Memories of Nobody

Now what? There I was at the Oslo airport waiting my next flight to a place where it would be my home of two years. The United World Colleges in Norway was perhaps the only place where I felt some kind of freedom.

I could chose to study what I wanted and select my own classes. I was shocked and scared. I wouldn’t have to take 16 subjects. My brain was like a cocktail infused with knowledge I might never find a purpose for.  How far could an Albanian student with a broken English and Italian learned from cartoons go? Well I had to catch up somehow and attended a bunch of English courses. Let’s get back to the freedom part. The student body was composed of students from all over the world. It was like an oasis of peace and understanding. I shared room with a Palestinian, an Egyptian, and a Haitian. One would think that it was all like a green field with grass, rainbows and unicorns. We would get into heated debates over world events, and ideas. Sometimes we would end up trying on breaking the system. Creating student organization opposition groups and mocking the student organization and opposing their administration ass kissing rules. One has to stay busy when living in middle of nowhere. I did put my chemistry lesions to work by creating smoke bombs and causing panic in Model UN Security Council meetings. I was the organizer of the event. Even though I got into trouble.

The professors were addressed by the students by their first name, despite the academic achievements they had. The teacher-student interaction was at a level I could have never imagined. At home the professors are seen as this high figure of authority and having any kind of social interaction with them, was unseen. We would get invited to watch a soccer match or for diner at our professors place. They would cook and even do the dishes. I had to admit that I was a little surprised when my Canadian math professor would bring his famous carrot cake to class and often he  would spent all night baking. That is indeed a good way to keep students excited to be in a math class. The classes were organized in a matter where every student could give his contribution to the lesson. Much more like Carl Dykes round tables. The new Arthurian model.   There was not such a thing as the teacher’s favorite, not as far as what I experienced. The students weren’t separated into good or bad ones. They could choose the subjects they would like to study instead of having to take 16 different subjects a week. All students had to study the IB (International baccalaureate) despite of their levels of English, and their place of origin. Students with low level of English were placed into ESL English classes. The course was designed to help students with low proficiency of written and spoken English. I observed that the UWC in Norway focused its area of study in the Social Sciences. They would have good history, politics, economics, and human rights programs. Sciences were popular but not as much, I figure that the college was trying to better represent the Norwegian state by reflecting the Norwegian education type into theirs.

One of the things that amazed me the most, was the creation of NGO’s and Projects. These NGO’s and Projects were student run. I volunteered for an NGO named Do Remember Other People and I would fund rise for them by selling souvenirs to the Norwegian local community. The funds gathered would support a school for disabled students in Ethiopia. We would pay the rent of the school and the salaries of the teachers. It felt quite accomplishing to be honest. For the first time I felt that my work as a volunteer meant something. I haven’t found such a thing in no other place.

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“Good” student “bad” student.

I have been through three educational systems. I have attended a private liberal primary school in Albania where languages such as English, Italian, and German were mandatory for students to choose from. Where students were divided into bad and good students, the good students would sit on the front rows next to the teacher, and the bad students would sit on the back row. I sat somewhere in the middle. What really means to be a good or a bad student though? Where my professors too lazy to dedicate time to some students who had learning problems? As I mentioned before, I sat somewhere in the middle of the classroom. The “bad” students were sitting by the tables on the back row and the “good” students on the front row closer to the professor and the blackboard. I wasn’t considered a good or a bad student. Let’s just say I was somewhere in the middle. Hence, the place where I was seated. If I look back at the sitting scheme, it reminds me of where Bart Simpson from “The Simpsons” sat in class, and how he influenced the grades of the students around him.  The farther a student sat from Bart the better were the chances on getting a good grade and passing. I wonder though if that is what my professors had in mind. Dividing the students based on categories and only paying attention to the ones who they thought was worthy of their attention, and simply ignore some students who according to them had no perspective in life.  As an average student I often felt out of place. My professors would always tell me that I have lots of potential, and that I’m just lazy.  “If you could just try a little harder and not hang out with your friends on the back row you can be a great student” they would often say. I hated when they told me that.  I did enjoy getting in trouble just like the “bad” students. We would skip classes and go out for a smoke or an occasional beer. But that little escape from the professors iron fist wouldn’t last long. There would always be someone who would snitch for a better grade.

