English may have been the official language spoken at the World Model United Nations competition, but with 2,200 students from over 67 countries, it was not the first language for most.
This spring break, 14 students from the College of William and Mary’s International Relations Club took a trip to Singapore for the annual conference. The IR Club is a regular participant at the conference, where, each year, students are sent to a different country and have the opportunity to debate with and meet students from around the globe.
Although 14 College students attended the event, the IR Club is made up of about 120 people. World MUN is an important part of what the IR Club does, but they also organize many more activities. Many members travel to conferences, host speakers, participate in service activities and have socials for their members.
“Model UN isn’t all of what it’s about — we have a lot of social events like tab nights and service events,” Tanji Ahmed ’12 said. “As for speakers, last fall we had President Reveley talk about war powers, which was really heavily attended and very interesting.”
To help fund their trip to World MUN, the IR Club hosts Model UN conferences for middle and high school students. Additionally, IR Club members have a large role in helping World MUN participants prepare for the conference through research. Although the conference only lasts a week, the preparation starts months ahead of time.
“I know a lot of the club members got involved in our preparation and gave books, research articles, etc.,” Kedar Pavgi ’11 said. “It’s 14 people going, but we not only represent the club, we also represent the College. At the end of the day the entire college is helping us as well as getting its name recognition.”
Around February, the students who are selected to go to World MUN are assigned a committee for the conference and are told whom they will represent. While most of the College’s participants represented New Zealand, two represented individuals, such as the French Minister of Finance.
“Committees always have a study guide that we read,” Ahmed said. “We also research our particular country positions in regards to the topic that the committee chooses. We do position defenses on campus where we present what we learned to the IR [Club], and sometimes we have professors help us and give us advice.”
Participants must know their country’s stance on political topics, as well as how the political system works and what groups are large influences in government.
Their topic of research also depends on the style of the committee. Some of the committees resemble existing UN committees and debate current events. Others are historical committees in which participants debate an issue using the point of view of their assigned country at a specified point in history.
“The historical committee takes an event from the past and mocks a general situation response to that event,” Pavgi said. “So the groups we had there were answering questions of Apartheid.”
By the end of the conference, the goal is for each committee to propose a resolution for their issue.
“We are judged based on how diplomatic we are and how much we contribute to the debate,” Pavgi said. “This is not only through debate, but also through our contribution to the final resolution. Almost everyone [from the College] was part of the final resolution.”
This year, 11 of the College’s 14 participants walked away with awards. Although only one small and one large delegation “win” the conference, the College’s team had the second highest number of awards for a large delegation.
“Technically there isn’t a second place, but if there was, then we would have placed second,” Ahmed said. “We had 1.5 percent of a point difference with the winning team.”
However, the conference was not all about the competition. A meaningful portion of the trip included World MUN social events that varied in theme and encouraged the participants to get to know one another.
“Monday night we had global village night,” Ahmed said. “Every school gives out something that represents their country … so people from India gave out henna tattoos and Greeks gave Mediterranean food.”
While some events were aimed at showcasing the diversity of the people represented at the event, other events showcased the rich history and culture of Singapore. With authentic ++cuisine from Singapore and local performances, World MUN exhibited the local culture of Singapore. The events were held at various locations around Singapore, so students became familiar with the city during the conference. The participants were also able to explore Singapore before and after the conference started.
“We got there on a Friday and then we got to walk around Singapore the first couple of days,” Pavgi said. “It’s a very diverse city basically made up [of] three or four different cultures mixed into one. We got to go around, see different cultural sights and get to know the different neighborhoods in Singapore.”
While students do not always travel across the world to participate in Model UN, the benefit of going abroad centers around the ability to get to know students with the same interests and goals from across the globe.
“The fact that we could go to a conference where only 20 percent of the people were from North America was very unique,” Pavgi said. “In the end, they are college students, studying the same thing that you are at the same time. I met a ton of economic and international relations majors throughout my three years of participating.”
For some, the friendships they make while at World MUN last beyond the conference and are what make the trips really worthwhile.
“These students are so smart and fascinating, and just as excited to meet you as you are to meet them,” Zann Isacson ’13, one of the participants of this year’s conference, said. “I have continued to keep in touch with other students and I hope to one day visit them in their home countries.”