Easter Break in London

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In order to have a temporary break from the busy life on campus, I chose to embark on a journey to London this Easter break to spend Easter with family. I had an amazing time, and got to partake in some much needed relaxation after such a busy few months on campus. Because of the low-key nature of this visit, I didn’t do nearly as much active things as I did the last time I was here, which is why I chose to write one longer post instead of doing really short ones everyday.

After arriving on Wednesday evening, I spent Thursday聽simply relaxing and going to the park with my Aunt and cousin. Despite the lack of sunshine for the first few days here, the temperature was warm and there was a distinct lack of rain, so I wasn’t going to complain.

Blowing bubbles in the park :)

Blowing bubbles in the park 馃檪

This was a week of new London experiences for me, so on Friday we journeyed to one of the several amazing museums in this city which I haven’t been to, The Victoria and Albert. It is an incredible museum, and I thought the large variety of exhibits made it a really interesting experience. Not only was there sculptures and other pieces of art, but there was also historical relics, and even a section on performing arts. Even the building itself is absolutely beautiful, and its incredibly large as well. We were there for several hours, and I only saw a small portion of the museum… It’s definitely something I’ll be returning to next time we’re here.

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Aiden and his crow costume made in honour of the Alexander McQueen exhibition at the museum.

Aiden and his crow costume made in honour of the Alexander McQueen exhibition at the museum.

I finished off the evening by going to the cinema to see the new Cinderella movie with my aunt, and it was also quite fantastic. Obviously a bit of a corny fairytale at times, but I felt it actually added a lot of depth to the original story… Plus, the actor who plays Rob Stark as Prince Charming? Utter perfection.

On Friday we actually journeyed out of the city for a day聽in Brighton to enjoy a mini holiday by the sea side. I’d never been outside London in the UK except to get to Gatwick airport, so this was a really nice way to see a little bit more of the country. The weather actually turned out to be quite lovely, so we spent some time walking along the beach before having an amazing lunch of fish and chips. From there my aunt and I took a walk to the Royal Pavilion; an oriental-inspired palace built by King George IV in 1786. I love visiting these palaces and learning about the rich history behind them… For example, although King George IV spent exuberant amounts of money on the palace in Brighton, Queen Victoria hated the residence because of how close it put her to the “common folk.” Some years after becoming queen, she actually stripped the palace of its furnishings and sold it to the city of Brighton so they could open it to the public.

A view of the Royal Pavilion from the gardens behind it.

A view of the Royal Pavilion from the gardens behind it.

Brighton Beach

Brighton Beach

From there we rejoined my cousin and uncle to get some snacks on Brighton pier and play some arcade games. It was an amazing time of self discovery for me as I realized what games I was good at and what games I was absolutely hopeless at. If you ever spend some time at an arcade with me, I kick ass at whack-a-mole and certain throwing games, but penny pushing games, not so much.

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As the sun began to set we walked back along the beach, blew some bubbles, rode a carousel and ate some soft serve ice cream to end the day. Brighton is a really beautiful place, and I can’t wait to go back out there during the summer one day so I can truly enjoy how lovely the English Channel is.

DSCN1072 DSCN1065 DSCN1063For my final day in London I had a little bit more of an adventurous day… In the morning my Aunt and I journeyed to Camden Town to do a little bit of shopping. It is a really unique place to shop, and I can’t believe that I’ve never been there before! Personally, I think outdoor markets are such a great way to shop… You can find so many interesting things that you’ll just never find in big chain stores. The rain even kept away for us, which is quite a rare occurrence in English spring.

I finished off the afternoon with my birthday present from my wonderful uncle… the opportunity to see Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street featuring Emma Thompson as Mrs. Lovett! I love the music of the show (written by Stephen Sondheim), and the cast and staging of the production was absolutely magnificent. Not only can Emma Thompson sing really well, but she really understood the character of Mrs. Lovett and play her brillantly. Bryn Terfel (Sweeney Todd) did such an excellent job acting as a pair of psychopaths, and the rest of the cast was absolutely stellar as well. The vocals of the entire cast were chill-inducing, and each actor really made an effort to understand the character they were playing.

And don’t even get me started about how incredible the staging was! The show was styled in a very modern fashion considering when the original story took place, but I thought it was absolutely brilliant. It was not a full staging of the show as it was designed to be a sort of concert in a way, but it was not a mere musical theatre concert. There was full movement on stage and choreography, but there were simply less props and set pieces. Another interesting aspect to the stage was how the orchestra was right in the middle of the stage (As seen below) and the actors actually interacted with them in a very humourous way. Even the way the positioned the ensemble on the stage, and even out into the audience at times, screamed brilliance. The set design itself was also incredible… I honestly can’t believe how incredible the show was. It simply surpassed all of my expectations.

Pictures of the stage during intermission with parts of the orchestra and ensemble taking a break.

Pictures of the stage during intermission with parts of the orchestra and ensemble taking a break.

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After that I had a nice final night of my break, and tomorrow morning I fly back to RCN to delve back into busy campus life. I had such an amazing break, and can’t wait to come back again!

