Building a children’s ward in Uganda — Clare O’Brien

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This summer myself and a team of 6 other students travelled to Uganda in Eastern Africa to build a children’s ward for a community that lacked adequate health care.

Prior to our trip we had all fundraised £10,000 to build the ward. I was very excited to see the follow up of our donations first hand. I, also, wanted to go to Africa because I wanted to gain some experience in a developing country given the fact that I want to work in the third world after graduation.

My main concern about my travels was how I would cope being away from home for so long. The trip lasted 9 weeks and was naturally not without some withdrawal symptoms from my western lifestyle. Nevertheless, despite a few doubtful phone calls home involving a discussion of an early exist out of Africa, I stuck it out!

I was also concerned about working with the local health services. This was primarily caused by my lack of experience on a building site. There certainly were problems with miscommunication between the volunteers and the director of the health services. However, after a few tense meetings, these were ironed out and much progress was made with regards to the construction of the ward.

There was no grand ‘gap yah’ life-changing event that occurred from my time in Africa. I remain very much the same person I was before I left. If I was to take anything from the trip it would definitely be the fact that the materialism of western society and its concentration on happiness being the product of ‘having’ is truly misplaced. This does not mean I wish for everybody to abandon their current lifestyle, I merely assert a greater appreciation of western opportunity. That being the ability to enjoy your youth, socialise with family and friends and live life for experiences and not for how many likes your picture gets on Facebook.

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Going Abroad to Mauritius — ANASTASIA ROUSSOU

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For the past two and a half months I have had the opportunity to live and work in the island of Mauritius. This opportunity was given to me by the United Nations Development Programme in the form of an Internship. As UNDP Internships are unpaid, the financial burden of the trip was quite substantial; therefore, the Go Abroad Fund was extremely helpful during this experience.

One of the first things I noticed about Mauritius is that it is a country of contrasts. Although pictures do not lie about the natural beauty of the island, a quick step away from the beaches and tourist areas reveals that Mauritius is not only a paradise resort island but also a developing world country. Despite being an extremely fast growing and increasingly competitive economy, the country still suffers from high poverty and illiteracy rates and problems related to governance.

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Le Morne Cultural Landscape. The area is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site as it is of high natural and historic beauty. The mountain itself was a refuge for escaped slaves from nearby country and has therefore become a symbol of freedom and resistance to slavery.

My Internship was based at the UNDP Country Office in Port Louis and it was centred on a project titled Integrated Water Resources Management (IWRM). This project is being implemented by the Global Environment Facility (GEF) and the UNDP as part of a wider programme in the Atlantic and Indian Ocean Small Island Developing States. The aim is to help the participating countries manage their water resources, improve sanitation, build local capacity and work towards achieving the MDGs. The Mauritian water sector has been facing issues linked to droughts, awareness and pollution and therefore the government is hoping that this project will help resolve these issues and provide for an improved management of the resource.

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The dumping of solid wastes in rivers and streams is a major problem in Mauritius and is mainly attributed to the lack of awareness from the population.

The work I did with the UNDP included organising awareness campaigns for water conservation and preservation, attending meetings with stakeholders and assisting in the drafting of tenders and project documents. In the context of my Internship I also had the chance to get involved in other projects concerning biodiversity and energy efficiency and therefore I gained a broad range of professional experience. I also had the opportunity to work in a friendly and collaborative environment, with like minded individuals and contribute to their attempt to foster positive change, promote development and support the UNDP’s efforts to alleviate poverty and improve the quality of life.

These past months have been extremely rewarding for me not only professionally and academically but also from a personal point of view. During my time there I had the opportunity to immerse myself in the local culture and meet people from various backgrounds. I also had the chance to get out of my comfort zone, by adjusting to an easy going, slow paced environment with rules and social structures that are fundamentally different from my home country and the UK. An incredibly fascinating country and a truly unforgettable experience.

