Micro-Diplomacy with Mongolia at Glacier Peak High
Last week, a delegation from Mongolia visited Seattle via the Open World Leadership Center, a congressionally-sponsored agency, in partnership with the International Visitor Program at the World Affairs Council in Seattle. As a part of their program, the group of five delegates and their Mongolian program facilitator traveled to Glacier Peak High School in Snohomish, Washington to meet with students and teachers. The focus of this delegation was on entrepreneurship and small business, and while a high school might not be the first place you would think of for this type of delegation to visit, there are a lot of programs to encourage entrepreneurship taking place at Glacier Peak High. The group was joined by Mr. Ryan Hauck, a humanities and government teacher, who gave the delegates a tour of the school. First they stopped into a cooking class where students explained that they were learning about nutrients, ingredients, and preparation through first-hand experience, with the goal of entering into the food industry themselves. Later they saw a self-sustaining, student-run store selling smoothies, snacks, and high school sweatshirts among other things. They also stopped into the printing room where students design and print graphics onto clothing. The delegates explained that in Mongolia there were no such programs to encourage business skills and entrepreneurship and they were impressed with how much ownership students were able to take over the programs.
The delegation consisted of young, metropolitan, English-speaking, small-business owners. While the group may not have been what many students imagined from the land locked central-Asian country, they were certainly a group that they could relate to and were interested in hearing from. Aside from the business aspect of their program, the meeting between the delegates and students was a unique opportunity to compare and contrast life in Mongolia with the United States. Sidestepping students creating spirit posters in the hallway, and pointing at the blown-up athlete posters and trophies on the wall, the delegates said that after watching American movies they were surprised by how similar things really look. They did agree, however, that, despite the similarities to film portrayals, the students do discuss different topics than are depicted in the movies. In Mr. Hauck’s classroom, approximately 30 students listened actively as the Mongolian delegation discussed life in Ulan Bator, the capital of Mongolia, which is home to all the delegates. The students were engaged and asked thoughtful questions about everything from school life and cuisine to the influence of American movies on culture. One of the students remarked that after listening to the delegates he thought that Mongolia sounded just like the United States!
Bringing a delegation of people from a country that doesn’t often appear in our media cycle encourages a form of micro-diplomacy that focuses on one-on-one meetings. It offered the Mongolian delegation a chance to humanize a region of the world that students from Snohomish would likely not have contemplated. The students were able to conclude that though high schools may be run differently in Mongolia the lives and interests of students there were perhaps not so different from their own. After all, they had seen the same movies, listened to much of the same music, and they too eat similar food. After meeting with the students, I had lunch with the delegation and they commented on how much they enjoyed meeting the students, and were pleased with how interested the students were to learn about Mongolia. These kinds of personal interactions between people of different countries and cultures create the perfect opportunity to increase global competency and fosters cross-cultural understanding.
If you are interested in hosting international visitors in your classroom, email Ms. Amy Lutterloh at email@example.com.
By Charlotte Guard, Global Classroom Intern