Happy Easter everyone!

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Thoughts on Language

After a very frustrating dinner last night, I decided to write some thoughts about language. However, I will first of all explain the context of this post.

Yesterday was international Mother Tongue Day, so, being in an environment like RCN where only 1/8 of the school’s population has English as their mother tongue, of course we did something for the day. This included a very interesting (and frustrating) dinner where everyone could only speak their mother language. As a a native English speaker who only knows one language, this meant I could be understood by everyone, but I couldn’t understand ANYONE. The only people I had any luck understanding at all were the French, Norwegian and Swedish people, and even this understanding came with a lot of slow speaking and very elaborate hand gestures. Everyone else could really only communicate with me through a really elaborate game of charades (I had no hope of understanding Russian, Hungarian or Arabic). I have yet to determine which was more frustrating for people; not to understand anyone, or not to be understood.

So, as you can probably imagine, I had a very frustrating meal and probably only had about half an hour’s worth of conversation over the span of an hour and a half. There were several times where I wanted to tell people to “Just speak English already,” so I could join the conversation (since many people here speak multiple languages or have had experience learning multiple languages almost everyone had a greater capacity to converse than I), but then I realized something. I had fallen into a trap of English-speaking ignorance that caused me to feel that everyone should speak English just so I could understand. It wasn’t everyone else’s fault that my English-centric school system back home hadn’t highlighted the importance of learning other languages, or that I had never taken the initiative to learn myself. I realized that by just assuming everyone should switch to English so I could understand instead of me attempting to understand them, I was basically thinking that my language took priority over theirs.

There is a lot of debate at RCN over whether or not English should be the dominant global language that it is today, and how that can stifle the ability of people who don’t know English to share ideas with the global society. Why should everyone learn English? If I travel to another country isn’t it my job to make sure I know the local language, not their job to conform to my English-speaking ignorance? I honestly partially blame these attitudes on the way the North American schooling system (while obviously not saying that myself or anyone else holds no responsibility) does not highlight the importance of learning other languages besides English. In my school back home I didn’t even have the option of learning another language besides French, but most people here have spent time learning at least 2-4 languages. I think this is largely an issue of geography (I can drive over a day in any direction and not leave an English speaking place), but also an issue of English dominating the global business and political scene. As the number of English speaking people in the world increases, the desire of people from English speaking countries to learn other languages goes down. Personally, I think this to be very sad as I have really begun to learn to appreciate the beauty of language here, and also respect the struggle many people have expressing themselves in English.

It is estimated by the British Council that over 1 billion people are currently learning English, with that number expected to grow to 2 billion by 2020. According to the National Journal, only 10% of native-born Americans (People from the USA in this context) can speak a second language, compared with 56% of European Union citizens. The greatest issue I find with this is not the issue of language itself, but the issue of the cultural connotations that come with languages. While some may not see it as an issue to have English as a dominant global language, the reality is that it brings the ideals of English speaking cultures with it, contributing to making Western culture even more influential than it already is. There are so many words in other languages that do not translate to English and vice versa, and some of them have great cultural significance in the language. If more people around the world are forced to learn English through international pressure, this could increase the rate that certain cultures around the world are being eradicated. So the real question of course is聽why聽English is the hegemonic global language, and if it is another form of Western cultural imperialism. Should people around the world have their influence and ideas limited because of not knowing a language that doesn’t even have anything to do with their country or culture?

Friluftsveka

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For those of you out there who don’t speak Norwegian (so, a majority of you, including myself), I will first explain what the title of this post actually means. “Friluftsliv” is a word in Norwegian that does not have a translation into English, but in its broadest sense means outdoor living, or living life close to nature. However, it means something deeper than simply doing activities outside; it is a philosophy of living. Living by the concept of “Friluftsliv” means living your life in harmony with nature, appreciating the outdoors, and doing everything you can to both respect and love the outdoors. So, the title of this blog is this word, with the Norwegian word for “week” at the end.

Many of us simply call it Ski Week.

Over the past week, all of the first years on campus got to visit Stryn and participate in a week of living in cabins, skiing, cooking your own meals, and hopefully experiencing friluftsliv. It was an amazing experience to get to live in a cabin with people I didn’t spend very much time with on campus, watch people ski for the first time, and get to spend three days skiing in the Norwegian mountains. After a very hilarious trial run on skis on an incredibly small hill behind the cabins, my group embarked on two days of cross country skiing, which I had never done before. Personally, I found cross country skiing to be quite fun, but what was even more fun was watching people that had never skied before experience being on skis for the first time. There was a lot of falling…. And I do mean a lot, as it was often used as a technique for stopping. However, the weather the first day was beautiful, and the views from the mountains were absolutely amazing.

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On our third day of skiing, we embarked on a downhill skiing adventure filled with laughter, snow, and even more falling. Despite having downhill skied before, it was still a pretty good learning experience for me, as I had my first ever experience using a T-bar. For many of you this may seem like a simple thing, but most of the ski hills back home don’t even have them anymore, so I honestly thought it was quite cool to use one. I also got to experience being a ski instructor of sorts by helping people go down the big slope for the first time, and I loved seeing people experience how fun downhill skiing is. Aside from some minor bumps and bruises, everyone in my ski group made it through the day relatively unscathed and we all had a pretty amazing day.

