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The advent of the year 2000 signifies a new world of hope and challenges for our country and the planet. With developments in technology such as the Internet, the world is coming closer together than ever. It is vital for the survival of our planet that we become more tolerant and understanding of other cultures so that we can work together for the benefit of future generations. During the past century, two World Wars and countless smaller struggles have decimated nearly every part of the planet. Today, too many countries and specific ethnic groups are involved in conflicts across the globe which are causing incredible violence and death. This makes it imperative that we teach the values of tolerance, diversity, and cooperation to our children.
Unfortunately, many people (especially teenagers) are very apathetic when it comes to global issues. When most people my age watch the evening news, they often feel very removed from the international situations and issues that are presented. The drug war in Colombia, Indonesian political crisis and solar eclipse in Rumania hold no personal significance or even interest for most teenagers. For me, however, these events are more than just images on a television screen. Through an organization called Children’s International Summer Villages (CISV), I have developed close friendships with people from all of these countries and many more. CISV is a non-profit, international, educational organization that operates in over eighty nations. Its purpose is to foster cross-cultural friendship and understanding for people of all ages.
When I was eleven years old, I traveled with a delegation of three other children and an adult leader to Munich, Germany, to participate in what is known as a Village. Living with other children from twelve different countries for a month was an experience that completely changed my view of life. I gained a different perspective on what it means to be a member of a world community and formed extremely close friendships with many people who did not speak English.
I continued participating in local CISV activities and have attended three National Board Meetings for the organization in Cincinnati. When I was thirteen I traveled to a camp in Washington, D.C. I went to Detroit as a counselor for eleven-year-olds when I was sixteen, and this past summer I flew to Finland for three weeks to be part of a Seminar Camp. Created for seventeen- to nineteen-year-olds from twenty different nations, this event was the best experience I’ve had. At the beginning of the Seminar Camp, the participants had to decide as a group what we wanted to get out of our time together and what sort of focus the camp should have. As a participant, I was involved in planning each day’s activities, which ranged from serious discussions of current events to intricate role-playing games and trips around Helsinki. Problems were discussed and solved in ‘open meetings’, which were similar to the Quaker Meetings for Business at my school. The skills of compromise, creative problem-solving and respect I have learned throughout my years at a Quaker institution were very useful to me.
Despite the different cultures and perspectives each person brought to the group, what we discovered as a result of our time together was that we were all fundamentally very similar. If these skills and experiences could be passed on to the global leaders of tomorrow, I believe that we would have more peaceful and successful resolutions to world conflicts.
One simulation we created had the delegates pretending to be refugees waiting to pass through immigration. As with every activity at our Seminar Camp, this simulation was followed by an in-depth discussion during which we each shared our individual experiences and perspectives on the subject. I was amazed to learn just how powerful my United States passport really was. Several people had experienced discrimination and mistreatment while trying to obtain visas or participate in CISV camps. One friend from Brazil had been held in a foreign airport for two days solely because of his nationality, and another had been detained because of his ‘suspicious’ appearance. One delegate from Lebanon told of being kidnapped during that country’s civil war. The realization of how much easier my life is because I was lucky enough to be born in America really hit me. I believe that the democratic values and human rights we enjoy in this country should be fundamental to every nation.
At the end of July, I returned home with more than just photographs and Finnish souvenirs. In a remarkably short amount of time, I had become more independent, self-sufficient, and knowledgeable about the world and its inhabitants. My international experiences with CISV, through which I have learned skills of cooperation, trust, and tolerance, have truly given me global perspective. Hopefully, I will be able to further these talents at college and use them in the future to enable others to achieve the sense of world community that I have found. I am committed to making the CISV experience available to as many people as possible in every country. Because of CISV, I was inspired to take a strong interest in foreign languages, so that I would be better able to communicate with my international friends. Currently, I am learning French, Spanish and Welsh, and hope to branch out further in college. This is very important to me, because I believe that understanding our similarities and differences is the only way in which the human race will survive and prosper in the coming millennium.
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