Student Connections

Mentor Max Hilaire Teaches Unique United Nations Course to 17 International Students from 12 Countries in Prague

By Francesca Cichello, director of student services, Center for International Programs

July 6, 2012

Max HilaireFor the second time in two years, Empire State College has offered a course on the United Nations (UN) to a diverse group of students of several different nationalities. This year 17 students from 12 different countries traveled from all corners of the globe including Armenia, Brazil, Canada, Croatia, Czech Republic, Kazakhstan, Republic of Georgia, Pakistan, Russian Federation, Slovakia, South Africa and Vietnam. The highlight of the course was presentations by students on their country’s perspective on the United Nations.

The United Nations and World Affairs course taught by Professor Max Hilaire, pictured above, is the only course of its kind offered at any university in the Czech Republic and the Central European region. Many of the students are learning about the activities of the United Nations and its role in world affairs for the first time. Although the UN has been engaged in many of their countries because of wars, humanitarian disasters or other international problems, the students were not aware of the legal constraints on the ability of the United Nations to act independently of member states, particularly the major powers.

Students also learned to understand the role of the United Nations in regional conflicts and why the organization can solve some conflicts successfully, but not others. The conflicts in Syria, Libya and Sudan, and the sentencing of Charles Taylor at the Special Court for Sierra Leone, provide ample evidence of the capacity and limitations on the power of the United Nations. Finally, students were exposed to a broad view of the role of the United Nations in creating international law, providing humanitarian and disaster relief, protecting and promoting human rights, combating human trafficking, protecting the global environment, eradicating poverty and communicable diseases, helping resettle refugees and displaced persons, rehabilitating failed states and assisting countries’ transition from authoritarian rule to democracy.

The class brought together students whose countries are engaged in war, or were recently at war as a result of territorial disputes or ethnic/religious conflicts. These students are remarkable in that they can set aside their political and ethnic differences and engage in meaningful discussions about how to solve international problems peacefully and make the world a better place for all people regardless of nationality or religion. ESC’s presence in the Czech Republic has been transformative in helping bridge the ethnic and religious divides among the various nationalities of Central and Eastern Europe.

“It was a remarkable learning experience for me as a teacher to work with such a diverse group of nationalities on a topic so relevant to all aspects of human activities on the planet,” says Hilaire, a long-time mentor and instructor who is part of the Prague program team. Hilaire’s area of expertise is international relations; he teaches a number of courses in Prague and regularly works with fourth-year students on innovative capstone projects and internships. “These students, as the next generation of leaders of their countries and the world, are taking with them a unique ESC educational experience that will shape their future lives and what they do next. I hope the perspective on the United Nations I have provided them will help them understand the important work of the organization and will encourage them to consider a career in International Affairs, as many of them aspire to do.”

Student comments:
Ukraine/Slovakia: “Sir, You are one of my most respectful professors in my university study. I have learned a lot from you.”

Ukraine/Slovakia: “Thank you for the course; the UN is a complicated topic, but you taught me a lot these two weeks.”

Czech Republic: “Very inspiring course. Thank you for the knowledge you provided us.”

Canada: “Thank you for this vivid experience of international cooperation, both in form and content.”

Georgia: “Thanks for very interesting class and giving different perspectives of the UN.”

Kazakhstan: “Gained much information. I really like your vision of the world situation; very realistic. Thank you!”

Pakistan: “Interesting class and even better discussions; let’s hope the world finds a way that works best.”

South Africa: “It was a pleasure being in your class, and the valuable things you have taught. Thank you!”

Students’ perspectives on the United Nations as it relates to their countries:
South Africa: “The United Nations was instrumental in helping dismantle apartheid in my country. The people of South Africa are extremely supportive of the United Nations and its ideals.”

Kazakhstan: “As a new member of the international community, Kazakhstan is extremely proud to be a member of the United Nations, and we receive both technical and humanitarian support from the United Nations.”

Brazil: “My country was a founding member of the United Nations and we have been very supportive of United Nations peacekeeping missions in Latin America and Africa.”

Vietnam: “Vietnam joined the United Nations in 1975 after the American War. Vietnam has been working with the United Nations to improve its economy, and receives help with the many humanitarian problems caused by the war.”

Croatia: “The United Nations is important to my country, because of the circumstances that led to the break-up of the former Yugoslavia and the many atrocities committed during the wars. Although many people in my country have a negative view of the war crimes tribunal, overall the United Nations has a very good image in my country.”

Russia: “My country values the work of the United Nations, and would like to see it do more to promote peace. However, not too many people in my country know about the work of the United Nations, as most events on the United Nations are held in Moscow, which I think is bad. More should be done to educate people in the small towns and villages about the activities of the organization.”

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Article Contributors
  • Danielle Benedict
  • Francesca Cichello
  • Helen Edelman
  • Joshua Gaul
  • Suzanne Hayes
  • Pamela Malone
  • Michael Mancini
  • Alan Mandell
  • Vickie Moller
  • Jennifer Ward
  • Kristen Yard