Park City students step onto the world stage
Pauline Kneller had always envisioned herself studying math or science when she graduates from Park City High School next spring.
But a trip this summer to Washington, D.C, changed everything. Kneller and Cameron Gallagher, also an incoming senior at PCHS, were among about 100 students who traveled to the nation’s capital in July for a leadership summit put on by Sister Cities International, a diplomacy network that aims to create strong ties between communities in the United States and those in other countries.
For four days, Kneller and Gallagher participated in a number of activities that gave them an inside look at world diplomacy. They participated in a diplomacy simulation similar to a model UN exercise, watched a panel discussion with the ambassadors to the United States from Armenia, Serbia and Malta, and also heard a question-and-answer session featuring several officials who have careers in international relations.
Kneller returned blown away. She now is considering pursuing diplomacy as a career.
“It was like seeing the world stage literally right in front of you,” Kneller said. “I’ve totally changed my whole schedule at school to fit in classes like that so I can get more experience and more of an introduction to this kind of thing. I’m super excited about it.”
Gallagher, too, was changed by the experience. He began the trip with low expectations, worrying that it would be tedious. Instead, it was one of the most enlightening weeks of his life. As soon as he started mingling with the other students, who all came from diverse backgrounds, his perspective on the world began to change.
“It’s definitely nice to get out of the bubble of Utah,” he said. “It was cool to be in this one area with everyone from around the country and just kind of talk to them about what’s going on in their cities, their perspective, how they view things. It was different and it was cool.
“Everyone was practically the same, with similar interests, and we all just clicked,” he added. “The people were incredible, coming from all around the country. It was just a melting pot, but of people with similar interests. It was cool.”
The highlight of the trip for Kneller was the diplomacy simulation. The students were split up into teams — our countries — and each team had goals it wanted to accomplish through negotiating with the others. Kneller and Gallagher first approached the simulation like a game, but quickly learned that their peers were taking it seriously — so they did, too.
“I was absolutely obsessed with it,” she said. “I loved all of it. I loved the challenges, I loved being able to talk to people. I loved having different desires and different wants and trying to find a middle ground on it. It was so cool. You get really emotional and passionate about it.”
Gallagher was initially surprised by how intense the exercise was. But later, he imagined what it must be like for actual world leaders who negotiate on behalf of their countries.
“I kind of applied it to a global view, and then it made sense why it would be so intense,” he said. “Honestly, it was awesome.”
Watching the ambassadors interact with one another also proved to be enlightening. They noted how each ambassador took care to speak in measured ways to convey respect to the other ambassadors, despite the fact there is tension between their countries.
“That was a cool learning experience as well,” Gallagher said.
Overall, the conference was a taste of the future for Kneller and Gallagher. They each said the atmosphere was different than anything they’d ever participated because they were interacting with serious people who treated them like adults. It gave them a broader sense of the world and they returned home eager to continue learning about how they fit into it.
“The fact that I could be a representative of Park City was incredible for me,” Gallagher said. “To be able to go there and have that name on me, that I’m a representative and I’m doing something kind of important at a young age, made me feel special. It held responsibility.”
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