Excavations and bridging language barriers

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The Principals Go Abroad Fund allowed me the opportunity to travel to Spain and participate in an archaeological excavation within Roman city. The experience of being part of a team excavating a location which famous in the ancient world was more than exhilarating, and Merida showed me some truly remarkable archaeological feats of some of why I am so passionate about Classical Archaeology.

 

Having traveled to many Roman sites, certain key features tend to be present; aqueducts, ampetheatres, bridges (where needed), roads, theatres, and fountains. Often few of these features remain, making visualizing the sophistication and vibrancy of a Roman city quite challenging. Merida is unique. It’s foundation brought together war veterans in the first century AD, by Augustus followed the blueprint of these amenities, but unlike other cities that remain to this day, Merida has some of the most complete, longest and largest structures.

 

I came to Spain to get more experience excavating, and thought the language barriers might present some challenges, but that I was up to the task. Communication is fundamental to understanding, so I started to come up with alternative ways to learn the vocabulary in a way that made sense to me. Some challenges of the excavation were the incredible heat of mid-July central Spain, which reached 45 degrees on occasion. The intensely physically demanding aspects of the work were also formidable.

 

What I learned through observing and speaking with my Spanish colleagues was approaches deal with these challenges. There are significant differences between Spanish archaeology and British, and I began to find ways to bridge those differences. There was much to be gained in learning and incorporating different ways of approaching an excavation, as teams tend to be full of international students.

 

Beyond the archaeological and educational experience, I was introduced to amazing new art and architecture which influenced my own art. From the bust of the Iberian Woman in Madrid to the architectural features of Merida, this trip has allowed me to explore Spanish heritage in my own way artistically.

 

This trip taught showed me how enriching it can be to incorporate and integrate professional practices from several perspectives. Humility and openness bridges and grows great relationships and within archaeology that is no different.

 

Costume Internship in New York City

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I was incredibly lucky to be awarded the Principal’s award to help fund spending this summer doing an internship in the costume workshop at New York Theatre Workshop, New York City from June 6th-September 9th. I knew that I wanted to use this summer to do an internship, improve my skills and meet people in the industry so completed lots of online applications but didn’t even dream that I would actually get to do the internship in New York! I wanted to go to New York because it is a city unlike anywhere else, it is crazy and inspiring and it is also a city in which there are more opportunities to work in the performance industry than anywhere else in the world so it has been a chance to make connections in my industry and open the city up as a place I could potentially return to, to live and work in the future. Also after doing more research into New York Theatre workshop I found that it was a company that whose ethos really aligned with what I believe in, supporting upcoming artists, engaging with the community and making theatre accessible for everyone. It was amazing to have the opportunity to work for such a fantastic company and to fully immerse myself in such an intense and inspiring city.

 

Before I left I was pretty nervous as I didn’t really know anyone in the city and wasn’t very familiar with the layout of the city and knowing how to get around. I had a place to stay for my first two weeks but during that time was scouring craigslist for spare rooms to find somewhere to live for the rest of the summer and it was also my first time working in a professional costume workshop, so my first few weeks were a whirlwind of settling in, sorting things out and getting very lost! But, I found that I settled in quickly and I met some really great people so I just tried to make the most of my time in the city, I got cheap last minute tickets for some Broadway shows (Violet, Of Mice and Men, Les Mis, Once) and saw amazing exhibitions at The Met, Moma, The Whitney, and also saw great art just gallery crawling through Chelsea. It is the most amazing city to get inspired by, there is so much going on! Even just the people you see on the subway or on the street are like characters from a story, I definitely felt a lot of the time like I was living on a film set. As a design student I feel as though I am going home full of inspiration and ideas for my work. I also learned to be more confident and assertive, in an environment where I didn’t know many people and didn’t know my way around I had to put myself out there to build friendships and sometimes get ridiculously lost in order to work out where I was going! This summer has been incredible and I will never forget it. So I would like to thank the Principal’s go abroad fund for helping this crazy dream become a reality!

My African Experience

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My African Experience.

Where did I go?

