Sophomores launch initiative to connect with foreign countries

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By Abbie Preston, Staff Reporter When a former student reached out to David Hardy, T/E Middle School Junior Model United Nations (UN) advisor, in efforts to start a Model UN program in Shanghai, Hardy and sophomore Mary McDonald found an opportunity to connect the students from Berwyn, PA, to the world.  McDonald, a former member...

By Abbie Preston, Staff Reporter

When a former student reached out to David Hardy, T/E Middle School Junior Model United Nations (UN) advisor, in efforts to start a Model UN program in Shanghai, Hardy and sophomore Mary McDonald found an opportunity to connect the students from Berwyn, PA, to the world. 

McDonald, a former member of Junior Model UN at T/E, was interested in leading and forming a team with Hardy to launch an initiative to interact with students of foreign nations. For McDonald, the initiative aims to spread Model UN concepts to other countries and to gain new perspectives on global issues. 

“Our overarching goal with this is to create a space where people can learn about other cultures,” McDonald said. “We also want these students to learn about the UN and how their country interacts with the UN and in the world.”

The meetings, in which Mary and her team connect with students from various countries to discuss Model UN issues, take place via Microsoft Teams, with Conestoga initiative leaders and students from other countries in attendance. They are in contact with teachers and students from China, Mozambique, Turkey, and Scotland, with whom they meet four times a year. 

Conversations are first introduced with a discussion of a current global issue, followed by a description of daily life in the attendee’s respective countries. Though a structured conversation is helpful in organizing the dialogue, McDonald emphasizes the importance of allowing organic conversation, encouraging discussion about topics that are most important to the speakers.

“I’m not as worried about what I want to talk about; I want to learn what other people want to talk about. I want to know what their lives are like and what global issues impact their daily lives. I want to talk about issues that people feel are pertinent to them,” McDonald said. “I want to know how issues are affecting people based on where they are in the world, and how that affects their worldview.”

Hardy, the facilitator of the meetings who solves logistical barriers, has faced challenges in time changes or linguistic differences, but believes the effect of the conversations outweigh the complications. 

“It has been challenging, but rewarding,” Hardy said. “It’s an opportunity to collaborate with individuals from around the world and get a different perspective. If you’re a traveler, you get a different perspective when you are exposed to other countries. Well, this (initiative) is kind of the next best thing for us: to be able to connect with other individuals of the world and to see a different perspective.”

For sophomore Lauren Wu, another team member of the initiative, human connection is essential to truly understand global perspectives. 

“You can go online, you can search what a country’s opinion (on a topic) is, but you won’t actually get to know the country itself if you don’t talk to the people to find their experiences and what they’re like,” Wu said.  

McDonald sees meaningful conversations and openness to opinions as crucial to prevent conflicts and should be practiced more frequently in society. 

“Communication breaks down polarization. I think if we have more open dialogue on a large scale, it would prevent conflicts,” McDonald said. “It’s a start to have people in dialogue with people from other countries; I think that brings people together and just humanizes people. I think if we could get the leaders of tomorrow who are sitting in high school right now to learn about other leaders in other places, then I think the world would be a much more peaceful place.” 


Abbie Preston can be reached at [email protected]

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