The Ugandan-Mexican-Pennsylvanian Axis

By David W. ’19
Photos by Mr. Umble

For the past decade or so, a handful of seniors enrolled in Lancaster Country Day’s Model United Nations class have traveled every year to The Hague for an international five-day conference. It’s become a staple of LCDS culture, a sort of nerdy ritual for the departing class. 

This year, things were a little different.

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First, the MUN class welcomed both juniors and seniors for the first time. Second, it was at maximum capacity, boasting a full complement of 18 students.

And third, while this class hopped the pond like its forebears, we continued on over Turkey, threading the border between Iran and Iraq, hugging the coast of Saudi Arabia, and landing, after 14 hours in the air, in Doha, Qatar. (I would be remiss not to mention here that Qatar Airways gives metal utensils to its passengers. For those 14 hours, we were truly living in the lap of luxury.) 

The Hague International Model United Nations, or THIMUN, is an international U.N. simulation that’s also an accredited non-governmental organization with the United Nations. Participating schools are assigned countries which their students represent in a variety of committees, from the General Assembly to the International Court of Justice. It is the students’ responsibility to exhaustively research their country’s policies before the conference. More than 1,000 student delegates from dozens of countries participated in this year’s Doha conference. Among them, hailing from little old Lancaster, Pennsylvania, were six delegates of the Republic of Uganda and 12 delegates of the United Mexican States (Colloquially referred to as Mexico and Uganda.)

Our class had spent months writing policy papers, drafting resolutions, and practicing debate in preparation for the conference, so upon arrival in Qatar, we took a well-deserved break. The group visited Souq Waqif, a historic market in Old Doha that remains a favorite of locals. We toured the Museum of Islamic Art, a beautiful five-story building with panoramic views of the city and art spanning more than a millennium of human history; we went “dune bashing” on a desert safari and experienced the terror of sliding sideways down a steep sand dune in an SUV; and of course, we encountered some camels. We took selfies with camels. We rode camels.

Students were assigned to a variety of committees which focused on topics ranging from corruption in the global fishing industry to nuclear proliferation in the Middle East. Each committee held around 80-100 delegates. LCDS was in a unique position this year, as it represented two countries — which held, at times, opposing viewpoints — simultaneously. Mexico, for instance, enshrines press freedom in its constitution, and its government advertises an effort to protect the interests of journalists acting in the country. (However, it still remains notorious for being one of the most dangerous countries in the world for journalists.) Conversely, Uganda’s official policy on press freedom includes harsh libel laws and restrictions on press access. In a simulated conference, therefore, Uganda would be more willing to speak against measures to protect press freedom than Mexico, even if their policies are roughly the same in practice.

For every serious debate, there were plenty of lighthearted moments. Before my resolution was considered, I motioned for a three-minute unmoderated caucus because, “The delegate from Uganda needs to use the bathroom.” (Speaking in the third-person is required at all times during committee sessions.) Nick H.’19 shamelessly de-linted his suit — during lunch, on a balcony, in front of several hundred people — because he tried on a black hoodie over a white shirt. After taking a fall and receiving stitches in a Qatari hospital (free of charge, because literally every public service in Qatar is free), Lauren L.’19 Facetimed the group on laughing gas to tell us everything was okay. Mr. Umble sat next to her, half-concerned as a chaperone, half-amused as a friend.

Perhaps the most memorable moment occurred on the last night as we rode a bus from the conference center back to our hotel, which we shared with students from Kuwait. Spontaneously, our schools began to sing with one another. We belted out songs like Adele’s “Hello,” Smash Mouth’s “All Star,” and even the Kuwaiti national anthem. And after 30 or so minutes of singing, right as we pulled up to the hotel, someone started a song from Barney. Everyone sang in unison:

“I love you, you love me, we’re a happy family. With a great big hug and a kiss from me to you, won’t you say you love me too?”

 

‘Possibilities We Can’t Even Envision’

On his first trip to China and India as Country Day’s emissary, Head of School Steve Lisk experienced a taste of the rich cultural bounty open to students.

