Sunday, January 27, 2013

A Little Bit of Magic

     A lot of the time when I tell people I go to a boarding school and show them a picture of our castle, they tell me it looks like Hogwarts. And I would agree (though not as much as the UWC in Wales). The Harry Potter series is so popular that most people around the world have read the books or seen the movies (or both) and immediately connect the series and its symbols with our very similar story. And though we obviously differ in many respects- we’re not in the UK, our castle is brown brick instead of gray stone, and, most importantly, we don’t study magic (although my math teacher would argue that his class is "mathemagical") - last night the campus definitely felt like a scene from a movie.
     This year several students initiated a Harry Potter Club and, as their big event for the year, they brought in the founder of the Harry Potter Alliance and put on a Yule Ball. The Harry Potter Alliance is an organization that uses symbols and ideas from the series to promote social activism. The founder’s name is Andrew Slack. He has been on campus this weekend and put on several workshops (which I’ve unfortunately had to miss due to classes and field trips :/). I do know, however, that many students have enjoyed his discussions and that his ideas parallel a lot of other discussions we’ve had on campus about social activism and ways to get involved on the greater scale.
     Last night was the Yule Ball- the big social event that takes place in the fourth movie when two other schools come to Hogwarts (we totally have them beat on the international bit ;)). I expected the whole event to be kind of lame (sorry guys), and had little faith, but turned out to be quite wrong. They really pulled it off. The castle was decorated with Christmas trees and fake snow and Hogwarts crests and the HPC even made wands for everyone, each one unique, which was fairly impressive. Everyone dressed up in formal attire- dresses and suits- and looked amazing. Some of the boys even acted like gentlemen and we kicked off the dancing with a waltz (yes, you read that correctly, A WALTZ. Honestly, can we have balls all the time?). Some of the boys who have a band played the music and even started with the song they use in the ball scene in the movie. It was cheesy and silly but simultaneously really fun and, dare I make such a pun, magical. :)

Friday, January 18, 2013

The Real World

     I've heard several times that the world I'm living in right now, UWC, is a fairy tale. And, in all honesty, I can't argue that it isn't. Besides the fact that we live in a castle, UWC is a sort of utopia in that, with slight exception, everyone gets along, respects their elders, has a drive to learn and better the world, eats their vegetables, gets 9.25 hours of sleep per night, and strives to reach their full potential.
     Ok, we don't always get enough sleep or take advantage of the salad bar, but, for the most part, we live in a pretty perfect little world. We don't have to deal with belligerent classmates, or hold jobs, wait for hours in traffic, or even cook for ourselves. And it's great- we have all that extra time to focus on our school work and making the most of our relationships by learning from each other. However, the hazard to our isolation is that we sometimes forget the bigger picture, or rather choose to ignore all of the unhappiness of the world. We still hear about it, we still research colleges and careers, and think about how we're going to change the world one day, but we tune out the really terrible things going on now because, being so isolated and not having TVs on which to watch the news daily, its easy. Its easy to hear about the shootings, feel sick and discuss for a day, and then forget about it. Or to learn about what's going on in the Middle East, and hear from our classmates that there was a bomb on their street, but then put it out of our minds because its so far away and the upcoming test feels like a priority. Or protest the coal plants on the other side of the state, but, upon returning to the school and putting away the signs, turn our attention to the cafeteria menu for the week. It's much harder to juggle what's going on here as well as listen to all of the negativity and horror that threatens the world every day and remember that we're still a part of the global community and that very soon we could be the ones making these calls.
     Now I've set you up to think that we're naive and spoiled, and I know my parents are reading this, concerned that I'm becoming less focused, instead of more, on global issues and my future career. So let me thwart those thoughts.
     Last week, amidst all of the excitement of being back on campus and starting classes, I had two very UWC and very "Real World" experiences. Wednesday evening, M, A, and I walked into one of the dayrooms expecting to hang out with some of our friends and make jokes and tell stories and just have fun. Instead, we marched right into the middle of a very heated debate about gun control in the U.S. Wait, what? It's 9pm on a Wednesday night and 10 teenagers are sitting around discussing an extremely controversial topic that even the best professionals in the country can't sort out? You bet ya. And they did a pretty darn good job, if I may say so myself. Being young and still outside the messy world of politics allows us, I think, to see more angles of each issue. And because the discussion involved both Americans and Internationals, we were able to throw out different ideas and policies of other countries, cover the history behind American gun policy, and look at the social and cultural components of policy success. (Honestly, it was very educational and, though I hate to admit it, definitely not the first time I've found myself feeling inadequate about my knowledge of current issues and learning from my peers.) There seem to be two main arguments going on in the country right now- pro guns and pro banning- but we focused more on the mentality behind gun control and realistic possibilities of legislation. There were a couple things that kept coming up:
* Why can't we just ban guns?
   - Here's the, very interesting and particular, wording of the Constitution (courtesy Wikipedia)
"As passed by the Congress:
'A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed' As ratified by the States and authenticated by Thomas Jefferson, Secretary of State:
'A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.'"
     Congress cannot ban "arms" altogether. The founding fathers were very careful in ensuring that the American people always be able to stand up to their government should the need arise. Though amendments can and have been changed, it would take quite a bit of national and congressional consensus to make this happen.
* So, if we can change it, why don't we?
    - Because we like our freedom and our rights. Our country was built on the principles of liberty and individualism and we are not about to give that up. It may or may not rectify the issue, but we sure as heck want any right we can get just because we can have it.
* But, other countries have banned guns and the people don't feel like their rights have been infringed upon.
   -Sure. However, those populations have been able to bond together over a specific issue and act upon legislation. The U.S. is so big and so culturally diverse (not to mention extremely young for a country) that being able to find that common ground on which to compromise is quite a challenge.
     Now, whether our discussion will have any greater impact is difficult to guess. But by talking about these tougher issues, I think we learn a lot from each other and about the world. We do have the opportunity to hear different perspectives and take a fresh look at problems that, in a world where politics is messy and sometimes corrupt,  are difficult to approach. And it's pretty awesome when you just walk into these situations and come out feeling mentally challenged and enriched.

