A month-long trip to Qatar has put life into a new perspective for Malone Fellow, Qatar Foundation Fellow and Nisbet Honors student, Claudia Coffin ’19. Her participation in Converse’s Model Programs opened the door to this exclusive opportunity and she credits Converse faculty for giving her the confidence to take on this adventure.
The trip, sponsored by the National Council on U.S.-Arab Relations, and made possible by Converse’s Model Arab League impeccable reputation, has given Claudia new insight of Qatar and the Arab world as well as inspiring her to continue exploring the world.
A Model Citizen
“As far as education goes, Model League has given me so much research experience, especially directed toward the Middle East. Even the factors you normally wouldn’t think about- dressing professionally, taking notes, synthesizing information, finding the courage to speak to a room full of strangers, and doing so eloquently – I have been trained by our amazing Head Delegates over the past few years to do it all with ease.
“I wouldn’t be the woman I am today without my Converse education.”
I was prepared to meet people in Qatar because my experiences in Model Arab League piqued my interest in the Arabic language and culture. I took Arabic 101 at Converse with Mr. Younan Nessim. Thanks to him, I was able to introduce myself cordially and respectfully in the native tongue of the Qatari people, and even spent time with his friends who live in Doha.
None of that would’ve happened had I not been given a spot on the Model Programs Delegation. This incredible organization has opened my mind and my heart and I cannot express how deeply it will affect me for the rest of my life.”
Living the Experience
“I stepped off the plane at the Hamad International Airport with statistics, percentages, and data in my head. Yet I had no idea what I was about to experience, no idea of the customs and culture in which I was about to be immersed. I spent the next week learning how Qatar is, rather than what Qatar is, and it changed my perspective entirely.
You can learn all you want about a place, but you never really know what it’s like until you’ve been there. Talking with people native to the region face-to-face gave me a better idea of what problems hit everyday people the hardest, and what their view of the world is. Oftentimes the media that we receive from news outlets or even government organizations can be skewed or inaccurate. It was refreshing to hear perspectives that were not meticulously orchestrated and polished to show the best side of the region. Personally, this trip also gave me a broader worldview.
Through friends of friends, I met students pursuing their higher education at Education City, who heartily encouraged me to pursue graduate studies outside of the United States. I can’t say for sure what my plan is for my life, but I do know that it does not involve staying in one place.”
Mentors Along the Way
“All of the faculty I’ve met at Converse have helped mentor and shape me in some way. Dr. Strickland was, and is, a huge influence on me. She always tells me that sometimes there’s nothing you can do but work hard. Taking on all that I do, especially with this trip, has been a struggle, to say the least. But I find that there’s always a way if you try hard enough.
Someone who also helped guide me during my time at Converse was Dr. DeLapp. “Guide” is the operative term in that sentence, because I took one of his classes my freshman year and never dabbled in philosophy ever again. Nonetheless, I consider that ‘Intro to Logic’ class one of the greatest assets of my education so far. Using what I learned from him – the logical process, the attention to detail – I find I can easily decipher speeches, articles, and broadcasts in a political context. Logic is key in synthesizing information, which is one of the strengths honored in the world of debate and the world at large.
“You can learn all you want about a place, but you never really know what it’s like until you’ve been there.”
I have had so many praiseworthy faculty influences: Dr. Dunn has been an amazing resource; I credit Dr. Brown with my reaffirmation in the Christian faith, Dr. Brotherton for his travel stories that gave me wanderlust, and Dr. Steele for her no-nonsense encouragement to do more, better. I wouldn’t be the woman I am today without my Converse education.”
The Psychology of War
“In Qatar, I thought of something I learned in my freshman year psychology class: learned aggression. Psychologist Dr. Albert Bandura did an experiment in which he showed kids adult models playing violently with toys, then watched how the kids then played with the toys. His experiment provided support for the social learning theory, which asserts that people learn through observing and modeling (you don’t have to do an action yourself to learn from it).
The Middle East is stuck in what has been called by many world politicians “a cycle of violence.” We are also facing a massive refugee crisis, especially if you consider the massive amounts of internally displaced persons in the various countries of conflict. Learned aggression is something I’d like to study in the Middle East. Kids growing up knowing only the violence and chaos that’s been stirred up in the past two decades might only continue this cycle of violence, might even direct their learned emotions and reactions toward a specific target.
Qatar has donated millions of dollars to help enroll refugee children in schools in various countries, and have expanded and revamped their own education system in recent years. The youth are the future, and Qatar does its best to help them thrive as productive members of society. Qatar is a peaceful place and only 20% of the people living there are native Qataris. Maybe it’s just that it’s easier to be nonviolent when you’ve got food in your stomach, but still, I was pleased with the progressive thinking I saw when I visited.”
The Model Programs Advantage
“As a Malone Fellow, I expect to be doing more narratives, and presentations about my trip and what I learned. I will be speaking in a few of Dr. Dunn’s classes, notably his freshman classes, in order to ‘woo’ students to join Model Programs. I also hope to speak in several churches both in Ohio and South Carolina on the topic of tolerance.
I will be speaking on a panel with faculty and students who have visited the Middle East at the Southeast Regional Model Arab League conference. I will also distribute pamphlets of opportunities to join Model Arab League and other Model Programs at universities, as well as my high school government and history teaching staff to share with their students.
I didn’t know Model League existed when I was in high school, and I wish I had. Aside from those specific tasks, I’m always on the lookout for more speaking engagements and writing opportunities. I think my experience is important to share and I’d like to reach as many people as possible along the way.”