That night we had the opportunity to sleep in a lavvo (A tipi-like tent without a floor), a challenge which some of us chose to accept. However, the initial challenge of the evening was quite an unexpected one… Finding the lavvo. Due to the large amount of snowfall that had changed the appearance of the path, our wonderful guide got really lost, and we ended up wandering around for about thirty minutes simply trying to find it. However, after a significant amount of time, a lot of rain and a little help from Larry, we found it and cuddled into our sleeping bags for the evening. We may have all walked back at approximately 2:30 am because many people got cold (I wasn’t one of them due to the lovely Dutch girl I was cuddling with in my sleeping bag), it was still an amazing evening, and a great end to a wonderful day.

Our final full day there was a rest day for my group, in which I decided that the best use of my time was cuddling on the couch, sleeping and catching up on some reading. I think being in the busy environment of RCN really helps you appreciate the value of having time to simply relax and do nothing, and I almost enjoyed the rest day as much as I enjoyed the skiing. It was great having time to just sit and get to know some new people, and the time I had to hang out with people outside of my usual “social group” on campus was one of my favourite parts of the entire trip.

The next day we unfortunately cleaned up the cabins and left back to campus, and I am quite content to be back after an incredibly amazing week. This past week was one of my favourite experiences at RCN so far, and I wish everybody could have such an amazing opportunity to relax and be so close to nature. I feel like since I’ve arrived at RCN I’ve really gained an appreciation for friluftsliv, and I fully plan on experiencing it more throughout the next year and a half.

Honestly, words can’t really describe what an amazing week I had, so I leave you with these pictures of my shenanigans.

(Photo Credits:  Anna Margr茅t Sverrisd贸ttir)

(Photo Credits:
Anna Margr茅t Sverrisd贸ttir)

(Photo Credits:  Anna Margr茅t Sverrisd贸ttir)

(Photo Credits:
Anna Margr茅t Sverrisd贸ttir)

Canadian love for life :) (Photo Credits:  Anna Margr茅t Sverrisd贸ttir)

Canadian love for life 馃檪
(Photo Credits:
Anna Margr茅t Sverrisd贸ttir)

Cabin 15... Aka, the best cabin in Stryn (Photo Credits:  Anna Margr茅t Sverrisd贸ttir)

Cabin 15… Aka, the best cabin in Stryn
(Photo Credits:
Anna Margr茅t Sverrisd贸ttir)

Just Anna and I ruining Solveig's majestic fjord picture... (Photo Credits:  Anna Margr茅t Sverrisd贸ttir)

Just Anna and I ruining Solveig’s majestic fjord picture…
(Photo Credits:
Anna Margr茅t Sverrisd贸ttir)

(Photo Credits:  Anna Margr茅t Sverrisd贸ttir)

(Photo Credits:
Anna Margr茅t Sverrisd贸ttir)

Roomie love <3 (Photo Credits:  Anna Margr茅t Sverrisd贸ttir)

Roomie love 鉂
(Photo Credits:
Anna Margr茅t Sverrisd贸ttir)

Cabin 15... Plus a couple additions (Photo Credits:  Anna Margr茅t Sverrisd贸ttir)

Cabin 15… Plus a couple additions
(Photo Credits:
Anna Margr茅t Sverrisd贸ttir)

On CPR, Delegates and Crisis Meetings

As you may or may not know, the last week was our second project at the end, which comprises of First Aid and Model United Nations for first years. In the interest of keeping in order, I will begin with a quick summary of First Aid…

First Aid was a very interesting and valuable experience, and consisted of one day of general first aid, followed by a day of injury-specific workshops and then a day of examination. I feel I learned a lot, but I have to say that the most interesting part of the course was definitely the scenario on the final day. These scenarios are not actually part of the examinations, and can only give you what are basically “bonus points,” so they make them purposefully over the top and kind of crazy. Our scenario happened to take place in the chemistry lab, or should I say, “Exploded meth lab.” Our group then had to proceed to attempt to not only treat the nine “casualties” in the scenario, but also evacuate all of them out of the room, which involved carrying everybody. Of course it was simply a simulation, but it’s amazing how realistic a situation is when there are people screaming that have fake blood on them, and fake smoke in the room. All in all, I thought our group handled it really well, and it was certainly a very interesting experience.

The second half of the week was filled with model United Nations, in which I was the delegate of the Syrian Arab Republic in the Security Council… In which one of our topics was the threat of the Islamic State in the Middle East. It was a very interesting experience overall, both with the actual debating and writing of resolutions, and with some of the shenanigans that went on between delegates. I don’t want to make this post too long, but I will say that (not myself) a certain delegate got dragged out of Security Council by security, and then got dragged out of General Assembly for standing up during Israel’s speech and yelling that they weren’t a state. North Korea also proceeded to declare “The greatest war the world has ever seen” on the United States of America. Between these declarations of war, and this delegate getting woken up by security at 5am to attend an “Urgent Crisis Meeting” which involved the president of the International Criminal Court being kidnapped by North Korea, there was never a dull moment in RCN Model United Nations!