     The second experience I had was a county commissioner public hearing on the topic of hydraulic fracturing, or "fracking". Fracking is a highly controversial method of extracting natural gas from the earth by injecting highly pressurized fluids into the earth to break up the rock. The county where our school is, San Miguel, is considering allowing fracking. The problem is, that the technique is very young and has been known to cause a lot of problems- both for the planet and for people, whose water often gets contaminated due to chemical leaks.
     I wasn't originally planning on attending the hearing, but tagged along on a whim. While the environmental aspect of the issue is extremely difficult to grapple with (I personally don't think it should be allowed, however), I just really enjoyed seeing how the political process worked. Basically, the panel of county representatives heard individuals present their perspectives. This was the third hearing of this nature and it lasted about 7 hours (so it was loooong- we only went for about 3). And we heard all sorts of people- both pro and against, local residents, politicians, lobbyists, scientists, and event two of our own students (who were phenomenal- go S and M!). During a break we also got to speak with an adviser to the board, who explained a little about how the entirety of the process works and what the politicians were thinking.
     For someone who wants to get into politics, it was a very informational experience, and I'm grateful that UWC provides me with these kinds of random, but awesome, opportunities.

     So now you know that we do actually do real stuff here, not just camping and playing in rivers and cooking in Santa Fe and living in a castle. We're learning to be global citizens- watch out, world :)


     Every year, at the beginning of the second semester, UWC-USA hosts an Annual Conference. Over a long weekend, the campus fills up with guests and visitors who come together to discuss ideas, centered around a theme, dealing with part of the UWC mission.
     This year, the theme is "Regeneration". We kicked off the conference last night with a speaker about recycling through fashion and some hands on activities. Today the entire student body has been attending various workshops on break-off topics of the Regeneration theme.
     I personally attended a morning workshop led by Chad Jones, a UWC alum, who facilitated activities on belief systems. He asked the questions - "What belief systems suit us? Which serve us? Which inhibit us? How do we shed those belief systems?" Through small group discussion and large group activities, we learned a little about each other as individuals from different backgrounds, and as students moving forward to make an impact in the world.
     The afternoon session I attended was led by Madeleine, a UWC student, and Kripa, another alum, who talked about what they've done with youth activism in the climate change movement. Both have been to conferences and rallies and made an impact by making their voices heard. It was great to hear that even though we're students, we can still make a difference.
     I'm also participating in the conference through Media Team- a group of students dedicated to letting outside individuals know what's going on and keep them in the loop. I think this task has given me the added experience of a different perspective- how is what we're doing here now going to influence the greater world tomorrow, 5 years from now, or 10? How do we make sure to spread the UWC legacy?
     There are a lot of activities going on through Sunday (and then a day of service on Monday) and I'm sure there are still many visitors to speak with and learn from. We'll keep you updated! Follow @uwcusa on twitter and tumblr :)
#uwcusa #regenerate

Monday, January 7, 2013

Back Home Away from Home

     Well, whether you believe it and even if you're still struggling to write 2013 on checks, it is in fact a new year- Happy New Year!
     I kicked off 2013 in Kansas (and had a great holiday with family and friends- miss you guys!) but got to shout out to friends all over the world as they rang in the new year throughout the different time zones- quite the UWC experience :)
     Most of the student body is now back on campus and the last couple of days have been nothing but smiles and hugs as friends greet each other and share anecdotes from the break. I don't think I've ever seen the entire campus so happy all at once, and I know for a fact that I've never seen so many people at breakfast before class. (But I'm fairly certain that the latter trend won't last long as jet lag and New Year's resolutions begin to fade.)
     One of the coolest components of UWC is the mesh of so many different cultures. For 200 students from 84 different countries, you would not believe how well everyone gets along and is able to share their stories and customs with everyone else. I mention this because, after the break, everyone has come back a little more in tune with the customs back home- whether that be M's British accent coming out a little stronger or Z's enthusiasm for her state's basketball team- and it's exciting to remember how diverse and widespread we really are. We talk about how one day the UWC movement and values will reach every corner of the world, but, in a way, I think it already has. I know that I shared my stories and experiences with my family and friends back home and I would bet that a lot of other students did the same. One person at a time we're growing our legacy, and hopefully some positive influence on peace and sustainability, and, whether the world is ready for us, we're coming full force to make our mark.
     And, as we're thinking about how we'll be different in the new year, it's a little scary to realize that we can actually do that, that we have so much ahead of us- the summer, university, careers- and that if we make the right decisions and apply some effort, we can be a driving force in the world. Whoo UWC!
     Lots to think about and look forward to, huh? But I guess for now its just nice to be "home" and reunited with another facet of my "family".