Monday, October 3, 2016

Why Model U.N. Matters: Words from a U.S. Diplomat

by Luis F. Mendez, Una Chapman Cox Fellow and U.S. Foreign Service Officer

I admit it. I heart Model U.N. Twenty years ago (yikes), it helped change the trajectory of my life, and it may help change yours too. Allow me to explain.

So how does a troublemaker from the Bronx, New York end up a Model U.N. enthusiast? The answer: Mr. Jackson, a teacher who believed the program would do me some good. He was right. I was immediately intrigued. Laos, Namibia, Yugoslavia - I hadn't the slightest clue where these countries were located, but I was now interested in learning everything I could about them. I spent the rest of my high school and collegial years mastering U.N. decorum, conquering my fear of public speaking, and making lifelong friends.
Laos, Namibia, Yugoslavia – I hadn’t the slightest clue where these countries were located...
Luis listening to Malian Refugees share their inspiring stories.
After graduation, I found myself missing the hustle and bustle of Model U.N. I immediately began seeking a career that would allow me to work on the critically important issues we tackled during our simulations. One morning, I stumbled across a job capsule that read, “Join the Department of State and change the world”. Yes, please! The opportunity to experience different cultures and customs while helping to promote peace around the world was a perfect fit. I built up the courage to apply and was surprised at how much my model U.N. experience helped during the grueling Foreign Service entrance exam. Eight years of Model U.N. had prepared to think on my feet, write under pressure, and work in teams - three critically important components to the test. I haven’t looked back since. 

In addition to refining my writing, debating, and problem solving skills, I learned some invaluable life lessons in Model U.N. that I’ve turned to time and time again as an American diplomat. I’d like to share two of those with you today. 

1. Don’t be afraid. The issues I’ve dealt with as a diplomat have been complex, nuanced, and sometimes heartbreaking. There are often no easy answers, but what makes this job amazing is trying to solve the unsolvable problems. As Model U.N. delegates you will be asked to tackle difficult issues – migration, terrorism, and climate change. Model U.N. will teach you not to be afraid to dive in, to be bold and ambitious, to ask the tough questions, and take risks. If you happen to fail (and I have many a time), you’ll learn to re-calibrate and try again. 

2. All voices matter. Over the past 11 years in the Department of State, I’ve spent hours listening to often-neglected voices around the world. Listening to Nigerian refugees share horrifying tales of persecution by Boko Haram. Listening to Mexican citizens describe the devastating toll of drug trafficking organizations in their communities. Finding common ground and developing consensus begins with listening. Model U.N. will teach you to listen even to those you may not agree with and those marginalized. 

At its core, Model U.N. is about making you more empathic towards others, respectful of diverging opinions, and informed global citizens. That’s why Model U.N. matters to me and that’s why it should matter to you!

This is part of a series by Global Classrooms DC, an education program under the United Nations Association of the National Capital Area that uses Model United Nations as an activity and tool to teach international issues and geopolitics to students grades 6 – 12. Many of the current and former interns and staff have participated in Model U.N., and for many it has been a reason for the field we study and ultimately has a soft place in our hearts. Over the next few weeks, we will share with you our memories of Model U.N., and the reasons we believe it matters. This series was sparked by the publication of “What Model U.N. Is, and Why It Matters,” by Spencer Mariotti in The Huffington Post – Teen Edition