Yale’s Frankie Costa Discusses Summer Camp, YMUN China, and Launching Conferences Abroad

by Ryan on May 2, 2012

YIRA President Frankie Costa Discusses New Summer Camp, YMUN China, and Launch Conferences Abroad

From visiting conferences and getting to know different clubs, KFC and I meet some amazing people who are making an impact beyond the conferences they attend and the clubs they’re part of — they’re impacting the larger Model UN community.

A couple months ago, KFC sat down with ILMUNC 2012 SecGen Phill Venice about U.Penn as a Model UN powerhouse as well as the future growth of Model UN. Along those same lines, I had a chance to interview Frankie Costa, outgoing President of the Yale International Relations Association, about their new summer program — the Yale MUN Institute — as well as YMUN China and a growing trend amongst college MUN clubs to launch conferences abroad.

Best Delegate: Firstly, congratulations on MUNTY’s win at Harvard HNMUN! How did the team prepare for the conference? What factors led to its success?

Frankie Costa: I think HNMUN demonstrated the hard work and high caliber of this year’s team.  We had won Best Small at NCSC and UPMUNC but hadn’t been directly up against some of the other great teams in the Large Delegation bracket.  We won HNMUN last year, but this year was particularly promising for the future of MUNTY: we won gavels in 1/3 of all committees at HNMUN, and about half of those now sit on the desks of my freshmen teammates.  This speaks principally to the unique selection process employed by our team.  This year, we maintained our tested three-part tryout structure and revamped our evaluation process, while focusing on wider campus promotion and private recruitment.  In the end, we accepted the top 10% of Yalies who tried out, and many others continue to be active members of the Yale International Relations Association. Having such a small group immediately makes the team united and determined—the main reason why MUNTY performs so successfully and creates life-long friendships.  Additionally, our Head Delegates added to the unique arsenal of training techniques and focused her efforts on intense strategic and oratory preparation for underclassmen.  This year, YIRA also subsidized non-MUNTY members to compete at Model UN conferences as ad-hoc teams, one of which we sent to McMUN.  I think this opportunity equitably complements our selection process and helps further support Model UN on campus.

BD: In addition to its flagship conferences YMUN and SCSY, YIRA launched YMGE Prague and YMUN Korea. More and more college MUN clubs starting conferences abroad, such as Harvard’s HMUN China and U.Penn’s ILMUNC China. What led YIRA to launch international conferences? Why did you select Prague and Seoul as locations? And are you considering launching other international conferences?

FC: YIRA has indeed seen rapid expansion in membership and operations, doubling in a single year the annual operating budget that had been static for the preceding 42 years of our existence.  This year, we hosted over 500 students at inaugural sessions of Yale Model Government Europe and Yale Model United Nations Korea in November and March, respectively.  Both of these conferences were proposed by members of the Yale International Relations Association to the YIRA Executive Board of Directors under the auspices of our independent initiatives program.

Apart from Prague’s incredible history and scenic beauty, we chose to host YMGE in the Czech Republic as a way to bring a novel forum for debate and diplomacy to a central location in Europe, differentiating it from other MUN and debate conferences with its unique conference-wide integrated crises.  We immediately witnessed higher than usual retention rates when we opened registration last month for the second annual session of Yale Model Government Europe.

We received positive feedback about the demand in Korea and realized how many Korean high school and college students knew about YMUN and SCSY but were unable to attend because of the obvious high fixed costs of travelling to New Haven. This was one of the reasons YMUN Korea featured a collegiate crisis committee in addition to the top 10 committee at YMUN.  We were also very proud to be the first student organization to ever secure an independent contract with Seoul National University, the top-ranked college in Korea, which co-hosted the inaugural session in March.

As you mentioned, Harvard and Penn have both hosted conferences in China this year with WELAND International.  In addition to the new international conferences we run independently, I’m excited to announce that the YIRA Executive Board has also just finalized an agreement to launch the first-ever YMUN China next March.  This 700-person conference will be our third major international venture this year.

I am proud of our board, secretariats, and general membership for all their work this year in advancing our educational mandate and our mission of promoting international relations. I am particularly impressed by our members’ capacity to independently organize conferences from scratch and successfully execute in one year, and I look forward to these conferences’ sustainable growth and their future benefits for participants and YIRA members alike.

BD: YIRA is doing something no other college MUN club or IR organization has done before: starting its own summer program, YMUNI. Why did YIRA decide to launch YMUNI? What should students expect at YMUNI?

FC: We decided to initiate YMUNI when observing one of MUNTY’s training sessions this year.  One of the freshmen referenced her experience at a debate camp, and I started talking to my teammates about the possibility of starting our own teaching institute. It is the first ever student-run residential summer camp at the university, and Yale has been incredibly helpful and supportive throughout the process. We selected Eesan Balakumar, former MUNTY Head Delegate, to be YMUNI Executive Director, and he has done a fantastic job.  We crafted the structure and curriculum of the program and believe we offer a uniquely stimulating and enjoyable experience.  MUNTY and other Yale debating societies have proven training methods, tactics and techniques that not only make team members better delegates and debaters, but also better equipped for life in general.  That’s the idea behind YMUNI.  The skills honed and strategies employed by MUNTY serve delegates well beyond MUN conferences. Selected YMUNI students can expect to learn advanced debate and diplomacy skills through seminar-style teaching, focused practice, and discussions with notable professors and diplomats.  We will be teaching the foundational skills of MUN, primarily as the architecture for the ultimate focus of the intensive institute: improving critical and lateral thinking, enhancing rhetorical skills, and fostering an interest in global affairs.

BD: Besides conferences and camps, YIRA offers a wide range of programs to engage its student members beyond Model UN. For example, students just got back from YIRA-sponsored Spring Break service trips. Can you tell us more about the trips? How much funding did YIRA provide for the trips?

