Calvin College Chimes

Former US ambassador to Qatar shares meal and life experiences with students

Photo+courtesy+of+Michael+Van+Denend
Photo courtesy of Michael Van Denend

Photo courtesy of Michael Van Denend

Photo courtesy of Michael Van Denend

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The World Affairs Council of Western Michigan (WACMA) offered students an opportunity to have lunch with Chase Untermeyer, a former United States ambassador in Qatar, at Uppercrust on October 24. Untermeyer was in Grand Rapids as part of WACMA’s fall lecture series.

WACMA is a nonprofit organization in Grand Rapids whose goal is to provide a platform for members of the community to discuss US foreign policy. In addition to student events like these, they host many guest talks featuring speakers who are well known in their fields, including diplomats, analysts, journalists and educators.

During the lunch event, students had the opportunity to ask Untermeyer questions about issues such as immigration, events in Qatar, his thoughts on Venezuela and his experiences and challenges as a US ambassador. Students learned about the role diplomats have in other countries, and saw the importance of funneling passion about the world and the issues that affect everyone by learning from people outside of the classroom who have real-world experience, who can help them better understand how the world works.

Anna Buckingham, a senior studying political science, pre-law and philosophy, was one of the students who attended. After lunch, she expressed that it was a privilege for her and that “hearing his story helped me understand that making connections and pursuing a career in what you’re truly interested in helps you prepare for large opportunities.”

Edgar Aguilar, Calvin College student body president and senior studying international relations, also attended. “Having lunch with a former ambassador of the US in Qatar was a unique opportunity to learn and think about the complexities in the diplomatic ties between countries in the Middle East and the US,” he said. “It was also interesting to get a grasp of what people do after their retirement as ambassador.”

“When I got the invitation to join Untermeyer for lunch, I was very excited to meet someone who has had such a crucial position in the US policy in the Middle East, but I was also nervous about making a good impression and interacting the right way,” said international relations major and economics minor Debora Lina Haede, a junior who has lived in Qatar. “Even though he is one of the leading authorities in his field, he was genuinely interested in our lives, interests and future plans. While he was discussing his journey to success and life in Qatar in particular, he also wanted to hear what was happening in my country, Turkey, and what I thought of the conditions of the Turkish migrant workers in Qatar.”

Photo courtesy of Gerald Morlidge

Untermeyer served as United States ambassador to Qatar from 2004 until 2007 during the administration of President George W. Bush. Before that, he served in the Texas state legislature from 1976 to 1981, was assistant secretary of the Navy for manpower and reserve affairs under President Reagan in 1984 and director of presidential personnel under President Bush in 1989. From 1991 to 1993, he served as director of the Voice of America, a US radio network.

Speaking about the nonprofit, WACMA’s executive director Michael Van Denend said, “We’re best known for our Great Decisions series in February and March, since this council has been sponsoring the program for over 60 years.” He shared that, every Tuesday of those months at noon, the series will be held in the Recital Hall of the Covenant Fine Arts Center. “So, these fascinating people will be coming directly to the Calvin campus,” he said.

After meeting with the Calvin students, Ambassador Untermeyer headed to Grand Valley State University (GVSU)’s Seidman College of Business, where he spoke about his experiences in Qatar as part of the organization’s fall lecture series, “Shifting Sands in the Arabian Peninsula.” Two more programs in this series are coming up: a talk about Saudi Arabia by Dr. Abdullah Alrebh of GVSU on November 13 and one on Yemen by Dr. Gamal Gasim of GVSU on November 20. Both programs are from 7 to 8:15 p.m. Calvin College is an educational partner of WACMA, so students and faculty are able to attend these and any World Affairs Council program for free.

For Buckingham and Haede, the work that WACMA does is important. “I recommend attending events that are offered by this organization because the people you meet and talk to can help you better understand the many paths you can take as an individual,” Buckingham said. “These kinds of events expand knowledge on events going on globally and help you find your place in the narrative.”

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