Augustana Campus students got a real life lesson when they stepped out of their North American comfort zone and into the sphere of two struggling countries during their trip to the United Nations. It made for a university class with lasting impact and some global insight.
“Our own experiences and education generally root us in one place, but this trip really made me think about how others from around the world view issues and what their concerns are,” said Ryan Mason, a third-year global and development studies student.
Mason and 23 of his classmates from University of Alberta’s Augustana Campus in Camrose took hands-on learning to a higher level in the spring of 2008, donning suits, ties and a diplomatic mindset for an intensive week-long simulation at the United Nations in New York City. There, they put their heads together with other university students as part of the National Model UN to negotiate solutions to some of the world’s most pressing problems of climate change, development funding and nuclear weaponry.
The simulated exercise had the students striking a delicate balance between diplomacy and representing national interests on behalf of their assigned countries: Benin in West Africa and the South Pacific island of Kiribati. “It was a learning experience that they couldn’t have appreciated as deeply had they been enclosed in the four walls of a classroom,” said Sandra Rein, an assistant professor of political studies at Augustana.
When they arrived home, each student recorded a video, reflecting on what they’d discovered. “The overwhelming sentiment was that the project was more intense than any classroom lecture. They’ve moved beyond that, into a world of political awakening, and had the chance to walk in another’s shoes,” Rein said.
“For that week they really were diplomats of these countries and the blinders are off when they go through this procedure. They learn that if they are going to effect change in the world, it’s going to take a lot of work. This project will prepare them as tomorrow’s leaders and for the complexities that are part of that challenge.”