Learning What it Means to be an American in New York City

Posted by Spencer B. Michigan

In one trip, I learned some of the most important values of what it truly means to be an American.

I’m in the front row. I’m dazzled, in awe, an unforgettable moment has just occurred. I look in front of me to see a shining waterfall of gold that stretches to the sky, with an emblem of the world staring down at me. I’m in the General Assembly Hall of the United Nations, in my first trip to New York, and I just had my first meeting with an international diplomat. To me, this is what American opportunity represents, the ability to do anything you want if you put the work and dedication into it. As I have come to learn in my short life on American soil, a sentiment that remains sacred and self-evident is our right to pursue. Our pursuit of a better life come through the opportunities we are given and, in America, those opportunities are limitless. For me, the understanding of this idea has come from my involvement in Model United Nations, the high school simulation of the United Nations. Since joining my school’s Model United Nations team, I have come to participate in many trips and learn numerous lessons about what it means to be an American, the most important trip being my trip to New York. Through these lessons, I have come to realize that the American environment fosters a culture that encourages people to take on opportunities and believe that anything is possible.

This lesson became most clear to me during my trip to New York City, which occurred in my second year with the team. Our team had decided to attend the National High School Model United Nations (NHSMUN) conference in New York for the 3rd time the after 13 years of not attending. NHSMUN is held in the New York Hilton Hotel and the United Nations Headquarters and includes more than 2000 delegates for +100 schools across the globe. Along with this, NHSMUN allows each team to meet with official diplomats from the country they are assigned in order to discuss policy further. For me and the rest of my team, this was the biggest conference we had ever attended. Before even arriving at the conference, our team had to prepare extensively. Our club was assigned the nation of Namibia and we had to learn and prepare all policy goals for our nation in our respective committees. I was assigned the topic of “Limiting the Use of the Internet for Terrorist Purposes”, a topic that required months of understanding and creative problem solving, mainly due to the fact that Namibia can barely afford internet broadband coverage for its own citizens. By the end, our team was exhausted with nearly 150 pages of policy statements for 14 different topics.

Arriving in New York was a trip in itself. We departed late at night from the Detroit International Airport and arrived in Newark International Airport in New Jersey at midnight after a long and tiresome flight. The team quickly picked up our suitcases and left the airport as soon as we could. We all huddled together in a large escort van that would take us to the Hilton for the night. As we traveled across the long highway to New York City, we reminisced about fun stories in Royal Oak and local spectacles that gave us a good laugh. But once we saw the shimmering skyline, the endless rows of cramped shops, and sparkling business centers, our minds were mesmerized by the glory of New York. The scale and the magnificence of the towering skyscrapers were incredible. Seeing all of this made me understand why New York is called the land of opportunities. In New York and America, the freedom and encouragement to innovate sparks opportunities for people to succeed no matter who they are. Even students from a small suburb in the state of Michigan are able to travel to the most important city in the world and make a difference. Later, when we entered the Hilton, I remember soaring up the elevator feeling like I could touch the sky.

The next day, we got dressed in our business attire to meet with an ambassador from the Namibian Embassy and Mission to the United Nations. We were all quite excited, we had prepared an extensive list of questions to ask her and we were finally ready to meet with someone who was what we were working to become. We arrived at the embassy around midday with the cold weather causing us to shiver in our heavy wool coats. The embassy was practically indistinguishable from the other buildings in the area and if it were not for the giant Namibian flag hung outside of the building, we would have been lost for hours. We entered the embassy and were met by the lobby which was modern, clean, and cozy. The corner of the room had small models of Namibia dolls adorned with traditional Namibian women’s wear. The TV was broadcasting American channels but the newspaper on the coffee table was a copy of the Namibian Sun, the country’s largest newspaper. We were soon let upstairs to a meeting room, and we took our seats at the well-prepared conference table and waited patiently until the ambassador arrived. After a while, she had finally arrived and to our surprise, she was quite young. She was in her mid-20s, her hair was short, she was wearing a colorful dress and a Nambiabin flag pin as a formality, and had a kind smile of confidence and responsibility. At first, we were all in shock, someone so young acting as a representative for her nation and dedicating her career towards helping serve her people was something we had only imagined older more knowledgeable scholars doing. She welcomed us to the embassy and was grateful enough to give us some history on how she got to where she is today. She originally went to school in the capital of Namibia and was lucky enough to go to college in America at the University of Houston. For me it was quite inspiring. She was active, confident, and worked hard to make it to where she was today. She was youthful and proved that a new perspective can help lead a nation to prosperity. Along with this, it made me proud to realize the educational opportunities our country offers spread across the globe, and that our commitment towards allowing freedom for all can be achieved by anyone who sets their mind to it. Most importantly, seeing her made me confident in my ability to be a better leader and realize that my age does not restrict my opportunities. To be able to learn from such a hero left me grateful for the opportunities I have in America, and eager to innovate to make a better world.

Later that day, we headed to the United Nations Headquarters to attend the opening ceremony of NHSMUN. Approaching the building itself was exciting enough. This was one of the important landmarks in all of world history, and I had the chance to go in. We entered the courtyard of the visitor entrance and were greeted by statues and monuments gifted by nations across the world. Along with the scenery, the number of students in the building was also quite inspiring to me. To think that we could use this opportunity to elevate ourselves to the top of the world was an idea that I hadn't realized before. As a team, we waited for half an hour in the front of the line in order to get the best seats in the house. We soon started to file in the long hallways fashioned with old green carpet from the 1950’s. At first, our view was obstructed by the confines of the hallway and the students in front of us, but once we entered the assembly hall, I was struck with awe. The ceremony went on and I smiled from ear to ear every moment. In the moments leaving the assembly hall, I reflected on my experience and began to understand what it means to be an American.

Being in New York enlightened me to realize that empires can be built through American innovation and that our individual abilities are destined to succeed by America's undying believe in allowing us to pursue our dreams. While recognizing this, I have also realized that as an American, it is not only our privilege to live in an environment where we have access to endless opportunities, but it's also our duty to use these opportunities to help others. Learning from the Namibian Ambassador, I now understand that regardless of who we are, we can make a major impact on the lives of others. Through all of these lessons, visiting the UN Headquarters has marked the start of my life-long American creed to pursue all opportunities that have been gifted to me, and work to allow everyone the same opportunities I have.

Published on Jun 12, 2018
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