You can hear the battle cries just as prevalent as on the basketball court. Despite the best efforts of the conference to create peace, this is war, ironically enough. This is not the high school sport you may be thinking of, but Model U.N. is a competition in and of itself. It is a process unlike any other, fostering a sense of the difficulties of international diplomacy among youth while simultaneously allowing spirited debate and competition to be the order of the day.
At the University at Buffalo recently, epithets flew thick and fast and an intense, endemic struggle between idealism and pragmatism ran rampant. More than 600 students from all over Western New York came together to debate policies ranging from Internet censorship to the idea of universal currency to the United Nation’s role in tackling discrimination against homosexuals. Students do not only use their own ideas, however. The catch to Model U.N. is that you represent an assigned country. You come to identify with that nation. Their beliefs, their government and their policies become yours for the duration of the conference. Socially conservative (or radical) countries often offer participants the best opportunity to have a little fun and play devil’s advocate, as a country like Afghanistan or Turkey is not going to support an international ban on discrimination. They have religious beliefs to consider. This has the potential to create a litany of fascinating discussions.
The other process that is unique to a Model U.N. conference is parliamentary procedure itself. In order to prevent debates from being out of control, there is an amusingly large amount of red tape through which a delegation of students must comb through in order to get their ideas on the agenda. When my team went to the Harvard MUN conference, many students could be overheard saying things like “We’ve been talking in circles for days now!”
While it can be a little frustrating, it certainly serves one purpose: demonstrating how real, critical decisions and debates work. Sometimes a lot of talking is done and little action is taken. Other times, and as was the case in the UB conference, the notion of expediency prevails. Within a day, my conference created a guideline for basic international human rights, developed an economic plan that sought to stimulate health care in Myanmar, and developed a U.N.-mandated topographical analysis program to help guide resources toward nations in danger of experiencing natural disasters, and passed a unanimous motion to return to the conference next year.
This is a process that is primarily about international relations, but it allows for so much more. The intensity and complexity of the project forces students to interact with others, even occasionally others from foreign countries. Soon enough, the countries with whom you are collaborating on a solution become your friends, and friendships formed in the heat of battle are often the strongest. Model U.N. helps to foster an amalgamation of social and academic skills ranging from research and preparedness to social mobility and public speaking. If you want to be a successful delegate, all of these are vital. The experience you get when you’re at the conference is something unparalleled and a truly remarkable intellectual experience. I highly recommend joining your school’s Model U.N. team, as everything from local conferences at UB and Canisius to intense, multiday affairs at Harvard University can teach you lifelong lessons in international politics, human nature and the joy of friendly competition.
Joshu Creel is a senior at Park School.