Reflections on a Year of Model UN

by Soraya on April 17, 2013

Looking back on this passed year in Model United Nations, I find myself looking over a landscape of triumphs, failures and lessons. It’s not easy pulling out six conferences a year with APs, SATs and a much needed social life pulling at your sides. I’ve had various all nighters, possibly more papers of research printed than an average textbook, and if someone were to check my blood right now, I’m almost positive it’d be made out of coffee. But, even with all the stress that accompanies being a Model UN’er, I am craziest enough to say it’s all worth it.

It’s worth absolutely everything you put in, all the hours, sweat, points of information… everything. And contrary to popular thought, that gavel may possibly be the least of what you get back.

My First Experience as Chair

In Puerto Rico the conferences are organized by a system of school clubs run by high school students. This means that by your second or third year of debating, you’re usually assigned to be co-chair of one of the five yearly competitions. It was in this way that I started out the year not as a delegate, but as the chair of the Syrian Civil War committee.

Preparing the briefing and crises were honestly the easy part of it. Not because it didn’t take time – because it did – but the topic had been covered by the news so much that I honestly found myself needing research only for the most detailed of information. I wanted to print a large-scale map, propaganda, and prepared crisis material, but with school starting at the same time, I realized it was maybe too ambitious. My co-chair and I were able to get a pretty sound briefing set up, with questions focused on how international bodies should approach the situation. With the media so often supporting the rebels, I wanted to really get the delegates to think about the more gray areas of fighting – the evils committed on both sides.

My co-chair, Marta, and I obviously in deep concentration

My co-chair, Marta, and I obviously in deep concentration

The funny thing about being chair is that nothing turns out how you planned. I’d say nearly 80% of the committee was improvisation on the dais’ part. Because so much happens in crisis committees, especially ones like the Syrian Civil War where circumstances can change from one day to the next, I found myself acting upon thoughts inspired by the delegates’ flow of ideas. The best crisis, in my opinion, was actually a joke crisis where France re-conquered Syria. We had a guest speaker who boldly announced in French, that everyone from then on had to speak French and eat croissants. Brilliant.

Over all, I found the biggest lesson I learned as chair was that quality certainly trumps quantity in terms of debate. I would sometimes catch myself spacing out because of a repetitive moment in committee until an otherwise average delegate added something completely original. And while that person may not have spoken enough to win a higher prize, he beat out many who had merely echoed others arguments.

My First Gavel

Yep, that was this year.

Me and my co-delegate, Syra Ortiz, winning both of our first gavels

Me and my co-delegate, Syra Ortiz, winning both of our first gavels

Committee: Indian Independence

Delegation: Gandhi

Pretty snazzy delegation? Well, considering the fact that Gandhi believed that the Indian economy should be made up of 600,000 independent villages where cotton would be used as currency, I think snazzy may not be the right word. In fact, I may go as far to say that Gandhi was one of the hardest delegations I’ve chosen, and I’ve been Iran in an Israeli cabinet.

So here’s how I did it. I took the worst part of my delegation (he’s all ideological) and made it sound ridiculously important. My co-delegate and I used a lot of his speeches to argue against Indian separation. When other delegations came out with plans for a future economy that sounded way more realistic than our own, we tried to play with the morality of industrialization and capitalism rather than exalt our own utopian ideas.

And while we could avoid the topic of legitimate solutions during debate, the more complex part came during resolution writing. We simply had to compromise on many economic terms, but pushed very hard for gradual rather than rapid transitions into a modern economy. We also maintained our stance on education, on denying India’s partition, and on the caste system. I think the balance we learned to find between sticking to our delegation’s policy and passing a resolution is a quintessential aspect of Model United Nations.

 NAIMUN: the Big Committee with the Small Partner

I know sixty delegations is not a General Assembly, and I honestly have no idea how other people do that, but to me, sixty translated into much slower debate than I was used to. Nevertheless, my biggest obstacle turned out to not be the size of the committee, but rather, it’s topic combined with the situation of my co-delegate. Traveling all the way with us from Puerto Rico, my co-delegate was in seventh grade and preparing for a committee on Sex Trafficking and Reproductive Rights. Intense is just waaaaay an understatement.

Me and my co-delegate Carlos Juan at NAIMUN

Me and my co-delegate Carlos Juan at NAIMUN

I had done a lot of research previous to the committee on Sex Trafficking because of another club I was part of and was well informed on just how difficult the topic was emotionally speaking. And if it was difficult for girl in eleventh grade… for a boy in seventh, the topic seemed outright impossible.

But, we got through it. I had to give him several talks as he struggled to find solutions to a topic that overwhelms even top NGO persons. There were moments where he’d get so frustrated, feeling like the topic was so outside of his abilities that he just wanted to give up the whole thing. And there were times where I too, frustrated with his frustration, wanted to let him give up.

After numerous of inspirational talks, I started to see him gain confidence. He became eager to sit down with me and go back and forth on arguments and key questions. When committee started, I saw him fight through his nerves as we read our policy statement. He even started giving me advice on whom we should ally ourselves with and others we should stay away from.

And when we got third place (maybe not our most desired award) I realized that I had gained something entirely new from the experience. After three years of competing, the award I was holding meant nothing to me in comparison to the smile on my co-delegate’s face. I knew that he would never give up on United Nations now. That and knowing I had passed on to him a passion for a club that has taught me more about myself than APs and SATs ever will.

Looking back on this year, I see a club that has given me the ability to think on my feet, to make an impossible situation do-able, and to help new kids believe in themselves. I’d say that’s worth the no sleep thing.

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