For nearly a decade I sponsored the Model United Nations at Ramstein American High School on Ramstein Air Base in Germany. MUN was an important element in the educational program at most of the Department of Defense Dependents Schools (DoDDS) in Germany.
MUN is quite simply one of the best educational programs—EVER! (However, in the interest of fairness, I must admit that the Model Senate programs in many schools is similar.)
The title MUN is self-explanatory. Students represent countries and organizations of the United Nations in a mock conference. In order to do so, they must research everything about their assigned country or organization: geography, culture, politics, relations with neighbors and the world at large—everything and anything that will help them truly identify with “their” country.
Even as they are gathering information on the assigned country, they are also researching issues and determining how officials of “their” country would regard such and such an issue. Having to put themselves in others’ shoes for a time is often eye-opening. (Yes, I know that’s a mixed metaphor, but it works.) I doubt many former MUN students view the world with the kind of absolutist view we see so often in public discourse these days. Imagine the perspective gained by American teenagers thinking like Ukrainians or Russians regarding the Crimea!
The U.N. itself publishes materials on hot topics for each year’s studies, but it is up to the students to go beyond those sources—and beyond Wikipedia. Enterprising students often write letters to officials of the countries they represent or visit embassies and consulates if they can.
Students must then write resolutions and position papers and be prepared to argue effectively in a formal debate the position of, say, China on air pollution or Iran on nuclear proliferation. And they do so most enthusiastically. Role-playing allows them to understand another’s position, even if they themselves could never endorse it.
I think you probably already see the educational value of this program. It improves research techniques, writing skills, and leadership skills—all of which carry over to other academic areas.
THIMUN is the acronym of The Hague International Model United Nations which meets for a week-long conference every January in The Hague, The Netherlands. About 3,000 students, aged 15-21, from schools all over Europe and beyond, meet to resolve international problems. The operative language is English as most of the delegates are from American international schools, but those schools often have students from their local populations as well. (Today’s king of The Netherlands was once a THIMUN delegate.) The tone truly is international.
The thrill of getting a resolution passed is not unlike the thrill of winning a tennis match or a cross-country race.
More next time . . .