Students talk Model UN, where role play, politics and creativity converge
Students engaged in Clemson’s Model UN might routinely explore the science of politics, but they like to stress that there’s more to it than that, and many of them aren’t even political science majors. Xiaobo Hu, professor in Clemson’s political science department and faculty advisor for its Model UN program, travels the world with students from a wide variety of majors. He said most get more out of the experience than they ever bargained for.
Joey Wilson, who graduated from Clemson in May with a degree in bioengineering and a minor in political science, certainly took more from Model UN than he ever imagined. Meanwhile, Callahan Moore, a sophomore and political science major, is just getting started in the program. We were able to talk to both of them recently about their experience in Model UN.
Michael Staton: What do you think are the most valuable takeaways from Model UN?
Joey Wilson: As a scientist or engineer you want to change the world, but before you do that you have to understand it. Learning about global politics through Model UN is a practical way to begin to understand it.
Callahan Moore: I think the most valuable takeaways are knowledge of the world and confidence. Most of what I know about geography and world politics I learned through Model UN. It helps with professional development and provides a basic understanding of how diplomacy works. When students learn the objective travels of the member states they represent and then they see those objectives met in the form of resolutions they’ve written, it’s empowering.
MS: How does Model UN work?
CM: Students who have an interest in Model UN join the class in the fall or spring semester. Throughout the semester, we prepare to attend a conference or two. We generally attend a regional conference in the fall, and in the spring students attend either an international or American conference. At the conferences, delegates debate the issues UN-style from the perspectives of their countries and write draft resolutions to try to solve those issues. At the end of the conference, outstanding committee delegates are selected to win awards.
JW: Usually you or your team are assigned a random country and issues you may or may not be familiar with. You basically familiarize yourself with the issues and role play as the country to attempt to get things done that would achieve the country’s aims.
MS: Describe a particularly challenging Model UN experience.
JW: I think every country is challenging in its own way. The cool thing is that a small country can be just as interesting or fun to “play” as a global power like the U.S. or China. It’s all about how you play the hand you’re dealt, but I did have to represent Italy in Italy once, which was difficult.
CM: My most challenging experience took place in Rome, Italy the spring semester of my freshman year. The conference was in English, but most of the other delegates were Italian, so there was a bit of a language barrier. Organizing a group to write a resolution was challenging, but I’d say I overcame that by just jumping into working in the committee and not being afraid to speak and establish my country’s positions. I think Model UN is as challenging or as easy as you make it because you can choose to not participate or you can take a risk and stand up and speak in the group. And I think students find that it’s better to speak.
MS: Do you enjoy the traveling involved?
CM: Some of my favorite travel experiences have been in Model UN, and I think that’s because I was traveling with people who were just as passionate about the world as I was; they wanted to explore and see as much as they could. The Model UN experience is so much more than the conference itself. The conferences are just the tip of the iceberg.
JW: I was involved all eight semesters of my college career, so I’ve been to competitions in London, Prague, Budapest and Rome. For me it’s not about where we’re going but the people we’re going with and the people you meet. You’re exposed to so many different ideas and opinions, and that exchange of ideas is really cool. Even if people get involved in Model UN to travel, they usually stay for different reasons.
MS: Are there perceptions of Model UN that you think are misleading?
CM: The most misleading perception about Model UN is that it’s only for political science majors. We have members from all majors, because Model UN is really for anyone who has a passion for learning about the world. We want students from all backgrounds and interests because our team is stronger when it’s diverse.
JW: People might think it’s a nerdy thing—which I don’t think is a problem at all—but it’s really just a lot of fun and productive. There are solutions to big issues that come up that I wish “real” politicians would actually implement. There’s nothing but benefit. You can develop as a person, improve your public speaking ability, creativity and skills as a team player while engaging in a huge think tank for ideas to better the world.