By Bob Poczik
I’ve been thinking lately about how important experiences outside the regular classroom in high school are for future career and life choices. This was true for me in a very personal and profound way when I look back on the flow of my life.
When I was a junior at Clarence Central High School, I was selected to be part of a delegation to represent our school at the annual Model United Nations. Our delegation that year was to represent India. I was intrigued and read everything I could get my hands on about India and some of the challenges and issues it was facing.
One of those issues in 1959 dealt with actions of China in Tibet that led to the flight of the Dalai Lama to seek asylum in India. This was big international news at the time. The young Dalai Lama appeared on the cover of Time magazine.
It was the task of our delegation to present a resolution before the Model U.N. General Assembly upholding the autonomy of the country of Tibet. I remember sitting in the Buffalo and Erie County Public Library downtown, scrolling through microfiche to read up on this issue.
There was a direct parallel to this effort within the actual United Nations General Assembly in New York City. The first of several resolutions regarding the autonomy of Tibet was adopted in 1959, deploring the suppression of religion and freedom in Tibet and calling upon China to respect the human rights of the Tibetan people.
The first thing I learned at the Model U.N. was that it took a lot of legwork to get a resolution passed. It required caucusing with other delegations, and the whole idea of “caucusing” was new to me. The other delegates we spoke with were sympathetic to the Tibetan issue, but didn’t automatically give it their support. I soon learned that those other countries had issues they were also bringing before the General Assembly, and they, in turn, wanted our delegation’s support for their issues. The Chinese delegation was also actively lobbying against our resolution. I learned how coalitions of interest are put together to get anything passed within a deliberative body. I am proud to say that our resolution regarding Tibetan autonomy was overwhelmingly passed.
In college, as I was considering what to do after graduation, I learned of the Fulbright program in India, where one combined a yearlong research project with teaching English at an Indian college or university. Having a keen interest in India from my Model U.N. experience, I applied and was accepted in the program. So in 1964, five years after I served as a high school delegate representing India, I was on a flight to New Delhi, the capital of India.
The Fulbright program offered an intensive four-week training program for that year’s Fulbright scholars to India in the teaching of English as a second language. It was conducted in Mussoorie, a mountain resort in the foothills of the Himalayas north of New Delhi. As it turned out, Mussoorie was a major Tibetan resettlement center, and I got to see and meet Tibetan refugees in India. I ended up spending several years in my 20s living in India, and during much of that time taught English to Tibetan refugees. This impacted the rest of my career in education.
When I step back and connect the dots in my pathway through life, I can see how the Model U.N. experience directly affected the course of my life. It makes me realize that we all owe a debt of gratitude to the high school teachers who work so hard to provide extracurricular experiences during the school year and in the summers to help their students find richness, purpose and direction in their future lives.