Global Citizen

Rashid Naim“I pity the fool who don’t study abroad,” says Mr. T, the ‘80s icon glaring from the sign on Rashid Naim’s door in the Department of Political Science.

It’s a funny sign, but it’s even funnier after meeting Naim, who radiates a kind of soft-spoken, good-humored calm. So why does he have a picture of his polar opposite on his door?

Because he believes in what Mr. T is saying, that’s why.

“Our world is increasingly interconnected,” he said. “If we don’t expose students to something international, then how can they become active citizens of their own country?”

Naim does more than talk about international education, however. He is a senior lecturer and the director of undergraduate studies for Political Science. He is also the driving force behind the university’s Model United Nations and Model Arab League Teams, and he co-leads two study-abroad programs, one in Turkey and one starting this semester in India.

The Model United Nations and Model Arab League are “essentially the same,” Naim said. In each case, students from different universities are assigned different countries to represent, and then gather to re-create a meeting of the international body in question. The only significant difference, he said, is the size of the two — the model United Nations has many more nations, and many more students involved.

Under Naim’s guidance, Georgia State teams have excelled in both. The university’s Model United Nations record is particularly impressive. Georgia State teams have gone to the national conference in New York for the last nine years, and won “Best Delegation” – an award given to the top two percent of teams – in eight of them. Since 2007 the team has won 11 Outstanding Delegation Awards at a variety of National Model UN conferences.

That success comes from mountains of preparation. The students, who take Model United Nations as a course for credit, spend months researching their assigned country, learning to think like a diplomat from another part of the world.

“You have to stop thinking like an American undergraduate,” Naim tells his students. “Put yourself in the other person’s shoes.”

Students learn to shift their perspective and develop a wide range of valuable professional skills: research, writing, debate, rules of procedure, negotiation, problem-solving and conflict resolution. The experience can be transformative.

“Once they do it, it gives the students a level of confidence they didn’t have before,” Naim said. “I see immediate results.” And those results are lasting – Model UN alumni have a strong record working in local politics, for non-governmental organizations and for agencies of the real-life United Nations.

Naim says there’s one other secret to the team’s success, one almost no other university can duplicate: the diversity of the student body.

“Last year I asked my team what languages they spoke,” he said, “and among 32 students, we had 23 different languages.”

Georgia State students are already accustomed to cross-cultural communication in ways that students at other universities are not, Naim said.

Even students whose parents come from other countries have often not been abroad themselves, either because their parents fled their countries of origin and can’t go back, or for financial reasons.

Naim is trying to get as many to go as possible. He regularly schedules the Model United Nations team to attend conferences abroad, in recent years going to South Korea, France, Turkey and Bosnia.

The Model Arab League team was in Cairo, Egypt at the very beginning of the Arab Spring protests, and got to know Egyptian students who were going back and forth from the conference and the protests. Naim remembers one of his own students crying at the airport when the team was leaving, distraught at leaving her new friends while their future was so uncertain.

In addition to taking his model UN students abroad, Naim also leads two study-abroad programs for Georgia State students, one to Turkey and another to India. The India program, which is starting this fall, represents a new model for Georgia State.

The students won’t go to India right away, for one thing. They’ll spend the first half of the semester in Atlanta, taking classes with Naim, Kathryn McClymond of Religious Studies and Ghulam Nadri of History. The students will spend the second half of the semester learning and travelling in India.

“When they go,” Naim said, “it’s an enhanced experience because of what they’ve already learned.”

Naim said he loves taking students abroad for two reasons. First, to teach students about the world in a way that shatters stereotypes. It’s one thing to see poor people on television, for example, and another to actually see what poverty means in a still-developing nation.

Second, it gives students a keen sense of how lucky they really are.

“When students go abroad,” he said, “they often come back with a renewed appreciation for their own country. They see how most of the world lives compared to us. And they are also aware of the responsibilities they have towards the rest of the world.”