On a more serious note however, being part of the Security Council really drew my attention to, in all honesty, how entirely ineffective the Security Council is under its current structure. One of the topics being debated was peace talks between Russian and Ukraine, and it was honestly difficult to even put into effort into drafting a resolution when I knew it was going to be vetoed by either the USA or Russia. I feel that the existence of permanent seats on the security council makes sense, as the world’s strongest military powers should always be on the security council, but the existence of veto powers goes against everything the United Nations stands for. How can the United Nations claim to give every nation an equal voice, when one of five nations can veto any resolution it wants, regardless of the international support behind it? Not only does it compromise matters of international security (For example, no resolution has been passed through the security council on聽the Ukraine crisis due to Russia being a veto power), but it makes non veto countries seem entirely insignificant in the proceedings… Why even have a council if one nation has the power to overturn its wishes? I entirely believe in the purpose of the United Nations, and think that it is an essential international body, but this experience really 聽reaffirmed my belief in the need for the reform of the organization.

I will now leave you with some delegate pictures.

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The Delegate of the Syrian Arab Republic

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Arab nations unite!

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The delegates of Syria, Lebanon and Iraq… A strong alliance within the MUN Security Council.

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The RCN Model United Nations Security Council

International Peace Conference Day 3, Plus a Bonus Journey

First of all, I’m sorry that I’m posting this two days late, but I will explain why shortly.

On Sunday morning I said goodbye to my wonderful host family and the final day of an amazing conference began. This day of the conference was held on part of the campus of the University of Maastricht (The business school), and not at the UWC itself. The building was very lovely, and I felt like it was a perfect place to end an amazing three day journey.

The first speaker of the day was Lousewies Van Der Laan, a former politician who was at one point part of the European parliament. As someone who is considering a career in politics, I found her speech on her experience as a politician trying to make a change to be both enlightening and inspiring. The underlying theme of her talk was about the importance of political engagement in the quest for peace, and also about having the moral courage to speak up against the unacceptable. She told us many stories about times when she, as a politician, hit bureaucratic walls on her quest for change聽but still managed to fix something that was not right… As well as times when she didn’t succeed. It was really amazing to hear that it is possible to create positive change as a politician, despite the bad reputation there is about politics in general, and I honestly found that it kind of helped me recapture my desire to go into politics. Hearing someone talk about political issues I’m very passionate about (Such as the inconsistency of Western foreign policy) but from a perspective where she was actually able to change some things, was incredibly motivating.

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After a short break that allowed me to network more with other UWC students, came what I thought was the emotional part of the morning.

Two boys, an Israeli and a Palestinian, who were the ones who got the conference rolling in the first place stood up and shared about their personal experiences in dealing with the inherent hatred between the Israeli and Palestinian people. These two boys hardly spoke to each other when they first arrived at UWC, and it wasn’t until playing a simple game that they both finally began to speak to each other… Leading to an amazing friendship and desire to change their current situation. Honestly, it almost brought tears to me eyes to see two people with so much love in their hearts sharing their story, and to see so much passion and desire for peace in a very emotional situation for them. They closed off their speech with the official opening of the Palestinian-Israeli youth parliament, an initiative they are starting to bring together youth from the two nations to work for a solution for peace, which will hopefully end up being implemented on a global scale in the near future. It was a truly inspiring thing to see, and something which I cannot fully convey in the limited depth of language, but it honestly reinforced my belief in the possibility of peace.

A Palestinian and Israeli tie to ribbons together to symbolize the opening of the official Israeli-Palestinian Youth Parliament

A Palestinian and Israeli tie to ribbons together to symbolize the opening of the official Israeli-Palestinian Youth Parliament

What many people need to understand is that living with peace does not mean that conflict is eradicated from the world; it means living with love and compassion and pursuing the solution to issues through dialogue instead of using violence in a way that harms people.聽Personally, I found one of the biggest themes of the conference to be the important of dialogue, open-mindedness and understanding in times of tension or conflict. So many issues in the world are caused by nothing more than simple misunderstanding, whether that be politically, culturally or even because of languages, and part of me wonders how many people have died because two people refused to sit down and talk to each other. For example, Western intervention can be a positive thing, but if it isn’t done in a way that is culturally mindful it can go terribly wrong. Of course, if one is to apply this concept of being willing to understand perspectives in everyday life, we all first have to recognize our personal biases. When I first came to UWC I began to realize very quickly how many cultural and societal biases I have built into my psyche because of where I was born and the society I was brought up in, and that it often effected my opinions on things in a way that I didn’t even realize how much I was being influenced. It is impossible to understand others unless you first understanding whatever personal perspectives you have that can influence your perception of information.

