For Hayley Harrington ‘19, one of the most rewarding aspects of her college career has been her involvement with Model United Nations and especially Model Arab League (MAL), a diplomatic simulation program whose goal is to give students a greater understanding of the Middle East and the Arab peoples.
“Learning on-the-spot public speaking and negotiation skills and how to conduct research quickly is an incredible skill set,” Harrington says of the benefits of taking part in MAL. “It’s served me well in taking classes that are heavy on oral presentations and in just being able to talk to people and collaborate. I have a deep love for Model Arab League.”
MAL is the National Council on U.S.-Arab Relations’ (NCUSAR) flagship student leadership development program, and Harrington is currently president of the organization at Hollins. In November, she served as secretary-general for the Fourth Annual Appalachia Model Arab League, which welcomed to campus 12 delegations and nearly 100 students from middle school to college for the opportunity to expand their knowledge of the Arab Region.
Last summer, Professor of Political Science Ed Lynch nominated Harrington, who is double majoring in international studies and art history, for a fellowship with NCUSAR. She was one of only ten undergraduates from across the country who were accepted into the program, where over the course of the following year they “engage with the community, talk about what we have learned, and break down some of the stigmas and misconceptions that people have toward the Middle East,” she says.
One of the highlights of Harrington’s fellowship thus far took place over Thanksgiving. She and her respective fellows spent a week engaged in a study visit to the Persian Gulf state of Qatar, joined by five professors (including Lynch) and NCUSAR staff members.
“Those were five very jam-packed days,” Harrington recalls. “Pretty much from 8 a.m. to 11 p.m. every day, we were busy.”
The group met with constituencies that ranged from ambassadors, embassy workers, and U.S. military personnel to top consultants and financial leaders to learn more about the richest country in the world per capita. They also gained perspective on the land, air, and sea blockade instituted by other Arab nations in June 2017 because of Qatar’s alleged interactions with terrorist organizations.
“What people need to know about Qatar is their goal is to be a mediator,” Harrington explains. “They’re a very small, very wealthy state, and in that position they think it’s in their national interest to facilitate negotiations between differing political factions in order to achieve peace.” She notes that Qatar has worked with organizations and states such as Hamas and Israel. And, though Qatar in no way supports Iran, “it’s important that they maintain relations and get along with one another. Iran is a neighbor and represents Qatar’s only access to airspace to Western Europe,” she adds.
“The goal of the blockade was to collapse the economy of Qatar and they’ve ended up coming out stronger,” Harrington concludes. “They’ve diversified their economy because they have to provide more of their own resources. They’ve made connections with countries outside of the Gulf and they’ve strengthened relations with the United States. They’ve continued to export their biggest resource, natural gas, so that the United Arab Emirates isn’t without power.”
One example she observed that typifies Qatar’s resiliency in the face of the blockade is the country’s national dairy farm. “Qatar was cut from their entire dairy supply and so their thought process was, ‘Well, what if we just build a giant dairy farm and support ourselves instead?’”
Harrington says Qatar’s innovative spirit also underpins their preparations to host the World Cup in 2022. Using sustainable, effective design and employing recyclables as much as possible, the country is building six stadiums to accommodate the event and is planning to repurpose the materials so that the structures don’t simply deteriorate afterward. And, instead of building new hotels that will sit empty after the World Cup competition ends, “they’re bringing in cruise ships and leaving them docked” to accommodate attendees.
Qatar is “a wonderful country,” Harrington believes, but she is quick to note that it is by no means perfect. “There are definitely a lot of human rights issues that they are actively working to take steps to improve,” she says.
While it will take time for her to process everything she learned during her week in Qatar, Harrington “can definitely say that it’s been one of the most impactful experiences of my education and of my time at Hollins. I worked with nine other incredible, very accomplished, very intelligent undergraduate students and five very intelligent, very accomplished professors. It meant a lot to hear what other people have to say and get differing opinions, ideas, and thoughts.
“I think it also changed the way I look at other parts of the world. Trying to achieve an objective truth is very difficult, but looking at and comparing the ways we look at different countries versus how they see themselves is definitely something for which this trip has helped me grow skills and insight.”
Harrington is looking forward to serving on the National Secretariat for the National University Model Arab League conference at Georgetown University in April 2019. Then, following her graduation from Hollins next spring, she aspires to attend Virginia Tech and pursue a master’s degree in landscape architecture. The opportunity came about as a result of her work last summer with the Small Cities Institute, a research and teaching collaboration between Hollins, Roanoke College and Virginia Tech co-founded by Associate Professor of International Studies Jon Bohland where faculty and students tackle issues facing small urban areas around the globe.
“We worked on some of the barriers that prevent people from accessing equitable workplace participation and workforce development in the Roanoke Valley,” she says.
Harrington admits that landscape architecture “has very little to do with the international studies and art history departments,” but the graduate program represents “a really nice synthesis of everything I want to do” in a career.
“At the end of the day, I really care about people, and the core of what I care about is helping and working with others to make the world a better place for someone other than myself.”