Sitting in the small university lecture room, I flip through my notes. The girl on my right speaks Spanish as her first language, the student on my left knows French fluently, behind me sits an Arabic speaker, and the boy in front of me has grown up speaking Hindi. The past five minutes have been a mélange of conversations in five different languages. At the front of the room, a member of the dias bangs his gavel, calling the committee to session- in English.
This isn’t a language conference. Language has little to do with it– it’s only one of the byproducts of having so many diverse individuals in one place.
Last week, I spent four days on the University of Toronto campus for a Model United Nations (MUN) conference with 30 students from my school and hundreds of high schoolers from across the world. Model United Nations is a UN simulation debate club in which students represent various countries and debate specific world issues in committees, using parliamentary debate procedures. This past school year, I have attended three different conferences: one at Baylor University, the other at UT Austin, and the third and most recent, in Toronto.
Having been a MUN “delegate” for the past five years, I have gone to a range of conferences and represented many different countries in various committees. From debating Senegal’s perspective on cybersecurity, to Kuwait’s view on global terrorism, I have been able to gain a variety of different insights. This year, I represented Belgium in the Coalition for the Status of Women (CSW), Indonesia in the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR), and just last week, I undertook the role of Libya in the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC).
I have always found the extensive research prior to the conference to pay off well while in committee. This year, I had the opportunity to understand the role of women in politics from the perspective of a developed European nation, assess refugee resettlement from the standpoint of a country that is economically strained, and inspect the rights of the media and journalists in a state plagued by political instability.
Other than the actual debate portion (referred to as “Committee”), one thing I truly enjoy about Model United Nations conferences is meeting with like-minded people who share similar interests. Throughout the course of my conferences this year, I have met delegates from across the US and Canada (and a few from other nations as well), and we have connected on the basis of our shared interests: politics, language, culture, etc.
In this last conference, more than ever, I really connected to the delegates in my committee, and we all took out time to get lunch together, grab Tim Hortons (Canada’s famous coffee and donuts stop), or just hang out. I’m not one to endorse stereotypes, but from what I encountered in Toronto, Canadians are really nice people. They were all genuinely interested in knowing about life in “Texas” and they laughed at our usage of “y’all”, as we mimicked the very characteristic Canadian “o” sound, and the typical “sorry”. We spent a great deal of time discussing politics, and many of the Canadian students said they “knew more about American politics than their own!” They subtly offered their condolences for the poor state of American politics, sympathy which I, personally, gladly accepted.
They say that Toronto is one of the most ethnically diverse cities in the world, so I wasn’t surprised by the different backgrounds of people I met during the conference. The delegate of China, who was an ally of mine, was a fluent Hindi speaker, which we invariably resorted to as a “code language” when necessary. The delegate of Malaysia was a fluent French speaker, as was the girl representing Israel, so I had my fair share of conversation “en français”. To my delight, the delegate of the Philippines happened to be from Guatemala, so I spoke to her in Spanish only, and thanks to WhatsApp, she has become my informal language partner.
No event is complete without running into Jordanians, so I managed to do that here too, in the form of the delegate of Thailand, Hala. While in committee, I noticed the way she pronounced “Israel” (Is-ra-eel), and I knew that she spoke Arabic. I approached her in Arabic, and I found out that she was half Jordanian and half Palestinian born and raised in Qatar, but now living in Canada. We spent a solid amount of time talking about Amman, discussing Arab musical artists (Mohammed Assaf was our mutual favorite), and debating which type of Kunafeh is better (khishna all the way!!). As I was speaking to her in Arabic, she asked me if I was originally Jordanian and insisted that I sounded like an Arab, which was a HUGE compliment for me! 😀
This year, with one more year of MUN under my belt, I increased my knowledge about international political issues, made new friends, and was given a great chance to practice my target languages. And of course, receiving awards in all three conferences was definitely the cherry on top! 🙂