Before I tell about the so-called “bonus journey” mentioned in the title, I would just like to send out a huge thank-you to anyone who happens to be reading this who was involved in making this conference so entirely unforgettable. I have been thoroughly inspired over the course of these weekend, and I have you all to thank for it 馃檪

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On to the bonus journey…

Due to an issue with a control tower, our flight from Amsterdam which was supposed to be at 8am, was cancelled and we were rebooked onto a flight at 8pm the same day. As much as I wanted to return to RCN, this did give me time to explore Amsterdam for the day, which was pretty amazing.

We began our journey with a visit to the Anne Frank House (a personal request of mine), which was incredibly powerful. I don’t have any pictures because photography was prohibited in the house itself, but even if I was allowed to take pictures in the house I don’t think I would have. I feel it would have felt disrespectful snapping tourist pictures of a place where people hid from the terror of the Nazi regime. Having just come from a conference about the importance of peace, it just reinforced the necessity of love in the world, as well as love’s ability to survive through even the deepest depths of hatred. If hatred can be eradicated by love and understanding, but even in the face of the hateful Nazi regime a young girl can write about love and hope for the future, what does that say about which one is more powerful? I also found Otto Frank (the sole survivor of the Frank family) and his testimonies about everything that happened to him and his courage in publishing the diary of his daughter to be especially inspiring.

After this moving experience we walked all around the city centre, visited a small cafe for lunch and eventually ended up at the Rijks Museum. We chose not to go into this art gallery, because it is simply so huge that we felt we didn’t have time to be able to explore to the level we wanted. However, there were beautiful galleries around the entire building, and we did go inside the main entrance simply to see the amazing architecture; it is a beautiful example of the amalgamation of both old and new designs. Since much of what we did was simply walking along the amazing streets and canals, I will let the following pictures show you the rest of the journey instead of boring you with a written account of things.聽DSCN0453 DSCN0456 DSCN0467 DSCN0469 DSCN0473 DSCN0478 DSCN0495 DSCN0491

So, after a long and eventful journey I am now back home at RCN with my amazing聽friends and roomies, filled to the brim with thoughts of peace and love. I simply can’t describe how amazing this experience this was, and I will be forever grateful that I was gifted with this opportunity.

International Peace Conference: Day 2

Today started with a wonderful breakfast made by Iman and I’s amazing host family, before we headed to the school for a long day of speaking, discussion and workshops. Before I get started on the actual day, I would just like to say how much I appreciate聽everything our host family has done for us this weekend!

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The view from my host family’s house, just outside Maastricht

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My wonderful host family 鉂

So, we started the day with a speech by Yvonne Helle, a woman who used to work in the United Nations Development Program in Sudan. She聽drew on her personal experiences with working in Sudan to give an incredibly interesting speech on the importance of sustainable development in nations torn by conflict.聽I could honestly write an entire blog post about her speech, but I’m trying very hard to keep it to a few key points so you don’t decide to give up reading here… So what I will talk about is something that I thought was particularly frustrating to hear. Ms. Yvonne Helle talked a lot about how difficult it was to get funding for long term development projects in under developed country, because these projects lack “sex appeal” in the media. The reality is that the聽nations of the world with the funds to help want quick, easily, publishable results if they are going to invest money into another country, and long term development can take years, even decades to create noticeable results if done properly. Development projects are not about sending vaccinations to children, or food to the hungry; they are about building the capacity of a country so it can be self sufficient and move forward into the future. I think if the West (I use that term very loosely, as I recognize that it means different things to different people) put more money into development projects, and less money into patch-up jobs, in twenty years time there would be a significant difference in our world, and not just a greater need for patch-up jobs (although these do sometimes have their place of course).

After the opening speaker, I proceeded to my first workshop of the day, title “Peace Now.” If I’m being entirely honest, it was not exactly what I expected, but I still found it incredibly interesting and idea-inducing. This workshop was a young Israeli student talking about the conflict between Israel and Palestine, but instead of simply talking about or debating the conflict, he chose to share about his own experiences from the Israeli side of the conflict. This expanded into a very eye-opening discussion about national stereotypes, both in terms of the Israelis and any other groups of people, which led me to one simple conclusion. Even in a democratic society, you cannot make the assumption that the actions of a government reflects the opinion of its people.聽The information being presented from the Israeli side obviously led to some tension in the discussion, but the presenter didn’t speak as much about the government as he did his own experiences, so I personally found it interesting to simply hear a civilian side of the story, regardless of the politics involved. Of course the suffering of both sides must be addressed, but I think the first step in any type of conflict resolution involves understanding the emotions on both sides of an issue, so in that sense I found it very enlightening.

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After a short cupcake break, I proceeded to my second workshop, which I think was my favourite of the day. It was a presentation by two girls from Belarus and one from Russia about the Russia-Ukraine crisis, but instead of simply talking about the politics of the issue, they chose to instead focus on the media biases of the issue. We were given a very brief timeline of events in the crisis, and then for each major events they showed us several news sources, including Russia’s Channel 1 (The pro-government new channel watched by 90-98% of the population), Ukrainian newspapers, BBC, CNN, and several independent papers around Russia and Ukraine. When you see such different new sources side by side, it is amazing how apparent the biases of each source are, and even things as simple as the wording that is used to describe an event, even if it seems insignificant. This is one of the things I love most about UWC; without the different nationalities and perspectives brought together through UWC, I never would have been able to have access to all these different sources, in order to truly understand the representation of the issue.

