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3 posts from December 2012

12/12/2012

Ruxi’s Model UN Experience at Smolny

One of CIEE students Fall 2012 Ruxi Zhang (Macalester College) was invited to chair the Security Council of SPB-Model UN conference (organized by  the faculty of International Relations of Saint Petersburg State University )

    As a passionate MUNer, I started seeking for membership in the local Model United Nations chapter on my first day at the CIEE Study Center at the Smolny Campus of St. Petersburg State University.When I learned that I could not join the Model UN team of the International Relations department because of a scheduling conflict, I decided to start my own bilingual Model UN club in the Political Science department for Russian students and studying-abroad American students. My Russian friend Viktoria Kobzistaya, a first-year political science student, was very supportive of this idea and volunteered to co-organize the club with me.  

                In mid-October, we launched the CIEE-Smolny Model UN club and recruited around 20 American and Russian student members. At each weekly meeting, Viktoria and I conducted a bilingual presentation under a certain topic, followed by a short UN session for students to practice diplomatic skills learned from the presentation. We went through topics including: UN history and structure, opening/position speech-delivering, resolution-writing, lobbying, and voting. At the last meeting, we shared UN internship and career opportunities around the world.

                Although I have been presiding over the training of the Model UN team of my home university, the team was an already existing student organization with established operational tradition. Starting my own project in Russia has been a very exciting experience for me. Running this club significantly improved my organizational skills. I learned to design a weekly program so that the language barrier is minimized and to adjust the agenda when scheduling conflicts occur.

                From November 29 to December 2, I was invited to chair the only English-speaking committee of the St. Petersburg Model UN Conference, the Security Council. I oversaw a 4-day
discussion under the topic of the Syria Crisis, encouraged delegates to cooperate in producing a resolution paper, and facilitated delegates to reach consensus on various sub-issues.

                I have participated in six international Model UN conferences in four countries, but this is my first Model UN experience in Russia. As the only English-speaking committee, the  Security Council was composed of a very diverse student delegation, with students not only from Russia, but also Canada, China, France, Ghana, Italy, Latvia and Poland who are currently studying in St. Petersburg. Model UN conferences in the United States have a stronger emphasis on committee awards - recognitions to individual delegates who have contributed the most to the committee  sessions. Most delegates are therefore highly award-oriented; they act aggressively and try to dominate committee discussion at the expense of diplomacy and adherence to their country’s position. At this conference, however, all delegates remained “in character” during policy debates and exhibited a high-level of professionalism throughout the conference. They truly treated the committee sessions as an opportunity to practice international conflict resolution.

                Nevertheless, this Russian Model UN conference revealed its lack of xperience, comparing to Model UN in America which has a history as an academic simulation for almost 90 years. Confusions with regards to procedual rules and miscommunication between organizers and
delegates occurred several times.

                Kofi Annan, former Secretary General of the UN and an alumnus of my home university, has inspired me to pursue an interest in international affairs. Since he withdrew from the Syria
mission, I have been wondering about possible solutions to the current impasse in the ceasefire negotiation. Chairing this committee allowed me to learn several interesting and thoughtful ideas for a ceasefire from the delegates. I am glad to have connected with the Model UN society in Russia, to help more students who are passionate about global affairs to practice diplomacy, to share my Model UN experience, and to be inspired by their ideas at the same time. It was very nice to get to know my co-organizer and students of the Model UN club, CIEE and St. Petersburg State University faculty whose support made my organization possible, and delegates from the St. Petersburg Model UN Conference.

12/11/2012

Our Kiev/Moscow Tour Through the Eyes of Our ESSAY Contest Participants - Bailey Kennedy

This is the essay of the winner of the contest - Mary Bailey Kennedy, Macalester College

A Million Little Mirrors

    When I remember Moscow, I will remember it through rain.  It was gloomy and overcast the first time I set foot on red square. Mist drifted almost accidentally from the sky, like clouds slipping down to blanket the earth. Each droplet that landed on my glasses and eyelashes became a prism,
bending and multiplying the beauty around me. Each raindrop held Saint Basil’s in miniature, wet and soft. The cobblestones on the square were covered with puddles, each holding a slightly different, distorted view of the city. It was as if the city itself was crowding in to get my attention, reminding me of the thousand names it wore.

       It continued to rain on and off over the next few days, as I set out on my own and with friends to discover the city. When I arrive in a new place, my instinct is always to compare it to cities I know; to make it familiar. With Moscow, I found this impossible. The rain made me feel as if I were in a fairytale; the city itself seemed to want to convince me I was in a time machine. The first
time I wandered away from the Kremlin, I found myself surrounded by unbelievably luxury. All at once, I was surrounded by women in fur and high heels, shopping at stores with brands fit for royalty. When I wandered onto the Novyi Arbat, I was overwhelmed; I felt as if all the gold of Russia had concentrated itself in one place. This was impressive enough. Every once in a while, though, I would look up and see a golden dome peeking out from between skyscrapers, and remember that Russia has not always been this way; that Moscow is the ancient heart of an empire, and that no matter how I examine the city, there will always be something that I cannot quite reach. Every street I stepped onto on Moscow seemed to contradict the one that came before it, and dare me to ask why.

