How My Experience with "Global Nomads" Changed Me
by Talia Trackim
Two years ago, I participated in a program called Global Nomads. Every morning, a small group of students, including myself, flooded into my Civics and Government teacher’s classroom at 6:00 in the morning, donuts and coffee in tow, and sat down at our desks across from a giant screen projecting my teacher’s Skype account. For the next hour and a half we would engage in a chat with students from across the world; an all boys school from Pakistan, and an all girls from Afghanistan.
Over the course of the year, we chatted six times, each time getting further and further into the history and culture of each other’s country. By the end of the program, we had engaged in a structured debate about whether or not America should withdraw its troops from Afghanistan.
I’m not going to lie- the beginning was awkward. No one knew what to say. No one wanted to offend one another or say anything insensitive to the other person’s culture. Despite the fact that we were there with the purpose of discussion, we found ourselves unable to speak.
It was in that discussion that we found ourselves face to face with one of our world’s most detrimental practices: intercultural dialogue. So often we are divided because of walls that we put up against ourselves. We sort ourselves into categories because of what we look like or where we come from. When we do that, we develop stereotypes and prejudices against one another. We fail to see each other as people.
However, it is when we start talking to one another that we realize just how much in common we have with one another. One of my favorite memories from the first video conference was when someone asked “What is your favorite book?” Someone in my class answered, “The Hunger Games!” Immediately students from all three schools were chatting about their favorite characters and events from the book. It was in that moment that we realized just how much in common we all had with one another.
Acclaimed author and UN Messenger of Peace Paulo Coelho told UN News Centre, “Culture makes people understand each other better. And if they understand each other better in their soul, it is easier to overcome the economic and political barriers. But first they have to understand that their neighbour is, in the end, just like them, with the same problems, the same questions. People have to understand that their neighbours are not different even if they have a different religion, different sociological background.”
The United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon furthered this point by revealing during a meeting on intercultural dialogue. “[Intercultural dialogue] could promote reconciliation in the aftermath of conflict and could also introduce moderate voices into polarized debates. At a time when prejudice and hatred are all too common, when extremists seek new recruits through incitement and identity-based appeal, when politicians use divisiveness as a strategy to win elections — dialogue can be an antidote.”
When we take the opportunity to try to understand one another, incredible things can be accomplished. By sharing and celebrating our various differences and similarities, we allow ourselves to break down prejudices and preconceived notions, and ultimately, learn how to work together. We tear down the barriers of communication and learn how to understand one another. Since participating in Global Nomads, my outlook on the world has been changed forever. I know how important it is to look at things from multiple angles, to consider different points of view, and to try to understand the fundamental things that make us all human beings. It is only when we do this that we will truly allow ourselves to live in a peaceful world.