My final workshop was entitled: Intervention: For Better Or Worse? This was more of a discussion forum where we discussed and evaluate the effect of intervention in the past (Such as the Vietnam War) and then on a broader scale in the present. What was really interesting in this workshop was the variety of perspectives that everyone had on the topic of Western intervention and morality, largely due to the variety of nationalities in the room. There were also four students from the University in Maastricht there, three of which were studying international affairs. This also led to some very interesting information being brought to the table from an academic perspective, as well as an emotional or political one. Who knows, maybe one day I will be studying in Maastricht… That is, if I can ever figure out what to do with my life.

After the workshops ended I went into the city with the students visiting from Atlantic College as well as some students from UWC Maastricht, where we ate Chinese food, Dutch waffles and shared endless stories about our UWC experiences. It’s been so incredible this weekend to simply be able to talk to people about their UWC experiences, and share stories and ideas with someone. It’s amazing to talk to someone that truly understands the UWC movement and what that means, but has still had different experiences than you.

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To cap off an amazing day, the wonderful organizing team put together a poetry/open mic night which evolved from people sharing beautiful messages, poems and songs about peace and love, to a complete dance party. Such is the way of UWC I guess, but it was a wonderful way to spend my evening and get to know more about people’s personal emotions toward different aspects of the human experience. There is so much power in the sharing of words and music, and I thought it was beautiful being able to share that with so many wonderful people from all over the world.DSCN0365 DSCN0372

鈥淎nd this I believe: that the free, exploring mind of the individual human is the most valuable thing in the world. And this I would fight for: the freedom of the mind to take any direction it wishes, undirected. And this I must fight against: any idea, religion, or government which limits or destroys the individual. This is what I am and what I am about.鈥

John Steinbeck, East of Eden

International Peace Conference: Day 1

Last night Iman and I arrived in the Netherlands, and took the three hour train ride from the Amsterdam airport to Maastricht. The Netherlands has a very beautiful countryside, and although I didn’t get to really see Amsterdam, I think the country is very beautiful (Despite being flatter than Saskatchewan).

We arrived at UWC Maastricht at around 9:00 pm last night, and I was greeted by several amazing UWCers, two of which were my Canadian co-years and two of which were Iman’s Brazilian co-years. After spending the evening socializing and meeting more people than I will ever remember the names of (It turns out that the UWC greeting of “I’m so and so from wherever” is entirely inevitable), we turned in for the night in a guest room in one of the residences. The rooms are very different than the ones at RCN, and personally I like the way the rooms at RCN are set up a little better, but it was still very nice.

UWC Maastricht

UWC Maastricht

Today we had a free day until the conference actually started at 5:30, so Iman and I decided to venture into the city and see what there was to see. I don’t know if one can use the word “cozy” to describe a city, but I honestly feel like it is the appropriate word to use to describe Maastricht. The city is very beautiful with all of it’s lovely streets and enclosed architecture, but even with all of the people it still has a very small, relaxed feel to it.

My wonderful Dutch co-year, Emma, made us a list of what we should do in Maastricht, and Iman and I managed to do everything on the list. We began the day simply by walking through the beautiful streets to the main square, and exploring all of the little shops and just generally sight seeing. We also stopped at this amazing place called “Pinky’s” for my first ever Dutch Waffle! Trust me, it did not disappoint. However, it wasn’t until we hit the main square that we started to really experience the city.

For starters, the main square itself is very beautiful, and there is a giant cathedral at one end… But more on that later. The first place we went was this absolutely amazing bookshop which has been created in an old church. It was one of the most beautiful things I have ever seen in my life, and it didn’t even matter that almost all the books were in Dutch. Not only was the shop three stories and huge, but there is something really amazing about my love of literature and historical buildings coming together. Honestly, if there wasn’t other things to see, I would have stayed there all day.

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The church that has been converted to a bookstore

The church that has been converted to a bookstore

Next we went to this huge outdoor market which apparently happens every Friday, even through the winter. Literally everything under the sun was being sold there, from fish to fabric, chicken to handbags, fruit to bed linens… It was really neat to wander around and see everything. However, this mix of fish and fabric was not my favourite site that Maastricht had to offer.

We went into this beautiful old cathedral, which dates back over six hundred years ago. When it is not being used for actual worship services, you can go pretty much everywhere in the church, which meant we got to see a treasury, old crypt in the basement, and the beautiful main hall with a stunning high altar. Simply the scope of the hall was amazing, but al of the intricate artwork, architecture and statues simply made it all the more incredible. I think old churches are one of my favourite things to see when I travel… Not only are they stunningly beautiful, but it is kind of amazing to behold how timeless thess places of worship are, and how much work has been put into preserving them. It just makes you realize how strongly so many people feel about God.

