By Melina Joseph
An article encompassing the work, goals, and experiences of those who value MUN.
Recent news of nationalism and authoritarianism is particularly concerning when thinking of the impact of this exposure on students. Often, the rapid rise of technology and inclusive curriculums is viewed to be conducive to the success of globalization, particularly the open-mindedness to cultural and ideological differences. I wondered if the educational endeavours of Model United Nations were enough to counteract the influential anti-globalization sentiments from public figures. I met with Yale Model Government Europe (YMGE) advisors and a member of the Yale Secretariat to discuss their own experience with international activities that promote global cooperation and critical thinking.
I spoke with Rania Dantsi, an English teacher from Greece. She was here with her delegation from Mandoulides Schools and had advised Model UN for 15 years. When I brought up the word globalist, she looked pensive. “It’s a double-edged sword,” she said.
She explained the battle of teaching her students the humanistic viewpoint of striving to help others, be they individuals or countries in need, as well as the reality of countries losing their cultural and historical backgrounds. Greece’s financial crisis was a major blow to the state of European affairs, harming the idealistic image of strength in unified states.
Nonetheless, Dantsi appreciated the knowledge from having her students participate in Model UN. In addition to the acquiring of life skills, she said that her students were exposed to something that the Greek curriculum could not offer: politics.
Monica Hall, a history teacher from Saudi Arabia, felt the same way. Having instructed for nine years and currently teaching at The KAUST School, she appreciated how debate pushed students out of their comfort zones. “It allows them to practice public speaking and look at issues from an empathetic perspective,” she described. She echoed Dantsi’s sentiments, describing the burden that globalism brought on countries: a loss of identity and resources when accepting the notion of being responsible for others.
Both advisors held reservations about how frequently words such as “radical” and “extremist” were used for public figures. They exchanged chuckles when I mentioned President Trump. Still, their faces grew solemn as they described how authoritarian and nationalist ideas appeared attractive to people desperate for change.
I asked Dantsi if she was concerned about her students falling prey to these kinds of political influences, and her response was that she wanted them to be well-informed citizens. Her position was not to force students to think a certain way but to challenge them to be open-minded, persistent, and ready to engage with other viewpoints.
On the other hand, advisor Zoeth Chalat’s perspective readily recognized the negative perceptions of MUN and sought to show that the advantages of student participation were far greater. Chalat, who is a sophomore at Yale University, served as a director for the Yale Model United Nations Institute (YMUNI) last summer. Having competed in Model United Nations throughout high school, he was excited to bring his knowledge of international relations to current high school students.
His work as an instructor for the Yale Hemispheres international relations program this past semester helped him do exactly that. He saw globalization in a positive sense as a process of “integration that puts emphasis on the celebration of diversity, dichotomies of thought, and differences in opinion.”
Chalat understands that because programs such as Model UN are generally opposed to nationalist trends, some may criticize them as “cesspools of liberal thought.” Regardless, the communication skills gained from these conferences can be a powerful tool moving forward. “It’s about being able to work with others, effectively communicating ideas in front of a group, and incorporating other ideas into your own thought and work processes.
“It’s given me a global perspective on what my career could entail,” he said. “I’m interested in working in law and I think that through programs like Model UN, I came to learn how much legal cooperation exists and how much jurisprudential facilitation that requires.”
Ornella Bayigamba, who serves as Director General of Operations at YMGE, was also positive about the future of global cooperation with the inclusion of international simulations like YMGE. Originally from Rwanda, she is now a sophomore at Yale University. Growing up in an area known for its historical complications with the UN is what piqued her interest in Model UN, leading her to compete at conferences since her sophomore year of high school.
She appreciated how these conferences allow students to put a perspective on issues that are not their own. “You gain respect for others’ opinions. You have to adopt this persona, you’re a country or minister and live in a different time zone or time frame. I think that’s incredibly useful, as being able to understand why someone may justify something you completely disagree with provides context,” she explained.
Personally, there was a change in how she perceived the relationship between the UN and Rwanda. Initially, she had viewed the UN as a harmful institution, one that had failed to prevent a genocide from occurring. Her exposure to rules and procedural format in Model UN helped her understand how institutional barriers can inhibit fast-paced action and well intent. Now, she understands more about the complexities of this institution and can consider reform and policy analysis through a wider lens.
Bayigamba felt that conversations about personal backgrounds could counter the negative connotations of globalization. “It’s about putting a face to a country,” she said.
On the topic of Model UN and nationalism, she recognized that sometimes it felt as though the argument of “national sovereignty” was thrown around. In committees, it might be the case that a strong and nationalist front helps, but doing so can also hurt the delegate. She felt that because the conferences are about diplomacy, the purpose of participating was to cooperate with others as opposed to maintain the same ideological dynamic as one might have individually.
A combination of competitive conferences and classes like the international relations program Hemispheres, Bayigamba believed, is what can broaden students’ horizons. Competition is not for everyone, and educational classes can provide a model for exploring perspectives. She hopes that the most important takeaway that students get from these sorts of conferences is the confidence in their voice and the belief that their role in the political sphere matters.
Ultimately, it feels as though Bayigamba, Chalat, Dantsi, and Hall understood the threats to globalization and the arguments for them. Their faith in creating diverse and open environments rests in education, which can make students the critical thinkers, well-informed citizens, and politicians of tomorrow.