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Empire State of Mind, Model UN Style

General Assembly

Closing ceremony for National Model UN Conference. Photo by: Caroline Kaszycki

“If you show up to the airport late, you fail the class. If you wind up fighting someone shirtless in the hotel fountain, you fail the class. If you show up to committee less than fully functional, you also fail the class,” Professor Brian Endless told us. “Other than that, I don’t care what you do, just have fun and stick together.”

This was the start of my hectic, sleep-deprived, yet incredibly rewarding experience at the 2012 National Model United Nations Conference in New York. Forget about the nerdy reputation of high school Model UN club, this time it’s more complicated than raising your placard for a bathroom break and passing a note to the cute delegate from Germany.

Model United Nations is a unique class offered at Loyola University Chicago that is not very well-known unless you’re a political science or international relations major.  Each spring semester, the class is assigned a specific country to research in preparation for attending the conference in New York. Students are divided into separate committees and asked to study three different topics which will be discussed at length, adamantly argued, written into a report or resolution and then finally voted on.

Endless, a political science professor at Loyola, has led students in 12 Model UN conferences. He also teaches other courses such as International Law and International Political Economy. His passion for international relations is evident by the way his eyes light up whenever someone asks him to explain the politics and conflict in Rwanda, the current focus of his research.  After a brief chat with Endless, you’ll know all the nicknames for every UN Secretary-General and at least one or two stories from trips he’s taken abroad. For him, the Model UN trip is an opportunity to connect with his students: “Most of what I say is going to be off the record,” he joked.

For a week, from March 31 to April 6, several students and I debated French international policy in the crowded conference rooms at the Sheraton Hotel in midtown Manhattan. Our days were spent deliberating some of the world’s most pressing issues; our nights, were spent waiting in line for a chicken pita at the Halal Guys food cart and walking through a blinding Times Square.

It was hard not to be intimidated by the 5,000 other students from around the world milling around the lobby and speaking more languages than Rosetta Stone. Loyola was also recognized with the rare second-tier honor of Distinguished Delegation, something Endless said we’ve received only twice.

For many of us, it was the first time being in a large city other than Chicago. I had visited New York when I was 7, but only remember seeing the Statue of Liberty and driving past a blur of yellow taxis.

Dodging trash bags on the street in professional business attire, we traveled in packs to the corner deli on lunch break, pretending we were real New Yorkers. Real New Yorkers who sit around in Central Park talking about the new frozen yogurt place across the street, or how they heard Kirsten Dunst was at the same bar the other night. I also might have also stepped on someone’s foot by accident and not apologized.

At Model UN, you learn to deal with all different sides of a person — the good, the bad, and the really bad. Half the time is spent being as persuasive as possible, gently guiding nations toward what you want accomplished and then giving them credit for the idea. Essentially, you want to win without the other person realizing it. When someone disagrees with your country’s position, it is best to argue with a smile on your face. Endless’ favorite quote is: “The art of diplomacy is telling someone to go to hell and having them look forward to the trip.”

Everyone who has taken Endless’ Model UN class will agree that Endless has an unconventional teaching approach.  A majority of class time is spent giving short presentations and constructively critiquing the public-speaking ability of teammates.

Following French news on Google Alerts, Endless’ class is also expected to prepare current event speeches to aid in the process of getting up-to-date on today’s French culture.  Some days it seemed as if the group knew more about the political tension between the French incumbent president Nicolas Sarkozy and front-runner Francois Hollande than they did about the Republican GOP race. Last but not least, each student spent hours at the printer filling two, three-inch binders weighing about 8 pounds with independent research on his or her specific committee topics.

Angela Wells, 22, is an international studies major at Loyola who attended the conference as the French delegate for the United Nation’s Food and Agricultural Organization.  The three topics or themes discussed included increasing agricultural productivity to feed 9 billion people in 2050, the impact of biotechnology on food security, and international trade and microbiological hazards in food.  This specialized agency within the UN creates reports instead of resolutions.  This means that the coalitions within FAO work together to pass different draft report segments, working to compromise on issues in order to reach consensus.

For Wells, the hardest part was debating with the delegation from the United States about the concept of genetically modified food. French agricultural policy strongly disagrees with the artificial production of food, citing the lack of scientific research done on GM crops.  On the other hand, the United States argues that each nation should decide for themselves whether or not to engage in genetically modified crop production, so the international trade of these crops should not be hindered in any case.

Wells had frequent and frustrating talks with Vincent Planet, the United States delegate.

“Vincent was born in France and studies in Montreal,” she said. “I found it funny that I had to explain the risks involved with genetically modified crops to someone whose nation practically founded the slow food movement in Europe.”

“Nevertheless, he did an excellent job not breaking character even if it meant spending all caucus trying to dilute my amendment so that it was deemed acceptable, and then not vote for it,” she added.

A committee such as the General Assembly can have more than 150 delegations in one room.  The sheer number of countries represented makes it harder to form voting blocs and come to an agreement on a particular resolution.  Resolutions differ from reports in that they are much shorter and are voted on in their entirety rather than in parts like draft report segments.  Because of this, delegates who are sponsors of the resolution must act as either facilitators, talking to other nations to gather support in the form of signatories, or as writers, carefully wording the document so that it can be approved and avoid the risk of being rejected when it comes to the voting procedure.

Often the best delegates are the ones facilitating and taking charge of the group. Nations who have great ideas but are hidden in the back of the room are often overlooked when committee breaks for caucus sessions. Endless taught that being a diplomat means making friends and influencing people; a good delegate will give someone else credit for an idea that’s also in France’s best interest.

On the last day of the trip at a fancy French restaurant called Les Sans Culottes, Endless regaled everyone with stories from his earliest trips to the National Model United Nations Conference.

“The most rewarding part of this trip for me is living vicariously through your experiences here,” he said, raising a glass of red wine in a toast. Growing more serious, he added: “The most important aspect of this conference isn’t the content, although all of you are considered experts now, it’s about learning how to deal with people.”

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The Hub Bub is a collection of articles, videos, audio, photo slideshows, interactive maps and other media produced by students enrolled in journalism courses at Loyola University Chicago's School of Communication. For more about the School of Communication, our award winning faculty, and our state of the art facilities located in the heart of Chicago, visit our website.