A High School Student’s Perspective on Model United Nations

by Ryan on February 6, 2008

The following is a guest post by Joey O’Donnell, St. Paul’s School ‘09.

Last year was my first year of participating in Model United Nations. I attended three conferences: the 2006 Harvard MUN Conference (HMUN), the 2007 Yale MUN (YMUN), and the 2007 North American Invitational MUN (NAIMUN). I was lucky to have the exposure that I did, but felt limited by how overwhelming the conferences were for me. Fortunately, MUN is an activity that one can improve tremendously through trial-and-error, and, more effectively, through guided instruction—both of which I experienced.

At HMUN 2006, I represented Turkey in the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). I only wrote one of the two required position papers, and was completely wrong about Turkey’s position on the topic I did write about. It wasn’t the best of starts, and it didn’t get much better as the conference progressed; by the end of the conference I hadn’t spoken at the podium once. After this experience, I considered quitting MUN, but was convinced otherwise by my adviser, who somehow continued to have faith in me.

YMUN 2007 was a much better experience for me. I represented Mali in the Human Rights Council (HRC), which was divided into two smaller committees, and felt much more comfortable voicing my opinions during debates. Still, though, I felt outperformed by fellow delegates on knowledge of the rules, research, speaking ability, and resolution writing, just to name a few crucial MUN skills. At the very least, I still got a taste of what it was like to be involved in my committee, and that felt great.

To finish the year, my school attended NAIMUN 2007, one of the largest high school MUN conferences in the country, hosted by Georgetown. I was representing Cuba in the General Assembly Ad-Hoc Committee on Torture, and one of the two topics was, “Treatment of Prisoners at Guantánamo.” Could a topic be any more relevant to the country I was representing? Probably not, which made me nervous in the days leading up to the conference.

But the conference went surprising well. This time, I wrote a resolution, formed alliances with other countries, and felt in command of most of the material being presented. The main obstacle for me was fitting everything I had say into such a small period of time, especially because I was in a large committee.

After completing all three of those conferences, and feeling that I needed to change different aspects of my approach to MUN after each conference, I began thinking about strategy. I thought that if I could just incrementally increase my skills in all of those different areas—research, public speaking, resolution writing, time management—I would be on my way to enjoying each conference I attended to the fullest extent.

And then this year, I discovered BestDelegate.com. It answered almost all of the concerns I had about MUN, including proper technique and useful strategies:

• When it came to research, there was no need to ruthlessly print hundreds of articles that you thought were crucial to understanding your country. Start simple—researching the geography, history, and trading habits of your country—and then build upon the fundamental knowledge you acquired.

• For public speaking skills, just practice with friends and family, and most importantly, “make it up” (see Ryan’s post on “Making It Up”). Since it’s virtually impossible to know every position of your country, if you infer ideas based upon what you do know, and then voice them, you’ll be fine.

• When writing resolutions in your committee, study some real resolutions that have actually been passed by the UN, look at what your fellow delegates are working on, and refer to the conference’s delegate guide. After doing these things, you should be fine. It’s also a skill that takes time to get good at, so be patient.

• Lastly, for technical problems, such as not knowing the rules or stressing out because of time constraints, just ask many questions and experiment. Take note of the motions that are being presented by other delegates, ask your chair what they mean if you don’t know, and then try presenting some yourself. When time is an issue, breathe deeply, and don’t try to cram more than one or two points into a 30-60 second speech.

After I learned these strategies and many others from BestDelegate.com, I began implementing them while practicing in the months leading up to YMUN 2008, where I represented the Netherlands in the European Union. In such a short period of time, I saw dramatic increases in my researching skills, speaking skills, and overall understanding of the United Nations and its capabilities in real life. By the final session, I felt that I knew much more about foreign policy than when I arrived, and was inspired by the actions and decisions that my committee made together. And in the end, I won the award for Outstanding Delegate.

I’m eager to attend more conferences in the future, because there’s really only one direction to go in. I know the Best is yet to come. 😉

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