While this was Lisk’s first trip to Asia on behalf of the school, it was the ninth for Special Projects Administrator Shelly Landau and International Student Liaison Helen Najarian. In addition to reaffirming existing relationships in China, the trio also deepened our newest one, with an independent school in India. The goal was to expand Country Day’s connections to schools abroad, increasing the opportunities for LCDS and international students to benefit from the exchanges. The resounding success yielded “possibilities we can’t even envision,” Lisk said.

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Candles — Prime!

“We want to build out our Global Program depth to offer our students a richer experience as they go through LCDS, and foster increased trust between schools and understanding between cultures,” Lisk said.

As part of that effort, Lisk’s first destination was Shanghai, home of one of our global partner schools, SMIC, as well as the parents of several current international students. One of the things that struck Lisk most in meeting our Chinese parents was the similarity to the value our American parents put on education.

“These families recognize that our [school] system is vastly different than theirs. The strength of American universities and colleges is also well understood and so parents who want to provide their children the best undergraduate opportunities know that attending a secondary school like Country Day is the best way for them to accomplish this. The Chinese families feted Lisk with gifts and meals, and conveyed gratitude and warmth about their children’s experiences at LCDS.

“One of the things we have going for us as a school, and there are many, is a remarkable name brand,” Lisk continued. “The word-of-mouth advertising that happens among similarly education-minded families is an asset that you can’t put a price on.”

He continued, “Trips like this one in October are emblematic of the evolving role of independent school heads. The rising tide of globalization has made foreign travel and education attainable for an ever-increasing number of people around the world, and Country Day is poised to reap that benefit both for our own students and those of partner schools as well.”

Our newest partner school is the Navrachana International School Vadodara, in Gujarat, India. NISV shares values and a mission remarkably similar to Country Day’s, though Lisk was fascinated by the many ways those shared fundamentals animated a distinct and different school experience.

Our introduction to Navrachana came thanks to Peter and Leigh Rye, parents of Caitlin ’06 and Oliver ’13, whose international business gives them close ties to the area. This beginning with NISV continues a tradition of serendipitous global connections for LCDS, beginning with John Jarvis’ alma mater Kelvinside Academy and continuing with the retired headmistress of SMIC, who happens to be Najarian’s aunt.

On the last Friday of their trip, Lisk, Landau and Najarian took in a genuine treat.

“We’re sitting in the audience and they’re staging a performance of ‘Don Quixote’ with a thousand students on a stage made of bamboo and rope. The feeling of community was overwhelming and the show of school spirit was truly impressive. It just drove home that people around the world live lives of meaning, but it’s different, it’s rich and it’s enriching. I’m excited for our students who’ll be exposed to this wider world,” Lisk said.

He wanted to give special praise to Shelly Landau and Helen Najarian, or “Shelen” as the globetrotting pair are affectionately known. Without their efforts, whether driving students to visit colleges or calling on families half a world away to let them know their kids are in loving hands, the school would quite simply be a different place, and not for the better.

“They’re extraordinary. It’s hard work what they do, and they take on their roles guided by a clear love of our school,” Lisk said. “I’m incredibly grateful for both of them.”

Too True to be Good

By Amelia L. ’21
Photos by Abigail G. ’20 and Konrad L. ’19

To a tourist, the city of Cape Town feels like a city that is almost too good to be true. It boasts the majestic vistas of Table Mountain and the stunning beaches of Muizenberg. When I first arrived, I was in shock at how beautiful the scenery was; it felt like I had stepped into a storybook.

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However, a few days into staying in Cape Town I began to realize the pain the city, and the country as a whole, continues to face due to the lingering effects of apartheid.

As part of this institutional segregation, blacks were forced to live in areas away from cities called townships; they were not allowed to work or even travel to certain sections of cities; and they were not only censored in their ability to express their pain, but censored from communicating with the rest of the world as well.

While whites lived in well-policed estates and went to good schools, blacks were relegated to a substandard education and life in crime-ridden areas.

Everyone seemed to be distrustful of one another. Every single building, office, restaurant and home had some kind of fencing around it, shutting it off from the rest of the world. These realities shocked me, because this level of racism and segregation had never been a part of my daily life before.

I started to realize the parallels between South Africa and the legacy of Jim Crow in the United States, and was finally able to empathize with what had been in front of me all my life.

