Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Winter Wilderness

     As many of you know, prior to UWC, I was not in any sense an "outdoorsy" person. Like, at all. I wouldn't say that I have now become an avid camper or hiker, but I have actually been camping and hiking and have enjoyed it :)
     This past weekend, I had a new wilderness experience- that of winter wilderness. This is the trip most commonly referred to as the "Yurt Trip", because those who dare to embark upon the journey stay in a Yurt up in Taos. It's also a cross country ski and snowshoe trip. I signed up for the trip and was one of the lucky 30 students who got to go. I was super duper excited- ready to experience camping in the winter and XC skiing and snowshoeing for the very first time.
     We left school early last Friday and made the drive up to Taos in our white and blue UWC bus. The leaders said the hike to the yurt was about 1.75 miles. So I figured, hey, get to Taos around 3:30, hike an hour or two, set up camp, sleep. Awesome.
     What I didn't realize is that the hike up to the yurt involves hiking up a mountain. Like a mountain. Covered in several feet of powdery snow. With more snow falling by the hour. Breaking trail. Carrying our packs and skis. In the encroaching and finally arriving darkness.
     At first, the whole thing was really fun. The mountains are absolutely beautiful, especially covered in snow; quiet and serene. And my team was awesome- chatting and optimistic as we kicked off the trip. We kept catching up to the leading team and couldn't figure out why they were moving so slowly. We finally realized they were breaking trail (which means quite literally packing down snow to make a path for us to follow, which is a lot of work- kudos to those who did this!). We also realized that, with no clear path, we weren't really sure where we were going. In the dark. Yeah. We had to stop for a bit and let the leaders pan out and scout.
     We finally chose the right trail and, after a very long, very tiring trek, reached the yurt. Guess how long the whole thing took? FIVE HOURS. For 1.75 miles. I couldn't believe it; but when we did finally reach the yurt and take our packs off and warm up, there was definitely a sense of accomplishment attached to the experience.
     Now, most of you are wondering what the heck a yurt is anyways. It's this kind of structure with a floor, wooden frame, and very thick canvas-y covering. The one we stayed in wasn't very big, but it did have a gas stove to cook on and fire-stove to stay warm. We packed all thirty kids inside the first night to sleep (yes, very cramped, but warm). The second night some of the group built a snow cave and others set up tents.
     We spent Saturday cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, exploring, sleeping, playing games, and just hanging out. It really is incredible up there. And it was great to try out some new activities and just have fun.
Sunday, we packed up, cleaned up, and hiked back down. Thankfully, it was much, much easier to hike downhill, in daylight, with an existing path, and we made the trip in just over an hour.
     After another 3-hour drive, we finally returned to school, unpacked, de-issued gear, and got to shower and sleep.
     To all of our dismay, it snowed like crazy Sunday night. I think we're all a bit sick of snow now, and A and I have decided never to wish for snow again, or to complain about climbing the stairs to the castle. 
     The whole thing was definitely a cool experience, and one of those things that I would probably have never done outside of UWC. I learned a lot about winter wilderness expeditions (like the incredible amount of gear you need, layering, some basic first-aid techniques) and got to know several people a lot better. Although a bit difficult at first, the trip was awesome and I recommend, to everyone, doing something like this at least once in your life.

Thursday, February 21, 2013


Hey yall, just wanted to let you know I haven't forgotten to post, it's just been a very busy couple of weeks. CLAD (Caribbean and Latin American Day) took place last weekend, I'm working on a big project (more on this later) and this weekend I'll be camping up in Taos (in the snow... I'm excited!!). Between all this and juggling classes and CASs, it's been crazy, but I promise to fill you all in soon :)

Also, fingers crossed for all the U.S. applicants who should now know if they got interviews! I haven't heard anything at all but am excited for you guys! Best of luck!

