An interest in cultural dialogue and exchange took two Wake Forest students halfway around the world to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. Henderson Trefzger and Przemyslaw “Dalton” Wilczewski joined nearly 400 students from more than 50 countries for the Global Model United Nations conference in August.
While there, the students prepared an outcome document with a declaration and four resolutions that will be presented at the United Nations General Assembly in New York this week.
Under the theme “Towards an Alliance of Civilizations — Bridging Cultures to Achieve Peace and Development,” the conference in Kuala Lumpur focused on how to incorporate intercultural dialogue into government policies and strategies as a means to address issues of global peace and development.
“I was amazed by how many novel solutions I heard from delegates living halfway around the world,” said Wilczewski, a junior from Queens, N.Y., and president of Wake Forest’s Model UN and Political Affairs Club. “We always hear about the power of diversity, but the practical benefits are embodied in the outcome document produced by this delegate body.”
The document the participants drafted addresses how member states should be making progress on the Alliance of Civilizations, a United Nations initiative launched in 2005 by the president of Spain. The main objective of the Alliance of Civilization is to seek international peace by focusing on the practical benefits of intercultural exchange, such as overcoming cultural stereotypes, encouraging economic development through the markets and developing joint business ventures.
“The most rewarding aspect of this experience will be that the outcome document will be reviewed at the United Nations meeting,” said Trefzger, a junior from Hickory, N.C. “Through my work on this document, I have contributed my voice to a growing consensus around the world: the need to look past the culture differences that divide us and toward a safer, stronger and more peaceful world.”
In Kuala Lumpur, students from every region of the world role-played as foreign diplomats and participated in simulated sessions of the United Nations General Assembly. Since the event was hosted by the Malaysian government, students heard from several Cabinet-level Malaysian leaders. They also attended talks by United Nations officials and watched a video message prepared for them by Ban Ki-Moon, Secretary General of the United Nations.
While in Malaysia, Trefzger and Wilczewski not only had the opportunity to attend the conference but also to travel in the region.
“We went during Ramadan. Malaysia is more than 60 percent Muslim, so it was a culture shock, but it was a good culture shock,” Trefzger said. “One night we went to a night market because Muslims were fasting during the day and could not eat until after 7:30 p.m. We had wonderful food. Malaysians wanted to hear our story. We wanted to hear theirs.”
Trefzger, a Spanish major, and Wilczewski, a finance and history major, were among only a handful of American students attending and, according to Trefzger, only about 15 percent were from the Western Hemisphere.
The two students received a grant from Wake Forest to make the trip. They were chosen through a competitive selection process.
Praising the efforts of the student leaders and looking forward to their leadership in the future, UN Under-Secretary-General for Communications and Public Information Kiyo Akasaka stated in his opening address, “over the years, many ambassadors to the United Nations and UN officials have told me that they too took part in Model UNs in their cities and towns. It is our hope that participation in the Global Model UN Conference will inspire young people to become ambassadors, to work for the United Nations, or become the experts and leaders that we in the United Nations look to as our partners in the global effort to support peace, development and human rights in countries around the world.”
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