What does it take to change the minds of those around you? The students in Cardigan’s Model UN club quickly learn that there is great power and purpose in learning to communicate in a socially aware and culturally empathetic way.
Clubs on Thursday afternoons offer a variety of experiences from athletic games to trail work to community service. Students can also choose to join the Model UN club to learn about world politics, practice public speaking skills, and debate important global issues. After a three-year hiatus, Model UN students this year have also had the opportunity to put those skills to use at in-person conferences, both in Boston, MA and Hanover, NH.
To prepare for the conferences, faculty advisors Danielle Fedele and Josh Vega play debate games with them and go through simulations of real-life events. This winter, for example, the students participated in negotiations concerning the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962; they also played rounds of Four Corners, a game in which students are given an opinion on a controversial topic and have to state whether they strongly agree, agree, disagree, or strongly disagree. They are then given the opportunity to try to persuade their classmates to join them in their “corner.” “They quickly learn that staying calm and speaking clearly are much more effective than shouting at each other,” says Ms. Fedele. “They get really good at stating their opinions accurately and concisely.”
In the weeks before a conference, students are also given the topics they will discuss and are required to write position papers in which they explain in one page the perspectives of the countries they will represent at the conference. No research can be done during the conferences––computers are not even allowed in the conference rooms––so preparation is important.
“I encourage them to make a daily habit of reading about current events,” says Ms. Fedele. “The topics that come up during the conferences are broad and varied and keeping current on the news of the world is really helpful. Terrorism in the Sahel region, for instance, was one of the topics they discussed in their most recent conference. It’s not something most of us hear about in the news, but it’s happening and it’s very real for many people. The Model UN kids have important opportunities to learn about the world from others’ perspectives.”
While the students were only able to go to two conferences this year, Ms. Fedele says they learned a lot and made huge leaps in their abilities. “There's a whole unique language involved in these debates, and they have to learn to follow parliamentary procedures,” she says. “It’s stuff they can only learn through practice and immersion.”
In January the Cardigan boys attended their first conference, Boston University Academy Model UN, which is run by high school students and is specifically geared toward middle school students. One boy whose progress stood out was Joonseong “Jake” Lim ’23, who received the Outstanding Delegate Award. In a Crisis Committee Jake’s team worked to bring democracy to Portugal during a simulation of the Carnation Revolution that occurred in Portugal in the 1970s. While his initial inclination was to observe his teammates and say little, Ms. Fedele says she watched him adapt and become more proactive.
Jake remembers his success as well. “I never expected the award since I was surrounded by many high-performing people, but I learned to think fast while keeping my logic intact, even in the ever-changing, fast-paced sessions they offered,” says Jake.
More recently, 11 boys traveled to Dartmouth College for DartMUN in which over 500 students attended from 20 schools, including St. Paul’s School (NH), Gulliver Preparatory School (FL), and Youngsan International School of Seoul (Seoul, South Korea). Now in its 15th year, the conference is organized and run by Dartmouth undergraduate students.
“Most of the participants were high school students and that was intimidating at first,” says Junyan “Joey” Huang ’24, who represented Austria in a discussion at the conference about democratic backsliding and refugee integration in Europe. “But they were really good at including me and listening to my ideas.”
While the Cardigan Cougars did not win any awards at the Dartmouth conference, they took with them many valuable life skills. “Public speaking, like making announcements at lunch, is much easier now; I don’t get nearly as nervous anymore,” says Michael Tansey ’23, who has been part of the Model UN club for three years at Cardigan. “Socratic discussions in history class are easier as well.”
Ben Clary ’24, who joined Cardigan’s Model UN after witnessing his brother’s passion for Model UN at his school, says he also learned a lot from his experiences at the conferences: “The time constraints for speaking during the conference have forced me to be more direct; it’s taught me to ramble less.”
The Model UN team is now on break until next winter, when they hope they will be able to attend more conferences. Many of the students from this year will be returning, and with prior experience, Ms. Fedele is excited to see what they can accomplish––learning to speak articulately, negotiating in good faith, and developing resolutions that all can agree on––just the skills that the world needs in the next generation of leaders.