The funding granted to me allowed me to travel to Mpraeso, Ghana to undertake a sports related work placement. Mpraeso is a small town in the green mountainous region of Eastern Ghana, where the local habitants are very welcoming. Getting to Mpraeso was an experience in itself. Flying alone into new territories foe the first time was an emotional experience that required courage. My transit in Amsterdam for >24 hours allowed me to experience the main attractions of the characteristic city before departing to Accra airport to experience my first taste of Africa. Upon arrival, an interesting 4 hours taxi journey took me across the country to the volunteer house.

Why did I go?

My reasons for undertaking this placement range somewhat but can primarily be said to be to seek advancement on my current degree knowledge by putting theory into practice, gaining academic skills whilst simultaneously gaining personal socio-psycho life skills. In addition, experiencing Africa as part of the ‘Global South’ again not only reinforces previous academic work but the experience was also a personal life goal.

Fundamentally, I travelled in the hope that I could make a difference and have a positive impact on the lives of those less fortunate that myself by passing on knowledge and resources that I have gained and acquired.

Worries?

On a personal level, inevitably I felt scared as I was leaving my comfort zone and flying on my own for the first time to Africa. The degree of uncertainty was undeniably magnified the closer I got to departure.

On a professional level, in terms of the placement itself, I worried that the facilitation and resources available to me would stifle my ability to achieve my objectives. In addition, naturally there was a fear of not fitting in, not adapting to the African way of life and not enjoying the experience.

On an academic level, there was a worry that the slums of Ghana as the ‘Global South’ would be so extreme that any attempt to measure sport for development would be utterly trivial (Coulter, 2013) and perhaps change the dynamics of the placement.

In hindsight, although these worries were natural, the enjoyment and pride felt during the overall experience overrides and existing fear.

What I learnt?

Academically, it occurred to me that the extremeness of the slums of Ghana did result in the use of sport as a tool for development as a whole is somewhat trivial, but sport can evidently be used as an intangible tool for social, political, cultural, physical and mental development (Girginov 2008). These conclusions are drawn as a result of me learning to put a methodological approach to research into practice in conjunction with previous academic work.

The success of this placement is largely due to my gained knowledge in how to overcome logistical barriers. This learnt knowledge could be related to the undeniable socio-psycho-cultural life skills that were learnt and embedded whilst undertaking the placement.

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Arunachal Pradesh: The Hidden Himalayan Wilderness and its Peoples

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Arunachal Pradesh (lit. The Land of the Dawn-Lit Mountains) is a state in Northeastern India, although in truth its culture could be better described as being part of the Greater Tibet diaspora which covers the Himalayan mountains outside of China. For much of its history, Arunachal was ruled (or, at least, its territory was nominally controlled) by various groups from what is now Chinese Tibet, Myanmar, Bhutan, and Assam. And while Assam, which hugs its southern border, is a Vedic area dominated by Desi-Assamese, where Hindi remains the dominant lingua franca, the Indian elements of Arunachal (that is, the influence of the dominant Hindi-speaking and Dravidian groups of the bulk of the Indian subcontinent) have remained extremely limited. This is partly due to the physical structure of the state: its extreme altitudes and freezing temperatures make transport (and, by extension, cultural diffusion) highly difficult, and also the nature of the state itself.

Unlike other states in the region (Assam, Nagaland, Sikkim and West Bengal being prominent examples), Arunachal has never been its own independent kingdom or civilization, nor has it been definitively colonised by any single group. Instead it has existed on the periphery of several different states – indeed, it continues to do so. It is dominated by disparate, isolated tribal areas, each often entirely distinct from each other. The Western, Central and Eastern Regions are not joined by paved roads (instead, vehicles must return to Assam before re-entering at a different point), and within each division of the state there can be dozens of unique tribes, with differing ethnic backgrounds, languages, art and architecture. Indeed, the state of Arunachal Pradesh is more designed as a catch-all for this tribal border area than a state representative of a single group.

