Joshua Kazdan was part of the John Burrough’s delegation, travelling all the way from the United States and for most, making their first visit to the Middle East. Joshua shares this moving piece about the difference, and most importantly, similarities, the delegation experienced while in Doha.
Fourteen hours across four continents brought this year’s Burroughs delegation to its unprecedented destination: Qatar. Traditionally, our school has always attended THIMUN in the Hague, but this year, Director of Student Activities Andrew Newman spearheaded an effort to expand the school’s global connections. Burroughs is in the middle of a radical reform movement focused on the promotion of cultural tolerance and diversity. The departure from our routine journey to Europe marks another level of this initiative. “We’re going global,” said headmaster Andy Abbott.
This untraditional travel decision presented unexpected experiences to delegation members “You can’t ride camels and hold falcons in the Hague!” said one student. Most of the participants had never experienced a Middle Eastern country before, and doing so remodeled our perceptions of Islam and the Arab world. Perhaps the most reforming experience involved spending an afternoon on a dhow boat cruise with the Afghan delegation. Despite shared interests in television programs and sports, the maturity and worldliness of the Afghan delegates soon became apparent. Already at ages seventeen and eighteen, these students had struggled to voice their beliefs, transcending fear and adversity to attend the conference. These students already stood for something, and conversing with such inspiring characters proved a humbling experience for me.
The conference itself also presented new opportunities that challenged us to negotiate cultural differences. When do we shake hands with members of the opposite genders? How do we disagree respectfully? As a member of the press team, I had to walk a sensitive line between objective accuracy and subjective opinion, always ensuring that inferences were drawn without biases. However, a sense of unexpected similarities pervaded the conference, overshadowing minor differences.
Overall, I think that the students open-minded enough to travel with the Burroughs delegation developed a more accurate perception of Muslim countries than that which our media delivers to us. Qatar represents a juxtaposition of tradition and modernity– a country striving to preserve its cultural origins while transitioning into a global economic powerhouse. Unlike many citizens of other countries, Qataris have a strong sense of identity, purpose, and national loyalty.
Since returning to America with this more nuanced view of the Middle East, we have faced a new challenge– articulating what we have experienced so that it may benefit and inform others.