Michael Contino April 23, 2010 Professor D’Amico Model United Nations Reflection Paper The numerous benefits of being young are considerable. Any list enumerating and describing them would entail pages upon pages of notes, items and sub-paragraphs. Somewhere a bit farther down this hypothetical catalog would be the following article: extreme markedness of good decisions due to limited life span. If I were to write a fittingly short list of choices I’m personally proud of, the decision to partake in Model United Nations would certainly be among the select few. This past semester of MUN has provided me with new research techniques, group working skills and thorough practice in the craft of negotiation. Moreover, the people who I was lucky enough to join on this journey have impacted me in their own unique ways, all in a short amount of time. This was a great and standout experience, one that I would recommend to others and even consider trying to do again. On the subject of appropriate on-campus activities and clubs, some majors here have it all. Those studying music, theatre, political science, and journalism among others are fortunate enough to be given multiple venues at Syracuse University to enhance their respective concentrations. Things are somewhat harder for International Relations majors. In many ways, MUN is not just the best International Relations Major club; it is the only club for International Relations students. With more students wanting to do MUN then there are available slots, the honor of making the club becomes all the more prestigious. It also serves as a harbinger of the work required of MUN members. Perhaps the most important session of MUN this semester was the first day, when we watched a documentary on the MUN experience and we received our committee assignments. The documentary was all I needed to know about what I would have to do in order to be the best delegate possible. Even when I didn’t get my first committee choice, I adhered to a lesson learned in theatre: there are no small parts, only small actors. In terms of MUN, there are no small committees, only small delegates. Moreover, just because I didn’t get the committee I wanted didn’t preclude me from having the opportunity to represent the General Assembly Third Committee better than anyone had before me. While my commitment to MUN was always strong, there was a time in the middle of the semester that my research and dedication began to lag. At least in my case, this seems to happen every semester: at certain points, one class bears more significance than the others, only to be replaced by a once lesser class later on. A major portion of my Broadcast Journalism work took place in late January/early February. During that time, most of my attention shifted to those classes. This uneven attachment to MUN in the early going is probably my greatest regret of the whole thing. At the same time, I’m thankful that as the semester progressed, I was able to dedicate more and more time to this class. Looking back on the preparation for New York City, I can firmly state the position papers posed the greatest challenge. Both my partner Arielle Parker and I spent long hours working on our papers. During the editing sessions, it seemed that our drafts were covered in comparatively large quantities of red ink. Arielle and I found we struggling to put our papers in the format that our co-delegates wanted. Then again, I disagreed with the way most of our co-delegates’ papers were written. Probably more than anything else a product of being a broadcast major, I was especially sensitive to the actual writing of the papers; in addition to viable content, I wanted our work to be easy on the reader. After much work and outside of class determination, Arielle and I succeeded in writing solid papers. It wouldn’t be long until we followed our papers to the MUN convention. From my visit to Syracuse University on Accepted Student’s Day to the moment that I write this sentence, the emphasis on content-based knowledge has been a tenet of my college education. Translating this to Model United Nations, our conference preparation exceeded the writing of position papers. We were exposed to a host of guest speakers on the subject of Peru. These guests ranged from Peruvian nationals studying at the Maxwell School to long-tenured professors with years of UN experience. The most interesting part of having the speakers was the different opinions that each of the guests had on the state of affairs in Peru. Perhaps it stems from ethnocentricity, but I feel that I went into MUN assuming that everyone from Peru (a much smaller country than the United States) had at least similar mindsets. Thankfully for me, the long buildup to New York provided plenty of time to get that myopic opinion out of my head. As we would soon find out, it was good to bring an open mind to the conference. The week spent at the Marriot was a very tiring and productive one for me. In addition to taking part in the MUN conference and abstaining in sleep, I was able to interview for a summer internship that days later I would end up getting. It may appear superfluous to mention this but that is hardly the case. Had I not been a member of MUN, I would not be going to New York City that week. In reality, I would not be going downstate again until the middle of May, when our spring semester ends. Simply put, I would not have been able to make the internship interview until more than a month later. Who knows if I still would have gotten it had that been the case? This ripple effect serves as evidence of joining MUN being an excellent decision. Once the interview was over, it was time for the convention to begin. Of course, in my mind this was less of a convention and more of a field training exercise in diplomacy. We didn’t really cover this in class (which we learned later was by design) so this diplomacy session was very much a baptism by fire. Nearly five full days spent in close contact with fellow students representing the positions, hopes and dreams of every UN member nation. Because I was part of such a large committee, this almost literally meant hearing the voice of every UN member. Negotiation by itself is a difficult task, but one variable in particular makes it even harder. The element of diplomacy rears its not-so-ugly-but-at-least-begrudging head prominently during the MUN conference. It truly is one of those things that people can’t seem to agree on. One person defined diplomacy as not voicing your personal opinions on issues. This seemed reasonable to me, even if it did sound like textbook suppression. Some however, took the definition of diplomacy to include adhering to the wishes of any fellow delegate who requests them of you. In our case, that meant voting yes on any draft resolution put before you. This is done for two reasons, to uphold regional/global alliances and not to anger any fellow nation. This is the practice that ensued during our voting procedure, and it proved to be my most disappointing moment of the conference. Even now, I believe that if you’re simply for everything, you’re not against anything, and are therefore not for anything either. In a week of exertion, learning and stress, there was also room for some unintentional humor. For one, there was a sheer cornucopia of states making partnerships that don’t exist in the real world: The United Arab Emirates and Israel, for example. Furthermore, some of the working papers floating around carried a sense of redundancy. One called for the establishment of an Intergovernmental Organization that would do what the World Bank couldn’t; provide funding to states in the developing world. A fine notion to be sure, but those who made this proposal probably did not observe the history of the World Bank, as it was founded as a means for distributing loans for development in third world countries. One final occurrence of unexpected comedy came when the team from the United States responded to roll call as “Present and voting,” something a powerful nation such as the United States would likely never do. It’s funny how for all of the substantive work we did, the more comedic moments still stand out. Almost a month removed from the MUN conference, I have a growing appreciation for what too place there. We spent nearly every waking moment working on ways to address global questions with equally global responses, an incredibly daunting task. We became so ingratiated in what we were doing that we reached the point where a ninety-minute caucus would come to an end and we’d wonder where the time went. That’s a pretty appropriate line for the week. We’d wake up, go into session, end our session and then stumble outside at sometime close to midnight. More than just a mental exercise, this conference was a full body experience. In conclusion, I have no qualms whatsoever in recommending MUN to others. A couple of people in First Year Players, one of my other on-campus organizations, have asked me about MUN and whether or not they should try and do it next year. My response so far has been uniform: you should absolutely try it, and if you have any questions I’m happy to answer them. Having lived this experience as much as anyone, I feel I’m a resident expert on MUN. As for doing this again, I’m very much open to the possibility. The progress I make on numerous applications during the fall semester will largely influence my decision; regardless, the time spent in MUN was the highlight of my semester in terms of work, dedication and reward. I know that if I’m lucky enough to go through all of this again that I can expect another tremendous excursion.
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