This, along with Arunachal Pradesh’s legendary natural beauty and unexplored nature (many of its 6000m+ peaks remain unnamed) is what piqued my interest – the gigantic and highly diverse grouping of tribes and cultures throughout the state. Western Arunachal, while retaining a large swath of tropical lowlands on its southern fringes, is in many ways geographically and culturally Tibetan; its landscape being dominated by the mighty Sela Pass (approximately 4100m above sea level) and beyond, the Tawang Valley and its gigantic monastery, where the Dalai Lama was housed during his flight from Tibet in 1959.

I arrived in Western Arunachal on the 20th of August, driving myself from Bhalukpong on the Assamese border up to Bomdila. As one ascends from the sweaty, tropical rainforests of the north edge of the Brahmaputra valley, one can see the architecture steadily change – from concrete apartment blocks and corrugated iron-roofed shacks to wood-framed Tibetan houses, fortified against the frigid -30c winters rather than searing Assamese summers and torrential rain. The Tawang monastery itself is one of the largest still remaining following the Chinese purges of the 1960s, its position outside Tibet protecting it from destruction. In many ways it resembles a miniature Potala Palace – its blocky, sheer-sided walls and tiny square windows another protection against the arid and extremely cold environment of the Tibetan plateau. The roads degenerated rapidly as I progressed further towards the Sela, tarmac giving way to slick mud and loose stones which threatened at any point to slide spectacularly down the precipitous slopes. The journey was extremely difficult, particularly when weather conditions worsened considerably atop the Sela itself – without the shelter of the mountains, the high winds and driving rain forced me to take refuge in the local military base (China made a military attempt on Arunachal in 1962, claiming it as part of its control over Tibet along with Ladakh on the Western side of the Himalaya. As a consequence, Arunachal is heavily militarised).  I was fed and sheltered by a group of Indian Signalers, none of whom were Arunachali. While I was grateful for their assistance, I couldn’t help but notice that even within the state, Arunachali tribals are poorly represented in official positions – all military personnel whom I encountered were from outside Arunachal, as were all government officials.

UNISCA Summer School 2014: International Court of Justice Moot Court — Laurie van der Burg

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On the 25th of July I travelled to Amsterdam to participate in the International Court of Justice Judge Program of the UNISCA Summer School. In preparation for this Summer School, all participants had already attended (either online or in person) three lectures, written three graded mini-essays and one graded position paper. Hence, fully prepared, I left Edinburgh to take on the role of president judge in a Moot Court concerning the Arctic Region.

Being an LLM student in Global Environment and Climate Change Law, the questions that stood central in the dispute ((1) whether the Arctic could be declared common heritage of mankind (as maintained by Norway), and (2) whether Russia could claim an extended Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) surrounding its island Somenia) were very much related to the topics and conventions discussed during my Masters. To address these questions I had to, together with the other judges, closely examine the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Seas (UNCLOS) as well as the relevant case law – which had already gotten significant attention during my studies – on which we had to build our judgment. The Moot Court program and my position as a president judge accordingly allowed me to practice the application of the rules to a fictive (but realistic) case and therewith allowed me to, for the first time, experience what it would be like to be a judge, to keep order in the court room, and to write and deliver a judgment.

After two sessions of intense pleadings (spread over two days – with one day of pleading writing in between), and long deliberation, I, together with two other judges, wrote the judgment, which I got to deliver in front of all Summer Program participants on the final day of an intensive week.

Before I left I was worried about my lack of experience with Moot Courts, but as the program leaders were very supportive and as I was not the only one without previous Moot Court experience, my worries were soothed from the start. Because of the many extra-curricular activities, moreover, the group of participants became very close in a short time, which made everyone feel at ease even while being under slight pressure to perform. The Judge Program proved to be extremely insightful. Not only regarding the rules and procedures in the International Court of Justice, but also with regards to the challenges involved in discussing a case in a team of judges and in writing and delivering a judgment. The program has as such been a truly great addition to my Master’s Program at the University of Edinburgh and I am truly thankful for the Go Abroad Fund for making my participation possible.

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The Advocate General and me, presenting our advisory opinion to the Security Council on a crisis topic (declaration of separation in the Ukraine).

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The Advocate General, delivering her Advisory Opinion at the closing ceremony.

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A part of the group of participants.

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