I began to ask my fellow students at Herschel Girls School about apartheid, and soon realized how helpless the youth felt. They felt that, despite their best efforts, there was ultimately little they could do about the discrimination blacks face because it was built into the system they’d grown up in and so deeply rooted in South Africa’s history. How could they possibly undo this tightly woven shroud of racism that covered nearly every aspect of daily life?

Despite these daunting hurdles, the students did everything they could to change the status quo, from community service to political activism. They wrote to their representatives and sat in on parliament to understand the decisions that were being made that affected them. They also had many clubs dedicated to speaking of racism, discrimination and current events in South Africa, and effecting positive change in all those areas.

I’m so thankful that I was able to go to South Africa and discover this all for myself. It was truly an eye-opening and life-changing trip.

Putting The Beautiful Pieces Together

Combining a photo essay with an intimate written portrait, Cristian T. ’18 presents the story of his month in Spain as an exchange student.

I could stand there for hours, days, staring up at Picasso’s “Guernica.” My host family had taken me to visit the Museo Reina Sofia in Madrid on this Saturday night in March. On one of the walls, a number of photographs were hanging, showing the progression of Picasso’s piece. I got to see how “Guernica” changed over time and came to be what stood there towering over me.

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My host mother directed me through the photographs. She pointed out that the bull’s eyes were not originally crossed, how in an early incarnation the eyes stared straight ahead at the same point. Picasso decided to change this and make its left and right eye stare out in two different directions. As I stood there at the far right and stared up at the bull, it stared back at me. She explained to me how by doing what he did, Picasso was putting the viewer into the piece, making us a part of it rather than just observing it. In this room I realized that I want to achieve the same with my art. I decided that when I begin college in the fall, art will be my major and not my minor, even if that means taking on a double-major.

I’ve always had a passion for taking photos. I started out just using my phone, but it wasn’t until I got a camera for Christmas in 2015 that I was able to take the basic photography class sophomore year. With a camera in my hand, I get to see the world anew. Looking through the viewfinder, I see the visual speak to the invisible.

Photography can not only capture people’s emotions or the mood of a place, it can evoke and change feelings by hitting the shutter button, by the act of taking the photo itself. Having a camera in my hand gives me space to think both strategically and spontaneously, and allows me to piece together a puzzle that depicts something far beyond what the eyes can see.

I recently spent a month in Spain as part of the LCDS-CVE exchange, attending the Colegio Virgen de Europa in Madrid and living with a host family. I was sitting above the dining commons beside the international flags when I first read about the program last summer. I applied in August and found out I had been accepted within the first few days of school.

It was the one of the most exciting pieces of news I’ve ever received, and an opportunity that I got more from than I could have ever imagined.

With my host family, we traversed arches and doorways that showed us Spain’s past, present and future. Underground parking lots and subway stations connected me to each city I visited. Each train ride felt like a pulse through a city’s living heart.

Together, we stared up at Muslim, Jewish and Christian ceilings. With every excursion, they taught me more rich history of the Iberian Peninsula they call home.

This experience only strengthened my desire to study and document different societies and cultures. Being able to mix my perspective with different customs and ways of living gave me renewed clarity as to the life I want to live in the future.

I know I want to return to Spain and live there again, but I also intend to explore Latin America. For a time, I thought I wouldn’t be able to do both, but this exchange taught me to strive for both. I want to build for myself a bridge of understanding between these disparate regions united by a common language.

I want to visit the birthplace of my parents and ancestors in the Caribbean, and explore the relation of my family to the people who made me feel like family on the other side of the Atlantic.

My travels took me into Madrid a number of times, and I also toured Toledo, Granada, Barcelona and the small town of La Iglesuela. But for as beautiful as these places were, it wasn’t that beauty that made my experience what it was. It was the people who made a whole out of the beautiful pieces, my host family.

It was watching movies and TV shows, and singing along with them in the car. It was sharing a place at their kitchen table and in their conversations. It was every time I asked them what a word meant in Spanish, and every time they wanted someone to practice their English on without fear of judgment.

It’s hard to believe that a handful of days one spring could pack in so much meaning and affect me so profoundly. I now have a stronger sense of what I want to do after graduating from LCDS. I want to live and explore these regions more deeply, and experience new cultures with an open mind.

And I know that art will be an integral part of that journey.