From Thursday, February 4th to Sunday, February 7th, members of the East Model United Nations team competed virtually in the Model United Nations University of Chicago (MUNUC) conference.
Model United Nations is a nationally recognized extra-curricular activity where students role-play delegates to the United Nations and simulate UN committees. During the conferences, students will be assigned to different countries and will have to solve real-world issues with the policies and perspectives of that particular country while roleplaying as a character. Students must be familiar with parliamentary procedure, consisting of points and motions that the United Nations follows. These conferences are usually organized by high school or college MUN clubs.
As a result of the ongoing pandemic, the MUNUC conference, usually held at the University of Chicago, was run virtually.
Junior Zoe Peitrowaik is the parliamentary procedure chair for East’s MUN team. Her role as the parliamentary procedure chair is to explain the parliamentary procedure to delegates and guide them through how it’s applied in the conferences. She attended MUNUC in person last year and said she felt there were a few differences between in-person and online conferences in terms of communication.
“Online conferences are different from in-person conferences in that they rely much more on written communication. You can’t just tap someone on the shoulder and ask them a question or tell them to change something, you become much more reliant on sending them private messages or e-mails,” Peitrowaik said.
Junior Annika Srivastava agreed that not being able to physically interact with other members was a different experience, but overall the experience was extremely similar to the regular in-person conference.
“The rules and procedures of the virtual conference remained the same … I believe the only difference is the interaction between delegates. Normally, delegates would be running around the room to find signatories, people who sign the resolution to see it discussed. However, this process in an online setting is simply sending a private message over Zoom to another delegate,” Srivastava said.
AP United States History teacher and Model UN sponsor Rebecca Walters also said that the interaction between students was the biggest difference. In in-person conferences, students would normally have the opportunity to make friends and connections with students from other schools, which isn’t as easy online. However, club meetings have stayed the same.
“Virtual Model UN has not been that big of a change for us. We are still meeting weekly and participating in conferences, and we still practice debate and public speaking. It just isn’t as much fun,” Walters said.
Everything that they do at their meetings is in preparation for conferences like MUNUC. The students get the chance to put their skills to the test and have fun.
During this year’s MUNUC conference, students had various roles. Sophomore Anshul Puri has been in Model UN for two years and has participated in conferences before. This year, he was assigned to be a delegate from Russia.
“I had to lead the rightist [group] in Russia. I had to try to keep the Tsar control of the crown while other parties were trying to take Russia in a different direction. This was all happening while Russia was fighting in the first world war and there were many rebellions,” Puri explained.
Preparing for topics like these depends on the students’ tasks. If students are in a regular general assembly, a collection of representatives from each of the 193 member-states of the UN, a lot of research must be done to be successful. Their goal is to maintain international peace and security.
Many students, like Puri, are part of crisis committees. Crisis committees often mirror organizations and boards. In this, students don’t represent one country but take on the role of a character from a certain country with a specific viewpoint. Students are given a background guide about the issue they are targeting and must come up with a plan for what they want to accomplish.
“It’s difficult in general to do extensive preparation for a crisis committee,” Pietrowaik said. “They’re designed to be unpredictable and force delegates to adapt to different situations.”
Pietrowaik was also part of a crisis committee. Her character was William Huskisson, part of the British House of Commons in 1810. Her task as Huskisson was to guide the British Empire through several issues such as the aftermath of the American Revolution and the Napoleonic Wars.
Since MUNUC is one of the longer conferences, sophomore Aanya Roy said she felt that spending the four-day conference debating topics like the ones above was much more tiring online. Each day would usually only end around 10 pm to 11 pm.
“Usually spending the four-day conference in Chicago makes it much more enjoyable and distracts delegates from the extensive hours of debate. However, it was a very insightful experience, and I’m grateful I was able to attend,” Roy said.
Given the changes due to being online, the team was still able to have a fun experience and bring home awards.
Junior Aryav Bothra, president of East’s Model UN team, and Annika Srivastava won the Outstanding Delegate award, as a double delegation for Nauru in the Pacific Island Forum.
“Ultimately, the conference was a great learning experience where I improved my writing and speaking skills. Our hard work was rewarded by receiving the Outstanding Delegate Award, which is the highest award you can receive in your committee,” Srivastava said.
Aanya Roy also represented the state of Nauru, and her stance was that the country should abolish slavery. At this conference, she won the Honorable Mention award, which is the runner-up to the Outstanding Delegate award.
After a successful conference, the students look forward to hopefully attending the conferences in-person next year.
“I know we have a few more online conferences [this year], but I can’t wait till next year’s MUNUC [conference] when it is in-person. It is my favorite one we attend every year,” Puri said.
The team still has two more conferences planned for this year, the Glenbrook South Model United Nations conference and the Clark Model United Nations conference. They are also planning a MUN speaker event that they’re looking forward to.
Online or in-person, Roy said she loved participating in the MUNUC conferences, getting the chance to network and develop key skills.
“One thing many people don’t realize is that [Model UN] develops skills that aren’t solely used in political science,” Roy said. “If someone is interested in business, medicine, sports, or more, there’s a UN committee out there for you.”
Deshna Chitrarasu is a staff writer for Oswego East High School’s online news magazine the Howl