Model UN simulates real world international relations
When Cadet Colonel Jacob Sotiriadis overheard a group of German students talking about President Bush's foreign policies, he jumped right into the conversation - in the visitors' native language. The German students, though slightly taken aback, immediately welcomed the outspoken American into their discussion.
Such interchanges as the one described above were not uncommon during the Harvard National Model United Nations conference that took place in Boston last February. Over a three-day period, more than 2,000 students from colleges and universities across the globe convened at the oldest, largest, and most prestigious simulation of its kind. Established in 1954, the convention is intended to provide college students with an approximation of what real international negotiations at an institution like the United Nations are all about.
The eleven Norwich delegates, who had been assigned the democratic republic of Laos, spent six months studying their country's international policies with regard to economics and other issues. Once at the UN, the students took on roles in various committees, including environmental, health, the international court of justice, disarmament, and nuclear proliferation, among others.
"Pretty much every international issue - whatever the United Nations itself was looking at - we were dealing with, in the same format, simulating the actual processes in which business is conducted," said Sotiriadis, who served on the special political and de-colonization committee. "My committee was dealing with the issue of state-sponsored terrorism, so it was something that was very relevant to what's going on in the world today."
"I think a lot of us are quite ignorant about what the United Nations is," said professor Dart Thalman, who functioned as the group's advisor during the trip. "This is an opportunity for students to get a better sense of what it is and what the challenges are in trying to get something done within the United Nations. Trying to simulate a particular country at a particular set of meetings and negotiations - it's not reality itself, but it's the closest thing you can get to reality without being reality."
Getting into the eyes of a different country and attempting to portray their perspective on world affairs can be a real eye-opening experience, especially for students born and raised in the United States. "It was interesting just to see American students taking on the roles of countries like Iraq and Iran. Being Laos, we were also taking a sort of anti-US stance, and siding with countries that were taking the same kind of stance on the issues," said Sotiriadis. "It was a real good experience for all of us to have some dialogue - for young people especially - who will, in the future, be the ambassadors, the diplomats and policy formulators of the world."
In the Cadet Colonel's mind, the Model UN strikes at the heart of President Schneider's initiative to internationalize the campus. "There's no other organization that really puts you in contact with other individuals from various countries around the world, in a dialogue, to discuss international issues," said Sotiriadis. "It's really something that's very unique, and I hope Norwich will embrace it and really use it as a tool to bring more focus on international affairs to Norwich."
One of Sotiriadis' hopes for the program is to have it become an academic class at Norwich. He also sees it as a great recruiting tool. "We were down there in our dress blues - we just captured a lot of attention while we were down there. I think it's a great opportunity to show off what Norwich really is about."
firstname.lastname@example.org, March 2003