Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Spotlight: International Soccer Camp in Holland!

An international athletic camp in Holland with kids from all over the world that will look good on a college transcript and be a lot of fun along the way? Sign me up.

People to People's Youth Friendship Games through their Sports Ambassadors program sounds like a total blast. Incoming Paly sophomore Julia E gives us the inside scoop on her international athletic experience.

Founded by President Dwight D. Eisenhower, People to People was established in 1956 to promote peace and understanding through international conferences - not between government officials, but between individual citizens. Eisenhower famously said, "The people want peace; indeed, I believe they want peace so badly that they governments will just have to step aside and let them have it."

The Sports Ambassadors program (www.sportsambassadors.org) is fairly new; it has only been in existence since 2000. According to Julia, it shows. Athletes for the summer program are nominated by their coaches from AYSO (the recreational league of soccer); not, as the website boasts, "through a selective interview and recommendation process." Applicants did go to one interview, but "I think everyone who applied was accepted," said Julia. And when scheduled plans for the 2,000+ student athletes fell through, more often than not they went souvenir shopping. The venerated "Friendship Village," the hub of everyday activities, consisted of seven tents and several soccer fields.

One of the tents boasted Domino's and Ben and Jerry's franchises, but otherwise, "the food was really bad," said Julia, recounting their first lunch of two pieces of bread and a slice of ham. "And the drink sizes were really small. They gave us a small tumbler of soda and expected that to last the whole meal."

By the end of the week, one girl was making a list of everything she was going to eat when she got home. Top of the list? "Fudge," said Julia.

According to Julia, there were almost enough redeeming qualities to make up for substandard food and underscheduled days. A bike tour of the Dutch countryside provided beautiful scenery, while other morning cultural trips included a boat ride on Amsterdam's canals and visits to cheese and clog factories. However, some days' agendas fell short of expectations. "What are the two places Amsterdam is famous for? The Anne Frank House and the Van Gogh Museum," said Julia. "We didn't go to either of them."

But the camp's main fault? "There was very little meaningful interaction with kids from other countries," stated Julia. "Mostly, it was American girls going up to non-American guys and going, "Hey, you're kinda cute." There was no, "Wow, what's it like to live in Brazil?"

Teams were mononational and assembled upon arrival at camp; there were US teams, Canadian teams, Saudi Arabian teams, etc. "We played a total of two international soccer matches," said Julia, "and we played four against American club teams."

The Sports Ambassadors Program participated in the Regional Haarlem Cup, which was open to club teams as well. "The club teams have been playing together for months, whereas we jest met days ago, so they had a huge advantage," said Julia.

That is not to say that no friendships were made. "We all bonded the most on the last day," said Julia, smiling ruefully. "Last summer, when I went to summer camp, I went in with one of my friends, so I didn't make very many new ones. But in Holland, all of us exchanged emails and Facebooks. One girl emailed me yesterday."

Last words? "I wish there had been more team-building with kids from difference countries." In other words, People to People is missing the "people" factor.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Spotlight: MODEL UN

Palo Alto's weather has recently improved, now resembling something reasonable for a state known for its beaches, and I'm starting to feel like it's really summer. Unfortunately, if it's really summer, that means that school is really going to start again in August. And if you, like me, have a lot of free time on your hands, you're probably looking ahead to the next school year (or trying not to) and thinking about (or trying not to) what classes and extracurriculars are going to both be fun for you and look decently challenging when you apply to college in two summers.

Soccer, football, basketball, swimming, water polo, music, art, and debate all feature prominently in "Mr. or Ms. Average American High School Student." Fencing, wrestling, curling, underwater basket weaving, and Model United Nations do not.

Hmmmm...Model UN...I think that's the thing I heard about once on the Simpsons, right? Where people have to dress up and talk about a bunch of boring things?

Is is boring to talk to a kid from Cancun, Mexico (who happens to have the same birthday as you) about what happened in their hotel last night? Is it boring to (almost) trip and go flying across a sidewalk on Telegraph Ave in Berkeley because you tried to run in high heels and you have to eat dinner at some place that serves edible food in half an hour? Is it boring to spend an hour arguing with people about why the US should bomb Iran? (Don't answer that last one.)

Model UN can be a blast, according to last year's Paly participants. One freshman MUNer from last year recalls that in the Security Council, "China led an effort to burn all the marijuana in the world with funding from the International Monetary Fund and then drop food by hot air balloon to satisfy 'the munchies.' And it was allowed."

While debate, Mock Trial and Model UN are often grouped in the same "nerd" category, the goal of Model UN is to work with other students to come up with realistic solutions to actual world problems. "[Model UN] teaches you to stand up for what you believe in," said the Paly MUN participant.

Debate, from what I hear, involves pulling a red Radio Flyer wagon overflowing with large sized storage boxes containing all of the possible research, arguments, and speeches that could be helpful in a one-on-one argument. Apparently, debaters don't know whether they will have to argue for or against something until they arrive at the competition. Judges have been known to fall asleep.

Mock Trial, on the other hand, requires new members to argue both sides of why Goldilocks was committing a felony when she broke into the Three Bears' house and stole their porridge, inflicted cruel and unusual punishment on an undersized chair, and then ran from the scene of the crime.

While all of these intellectual extracurriculars provide an opportunity for social networking and a reasonable amount of actual brain use, Model UN is the best choice for those who value the essential 21st century skills "cooperation and collaboration" and want to improve their speaking skills. Unlike Mock Trial and debate, Model UN allows for flexibility in the amount of involvement. Technically, one could sit through an entire Model UN conference without speaking a word. Or, one could give several of their own speeches, raise their placard to comment on every speech made by another delegate, write their own solution to the problem and talk it up to other delegates. This flexibility makes Model UN a good choice for beginners who may want to do Mock Trial or debate later in their high school career.

Of course, as with anything, Model UN is definitely not for everyone, and if you are shy, only doing it because your parents told you to, or have issues with sitting for long periods of time, Model UN is probably not for you.

I will close with a story I first heard from a Berkeley Model UN student. Disclaimer: this is not intended to be discriminatory in any way against any of the groups involved.

A worldwide one-question survey was recently conducted by the UN. The one question was: Would you please give your honest opinion about solutions to the food shortage in the rest of the world? The survey was a failure.

In Africa, they didn't know what "food" meant.
In Eastern Europe, they didn't know what "honest" meant.
In China, they didn't know what "opinion" meant.
In the Middle East, they didn't know what "solution" meant.
In Western Europe, they didn't know what "shortage" meant.
In South America, they didn't know what "please" meant.
And in the United States, they didn't know what "the rest of the world" meant.