Over Easter Break, 20 Gustavus students from the Gustavus Model U.N. club as well as Professor Mimi Gerstbauer’s Model UN/International Diplomacy course traveled to Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan to represent the college in the Arrowhead Model United Nations conference.
The trip was supported by funding from numerous sources, including the Office of the Provost, the Diversity Leadership Council, Student Senate, the Departments of Political Science, Scandinavian Studies, and Modern Languages, Literatures, and Cultures, and the Kendall Center for Engaged Learning. Competing against students from 14 different colleges, Gustavus students, many of whom were first time Model U.N. participants, came well prepared and made a strong showing.
“I was really impressed with the level of preparation that my students had,” Gerstbauer said, who serves as advisor for the Model U.N. club as well as instructor of the Model U.N. course. “They were very active participants in the conference.”
Priscilla Otero took home the Best Delegate Award on the Security Council, Jason Alper was recognized as the Best Delegate Honorable Mention for the Economic and Finance committee, and Jessica Le and Marissa Bogdansky were named exceptional participants on the Social, Cultural, and Humanitarian committee. “It’s a very competitive environment” Alper said, a student from Gerstbauer’s class who was participating in his first Model U.N. conference. “ I put my nose down and worked hard… I was really happy to get an award.”
At Model United Nations conferences, participants debate international issues from the perspective of countries they are designated to represent. At the Arrowhead conference, Gustavus students represented the viewpoints of China, Denmark, Kazakhstan, Pakistan, and Tunisia. Students are then asked to represent their designated country’s viewpoint on one of five committees: the Security Council, Political and Security committee; Economic and Finance committee Social, Cultural and Humanitarian committee and Environmental committee.
“[Participating in Model U.N.] directly affects the awareness of an individual because it requires you to keep up with the news regarding international and national affairs and at a conference, research and presents your stance through the lenses of another country,” Model U.N. club Co-President Suleman Asif said. “That leads to a much better understanding of, not only, what is happening around the world but also why is it happening and how can it be resolved.”
In addition to ensuring that students are informed about world issues and perspectives, Model U.N. provides students with a fantastic opportunity to develop communication and problem solving skills that are highly applicable to many situations, The roleplaying aspect of Model U.N. ensures that students have a thorough enough understanding of the art of persuasion that they are able to make a convincing case for viewpoints with which they may not personally agree.
“You learn diplomacy – how to speak on issues in a way that is conciliatory and can work towards common ground versus obstructing deals and causing problems,” Gerstbauer said.
Even getting to the conference was an intense experience for Gustavus students. “It was a 12 hour bus ride to Northern Michigan,” said Alper. “You get there, have to be up at 7 in the morning, put the suit on, walk in there and hit the ground running.” Yet while participating in Model U.N. may be an intense experience, there is still plenty of time time for some lightheartedness. “The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea representative, who was from another school, got up in a meeting and sang happy birthday to his leader,” Gerstbauer said.
While the Arrowhead Conference is primarily a regional conference, students from all over the country attend many Model U.N. conferences. At the conferences, students get a chance not only to meet students not just from other parts of the country but students from all over the world, given the significant participation of international students. After committees are done meeting for the day, conferences frequently host social events to help students gain increased cultural understanding of the countries they have been “representing.”
In addition to providing an excellent item to put on a resume, Model U.N. also helps students connect with other students who share an interest in world affairs but may come from vastly different backgrounds.
The Gustavus Model U.N. club and its 60 plus members are already looking forward to their next big conference this fall in Chicago ““It’s a terrific experience if you’re interested at all in international relations and what’s going on in the world,” Alper said, “People put in a lot of work and you get a lot of information out of it.”