At the age of 17, I had my first experience with traveling to a different country. Even though the journey to Canada didn’t involve jet lag or dramatic time changes, the experience completely altered the direction of my life.
On this two-week trip, I traveled to Vancouver to do volunteer work all throughout the city. I volunteered at local shelters, tried foods that I had never heard of and started to grasp how vast and diverse the world really is.
For me, this experience was outstanding because I grew up among the cotton and oil fields of west Texas. Up until that point, I did not have many encounters with people who had traveled outside of the U.S. or even very far outside of Texas. In fact, most of the people that I grew up with spoke most often about the love they had for Texas. I’ll never forget how shocking it was to meet people in other states that did not care that I was from Texas. The experience shook up everything that I knew about the world and made me question my worldview.
The Vancouver volunteer experience sparked my curiosity for learning, travel and work done to better the lives of other people. Since that time, I have visited 13 other countries and volunteered and learned about work being done all over the world to make life better for others.
Today, it is my honor to work with Highline College’s Global Programs. Over the past two years, this has meant starting a Model United Nations program and hosting events that increase international understanding and create global community. Considering that over 140 languages are spoken within the area that Highline serves, including over 120 languages by families in Federal Way, it is important to give students the opportunity to learn how to be effective leaders and contributors. One way to learn is through the United Nations and its organizational structure that enables nations to come together to try and solve the greatest challenges the world is facing.
Model United Nations conferences are designed to mirror the work of the UN. To participate, students choose a UN country and then do research that will prepare them to accurately represent that nation in working with other students representing UN nations. The students attempt to solve problems that deal with such topics as corruption, climate change and terrorism. Along the way, students learn more about diplomacy and develop critical-thinking, negotiation and public speaking skills. After completing the conference last year, one student said that she believed everyone should have the opportunity to participate. She learned from working with other attendees. She also developed stronger leadership skills and expanded her understanding of the world.
Over the next year, Global Programs will continue to host programs and events that highlight the unique diversity that exists in our region and on the Highline College campus. My hope is that both students and community members will attend these events to learn more about each other and all that we have in common. After all, when individual differences are recognized and nurtured, there is no limit to what can be achieved.
Jenn Ritchey teaches courses in political science and diversity and globalism and is the coordinator for Global Programs. She has master’s degrees in political science and applied international studies and spent more than two years in sub-Saharan Africa as a U.S. Peace Corps volunteer. When she is not at work, you can find her hiking, traveling and spending time with family and friends.