What did I learn?

Since I started this project a year ago, I've learned more about the world than I ever could just from a textbook. Hearing directly from different heads of state and how they would define their country has been incredible and it's honestly made international news easier to understand. Here are some of the other things I learned:

The World is in Constant Motion
The international political landscape is constantly changing on a somewhat unpredictable scale. Just since I started writing these letters, 10 heads of state changed, including in my own country: Estonia got its first female president, Canada got a new prime minister, and Saudi Arabia got a new king.

The fact that relationships are constantly shifting and having to be renewed can make diplomacy challenging. One leader might build a progressive and forgiving administration, while his replacement could tear it all down. One head of state might be laid back, while her successor obsesses about typos.

It's All About Connections
Having taken an interest in them and them in me, I now feel more personally connected to places around the world, some I honestly hadn't really thought about before.

I know these countries are in the news all the time, but now it means more to me. For instance, as I was putting the letter from the Solomon Islands up, I discovered they had a major earthquake 8 minutes earlier. Just a week after I added the letter I received from President Gayoom of The Maldives, there was an explosion on his speedboat that injured his wife. And when Ruta Sepetys, author of "Between Shades of Gray" a book about a Lithuanian teenager during World War II, came to speak at my school, I was able to ask her if she'd gotten to meet President Grybauskaitė. She was impressed that I knew who the president was (so was I!) and told us that in fact she'd received Lithuania's Cross of the Knight of the Order by the president in a formal ceremony at the Presidential Palace in Vilnius!

History and geography and politics and even our humanity come alive once we start making connections. The world gets smaller and more personal which is good for diplomacy and peace.

We Need to Take Our Editing Responsibilities Seriously
When I was making this site, I had to choose what to include and what not to. I took this responsibility seriously because I knew that how I chose to represent each country might color how other young people saw them. For instance, when writing about each country, I could have included their human rights violations or highlighted their charity work. I could have written about their conflicts or focused on their achievements.

In the same way, we need to remember that everything we read and hear and even see is edited, is someone's choice. Ultimately, we're all editors. How we view the world is our choice. We can look for the bad or look for the good. I purposefully chose to use photos of the heads of state all smiling rather than looking grim or making funny faces. I added the story about the Grand Mosque in Paris after the terrorist attack on purpose to show. Was I editing for the good? Yes, because I believe we should err on the side of love.

Religion Spreads Love, Not Hate
At some point in history, every religion has used the name of God to justify their hostile actions. However, those instances and those radical people do not negate the overwhelming positive effects religion has brought to our world. At the heart of EVERY major religion in the world is a message of love, hope, peace, and forgiveness. I know because I went to the sources and looked them up. Here's just some of what I found:

"Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another." - Jesus (John, 13:34)

"Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you." - Jesus (Matthew 5:44)

"Do not get equal with one who has done you wrong, or keep hard feelings against the children of your people, but have love for your neighbor as for yourself: I am the YHVH." (Leviticus, 19:18)

"And if a man from another country is living in your land with you, do not make life hard for him; Let him be to you as one of your countrymen and have love for him as for yourself; for you were living in a strange land, in the land of Egypt: I am the YHVH your God." (Leviticus, 19:33-34)

"Whether Muslim, Jew, Christian, whosoever believes in God and in the Last Day, and does good to others, verily he shall find his reward with the Lord." (Qur'an ii:62)

"Do you love your creator? Love your fellow-beings first." - Prophet Muhammad

"Better than a thousand hollow words, is one word that brings peace." - Buddha

"The essence of Hinduism is the same essence of all true religions: Bhakti or pure love for God and genuine compassion for all beings." - Radhanath Swami

"If we are to teach real peace in this world, and if we are to carry on a real war against war, we shall have to begin with the children." - Mahatma Gandhi

There's Always Hope
I am so heartened that so many leaders not only took the time to respond to me, but that they use the word "blessed" to describe their country. Every letter was filled with hope.

If heads of state from the other side of the world can take time out of their day from running their country and dealing with crises and conflicts to send a message of hope to an American teenage girl they've never met or heard of, then we are better off than the news would have us believe.

I encourage everyone to reach out personally to those they do not know, to make friends of strangers. I promise you will find the same hope that I have.