In sports, there are independent club teams that are separate from school teams. High school and college athletes typically play for their school, but in the off-season they might play on a team in a private league or youth league, or be part of a travel team or all-star team.
Independent club teams also exist in Model UN, and they’ve been around for a while. When Ryan and I attended Harvard HNMUN in college, we participated alongside the powerhouse United Netherlands, an independent Model UN team that comprised students from different schools in the Netherlands.
But in the past couple years, we’ve seen a sudden rise in the number and quality of independent Model UN teams. Many of these teams have made quite a name for themselves at various high school and college conferences by bringing large delegations and winning many awards.
This includes homeschool teams, community organizations, US-based travel teams, and international travel teams. In this article, I’ll provide examples of each category and offer explanations for their sudden rise in Model UN.
Students usually participate as part of their school’s delegation at Model UN conferences, but almost every conference also allows delegates to register as individuals. Homeschool students have been attending Model UN conferences under the radar for a while now by registering as individuals. But recently, homeschool parents have started banding together to form a Model UN team for their students to make logistics easier and to give their delegates recognition as part of a delegation.
Two examples of homeschool teams are Strada based in Fort Worth, Texas, and the Chicagoland MUN Club based in Chicago, Illinois. Both teams travel primarily to conferences in their respective regions and have started winning awards already — Strada has already won multiple delegation awards this year.
Model UN is an effective teaching tool to get students involved in civic participation and several community organizations have taken note and have added Model UN into their list of activities. Various YMCA organizations sponsor Model UN conferences, classes, and workshops across the United States, oftentimes targeted toward middle school students. For example, the YMCA of Burlington County, New Jersey hosts the YMCA Hershey conference in Pennsylvania and students can form their own delegations to participate at this community organization-hosted conference.
Another example is the Korean-American Coalition (KAC) based in the Koreatown neighborhood of Los Angeles, California. KAC focuses on advocacy and youth empowerment for the Korean-American community, and they sponsor many activities including a Model UN team to help Koreatown students become more engaged in civics. All of the students go to schools that do not have Model UN as a club, and they are also required to be in mentoring circles and participate in community service as part of their broader KAC program.
US-Based Travel Teams
Private travel teams based in the USA most closely resemble the independent sports teams that were mentioned earlier. These teams are meant to be competitive and draw students from a variety of schools to form their teams (with many of the students going to schools that don’t have MUN clubs). Oftentimes these teams will have their own classes or training sessions and these teams have the ability to travel to many conferences domestically and abroad. Essentially, private travel teams have formed to provide students with more chances to participate in Model UN than they would have had at their own schools.
The League of Creative Minds (LCM), based in Burlingame, California, is an example of a US-based travel team. Students take the LCM international relations class after school and participate in conferences all over North America and abroad during the school year, and during the summer the team goes through a summer program before attending conferences abroad as part of a study tour. Another example is the new College Apprentice All-American Team based in Boston, Massachusetts, which is recruiting students to travel to China for the WEMUN conference and study tour.
International Travel Teams
Private travel teams have also become big outside the US. One of the original creators of this concept is the United Netherlands organization (founded in 2004), which comprises a team of Dutch delegates from different universities. They go through a training program together and then compete at the world’s most competitive conferences where they have had consistent success.
Following United Netherlands’ success at HNMUN, many students in other countries started to do the same in order to create a delegation with better delegates, better training, better country assignments, better organizational capacity, and perhaps most important better networking and understanding of each other within a country’s youth. MUN Society Belgium and Peruvian Universities are two more examples of these combined teams that have achieved success at the most competitive college conferences in the world such as HNMUN and WorldMUN.
Most of these private travel teams are student-run, but there are a few that are led by educational organizations. The Associazione Diplomatici based in Italy serves as a training academy for both high school and college Model UN students and regularly sends large delegations of Italian students to major high school and college conferences held in New York City such as UNA-USA’s GCIMUN and the NMUN-NY conferences. They’re also starting their own conference in New York City this Spring, CWMUN, to give their students more opportunities to travel.
WEMUN, which is based in Beijing, China, also sends large delegations of Chinese students to its partner high school conferences in the USA, Europe, and Asia and just started sending college students, too. WEMUN delegates attend the big Model UN conferences, including Harvard HMUN and U.Penn ILMUNC, and then they visit different college campuses and tour major cities. They also recruit some of their top Chinese delegates during the WEMUN Expo conference that they host in the summer.
A different spin on the international travel team concept can be found in UNA-USA’s Global Classrooms program abroad. Global Classrooms is a non-profit program run by UNA-USA that brings Model UN curriculum and conferences to inner-city school districts. The program has since expanded to many cities abroad. Many of these cities will host their own Global Classrooms MUN conference and then sponsor their top delegates with a trip to New York for the flagship GCIMUN conference, thus forming a travel team of students from different schools.
It is important to note that none of the teams mentioned above are the sole provider of Model UN in their respective countries, and that’s why we stopped short of calling them “all-star teams” or “national teams.” In fact, most of these countries have other high school- or university-affiliated teams that are also very good and they oftentimes send teams to the same conferences as the independent travel teams.
Will independent Model UN teams continue to rise?
I think that more homeschool teams will form once parents are aware of their existence. Ryan and I consistently get emails from homeschool students asking if they can participate in Model UN. We refer them to the homeschool teams in their respective regions that we’re aware of, but I hope that this article raises awareness about other independent Model UN teams and encourages the creation of more teams.
I also believe that more community organizations should sponsor Model UN programs, but this is dependent on the funding of each of these non-profit organizations and also their understanding of the value of Model UN. We’re still not sure if YMCA is its own unified circuit or if YMCAs are organizing Model UN conferences independently, but Ryan and I hope to visit one in the future to learn more.
It seems that US-based private travel teams have a significant opportunity to grow. LCM grew in Silicon Valley, an area that is rich in academic talent and wealth, but underserved in terms of schools with MUN clubs. There are many other major metropolitan areas where high school MUN isn’t as developed yet relative to the size of the city and that’s where students may want to get together to form their own teams. Seattle, San Diego, Dallas, Houston, Miami, Phoenix, Minneapolis, St. Louis, and Pittsburgh are some cities that come to mind. Also, students from more isolated or rural areas can form their own private teams too. Finally, it may be possible to see students that love MUN but are limited in the number of conferences that they can attend unite together into powerhouse independent travel teams.
And abroad, international travel teams also have room for growth. Many of the existing teams have made huge strides in terms of competition and are relatively well-known now at the major conferences. Teams in other countries will try to emulate the success of these international travel teams and particularly the combined team model. Alumni who had attended conferences and now want to bring more students from their country to conferences abroad will also drive the formation of more international travel teams. Finally, some of the existing programs have also been financially sustainable or even financially lucrative as there is high demand to travel to MUN conferences abroad, and we anticipate other non-profit and for-profit education companies developing their Model UN programs to sponsor their own travel teams.
What do you think about independent Model UN teams? Let us know in the comments below!