Eleven MCLA students recently learned what it's like to serve as United Nations delegates as they considered contemporary world problems at the North American Model United Nations at the University of Toronto.
Representing counties like Germany, Indonesia, Kenya and the Ukraine, and serving on U.N. committees such as the Disarmament and Security Council, World Health Organization, Security and Economic and Finance, the students joined their peers from various Canadian and English universities, as well as United States universities such as Brown, Clemson, Pitt and Colgate.
For Todd Foy '12, the experience allowed for a real-world application of what he had learned in the classroom.
"In my committee alone, there were students just like me from Switzerland, India and Germany. It was great to meet these people and experience other cultures and ways of thinking," Foy said.
"It showed me that international relations is truly one of the most complicated aspects of political involvement, but truly the most useful," Foy continued. "Nations will never agree on every single issue, but it is possible through organizations like the United Nations to reach a compromise. It's all about meeting people halfway, until you can agree to go the rest of the way."
The students began preparing last November, when they were assigned the country they would represent and the issue they would consider. According to political science and public policy professor Dr. Robert Bence, the students were a credit not only to MCLA, but to their own preparation and perseverance.
"It wasn't always easy. If you were playing your nation well, which they did, pretty soon you realize how difficult it is to achieve some sort of international consensus on any of those controversial issues which are played out differently with contrasting cultures," Bence said.
Among the timely issues the students considered were what to do with contagious diseases in disaster zones, piracy off the coast of Africa, the emergency situation in the Suez Canal, the Roma gypsies in Western Europe and the rights of gays and lesbians throughout the world.
"I felt really humbled by the sheer weight of what these people are responsible for during their lives and just how hard it is to feel like you're getting anywhere in it," said Caitlin Versailles '12.
Tom Mellone '11 found that he could completely disagree with a fellow delegate during a session, and then laugh with him or her over lunch. "Healthy debate, in this situation at least, is not personal. We all realized that our countries had different policies, and we respected each other for staying 'on policy' during debates, even if that meant strict disagreements," he said.
"The one thing that I think I gained most from the Model U.N. experience would be a greater understanding and appreciation for the United Nations as an institution," said Chris Skutnik '11. "The logistics of hosting diplomatic discussions on several key topics with nearly every nation on earth in attendance is mind-bogglingly complex; yet we constantly hear of successful resolutions and agreements emanating from the General Assembly, Security Council or specific committees within the U.N."