Why did I do it?

I started this project because I think we're all global citizens, and I'm worried about how we're treating each other and our planet. It's hard enough to keep track of the various crises in the world when you don't even know who's running things.

This was brought home to me when I took my driver's test and the instructor, an adorable older gentleman, asked me trivia questions while I was driving (as if trying to get your license isn't nerve-wracking enough!). He asked me if I knew the Pythagorean theorem (I did), how many electrons a hydrogen atom has (knew that one too), and who the current president of France was (I had no idea. Literally none.).

I looked it up when I got home (it's François Hollande, btw) and decided I didn't want to be in the dark about who was currently leading our planet. I know that I, like most of my generation, really care about world issues, but we don't get taught a lot about them. In school, you learn about your country, your state, and Western civilization over and over again, always starting from the beginning and never getting past the Vietnam War. (Side note to the folks at The College Board who wrote the 2015 AP European History exam: none of us got past the 1960s in that class. Asking us to write about 2008 France was not cool.)

And I've noticed that unlike when I'm visiting my grandparents in Europe, in America, we don't get a lot of international news. Maybe it's because America is so big itself and there's so much to report on, but I wanted to know more.

During this time, I was in NYC with my mom and was lucky enough to get to tour the United Nations while it was in session. While there, I was inspired by my own dreams of someday being an Ambassador, and decided that instead of just looking up our world leaders on the Web, I wanted to actually interact with the people leading our planet. So I decided to write them all a letter.

It seemed like a crazy idea because there are so many different countries and no one really writes anymore, but that's what made it cool. I thought if I was going to get even one response I had a better chance with written, stamped correspondence that I took time with rather than just a quick email. And I love to get regular mail, so I had nothing to lose. It was just a crazy idea I had, it wasn't a school project, I actually didn't even tell my teachers or anyone else about it because I wasn't sure it would go anywhere.

To get started, I needed to find out who our leaders were and where they lived, so I did what any teenager would do: I immediately Googled for answers. And here's what I found...

1. No one really knows how many countries there are.
Weird, right? But it depends on whom you ask. Some sources say there are 189, others 196. The United Nations has 193 member countries, while America recognizes 195 independent states.

2. Some countries I thought were countries actually aren't.
Who knew Greenland wasn't an independent country? Not me. It's ruled by Denmark. And while I did know that Puerto Rico, the US Virgin Islands, Guam, American Samoa, and the Northern Mariana Islands were U.S. territories (thank you @iamjohnoliver!), I had no idea that France still ruled a chunk of South America or that Russia had a piece of Europe. I couldn't even rely on the world map I bought from Getty images since it didn't show South Sudan (until I went in and hand drew it in).

3. The CIA's online directory is hopelessly wrong.
Again, shocking. I started using the CIA's online library to find the names of all the current Chiefs of State of Foreign Governments (www.cia.gov), but I quickly realized that the directory they claim to update "weekly" is not. They still show the President of Malta as George Abela even though he left office in April 2014! (The new President is a woman, Marie Louise Coleiro Preca.) The CIA also had the wrong leaders for Mozambique, Saint Christopher and Nevis, and San Marino. Ridiculous, if you ask me.

Which meant I was going to have to find the correct information myself... here's how I did it.