During a typical Tuesday lunch, a large group of GDS high school students enters math classroom 104. After their short assembly ends, they return to their regular school routines; however, during the brief lunch session, these students tackle weighty international policy issues in an effort to promote healthy foreign relations. The GDS Model United Nations Club provides an opportunity for cooperation, negotiation, and teamwork.
Model UN is an extracurricular club for students from schools across the United States and around the world that introduces students to the challenges of foreign policy in the world today. Each club member, or “delegate,” is assigned a country that they represent throughout the year. At GDS, club members discuss current event issues from the perspective of their respective countries, which range from developing countries like Djibouti and Cuba to world powers like the United States and China.
During meetings, participants discuss issues such as the internal role of a free press and religious freedom in preparation for large, out-of-school conferences. Some conferences, such as NAIMUN (Georgetown University) and ILMUNC (University of Pennsylvania), are national competitions between the best schools in the country, while others, like the recent conference held at Chantilly High School, are regional introductory conferences that provide opportunities for novices to increase their skills and confidence and acclimate themselves to the Model UN environment. Conferences are divided into different committees and assemblies based on the interests of the participants.
Prior to the conference, delegates are assigned a topic on which they conduct limited research and learn about their countries’ particular stance. During the conference, committees switch between two different formats: moderated caucuses and unmoderated caucuses. In the former, delegates debate the issues at hand in a more formal style where they must raise placards to speak before giving brief statements. In the latter, delegates discuss issues informally and form resolution papers that articulate strategies for solving the problems. These experiences help GDS students grow in research and public speaking.
The social aspect of Model UN is equally important. Senior club head Shonali Palacios noticed that the “interest by freshman has always been increasing; if a lot of sophomores do it, a lot of freshman do it.” She also noted that the club leaders have been trying to gear things towards underclassman because they feel confident in the upperclassmen’s participation.
Model UN tends to have a very relaxed environment that allows for silly comments and jokes. One such jokester is freshman Nate Rubin, who is relatively inexperienced with Model UN. Rubin frequently makes explicit jokes in the club about his country, Djibouti, often receiving a quick snicker from fellow club members. He described his experiences at the Chantilly conference as “eye-opening.” and hopes to grow in public speaking in the future.
“Chantilly taught me the importance of leadership and how it’s not that hard,” Rubin said.
Another club member with much more experience is junior Nathaniel Rosenberg, who won Best Delegate in his committee at the Chantilly conference and received an honorable mention at the ILMUNC conference.
“Through Model UN, I have become a better public speaker, a better writer, and I have learned to express my ideas in a more concise way,” Rosenberg said. He added that he has stayed a member because he has a lot of fun going to conferences with his friends and making memorable experiences.
Senior club head Maddi Salwen also holds fond memories of her experiences in Model UN, remembering when a fellow delegate wanted to be ridiculously secretive about their resolution paper and told her to follow him to the secret location of where it was being written.
Additionally, Salwen is happy that there are more women joining the club than when she started. Salwen said, “MUN has always been a very welcoming group. We work hard, but don’t take ourselves too seriously all the time, which I think is a nice balance.”
One common takeaway for many members of the club is the idea that if individual countries work together towards a common goal, great things can be accomplished.
As freshman Maya Landweber noted, “I really enjoy Model UN because it helps make it hopeful that peace is more possible than the world we live in today.”
By providing a space in which collaboration and respect are key, the GDS Model UN club exemplifies the hope of a better future in which policy makers aim to cooperate to make the world a better place. Hopefully, one such member of this club will be an important policy maker some day, ready to make a difference in the world.
Seth Riker ’22