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Saving the Planet

     I can pretty much guarantee that you've heard about climate change. It's all over the news, especially with the ever-increasing number of extreme storms hitting hard all around the world. We, here at UWC-USA, are big into sustainability (in fact, it's part of our mission statement), recycling, and all that goes into saving the planet. We've watched films, and discussed the issue, and even attended protests, but never have I really understood the severity of the situation until last week.
     My science class is called Environmental Systems. The course covers a bit of all the different sciences and relates them to one another and, more importantly, to global systems (political, economic, social, etc.). Recently we've been talking about climate change, including the history, current situation, and future possibilities. It was interesting, but not anything too exciting or that we'd never heard before.
     This past week, instead of just listening to our teacher, BG, tell us about the current issues, we got to experience first hand the immensity of the situation and the difficulty of solving it. BG organized a mock United Nations Climate Summit. Each of the students in the class was assigned a country (usually a country in a different position than their own; for example, I represented Niger, which is a developing B country, while the U.S. is a developed country) and together, as representatives of the three economic power groups- developed, developing A, and developing B countries- we were supposed to come up with a solution to climate change.
     Sounds easy enough, right? Everyone lowers their carbon emissions, goes green, and we save the planet. NO. There are sooo many factors that have to be taken into account. Like the fact that the developing B countries (Niger, Cambodia, Guatemala, Bangladesh, etc.) will be the countries hit the hardest by rising sea levels; they will lose crucial agricultural land, yet they can't contribute to the global fund or afford green energy sources. Or that developing A countries don't want to contribute to the global fund or reduce emissions because they want to achieve the success and prosperity of the developed countries, who they argue are mainly to blame for climate change and therefore should be the ones to fix the problem. But developed countries don't have that option because the A countries are growing and increasing emissions and, without their participation, the point is moot. There are a lot of factors to consider and, as we learned, its not easy.
     Basically, the way each round worked was that each group decided on a goal and then negotiated terms with the other two groups. At the end of the round, each group presented a:
*CO2 emissions stop year
*CO2 emissions decline start year
*Fractional rate of decline (%/yr)
*REDD rates (reduction in emissions from deforestation and land degradation)
*Afforestation rate
*Contribution to the global fund for climate mitigation and adaptation ($ billion/yr)
     Our goals were to keep the global rise in temperature to 2 degrees Celsius, the carbon levels as low as possible (experts originally set the cap at 350 parts per million, but we've already exceeded that), the sea levels with minimal rise, and the global fund at $100billion. Over the course of a week we participated in ~5 rounds of negotiations, each time plugging the proposals into a computer model which showed us the global effects of our decisions.
     Going into the activity, I didn't expect much. I didn't think our class would really take the summit seriously and I fully expected the whole thing to be fairly boring. I. Was. So. Wrong. You would not believe how fired up people got about defending the positions and contributions of their countries- arguing about climate justice, and economic power, and ratios of contributions. It was really impressive. And really fun. And I definitely learned a lot.
     In the end we managed to keep the rise in temperature to 2.3 degrees Celsius, but this required extreme changes in the ways we were "running our countries". Basically, the developed countries ended up with a rate of decline of 2% starting in 2019, the A countries in the same year with 1.5%, and the B countries in 2035 at a rate of 0.4%. Our deforestation and afforestation rates were 2% and 9% respectively and we reached the global fund agreement with developed countries contributing $65b, A at $30b, and B at $5b. These are really radical changes, but possible, and if the countries of the world could just sit down, realize that all of our lives are at stake here, get over differences and economic and political agendas, and just do it, we could really get somewhere. Saving the planet and stopping climate change is possible, its just going to take some work. And that work needs to happen now, because another thing we learned is that for every single year you wait, the problem becomes exponentially harder to solve.
     Seriously, this was one of the coolest activities I've ever done in a class. It was very real and made me realize not only how grave the global situation is, but that my classmates and I could very well be the ones in these negotiations, calling the shots, in just a few years time.
     So get ready, guys. We're coming to save the planet.

