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Accidental Diplomacy

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By Benjamin Miller, Ottawa,

Official diplomacy is carefully planned and executed. In this way, meticulous good will is built between nations. For most people though, diplomacy happens quite accidentally. We bump into people from all walks of life, hailing from everywhere. Our chance meetings and fleeting conversations build perceptions in us of what those other people and places are like. We go on with these perceptions, accurate or not. For those of us who may never learn anything more about those other countries or cultures, there is a real possibility that these coincidental encounters will play an important role in shaping how we see the rest of the world.

Nowhere is this truer than on university campuses, where young people are trying to form a picture of the world and where they fit in it. Luckily, universities have well-honed tools to facilitate these encounters in a positive way. These tools are called university clubs. What little research that has been done has been clear on this point. Clubs of all kinds increase students’ exposure to other cultures and make us more open (Davis; Luo; Pascarella). I’m not just talking about the clubs whose specific goal it is to build bridges. United by a common love of football, video games, or even breakfast, clubs are hotbeds for accidental diplomacy. Friendships and perceptions are formed that students will carry through the rest of their lives as citizens and workers.

There is much potential for diplomats to help build this accidental diplomacy. Reaching out to clubs to offer space in embassies for events makes that space approachable in a way that students may have never previously considered. Letting students know that diplomats are happy to speak at the events of student leadership groups is an excellent way to share diplomatic lessons, casually present the Foreign Service as a career option, and tap into all those informal connections being built by the leaders of tomorrow. The possibilities are endless.

It may at first seem strange to reach out to the recreational football clubs of some university. But the key advantage of such clubs is that they’re generally relaxed, informal and made up of people who have no obligation to each other except a common passion or interest. Diplomacy is far away from everyone’s mind. Can you think of any better atmosphere for diplomacy to take place 

For all these reasons, I encourage all diplomats to think hard about the idea of accidental diplomacy and what more you could be doing to build it on campuses across the world.




Davis, Noah. “The Other Club Scene”. Diverse: Issues in Higher Education, 2007, Vol.24(4), p.22-25

Jiali Luo, and David Jamieson-Drake. “A Retrospective Assessment of the Educational Benefits of Interaction Across Racial Boundaries.” Journal of College Student Development 50.1 (2009): 67-86.

Pascarella, Ernest T., Marcia Edison, Amaury Nora, Linda Serra Hagedorn, and Patrick T. Terenzini. “Influences on Students’ Openness to Diversity and Challenge in the First Year of College.” The Journal of Higher Education 67.2 (1996): 174. 
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