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Meet the researchers: Model United Nations—putting theory into practice

Interview with Oguz Alyanak, Job Barth, Rahima Bensaid, Edita Mirkovic, and Narreh Ghazarian
In February 2005, a team of twenty-eight Clark students role-played delegations from two very different countries-El Salvador and the Czech Republic-at the annual Harvard Model United Nations Conference. The four-day conference was held at the Boston Park Plaza Hotel. Almost half of the Clark participants were themselves international students from South America, Europe, Africa, and Asia.

The Clark team began preparing in September 2004 for the February 2005 conference, meeting once a week during the fall semester, and then twice a week during the month before the conference. During the fall semester the team was notified of the countries it would represent and the issues that would be on the agenda. As part of their preparation, participants prepared working papers on the issues to be discussed. Many participants also chose to enroll in Government 146: United Nations and International Law, taught by Professor Srini Sitaraman who also serves as coach of the Model U.N. team.

In a recent conversation, summarized below, year 2005 participants Oguz Alyanak '06 (Turkey), Job Barth '07 (The Netherlands), Rahima Bensaid '06 (Morocco), Edita Mirkovic '06 (U.S.), and 2004 participant Narreh Ghazarian '06 (U.S.) discussed why they decided to join the Model U.N. team, and what participation has meant to them.

I note that you are all majoring in international development and/or government/international relations, with the exception of Narreh who's a psychology major. Why did you decide to become involved in Model U.N.?

Edita: One of my goals is to work for the U.N. I'd like to be stationed in different countries, working on different community projects with different non-governmental organizations (NGOs).

Narreh: The United Nations, in and of itself, is really interesting. Both my parents are involved in government. My dad works for the U. S. State Department and visits the U.N. frequently. Plus, Edita was my roommate and she encouraged me to join!

Rahima: It's the same for me as for Edita. I've always thought I'd like to work for the U.N. and Model U.N. seemed like a good opportunity to know what it's like.

Job: I was slightly involved with Model U.N. in high school and I enjoyed it very much. I loved meeting people from a lot different places.

Oguz: My story is similar to Job's. I got involved in Model U.N. in high school. I didn't go to any conferences, but I did go to the meetings and participated in debates. I personally don't have much faith in the U.N. as an organization, but I think that Model U.N. is a neat experience. Not only do we get public speaking skills, but we also see how bureaucratic structures work, how they develop over time, and what kinds of problems they encounter. It's a unique experience.

All team members assume the role of a U.N. delegate from their assigned country. What does that role involve?

Job: Before you come to the conference, you get the topics that will be discussed in the committee or assembly that you're assigned to. So with these topics you research beforehand which takes up a lot of time, what your country's perspective is on the topic and how they feel about it. When you come to the conference, you try to represent your country and the decisions they would be likely to make.

So you really have to familiarize yourself thoroughly with the cultural and political perspectives of the country that you're representing, and learn that country views on different issues.

Edita: Yes, and doing this makes you move away from viewing things in just one way and just from the U.S. perspective--you need a more global view. You learn the problems involved in negotiating with different countries and in trying to get an agenda in place. Everyone has great ideas, but it's really difficult for them to agree on one thing and actually implement it. By participating in Model U.N. you experience that frustration, but then also the excitement when something passes.

Oguz: If this information was being taught at Clark, it would probably be from a more liberal viewpoint. But when you're at the conference, there are 3,000 other people from around the world, and you see the diversity of ideology, of opinions. It's great to hear it all, whether to criticize it, evaluate it, or understand it. I see being at the conference as a self-development process.

Rahima: Once you have to represent a country that doesn't conform to a liberal ideology, and you actually argue for that, for something you don't really believe in when you're in a classroom setting, then you realize that the liberal perspective isn't the only way. Participating in Model U.N. teaches you how to look at different sides, how to look at the outcomes, how to look at the circumstances, how to look at many things rather than just ideology.

I'm interested that, for your roles as delegates, you have to learn Parliamentary Procedure. That sounds like a skill that could be really useful in the real world. How long does it take to learn the basics?

Oguz: You can't just learn it without practicing it. You have to use it. We didn't feel we got a grip on it until we went to the conference.

Rahima: Before you go to the conference, it seems like a lot to learn. But once you use it at the conference, it sticks.

How else do you think participation in Model U.N. has benefited you?

Rahima: For me as an international relations major, it puts into practice everything I learn in theory in class. Model U.N. is also a challenge because we get to compete against really smart people, people who are at the top of their classes. This was my first year participating and I went in not sure how well we would do. But participating really boosts your confidence; you realize that, if you have something in mind, you can push it through and realize it. I think that's one of the main things that Model U.N. has taught me.

Job: It's put me in touch with a lot of people and I learned about different cultures. A team from the University of Baghdad was present at this year's conference! You also learn public speaking skills, something useful in a lot of different fields. And participation teaches you to compromise if you want to get things done. As a representative of the Czech Republic, I learned I had to compromise and be very diplomatic. It teaches you to set a focus on something, get a goal and work towards that.

It's just a lot of fun! We really look forward to it all year. We hope to be able to do more conferences in the future. I feel like our team is an advertisement for Clark University because we perform well. We compete with teams from prestigious schools like Yale and Amherst. When you find out that you did better, you feel good about yourself and being at Clark. And students from other schools learn about Clark and gain respect for what you learn here. They find out that we're really able to compete with them academically.

How does participating in Model U.N. differ from learning about the U.N. and international relations in a more traditional classroom situation?

Edita: In the classroom you're just kind of sitting there and acquiring all this knowledge. But, when you're at the Model U.N. conference, you're actually participating. You're using everything that you've learned, and you're more able to express your ideas regarding certain issues and theories.

More information about Clark's Model U.N. program.


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Model UN participants: Oguz Alyanak, Narreh Ghazarian, Job Barth, and Edita Mirkovic

Model UN participants. Clockwise from top left: Oguz Alyanak, Narreh Ghazarian, Edita Mirkovic and Job Barth.

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