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We finished off our afternoon in Maastricht with a later lunch at Cafe Zondag (as per Emma’s recommendation) and it did not disappoint. After some of the best food I have ever eaten, we walked back to the college, ready for the peace conference to begin.

We began the conference with a wonderful dinner of Lebanese food, before we all got on buses and headed to the provincial house for the opening of the conference. We began with some opening speeches, which included commenting on the fact that the Maastricht treaty was signed in the building, which set the foundations for the Euro. After that we had two speakers:

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Firstly, Aernout Van Lynden, a former journalist specializing in war correspondence, gave an amazing presentation about the importance of basing one’s peace ideologies in reality, and the importance of communication between two groups in conflict resolution. He had one quote that I especially wanted to point out, which was said when discussing the actions of Western countries when dealing with issues such as terrorism, “You make peace with your enemy, not with your friends.” It really struck me, because I think it is important for the nations of the world to realize that we can’t fight issues such as terrorism by forming alliances with friendly countries against them and not talking to them, This is where the importance of communication in conflict resolution came in, and Mr. Van Lynden was very clear that he didn’t think it was possible to resolve conflicts without proper thought, and both sides being willing to talk to each other.

After that we had a short break, in which we stood in a fancy hall, drank orange juice out of wine glasses like the fancy, well behaved students we are, and watched some cultural dances performed by some UWC Maastricht students.

The second speaker, Hans Von Sponeck had a very different speech from the first speaker, as a previous member of the United Nations. He spoke about the United Nations very critically (he actually resigned because he disagreed with some of their policies on Iraq), but also reiterated that he believed it was still an essential body; it just requires several reforms. It was incredibly interesting hearing what someone who was so heavily involved in the United Nations, especially in conflicts in Iraq, had to say about what he thought were the flaws and the successes of it as an organization. The biggest reform he talked about was the need to abolish the permanent members of the security council (which I very strongly agree with) and also how the people involved needed to have a push from the people to be less political, and work together as global citizens (which I couldn’t agree with more). As a small sidetone about him, he worked very high up in the United Nations in several different countries, was called “incompetent” by the US delegate during a security council meeting in which he called out the political agenda of many countries, and actually personally met with Saddam Hussein during his career in the United Nations.

So, now here I sit at the kitchen table of my amazing host family whom I will be staying with for the next few days, eating some wonderful Dutch snacks. I can’t wait to see what happens in workshops tomorrow, and will update again with more new things I have learned.

An Adventurous Return

So it’s 2015, and I haven’t updated for over two months, so I think now is the time to update you all on my adventures.

As many of you know, I was at home for a month over Christmas and it was absolutely wonderful 馃檪 As much as I missed all of the amazing people and experiences at RCN, it was wonderful to be sleeping in my own bed, eating delicously home cooked food and spending time with everyone I love. For those of you reading this that I spent time with over the break, thank you for making my month at home so amazing, even if you did make it a little more difficult to go back.

Unfortunately, on my way back to RCN Western Norway was hit by what is now being called “the worst storm in 50 years,” causing almost everyone trying to get to Bergen to be stranded around Europe waiting for the storm to pass. I think it should be noted here that the airport in Bergen was actually closed almost the entire day, and around 40 000 people in the city lost power. This interruption on the day we were all supposed to be getting back caused RCN students to be stuck all over Bergen for at least a day… However, my self and five other students were stuck in London for two nights. As eager as I was to return to my life at RCN, I do have to admit that there are certainly worst places I could have been stuck, and I was with some pretty聽fantastic people.

Being the adventurous spirit I am, I decided to go into London by myself for on the second day, and walk around through central London for a bit before meeting my uncle and cousin for dinner. I went to Piccadilly Circus and walked to Trafalgar Square, which turned out to be pretty amazing because that evening was the memorial for the French newspaper attack in the square. It was truly amazing… The entire square was full of people, and there were even French flags projected on the side of The National Gallery in support. It was truly awe inspiring to see so many people standing up in support, and hearing spontaneous eruptions of the French national anthem wherever I walked. I’m including some pictures below, but I don’t think they truly capture the full gravity of the event.

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After a lovely dinner with my uncle and cousin, I returned to the hotel we were all at (courtesy of British Airways) and we caught a flight to Bergen the next morning, finally arriving at the school Monday evening. Considering I left my house Friday night Calgary time, I would just like to note that it took me three days to reach the school.

So, I’ve been back at RCN for about three days now, and I’ve already been reminded of why I love it here so much. Of course I miss everyone back home, and It’s definitely an adjustment getting back into the stress of IB, the business of life here, and of course not having beautiful home cooked meals. A week from today I leave to the Netherlands with a teacher and one other student for a conference at UWC Maastricht on international peace, which I am incredibly excited about! I should be updating a lot more over that so I have my experiences documented forever, both for the benefit of whoever chooses to read this, and myself.

So, overall it is good to be back, and I feel ready for the challenges this term and 2015 have in store for me! New year, new chances to expand my knowledge and maybe I’ll even begin to not feel various degrees of lost during Chinese class… Anything can happen!

