Like other Randolph College students interested in international affairs, Matea Osti has taken courses taught with a global, intercultural perspective. But Osti’s understanding of the challenges facing the world doesn’t come just from text books or from what she has been taught by her professors-—it comes from a place of experience.
Matea Osti’s road to Randolph was very different from those of her fellow students. She was born in Bosnia, where she lived until the age of five. A few weeks before the Bosnian War erupted in 1992, her family fled to Austria, where they lived as refugees. Ultimately the family settled in New Zealand. “I have been around the globe a bit, in a short period of time,” says Osti, who credits her travels with giving her a unique perspective of the world.
The next question one might logically ask is how Matea ended up at Randolph. Osti’s mother works as a nanny in New Zealand, caring for a child whose mother is American. The child’s grandmother, a resident of Lynchburg, identified Matea as the type of student who would thrive at Randolph. As a result of a scholarship, supplemented by private benefactors, Osti began attending Randolph in the fall of 2004. When asked what she values most about her Randolph College experience, Osti responds, “the sense of community, which allows you to grow throughout your four years, along with the academic rigor. Randolph College is one of those places that nurtures you to become a very accountable, knowledgeable, aware citizen of the world.”
Becoming a knowledgeable citizen of the world is an area where Matea has had a considerable amount of practice for someone just 21 years of age. For the past four years, the double major in environmental and global studies has served as a member of the Randolph delegation to both the Model European Union and the Model United Nations. The Model European Union is a three-day event in Washington, D.C., during which delegates learn about the workings of the European Union through hands-on simulation. Students assume the identity of an “alter ego” requiring extensive research on that person’s profile, voting records, resolutions, and position papers.
Many of the same students who participate in the Model EU also participate in the Model United Nations. Each year, the Model UN delegation is assigned a country to represent and then researches that country extensively to determine how its government would approach certain issues. In the spring, leading up to the conference, Professor Jennifer Abbassi, Ph.D., chair of the Global Studies Department, offers a class entitled “Global Issues at the United Nations,” which teaches about the workings of the UN, the assigned country, and the respective committees on which the country sits in the real UN. Students in the class form the Model UN delegation and travel to New York in April to join 4,000 other students from more than two dozen countries for the National Model UN Conference. “You step out of your own shoes for that week and represent the foreign policy of a country whose views you may or may not agree with,” says Osti. “That is the real learning opportunity.”
During the 2007 Model UN Conference, the Randolph delegation represented Jamaica, and Osti acted as the Jamaican judge sitting on the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia. Her group’s “assignment” was to simulate trials of convicted war criminals, and Osti was awarded “Outstanding Delegate in Committee” for her excellent work. “Many describe participation in the Model UN as a life changing experience,” says Osti. “You learn how to do so many things, and you get to speak to people from all over the world; it really is like a global forum for students.” “The Model European Union and the Model United Nations are both great ways for students to strengthen their diplomacy skills and put into practice what they have researched,” says Professor Abbassi, who has served as faculty advisor for both the Model EU and the Model UN for the last eight years.
Matea describes Professor Abbassi as “the genius behind all of this.” “What I most appreciate about Dr. Abbassi as my professor, my advisor, and my friend is that she continually encourages me to look at issues in a way I may not have thought about before,” says Osti, “and to understand that so many factors in the world are connected, and often there is no simple solution. Issues therefore require a multi-disciplinary consideration.”
Osti is not waiting until graduation to apply what she has learned. In summer 2007, she completed an internship in Bangkok, Thailand, with the United Nations Environment Program—Regional Resource Center for Asia and the Pacific. Her work at the UNEP allowed Osti to combine her passions for international affairs and the environment by working on research pertaining to air pollution mitigation. During the research, Osti says she collaborated with experts from eight South Asian countries on the issue of transboundary air pollution. She is especially thankful for her experiences at the Model EU and Model UN where she learned the “art of diplomacy.”
Matea is not concerned just with improving the quality of life across the globe, she is also working to address environmental issues in her own back yard. Osti sits on Randolph’s Environmental Issues Council, which focuses on how to most effectively manage and conserve the College’s resources. Also, last fall, she was recruited by Professor Karin Warren, who chairs the city’s Natural Resources Advisory Committee, to help the city of Lynchburg form an “environmental checklist.” The checklist will be used in future reviews of new development requests to determine environmental impacts. Osti, who is receiving honors credit for her work with the city, says, “It feels good to know I’m leaving the community with something.”
The next step for Matea is graduate school at Oxford University in England. She has been accepted into the university’s masters program. Afterward, she would like to work in environmental change and management. “Whatever I do, I want everything that I’ve learned about the world to be incorporated into my job,” says Osti. One thing is clear: wherever Matea Osti chooses to go, she will continue to make important contributions and set a lasting example. And for Randolph students, she is proof of how successful a student can be in pursuing and achieving goals that have personal meaning.