Great Issues Scholars retreat!

When I arrived on campus, there were so many clubs and activities I wanted to try. Even though I am in no way qualified for a hip-hop dance group and I don’t really know what Boggle is (yes, there’s a club for that), I eagerly watched as blitz after blitz poured in to my inbox during the early weeks of September. I’d joined the Cheer Team over the summer, but I was looking for a non-athletic campus activity that was totally different than anything I’d done before.

I found what I was looking for in the Great Issues Scholars program, run through Dartmouth’s Dickey Center for International Understanding. If the title sounds vague, that’s because the program is so broad– we basically learn about the most pressing concerns of people all over the world through speakers, lectures, and discussions. GIS is just for first-years, which is one reason why I’ve enjoyed it so much. I’ve met other students my age whom I might not have met on my floor, in a class, or on a team. To get to know each other, our first event of the term was a retreat!

We left in school buses on Friday afternoon and drove about forty minutes off campus to a beautiful camp in Vermont. We started out with icebreaker games in a barn and then had a delicious dinner in the main lodge. Though I’m still having my honeymoon period with the food here at Dartmouth, the home-cooked meals at this camp were amazing.

Next we got down to the main part of the retreat: a simulation of the conflict going on in the South China Sea. Most of us had never even heard of that region, so we attended a lecture by Dartmouth professors Jenny Lind and Daryl Press, about a week prior to the retreat. At the lecture we were all assigned to different country groups involved in the issue. In the week leading up to the retreat we read news articles with more specifics on our particular country’s motivations and involvement. The simulation was run by Fred Hill, who makes simulations for the U.S. Department of State. We are so spoiled here at Dartmouth.

After a talk from Fred Hill we split into our seperate “countries” and began planning what we would say in conference with each of the other countries the next day. It was a lot of information to take in, but we had been provided with the necessary resources to sort through it. After the meetings we made s’mores in the barn and then headed to bed in the cabins.

Before breakfast the next morning, some other girls and I went on a morning walk around the camp grounds. There was a fresh autumn breeze, and the leaves on the trees were absolutely gorgeous. This part of the country is so stunning in October. As if the natural landscape wasn’t enough, we found a small wooden castle up on a hill! We ran around inside of it and posed on the top like little kids on a playground. That morning was easily one of my happiest moments at Dartmouth so far.

The morning was spent doing teamwork exercises in the woods, and the afternoon was full of diplomatic meetings amongst countries. I have no debate or Model UN background, so I wasn’t really expecting how intense some of the meetings became! I was a representative of the United States; we were trying to support countries like Vietnam, the Philippines, Indonesia, and Malaysia without coming into direct conflict with China. We ran from meeting to meeting, trying to keep up with new developments amongst countries and prevent ourselves from committing to anything too hastily. Even though we’d known next to nothing about the South China Seas conflict only a week before, we still managed to take many different viewpoints into account. We didn’t reach an overarching solution by the end of the afternoon, but I know I still enjoyed playing diplomat for a day. After the concluding summit, we ate another delicious dinner and headed back at campus in time for Saturday evening.

The retreat was such a fun part of my freshman fall. It sort of felt like DOC trips all over again. We’ve had several other GIS events since, and it’s been great catching up with the friends I made during the retreat. I’m so thankful that I’m in GIS this year. I knew next to nothing about international affairs when I came here, so it’s been great to learn a bit about topics as varied as human trafficking in Kyrgyzstan or U.S. policy towards the conflict in the Middle East. I’m already looking forward to the rest of the year with GIS.

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