just as impactful for her because, as she reflected on her experience, she noted that “going to that ISLC is what really changed everything for me.” 

Ximena started her involvement with Operation Smile when she was in eighth grade. Since that time, she has been very involved not only within her own community, but in her country and region as well. She’s represented Panama on the Latin American student board the past two years, and in 2019, she attended a medical mission in Peru. 

When asked what being a part of this organization for so long has meant to her, she responded, “hope.”

“Operation Smile helps to be that light in the world,” Ximena said, “And that’s why I would say hope is what being part of Operation Smile means to me.” 

Nick is studying business at the University of Mary Washington in Fredericksburg, Virginia. He’s been involved with Operation Smile since he was in the Lawrence High School club in New Jersey and attended a medical mission in the Dominican Republic in 2019.