The following article was written by Frank Pobutkiewcz, a Model UN veteran of Boston University and founder of the All-American Model UN Program, which provides US high school students with a number of opportunities to compete in US and International conferences. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Model United Nations teaches core lessons in cross-cultural understanding. Students learn how to resolve interstate policy differences, how to adapt to changing circumstances, and also learn general communication skills through moderated and unmoderated debate. However, the true challenge of cross-cultural relationships can only be discovered by interacting with peers from a different country.
I always like to tell the story of the first time that the All-American Model UN team attended the WEMUN Expo Conference in Beijing, China. With students from across the United States, the regional differences appeared as soon as the students on the team met each other. Upon landing in China, those differences melted away. A more challenging set of circumstances directed all of our attention: communicating with our peers from several other countries, in a different country.
Communication Challenge Present Opportunities for Deeper Understanding
Trouble with communication occurs on many different levels. Even with a shared tongue, vocabulary and usage still plays a crucial role. Though it may be frustrating at times, working through communication miscues strengthens understanding. Delegates spend much more time on points that would be rushed through in a homogenous environment. This shared experience in turn can lead to better relationships, in and out of committee.
Cultural Idiosyncrasies Provide a Window into Policy
Political policies are not always a result of political thought. Many times, a state’s foreign policy reflects unique cultural aspects. For example, neither Norway nor Iceland is a member of the International Convention for the Regulation of Whaling. The motivation clearly reflects their cultural heritage.
The previous example is a clear instance of culture influencing policy. Deeper analysis will show how more powerful, ingrained aspects of some cultures reflect their outlook on international issues. East Asian cultures typically have traditions of respecting authority while East European cultures tend to distrust it. These historic legacies frequently project into policy and it is difficult to understand without direct interaction with a different culture.
Common Connections Reduce National Distrust
It may be outlandish to hope that visiting other countries will lead to better understanding. It may be even more foolish to think that a deeper understand will lead to a reduction in distrust on a national level. One of the most important lessons that studying the United Nations has taught me has been to examine the big picture and aim not for incremental change, but for lasting change on a global scale. I wholeheartedly believe the more connections that American students have around the world, the more trust will develop for years to come.
Moreover, traveling abroad and directly interacting with another culture can eliminate preconceived bias and stereotypes. What you think you know about a country may be entirely different from the reality of everyday life in that country.
Why Attend a Model UN Conference? Why not just Tour another Country?
Model United Nations conferences are more than just an excuse to travel abroad; they are an unparalleled chance to interact with peers. I cannot understate the importance of the learning potential of peer-to-peer interaction across cultures.
That is not to say there is no value in traveling for tourism. There is an immense amount of value in travel itself. However, for whatever value you place on ordering an espresso in a French café you must admit the value is far greater when discussing the global coffee trade with a French student. Model UN provides the platform for students to learn from each other while delving into pressing international issues.
Other Best Delegate Posts by Frank:
How to Include Model UN in Your Résumé
The All-American Model UN Program is currently recruiting US high school students to compete at the Yale Model Government Europe conference hosted in Budapest, Hungary. For more information, please visit http://allamericanmun.com/ymge2014. To help more students take advantage of travel opportunities, all Best Delegate alumni will receive a 10% reduction in tuition costs for all All-American programs.