The freedom of speech in the international spectrum

The freedom of speech is one of the most important articles of the constitutions of most countries in the world. The right to freedom of expression is recognized as a human right under Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and recognized in international human rights law in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). Furthermore many constitutions are based on the freedom of speech, for instance the Constitution of the United States. According to Oxford Dictionary, freedom of speech means: the political right to express/communicate any opinions, ideas without censorship or restraint. When we talk about the freedom of speech we also talk about the freedom of expression which sometimes is been used synonymously but it includes and an act of seeking receiving and imparting information and ideas. The freedom of speech is the basics of a democratic state, but does the freedom of speech means that you can say anything or share any kind of information that you might poses even if it risks the integrity and the secrets of a country? This essay will focus more on the case of how does the freedom of speech effects the international relations. To be more specific, I will focus more on the case of WikiLeaks and with its founder Julian Assange and Eduard Snowden of the NSA.
WikiLeaks is an international, online and nonprofit organization whose aim is to publish secret information and classified media unknown from the public, from anonymous sources. For instance the website has published valuable information concerning the war in Afghanistan and Iraq. Those articles have made the front page of many newspapers around the world. According to Wikipedia and the Guardian, some of the releases of information included documentation of war expenditures and holdings in the Afghanistan war and also the website has leaked documentation about the corruption in Kenya. You could read more about the amount of the information that WikiLeaks has shared with the public. According to WikiLeaks website, its goal is “to bring important news and information to the public… one of our most important activities is to publish original source material alongside our news stories so readers and historians alike can see evidence of the truth.” The founder of WikiLeaks has seemed asylum to Ecuador and he currently lives at the embassy of Ecuador in London, UK. According to The Independent, Assange is being holed up in the Ecuadorian embassy in an effort to avoid Extradition to sweeden where he is under investigation for alleged sex offences. The reason why Assange is under the diplomatic protection of Ecuador is that he believes that the claims for his extradition to Sweden are a ruse so he can eventually be sent to the US for trail over the leaking of formerly secret US cables. Despite the fact the authorities deny this claim of Assange. The department of the US state was considering a charge under the Espionage act of 1917 says the Washington Post. How can a man who doesn’t hold the U.S citizenship be charged from the department of state and the pentagon for Espionage? Assange released diplomatic cables that offer unvarnished insights into the personal tendencies of world leader. Is the journalists job to share and distribute the news and this right is protected by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Would the state department interfere with the freedom of speech by accusing Assange for Espionage? That’s yet to know because up until now the founder of WikiLeaks is under the diplomatic protection of the Republic of Ecuador.
Now to continue with a recent event of a violation of the freedom of speech, this had a big impact on International Relations. Edward Snowden a former CIA and NSA employee leaked information to the Guardian; the British newspaper published a series of information that revealed programs such as the interception of the U.S. According to the Guardian who published Snowden’s leaks, “the world now has a debate about the dramatic change in the contact between state and citizen”.
Snowden provided proof that the government of the United States is spying on its citizens by putting the entire population under some form of surveillance, then again the government charges him with spying. Now is obvious that everyone with a digital life could be under surveillance. Is it morally correct to spy on your own people and on your allies? The evident ambition is to put entire populations under some form of surveillance, this is what Orwell warned of and we the people should not accept this in a democracy. This for many people brings the bitter memories of the communist rule. It seems like everyone wants to get into the bandwagon and spread the propaganda.
“Even if you’re not doing anything wrong you’re being watched and recorded. And the storage capability of these systems increases every year consistently by orders of magnitude… They can use this system to go back in time and scrutinize every decision you’ve ever made, every friend you’ve ever discussed something with and attack you on that basis… to derive suspicion from an innocent life and paint anyone in the context of a wrongdoer”. – Edward Snowden
Snowden has applied for political asylum over to 20 countries but most of them have refused his application, some of them have said that the applicant must be present in the country he is applying for asylum. The US administration and specially Vice President Joe Biden had pressured the governments of these countries to refuse his petition for asylum. This way the US administration is interfering with basic human rights by pressuring other countries into refuse the asylum applications sent by Snowden. According to ABC News he is currently living in Russia and he is under the Protection of Vladimir Putin, “he claims that Snowden, the alleged leaker of NSA surveillance secrets, can stay in Russia as long as he stop harming American interests”.