Foreign engagement: Local students act globally at the Model U.N.

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Considering the need for young Americans to be interested in their country's international relations, given the global interdependence of our times, it is difficult to imagine an exercise that contributes more to that than a Model United Nations conference.

The University of Pittsburgh and Global Solutions Pittsburgh sponsored one Monday for 457 students from 28 high schools in Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Ohio. The students represented 76 countries. One assignment had each student reflect the positions of a particular country in dealing with the others, requiring the student to study the country beforehand.

A second chore was to master the issues that would surface at the conference, including Africa's drug trade, illegal organ procurement, problems of refugees and mitigation of space debris. Some of what the students confronted was unexpected, like the Model U.N. Security Council having to deal with an invasion of Syria by Turkish forces, to which Syria responded by threatening to use chemical weapons.

The participants also had to learn the procedures under which the United Nations functions. The students were evaluated by judges in each forum, which included the U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime, the Disarmament and International Security Committee and the Organization of American States, and by roving judges who observed all seven forums into which they were divided across the day.

At the end, delegations representing schools were ranked by the judges. The winning country delegations were China, France, Myanmar and Uruguay, represented by two Pittsburgh-area schools and one from Ohio.

Everyone learned a great deal. The University of Pittsburgh and Global Solutions rendered a major service by providing this in-action international experience to hundreds of students.

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