UN Galapagos trip: Taking education overseas

Bellevue College will be sending five students to the Galapagos Islands in January 2013. They will be representing the college as delegates at the National Model United Nations 2013 Latin America Conference.

The event will be hosted by the Galapagos Academic Institute for the Arts and Sciences on San Cristóbal Island, from Jan. 11-20. The focus of the conference is global sustainability issues.

The students attending are: Ana Palma-Guiterrez, Megan Phan, Alvin Loon, Auric Kaur and Emre Surmeli. The Watchdog was fortunate enough to have a conversation with all five students on Nov. 1.

They are enrolled in the Model United Nations class here at BC, which prepares students for these very conferences. They applied for the position of delegate, along with other students in their Model U.N. class, by writing essays about their leadership skills and why they believed they were ideal candidates. The five were selected by Dr. Tim Jones, chair of the political science department.

Before each school arrives at the conference it is assigned a country that it and its delegates will represent. BC is representing Guatemala at this event.

The conference consists of committees that mirror in miniature the types of meetings that the U.N. convenes in New York, such as the General Assembly or Human Rights Council.

Student delegates from each country choose a specific committee to work on before arriving at the conference. Kaur explained, “For example, I have Security Council and there’s Megan [Phan] is on sustainable development committee…there’s different topics we have to focus on and we have to represent Guatemala’s views on those topics and then write a position paper which has to be submitted prior to the conference.”

Students are expected to familiarize themselves with their country, its issues and the perspectives it has of the world. Each student addresses the committee’s topic with the mindset of a delegate from their country. “As diplomats at U.N. conferences, you kind of have to step out of what you normally see of the world,” commented Loon. “There are 193 countries in the world, there are all different people from different perspectives and we are only one,” he added.

The five delegates believe in the importance of the event and opined on its significance to them personally, and on its larger implications: “The environment is something very important to me,” said Palma-Guiterrez.

“The Galapagos Islands [are] very famous for its biodiversity and the theme is going to be on the environment, and for me personally this is really important because sustainability is a really important factor in my life,” said Loon, “it’s just a perfect match for me.”

“I think it’s important to spread the awareness, especially while we’re getting educated, before we specialize in to our, you know, when we graduate,” said Surmeli, adding, “I feel like we are already as a society, way too late into this thing…so I think we’re doing a good thing by going and getting ourselves involved.”

Phan was hopeful that this event would inspire action after it was done, saying, “Even though there are benefits from conferences, like Emre [Surmeli] said about education and spreading the word, I feel like often times, it’s more dependent on the people and how they are putting it into action. Take for example, Rio plus 20; it happened last year in Rio de Janeiro.

“It was one of the biggest sustainable conferences hosted by the U.N… it failed, in a way, there were some successes, but there are no actual people who take action and continue after…there are goals, but no power or authority.”

This isn’t the first time BC has debated global issues alongside schools such as Harvard, UCLA and other universities, including some large French universities. BC has received several awards at past conferences, including the Distinguished Delegation award and the Honorable Delegation award.

“This is Bellevue College, competing against big name schools, not just in the county but internationally,” said Palma-Guiterrez, who also pointed out that BC was invited to this event. “We don’t go up to them and say like, ‘We want to participate in this and this conference,’ they choose the schools that they want to attend.”

The students will have a bit of free time on the islands and on mainland Ecuador, to which the islands belong. There is also a community service project they will participate in.

“I know we’ll be doing some volunteer work,” said Phan, “when we’re not having conferences. “There’s going to be a lot of sun and a lot of swim,” said Loon. “I believe they are having us do a volunteering activity where we get to kill invasive species…I think they [are] plants,” he added. “We’ll have beach time, we’ll also be hiking in the lava caves,” said Kaur. Surmeli, who is serving on the sustainable tech committee, will be making a film of the events.

“I’m also going to be documenting our trip by video and hopefully coming out with a nice little video for everybody in [BC] to see.”

“Tim [Jones] encouraged Emre to do it, because we want to take away something from the conference and bring back an understanding of what is sustainability,” added Kaur. “I think the video will help give students a better idea of what the Model U.N. is,” said Palma-Guiterrez.

The group of five encourage students to come discover the Model U.N. “Students get a chance to act as leaders, and learn how to talk and communicate and be diplomats,” said Kaur. “It gives us a chance to act as leaders and see what we can do.” “I mean, it’s a very great opportunity that I think a lot of student’s should take advantage of, even if they’re not going into politics of international studies. You grow a lot, in these sorts of experiences” said Palma-Guiterrez.

For more information check out the Model U.N.’s club page at http://bellevuecollege.edu/stupro/club/details.asp?link=4.