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World Peace and Post-It Notes: A Guide to Model UN at Carleton

Reflecting on another year of Model UN at Carleton College.

Reflecting on another year of Model UN at Carleton College.


Model UN is what you find at the center of a Venn diagram with Dungeons and Dragons on one side and International Relations on the other. It is organized chaos, featuring a group of nerds who love dreaming up new policies to save the world and role playing historical figures.

It. Is. AWESOME.

When I tried out for Carleton’s Model United Nations team at the beginning of my freshman year, I wasn’t sure what I was getting into. On the Saturday of first week, I sat down in the lecture hall of Leighton 304 with all of the other would be participants. As soon as the gavel struck the desk in the front of the room, the people around me started raising their hands and making speeches.

The last time I had tried to make any kind of speech was a high school public speaking class, and that was a pretty rough time. I had no clue what I was doing. So, with my options being fight or flight, I aimed for survival, and faked it till I made it. My theory? No one knew who I was. No one could hit me with a “she literally freaked out when just asked to introduce herself in 9th grade speech class.” And so I did my best, shaking in my boots and all, and … got in!

My first few weeks in Model UN were tough. I would stay very quiet, intimidated by the other members who all seemed so much more eloquent and experienced than me. How did they all know so much about the prices of the individual components of a wind turbine, or about budgeting for an expansion of bus transportation to schools? I didn’t know if I wanted to keep going, but I knew that I would only start enjoying myself if I tried hard and got better. Finally, at the end of my freshman year, I became a board member for the club, and have been organizing practices, try-outs, fundraisers and conferences ever since.

Model UN is not as scary as I thought it was, especially once you know what’s going to happen. Below is an overview of the parts of Model UN and Carleton’s team itself. I hope that by reading this all of you can get a bit of a better understanding of what happens in Model UN practices and conferences, and that you’ll want to join us in the fall!

General Assemblies (GAs)

GAs are the “typical” image of Model UN. A large group of students (“delegates,” in Model UN jargon), as many as 200 in some conferences, get together to solve a pressing world problem. At the two conferences this year, I’ve been a member of the Afghan Parliament and I’ve represented Italy in the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization. The typical procedure looks like this:

The delegates all go into the room and make short opening speeches about our main ideas. Then we get into blocs (groups of delegates with similar ideas) and try to start refining our policy plans.

This is when things get interesting.

Some of us start writing out our plans into a resolution outside of the room, while some of us keep making speeches in the room to promote our ideas. From these experiences, I’ve learned:

  • How to write detailed outlines of policy ideas;
  • How to answer questions about my policy ideas (Tip: just pull a politician move – you don’t have to know the answer to have an answer.);
  • How to make myself stand out and become a key member of my bloc;
  • How to beware of shady delegates who try to undermine your resolution or ideas by secretly working with other groups!

Crisis

Crisis is a whole other beast. It’s much smaller than a General Assembly, with a group of people sitting around a table, each of them assigned a specific character. We make speeches, but we also write notes to advance our own personal story lines behind the scenes. For instance, a few weeks ago we did a practice where we were executive members of the Pan American Airline company, which was at the brink of collapse. With a few crates of toxic, genetically modified lobsters, I secretly took down United Airlines, our biggest competitor, allowing Pan Am to continue reigning supreme.

Crisis is a blast!

I’ve personally never done crisis in a conference, but many people who have say that it’s a ton of fun! It’s a much more creative approach to diplomacy, and really allows everyone’s imagination to shine.

Conferences

students at a model un conference

Check out this photo of my committee at the 2020 McGill Model UN Conference! (No, neither of those delegates in front are me — I’m the blurry one with the glasses and the brown jacket on the right.)

At Carleton we attend four or five conferences a year, and everyone gets the chance to participate in at least one. They each happen over a four day period, from Thursday to Sunday. This year, I went to Washington D.C. for Georgetown University’s conference, and Montreal for McGill’s conference. Some of my friends have gone to Harvard, the University of Minnesota, and Boston University. The conferences can be massive and a little stressful, but always a good time. Some people I met at conferences during my freshman year, I saw again this year! Friends are always good to have (especially when you need to make some political allies).

The best part of conferences, in my opinion, is note passing.

Delegates send post-it notes to each other from across the room to compliment them on their speeches and brainstorm ideas together. It’s an amazing feeling to sit down after giving a speech and have people you’ve never met agree with your ideas and want to work with you.

Practice and the Team

Model UN practice is one of my favorite parts of the week. Every Saturday, we get the team together to simulate a conference committee for two hours, with one or two members chairing the session. At Carleton, we split our practices so that about half of them are General Assemblies and half are Crisis, since these are the main types of committees that Model UN members will attend.

Sadly, Model UN has been cut short this year. But the other board members and I are continuing to organize for next year, to make Carleton MUN better than ever!

Committee adjourned! We’ll see you soon.


Saraswati is a hardy sophomore from Sudbury, Ontario, Canada with an undying love for all of Minnesota’s seasons. She is majoring in English with minors in Education Studies and Chinese, and has a passion for teaching and education policy. She is also an active board member of Carleton’s Model UN team. When not tutoring students or at Model UN practice, she loves to write poetry, read books filled with magical realism, and sketch portraits. Meet the other bloggers!