Daniel Yu was the 2014 recipient of the UNA-Canada Edmonton Branch’s Bertha Lawrence Memorial Award, which supports a high school student from Northern Alberta to attend the Seminar on the United Nations and International Affairs (SUNIA). SUNIA is a week-long summer program that provides a unique and exciting opportunity for students from around the world to engage in a simulated United Nations Security Council and a development simulation in order to explore complex global issues — all while surrounded by the majestic Alberta Rocky Mountains.
This past summer, I was able to attend SUNIA for a week at Nordegg, Alberta – and it was an experience that I will never forget. Before I get into the details of how the week-long camp was, I suppose I should start with my expectations coming into the camp. I would think that my experience was slightly unique from the others in that I was ready to go to SUNIA the summer before, but was ultimately unable to at the last second and had to drop out. My friends who did go, two of whom were counsellors during my week, did not forget to remind me of the times that I had missed and returned with only positive things about the program. So when this summer came along, and I was encouraged to go to SUNIA, I was excited, but had high expectations coming into it. Luckily, my expectations were not only met, but were shattered by how fun and interesting the program actually was. I am not exaggerating when I say that there is something for everyone at SUNIA – something that everyone will find enjoyable and worth the trip. Whether it be the beautiful scenery, especially during the hikes, that you immerse yourself in at Nordegg, the interesting seminars and presentations about the history and operation of the UN, the fun model UN held at the end or the wonderful people – counsellors and fellow students alike – SUNIA offered so many things that made the trip an unforgettable one for me.
First, the location where SUNIA was held was absolutely breathtaking. While it took some time to get to the campsite, the wait was worth it when we finally reached it. Not only is there an amazing view of the mountains from the camp, but there’s also many trails to walk along, provided you have permission, and a lake to swim, canoe or paddleboat in. In addition to the beautiful scenery at camp, you also get to go on two hikes – one to Crescent Falls and one on top of Mount Baldy. Both of these hikes have their own merits with the Crescent Falls hike ending at the waterfall and Mount Baldy with a beautiful view from the top. At SUNIA, you always get time to go outside and make the most of the location of the camp. You really are exposed constantly to the “great outdoors”, and it’s a very beautiful, peaceful place to spend the week. In my own experience, I remember my cabin mates and I being able to see some deer near the campsite at night, cementing just how exposed we were to the natural environment.
Second, SUNIA really delivers in giving insight and experience to the camp-goers about the inner workings and functioning of the United Nations. Informative lectures and seminars from UN representatives really do give an in depth and accurate look into what it is like to work for the United Nations, and the mock UN session held at the end allows you to apply the knowledge about the workings of a UN security council – which was a lot of fun. Although it is on a much smaller scale, the security council really felt like a legitimate meeting, especially with all the rules that are upheld in a real council, being applied to the mock one. From amendment-making to voting on the draft, I really felt like I was representing a country and its interests, and I had a lot of fun doing it.
Last, but not least, the people at SUNIA really made the experience what it was. Being an introvert, I was nervous going into SUNIA as it forced me to go out of my comfort zone and to put myself out for everyone to see. SUNIA was great in that it gave me every opportunity to do so, and along the way, allowed me to forge many strong and lasting relationships over the week. The camp-goers came from all over Canada, with some from around the world. There was a multitude of people and personalities, and getting to know each and every one of them was worth it. This extends to the counsellors and staff as well, who were not only welcoming and great guides for the week at camp, but were just as fun, interesting and good-natured as everyone else who showed up. The counsellors, especially, really made the camp a smooth operation, and if it weren’t for them, SUNIA wouldn’t have been, and continue to be, a success. Whether it be putting on skits here and there when they weren’t expected, leading the discussion groups and getting everyone to actively participate, taking their time to get to know us or joining us during out WRECK time, the counsellors not only were our guides, but our friends as well. Even after camp, the members of Week B are still connected, whether it be meeting up again or actively posting on the SUNIA 2014 Week B Facebook page. It just shows how dedicated everyone was and still is about keeping the friendships that were made at camp and how closely knit we have become thanks to SUNIA. With all the great personalities present, SUNIA really bonded everyone together like a family, and I left camp with many new friendships that still last today.
SUNIA really succeeds in that there are several aspects that can attract any type of person, making it worthwhile for anyone to sign up for. For me, personally, I have learned many things from the camp about world issues and national issues, and hope to continue my activity during camp in my community. I learned that all it takes is one voice to make a difference, and that if you believe in an issue, there are others around the world and even in the community that you can meet and discuss it with. I learned that being together with other individuals passionate about an issue is a powerful thing – and that with the right mindset, even the most unknown issues can begin to be brought to light. Most importantly, I learned to respect and consider the perspectives of others on issues. With the frequent discussion groups and the Native American cleansing ceremony we took part in during Week B, it was sobering to know just how differently issues affect everyone. While we ourselves may not be affected personally about an issue, others are – and it’s incredible to realise just how close someone affected by an issue may be to us. Especially with the ceremony, it made me realise to not take things at face value – to dig deeper into the issues that others seem to be dismissing. That is what I will take back with me – that just because others may not care about an issue, it doesn’t mean it’s unimportant – and it’s my responsibility to let others understand and judge for themselves.
All in all, SUNIA was an enriching experience that helped me broaden my horizons and meet people I would have never looked twice at if I passed them on the street. It brought forward many issues that I never even considered and now hope to share to my community when given the chance, and helped me be more open to new opportunities and to try to be more outgoing. Going into SUNIA, I had no idea of how it was going to be – now, I leave with many memories, a new outlook on life and a second family that I know I can depend on in the future.