Lest We Forget

So, this isn’t really going to be about my activities at RCN, but I felt inclined to write it anyways in honour of Remembrance Day today.

I just wanted to say that I’ve never felt more proud to be Canadian than during my time here at RCN. I don’t mean this in a nationalistic, my-country-is-better-than-yours way, but just a genuine feeling of pride for my country and all of the people we have helped at a global level. There is something about living in a country other than your homeland that just gives you a greater appreciation for everything that your country represents and has offered you in your life. There are so many students here that have shared stories about all of the聽conflict, poverty and injustice they have experienced back home, or that their friends and family are experiencing even while they are here in Norway, and it just makes me truly realize how lucky I am to have never had to experience that. While I am here enjoying my life at RCN, I can be confident in my family and friends’ safety and security, and I don’t have to spend time worrying about what my sisters may face on the streets on their walk to school. I will never have to worry about not being allowed to travel somewhere for no good reason, or about having my human rights violated, or about whether or not it is safe for me to go out with my friends back home on a Friday night.

I’m not saying these things to try and make Canada sound like the world’s greatest nation and put other nations down, or聽to focus on privileged I am, I have just truly come to the realization of how lucky I am to be Canadian. So many amazing men and women have fought for the freedom that I so often take for granted today, and I just wanted to express my indescribable gratitude for聽the sacrifices of those fighting, and their family and friends who had to watch them leave. I’m getting emotional writing this honestly, and I just can’t find the words to convey my gratitude for everyone that has sacrificed so I can live in peace. I pray that everyone will be able to feel the beautiful security I have been granted just for being born in Canada, and it just reaffirms my belief in the necessity of global peace. I don’t even care if it sounds silly, unrealistic or idealistic, but I refuse to stop believing聽that peace is possible.

So I’m sorry if this doesn’t make a ton of sense or isn’t very well written… I got kind of emotional writing it. I just felt the need to share my thoughts, and to express my sincere gratitude for everyone who has fallen, fought or is still fighting for the freedom of the ones they love.

Lest we forget

Lest we forget

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

~John McCrae

A Magical Journey

I am writing this on the boat which I am taking from Bergen to Flekke, almost at the end of this incredible journey. The interesting thing is that there are two other RCN November break trips on this boat as well, so there are about 15 RCN students that all just happened to find each other… UWC is everywhere! There is no escaping us.

So before I give my heartfelt goodbye to London, I will skip back in time and talk about yesterday.

Maida and I began the day with a trip to King’s Cross Station to see the legendary Platform 9 3/4. I’m not going to spend a lot of time describing how amazing it was, but I think it is adequately evidenced by the picture below.聽IMG_1463

From King’s Cross we embarked on an epic journey (“Epic” in this case meaning we got entirely lost) to University College London to look at the campus. It was incredibly beautiful, and the area of London it was in was absolutely lovely… I honestly think I could see myself going to school here one day. Obviously we couldn’t go into classrooms or closed buildings because we didn’t have student ID’s, but even the main quad of the campus was beautiful enough to make me want to attend school there.

University College London as seen from the bottom of the main quad.

University College London as seen from the bottom of the main quad.

For our final activity of our trip, we took the tube to South Kensington and walked up Exhibition Road to see the Royal Albert Hall, the Albert Memorial and Hyde Park. The road itself is lined with absolutely exquisite buildings, including Imperial College London (Another campus Maida and I looked at) and three different museums. I also got to look inside the Albert Hall, which was enough to make me decide that I have to see something there next time I’m in London. Just the building was absolutely incredible, and I could just feeling the music radiating from the walls. We also stopped at Harrods (of course) to take in the general splendour of the store, although I didn’t buy anything there except a small box of tea.

We ended our final day with a trip to the science museum, which is absolutely huge. Due to it’s size and our limited time, we couldn’t go through the entire museum, so we spent time in the Space, Medical Museum, and Communication technology throughout History sections. It was really amazing to see how much technology has developed in such a short period of time, and realize how dependant we have become on it even though it’s only been around for a short time.

Exhibition Road

Exhibition Road

Me outside the Royal Albert Hall

Me outside the Royal Albert Hall

The Albert Memorial in Kensington Gardens

The Albert Memorial in Kensington Gardens

Me with the Royal Albert Hall again :)

Me with the Royal Albert Hall again 馃檪

So here I sit back at my desk at RCN (I had to finish this there because I lost wi-fi on the boat) dreading unpacking from this trip. I am happy to be back and see all my wonderful friends again, and also return to this beautiful place, although I am really sad that my adventure in London is over. I feel like I’ll definitely end up back there one day however… I just felt like I belonged there, and wouldn’t be surprised if I returned later in life.

To wrap this up, I just want to send out a huge thank you to my aunt, uncle and Aiden for hosting Maida and I and doing so much for us while we were there. I love you all so much, and thank you from the bottom of my heart 鉂

Ah, music. A magic beyond all we do here!

~Albus Dumbledore