At a glance, the room resembles a live UN broadcast: the delegates are seated behind placards bearing the names of their respective countries – each of them as poised and professional as they are knowledgeable about current events while they prepare to passionately debate about their nations’ interests.
But in these proceedings, there is one key difference: all of the delegates are teens.
While most high school students have a reputation for being temperamental and self-involved – concerned more with Snapchatting and the latest school gossip than with international affairs and global politics – the students who participated in last month’s Dulwich International Model United Nations Conference (DIMUN) are anything but.
With a history of almost 50 years, Model United Nations is an officially recognized NGO affiliated with the UN Department of Public Information. Its programs and conferences bring together students and faculty from all over the world. Dulwich’s 2016 rendition was the school’s sixth such conference in total. It featured 11 schools from across Asia (including Dulwich Seoul, the Taipei European School, and the British School of Manilla, several Mainland schools, and local campuses like the International School of Beijing and the Western Academy of Beijing) to discuss and debate important global concerns ranging from poverty and peacekeeping, to women and children’s issues and the environment. It was a massive event, featuring 228 participants. Five hundred speeches were given, 1700 points of information were presented, and 200 amendments and 40 resolutions were made, as the participants endeavored to make a true representation of the UN.
Aside from deepening their geopolitical knowledge, the DIMUN participants also honed their public speaking skills by participating in a series of debates, discussions and research projects. Because it is an entirely student lead event, the conference also becomes an excellent opportunity for participants to build their leadership skills as they work together to organize and run the proceedings. This has lead the students to achieve some significant feats, including deciding on and inviting keynote speakers without the help of their teachers. In the past those students successfully invited the British Ambassador to China, and in 2016 the keynote speaker was Agi Veres, Country Director of the United Nations Development Programme, China.
We sat down with two of the young coordinators for this year’s conference — DIMUN Debating Prefect Silvia and Secretary General Johanna— to find out what they learned working on the event.
Silvia, 16, Year 12, Austria
One of the best things about DIMUN is that it helps us learn a lot about logistics and the amount of effort that goes into organizing an event like this. Trying to get a team of people to work together really furthers our leadership abilities.
Another big challenge we faced was trying to get everyone to work together. We had an admin team to coordinate the event, a press team to document what happened, a tech team that handled all the IT, and then the delegates from the other schools representing countries from all around the world. This year we tried to be really thorough with planning and organizing, so the conference went well. It definitely teaches us a lot about bureaucracy.
It’s quite good being a DIMUN leader, because it helps you learn how to make people work together. Another important thing about DIMUN is that it’s about world issues and our global society. I’m interested in these things, so during the conference I would walk around to other committees, observe debates, and see how the delegates are doing and what solutions they were coming up with. Despite all the administrative things we enjoy doing, the MUN side of the conference is the most important part.
Though I personally don’t intend to pursue a career in politics or global issues, I still think it’s important to know about these things as a citizen of the world. All these issues will affect us in due time. It’s good to be aware of what’s going on. I think that’s especially true for me because I’m from Austria, so I get to vote at the age of 16. And I’ve been really trying to get involved in the recent election, because I want to know for whom I’m voting. So I’m very passionate about politics and global issues.
I also like the public speaking aspect of DIMUN. Everyone who does it is good at debating. So it’s not like a normal class discussion— instead, everyone gets boosted up, and starts shouting out their opinions. It’s very intellectually stimulating, very different from any other extra curricular that I do, and it gives me more practical skills.
Johanna, 16, Year 12, China and Sweden
When it comes to these things, a lot of small logistical errors come up. For example, before the event, we get a list of the names and delegates who would come over from all of the schools, but then there might be changes that we don’t catch. That means things like placards and merchandise bags might not have gotten completely sorted, and then we have to quickly amend that. So we need to learn a lot about preparation, and having extra materials and contingency plans beforehand.
I’m not thinking of going into global affairs for work. But DIMUN has given me a taste of leadership, and the things you have to do when you have to run a huge team, and all of the problems that come with it. These experiences will be invaluable. I want to go into biological research, so that is quite relevant to this because you’ll always be working in teams, and you have to work with people from a huge range of backgrounds, and make sure bureaucracy is minimized.
I also enjoy DIMUN because it boosts your self-confidence. Before I started doing it, I was a really shy person. But if you’re not good at public speaking, then it really challenges you to become better. The foundation for this conference is public speaking— you need to get your ideas out through expressing your opinion on the podium during all of these debates, so that generally just improves those skills.
Photos: Uni You, DCB, cn.undp.org