Vent Frais 

Vent Frais is the voice of the French Language Villages and programs. Allons dans le grand vent!

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Voyageur Spirit of COP23  

Published: January 8, 2018

by Espoir

The entrance hall to the "Bonn Zone".

In early November, I had the opportunity to attend the United National Climate Negotiations or the 23rd Conference of Parties (COP23) in Bonn, Germany as a part of Climate Generation’s Window Into COP program, who sponsored and supported our delegation. This was the first delegation they sent to a COP with people from all sectors: students, teachers, non-profit workers, environmental lawyers and politicians. Our task was to blog daily, and to -- in each of our own ways -- take advantage of being there, learn about the system and process and find connection across our lives and this huge intergovernmental international.

At first, I was intimidated by sharing hallways and bathrooms with international UN negotiators and didn’t know where I fit into it all. But I got used to the process, met more people, and learned more of what was going on.

While in Bonn, I realized that big systems like the U.N. Climate Conference can have power to create change, but they draw their power from the grassroots (local) groups that create awareness and push issues to the table. In short, the international conversations can only be as powerful as the grassroots work. If there is nothing happening at a grassroots level there will be no push for global policy. Likewise, good global policies only make a difference when they’re applied - they need people to make sure they are carried out at the local level.

I started to feel empowered - powerful and confident that I could make a difference - like my presence at the COP mattered for my life and my presence could matter for other people. It was a feeling I had known before.

I had known this feeling in the woods of Northern Minnesota with youth of all ages in canoes. I had known this feeling in the sunshine and in the rain, in the warm hot chocolate at sunrise and the warm dinner eaten by the water at sunset. I felt a similar empowerment after spending time in the woods facing a very different set challenges to those of an international policy setting. Yet both experiences fed on each other and are connected.

Ma brigade chez les Voyageurs!

My experiences at the Language Villages have empowered me in a way that affects me every single day even when I’m not necessarily speaking French or living in wilderness settings. My experiences at Lac du Bois Hackensack and Les Voyageurs were especially strong because the settings of those two programs are so different from the settings of my everyday life but they have completely shaped who I am and affected how I exist outside of camp settings.

While life at Les Voyageurs will almost always look different than a day in your “normal” life at home, in school, or at work, it doesn’t mean the two aren’t connected. In fact, much like international policy and grassroots work they are interconnected and interdependent even though they are vastly different.

You must have the memory of a cold day of rain with hours of paddling open up to a warm sunny afternoon to get through a day packed with meetings and presentations at school or work. And skills you acquire in one setting most certainly affect how you approach the other - this is the power of experiential education.

Working in small grassroots organizations can get me through a tough meeting at a UN Conference because I know how it can be useful on a local level. Understanding those conferences and policies gives me tools to be effective at the local level. When something is important, and its effects on people so diverse, it must be tackled in multiple ways at multiple levels.

Art installation in Bonn. 

Throughout the twelve days I was fortunate to spend in Bonn, I realized how pivotal empowerment -- whether it be through language learning, or through experiences that challenge you -- is to making change and being a global citizen. The ways I have felt empowered in my life have been many, from pushing myself in the wilderness to being able to communicate with people in a language that isn’t my own. These experiences have fueled my drive to create change, and are the only reason I feel strong enough to try.


Espoir is from Minnesota and studies at Dickinson College in Pennsylvania. She is planning on majoring in Environmental Studies. She has attended many language villages and has worked at El Lago del Bosque, Lac du Bois Hackensack and most recently at Les Voyageurs. In addition to French and Spanish, Espoir speaks some German, Pulaar and Wolof (from living and traveling in Senegal last year on a gap year) and is excited to learn more languages in the future. She loves spending time outside whether it be skiing, hiking, canoeing or riding her bicycle. Read about the Climate Generation delegation at the COP and her gap year!