    The three days in Moscow were filled with a million experiences I will never forget: stepping behind the walls of the Kremlin, learning about the crown jewels of the Romanov family, eating Russian food in a glittering restaurant high above the city. But the memory that will remain with me the longest is from my final night in the city. After spending the day in the Air and Space museum, a friend and I decided to ride a Ferris wheel. We didn’t make it as high as the cosmonauts, but perched high above the city, I could see Moscow stretching out in all directions, gray and glittering. Cathedrals mingled with skyscrapers, parks glistened green around us—and even from a hundred feet above the ground, I could feel the energy of the city pulsing in the air. Moscow was alive. And though I may never be able to truly understand the city, I am glad to have seen it, if only for a few days. Bailey

Our Kiev/Moscow Tour Through the Eyes of Our ESSAY Contest Participants - Mika Kennedy

This is the essay by the winner of the contest - Rebecca Mika Kennedy, University of California EAP

The MOSCOW UNDERGROUND IS ALIVE WITH MONEY AND COLOR.  We’re rushing, as we
always are, back to the hotel. Tomorrow we’re going to the Tretyakovskaya Gallery, Moscow’s premier collection of European artwork; we’re getting back on an overnight train and in a little over 24 hours we’ll be back in St.Petersburg, hundreds of kilometers north.

We stop at a pastry kiosk and buy familiar pastries, flaky and buttery and full of cheese; we pay a familiar price with familiar rubles. In a few minutes we’ll be taking familiar transport (the metro) toward familiar faces (CIEE program-mates) in a city that operates, token for token, just as
our St. Petersburg does.[1] Our Petersburg host families had us primed for untold horrors, Dostoevskyian nightmares, but Moscow disappoints greatly in that regard.

As I collect my change from the pastry lady—ungracefully, because nightmares or not, we are exhausted from rushing; from watching parade rehearsals on the Red Square and wandering every spiral inside St. Basil’s Cathedral, every cathedral in the Kremlin; from marveling at odd bronze
duckling statues; from wondering at Moscow’s predilection for StarDog hotdogs—a nearby television flashes red. Across its screen, a host of paper lanterns take flight against a black sky.

“Bailey,” I say, but she too is collecting her change. 

Hundreds of kilometers ago, less than 48 hours ago, a dozen churches ago[2], we’d lit those lamps, too. Right now, they’re the subject of a Brit-pop song by Maybeshewill; the television is muted and I don’t hear it, but I watch.  The lanterns rise until they become red bulbs, then white dots, then milky afterimages.

OUR OWN LANTERNS WERE RATHER SERENDIPITOUS.  It was Halloween. We were in Kiev. 
We had no plans.  We’d already toured the Sophia Cathedral, met a Moroccan transplant selling vegetarian wraps in the city centre, and made fast friends with the woman managing ticket sales
at the Chernobyl Museum (we paid for two tickets, and she gave us six for free.  But for whom? I wonder).  We retraced our tourpath to the Mikhailovsky Cathedral by stumbling through several others; we watched a drunk man dance through the fountains at the Water Museum. We wandered toward a brilliant rainbow arch, meant to illustrate the continuing friendship between Ukraine and
Russia—our oasis in an unfamiliar city. Under the arch, two boys worked an empty carnival and rode the bumper cars alone. Beyond them, a man sold coffee, cocoa, and lanterns out of the back of his car.  Families and lovers were there, gasping in awe as their lanterns flushed ablaze with a quick flick of the man’s lighter; the lanterns expanded, then exalted. And over the Dniper they went, like freed spirits.[3]

It’s Bailey who was brave, and bought ours.  Like many things we stumbled into, or were led through, we never hoped to catch the full significance of what was going on around us. 
But we didn’t need much to understand this sky—the ambient laughter of children, the whiff of accidentally singed hair.  The cold wind that propelled our hot air balloon higher, higher, higher.  That night, the sky in Kiev was alive with fire and color.  we were there.

[1] A few immediate notable exceptions: The metro does not, in fact, take tokens. Instead it uses
magnetized paper cards. The metro is larger. It is faster. The announcements that buzz through its cars—Respected passengers, the doors are closing—are voiced by a different automaton. There is
more graffiti; there is less English.

[2] Words and phrases like “breathtaking” and “full of frescoes” are too trite, cute, beside the
point. Orthodox churches are as follows:  At 6pm in Kiev, there’s a young woman at the
Mihailovsky Cathedral. She’s in a black coat and carrying groceries in a plastic bag. She has her headscarf, as is respectful.  She stands before an icon of a saint and prays singly, head bowed, eyes closed. She crosses herself (opposite the Roman Catholic way), and kisses her saint. When she is gone, a woman sprays the saint’s glass with Windex and wipes. Four hours later, at another church in Kiev, worshippers wait and wait and wait in a line that spirals down from the church, through its courtyard, down a hill of stairs, for the chance to kiss a relic.  Bailey and I are there, too. We are asked to hold in our hearts and our gratitude to the Mother. We do. We kiss the relic, are blessed with holy oil.  We kiss all the hands that bless us. 44 hours later, at the Cathedral of Christ the Savior in Moscow, a young boy in full church dress sings God’s praises in Church
Slavonic, and follows in the footsteps of his devoted elders.

[3] Last March, Ukraine sent hundreds of these into their skies in commemoration of Japan’s 2011
earthquake, tsunami, and nuclear disaster; the two countries have entertained a close kinship, inspired by their mutual histories with nuclear fallout, since the Chernobyl catastrophe. As Japanese mythic tradition goes, paper boats lit by small candles guide the spirits of the departed across the water, to the afterlife.

Mika 1

Mika 2