FC: As the largest student organization at Yale, YIRA continues to offer our members and the larger community more opportunities every semester to explore global affairs.  Beyond the Model-UN affiliation—which includes SCSY, YMUN, YMUN China, YMUN Korea, YMGE, YMUNI, UNCSY and MUNTY—we host some of the most prominent speaker events on campus.  This year we hosted numerous ambassadors, such as the Vietnamese Ambassador to the US, and multiple heads of state, including former President Fidel V. Ramos of the Philippines.  We noticed an increasing demand from Yalies to meet such luminaries in a more informal and intimate setting, and so we founded the YIRA Roundtable series—bi-weekly dinners with a small group of members and a distinguished guest.

Just this month we constitutionally incorporated the two-year old YIRA Board of Strategy and Operations (BSO), a constituent body that further facilitates discussion of international issues. The BSO has established multiple initiatives.  These range from the International Relations Symposium at Yale (IRSY)—a conference for high schoolers to meet with Yalies, professors and fellows to learn about important global issues—to the Yale International Film Month—a campus-wide showcase of international films and documentaries, featuring screenings and panel events with directors and writers.  There are plenty of other programs, and next year we plan to devote $15,000 more to support independent initiatives. This will share the responsibility of idea generation with the entire campus and capitalize on the innovation of the general membership. Socially, we complimented our weekly happy hours with study breaks, as well as monthly parties, semesterly banquets, bi-annual retreats, and an inaugural annual international formal.

As you mentioned, international trips compose an important aspect of our operations. Traditionally, we have conducted election monitoring and political observation trips.  This year we subsidized more trips than ever before and expanded the scope of their missions.  These included social and economic studies in Cuba and Ecuador, nuclear disarmament missions in Germany and the UK, and political observations in Egypt and the Philippines.  Additionally, we continue to send YIRA members across the country on domestic trips—from speaking at the General Assembly under YIRA’s UN consultative status to observing the spillover effect of cartel violence in Mexico along the border.  All trips produce “takeaways” upon return to share their experience with the larger community.  Takeaways have ranged from written publications to full-length documentaries..

BD: YIRA also runs an outreach program, Hemispheres, to teach Model UN and international affairs to New Haven students, as well as a publication, the Yale Review of International Studies. Could you tell us more about these programs and how they fit into YIRA’s mission? 

FC: Hemispheres is the new name for a program that has been around for years, but recently shifted focus.  While the initial intent was simply to prepare local high school students to compete at YMUN, the program has rapidly expanded its scope to match the increase in participating students.  We now focus on teaching oratory skills and critical analysis with a revamped lesson plan centered on the theory and practice international relations. There are now over a dozen teachers and mentors, who respectively instruct students with weekly presentations and activities related to a particular region or global issue and engage students more directly in smaller groups outside of class. The curriculum teaches problem-solving techniques—examining a current global trend or regional conflict, investigating its history and discussing potential solutions.  We have had multiple students garner awards at YMUN, compete at other conferences, and even matriculate to Yale.  We have better integrated our students into the larger YIRA community, inviting them to speaker events, study breaks, and our annual UN trip.

The Yale Review of International Studies (YRIS) is an academic journal focused on opinion and long-form scholarship relating to contemporary global affairs.  I think YRIS is one of the most exciting new programs, and it has certainly seen the most rapid growth and improvement in such a short time period.  Entering its third year, YRIS has already received multiple grants, campus-wide recognition and the highest quality submissions.  The editorial board is truly composed of the best and brightest at Yale, some having published in nationally acclaimed academic journals.  The level of interest at Yale—and increasingly beyond—speaks not only to the professionalism of the publication, but also to the significant demand YRIS meets.  It satisfies a niche within the YIRA community and expands the breadth of our membership and operations.  YRIS has even established its own visible speaker series to complement the diplomats and luminaries the YIRA Board of Strategy and Operations bring to campus, engaging journalists like Foreign Affairs Managing Editor Jonathan Tepperman, who came just last week.

Hemispheres and YRIS are two of the most valuable programs within YIRA, adding to the eclectic range of initiatives the organization undertakes and enhancing the vibrancy of our diverse social community.

BD: How did you get involved in Model UN? You told me that you did debate in high school but now you’re a hardcore MUNer — How does debate compare to MUN? And my last question for every Model UN leader that I interview: What does Model UN mean to you?

FC: It’s interesting because I think my high school experience very much affirms regional tendencies you’ve noted before about debate and MUN.  I led both the Model UN and Speech and Debate teams my senior year in Pittsburgh, but was invested primarily in Public Forum Debate.  The Model UN circuit didn’t seem to be as large or taken as seriously when I went to high school in the Mid-Atlantic, and so I never considered the discrete skill set Model UN fosters.  I’ll always love debate and think it demands you to be quicker on your feet than MUN, but both are equally intellectually stimulating.  Furthermore, Model UN teaches you the practical virtue of diplomacy.  It’s one thing to convince a mute third-party observer that you’re correct and your adversary isn’t. That’s what debate is all about. It’s an entirely new challenge to convince your adversary to compromise and voluntarily accept or endorse your agenda, amassing a coalition of allies, all while a third-party moderates. That’s what MUN is all about.  Lastly, MUN teaches delegates to cooperate and work with people. A friend recently told me she thought MUN was just a high school thing, implying that debate, on the other hand, is more useful in the real world.  My response is the reason why MUN is important to me.  We live in an increasingly multi-polar world, and governments must now choose diplomacy over warfare.  It is no longer simply about rhetorical combat, but reasoned compromise.  The same is true if you sit on the board of a major company or non-profit.  MUN teaches you to strive for mutually beneficial outcomes—the foundation of successful professional careers and healthy personal relationships.

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