Monday, February 4, 2013


     As you can imagine, UWC students tend to be fairly driven, and many go on to do incredible things after graduating. We have alums in every possible field around the world, and this past weekend, we here at UWC-USA got to meet 5 alums from different years and different careers who shared with us what they do and how UWC has affected their lives.
     Here's a bit about the alums we got to meet most recently (courtesy an email from the coordinator):

"*Cancer researcher Leonor Añó ’06 is pursuing a doctorate in molecular cancer biology at Duke University. Her area of focus is RMS, a type of muscular cancer that primarily affects children. Working with a lab team, Leonor has developed a mouse model of RMS for use in studying the molecular mechanisms of initiation and maintenance of this type of cancer.

*Elian Maritz ’02 is president of Harvard Law School’s Law and International Development Society, managing editor of the Human Rights Journal, and executive board member of the Harvard Immigration Project. She is also active in the International Human Rights Clinic, with which she has recently traveled to Lebanon and Jordan to report on Syrian refugees. Prior to Harvard, Elian was a Peace Corps volunteer in El Salvador.
*Leah Simmons-Davis ’97 has been a firefighter in California for the past 10 years. She also coaches strength and conditioning classes and enjoys backpacking, motorcycling, cooking, sewing, and a recent “tenuous attempt” to play guitar. This past summer, Leah was seasonally promoted to fire captain, managing 15 employees and running a two-engine company.
*Ken Neal ’85 is the manager of a wind farm operations center that forecasts and integrates the electric power from large wind farms in Northwest Montana into existing grid systems and power markets. Previously, Ken harnessed the wind as a sailing ship captain on educational tall ships in the Atlantic, Pacific, and Caribbean. He later co-founded the educational non-profit Call of the Sea in San Francisco Bay to connect kids with the sea.
*Kristian Segerstråle '96 is the executive vice president of digital at Electronic Arts, a video game developer, publisher, and distributor. Prior to EA, he was CEO and co-founder (along with fellow UWC-USA alumnus Sebastien de Halleux ’96) of Playfish. In addition to his work in the gaming industry, Kristian has served as managing director of Europe for Glu Mobile (and was a co-founder of Glu Mobile Europe in 2001) as well as a driving force on the board of Lovefilm, the European movie subscription service that today is backbone of Inc.'s movie service."

So, ya know, pretty cool people. They visited our classrooms on Friday and answered questions and talked with us in smaller groups. Friday evening we had an all school panel in the auditorium and the alums shared some stories from their UWC days, advice, and how UWC impacted their lives. It was really cool to hear about the specific memories (not to mention some crazy adventures, one involving losing a student in Bombay- don't worry, it ended up ok) and think about where we want to end up in the future.
     I should also mention that we have a ton of other cool alums, one of whom you may have heard about recently. Prince Willem- Alexander (UWC- AC (Wales) '85) is going to be crowned King of the Netherlands later this year. Here's a list of some others. There are politicians, artists, environmentalists, presidents, royals, just about everything. 
     Hearing from and about so many successful people is a little intimidating though. Makes me wonder where we'll all be in five, ten, or twenty years. I have no doubt that many of my classmates will be leaders in their fields, and some may even be leading nations. Shelby Davis, the man who donates our scholarships, told us in September that he never gives money away- he invests. He said he expects all of us to give back to the world in some way. No pressure, huh? I'm still leaning towards International Relations and hope that I'll be able to live up to expectations and make a difference. 
     One of the alums last weekend gave a piece of advice that goes right along with something I've been working on. She said one of the best things we can do right now is to shadow individuals in the fields we think we want to go into. I've been looking into organizations in D.C. where I might be able to shadow for a bit this summer. I'll be writing to them soon, but I also have a question for you guys-
Do you know anyone who works in International Relations or with International Policy who I could maybe shadow this summer? 
I'd really love to just get to see how things work and maybe start making some connections. Please help me out if you can, I'd really appreciate it :) Feel free to facebook me, or comment on this post and I'll give you my email. Thanks!