Bridget Tan '21 figured out that she loved learning about global policies and diplomacy through experiences at Norfolk Academy. First, she was admitted to the Global Affairs Fellows of the Batten Leadership Program. Through that program, she went abroad for the first time--to Peru, where she learned about the impact of globalization on indigenous people.
She enrolled in International Relations, an elective course taught by Dr. David Rezelman, and that “accelerated my passion for foreign trade and policies," she said. “I like seeing how the United States interacts with other nations."
So this winter, when Dr. Rezelman inquired about students who would be interested in applying for the Model NATO Challenge, Bridget set aside her college applications for a short time and filled out the essays to apply for one of the 30 spots to represent the countries in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.
She earned a position as a student diplomat representing Luxembourg, and her thorough work in research and presentation earned her one of three scholarships awarded for the session. She netted $1,000 for her third place finish. “I was very surprised to find out I had won," she said. “It is an honor."
Bridget said the experience was exciting, even though the entire event was virtual. She was assigned a mentor, someone who had professional experience at NATO, to help her learn about Luxembourg and NATO itself. They met via skype, and Bridget did hours of research on her own.
Student diplomats did not learn the topic of the debate until one week before, and once it was revealed, it felt almost inevitable: the NATO response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
For Bridget, that topic was particularly exciting, because it put a spotlight on Luxembourg: the NATO Securement and Procurement Agency (NSPA) is located in that country, and it is involved in distribution of medical equipment and vaccines. “It was a big deal for my country, because it has the headquarters," she said.
The event was held on March 17. Everyone logged in, using software that allowed students to see avatars sitting in seats. As young diplomats, they were required to use NATO lingo. “Every time I talked or addressed another person, I had to say 'Honorable Ambassador' to talk to them," she said.
A central part of the discussion was the challenge of misinformation about the coronavirus and about vaccines. NATO countries need to put out correct information, and the NSPA in Luxembourg needed to play a prominent role in disseminating facts.
“I definitely felt more comfortable talking because I researched the NSPA a ton," Bridget said. “That incentivized me to speak up, and it made me more confident knowing I had something to contribute." She hopes that more Bulldogs will apply to participate in the future, because it is a valuable educational experience, one that helped prepare her for college, where she plans to study political science.