22 April 2021
Are the members of the United Nations teenagers? No, but the members of Model United Nations are.
On Saturday, March 20, members of Atholton High School’s Model United Nations Club attended their first conference of the school year, which was held virtually, from the comfort of their own homes. Part of being a member of Model United Nations (MUN) is attending conferences that are usually held in-person with members from other schools. However, this year’s Frederick County Model United Nations Conference was forced online due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
“You [prepare for this conference] for a whole year, but then going to the conference is a completely different experience,” said Sarah Pearl, a junior and a first-year member of Atholton’s MUN Club who attended the conference. In preparation for the Frederick County conference, the club held practice caucuses on increasing women’s literacy rates and eliminating child labor.
Model United Nations simulates United Nations policy debates, and students act as delegates of countries across the world. Using their in-depth research and public speaking skills, the student delegates advocate for their assigned country’s beliefs and best interests on real-world issues in a variety of committees.
The Frederick County Model United Nations Conference, which is sponsored by Frederick County Public Schools and Hood College, is held every year, typically in January. Unfortunately, the pandemic caused the conference to be delayed before eventually being held virtually, as many extracurricular activities have been this school year. On its website, the organizers of the conference said that “given all the upheaval this year” they were “very excited” to hold the conference despite the changes.
Although involvement in MUN usually includes attending conferences, not all of Atholton’s members opted to take part in the virtual event. Those who did participate noted some of the advantages and disadvantages of holding the conference through the online video communications platform Zoom. Some of Atholton’s MUN delegates believed that the conference was excellent. Other members described the logistical disadvantages of holding it online. Others still believed that, while it was well-run, the virtual conference didn’t feel the same as previous in-person ones.
“It was nice to listen to everybody’s debating, but it just wasn’t as engaging and some people were struggling to participate,” said senior Rebecca Leger, president of Atholton’s MUN Club. “It didn’t have some of the things that most people love about in-person conferences; it just wasn’t really there,” the six-time conference attendee added.
Another attendee commented on the logistical difficulties caused by holding the annual conference virtually.
“It was seven hours long, so on Zoom it can be a little tiring,” commented Hyeonsu Cheon, a junior who has taken part in three in-person conferences in the past. “And, in-person, during unmoderated caucuses you get to walk around the room and physically interact with people representing different countries. On Zoom, that was a lot harder since it’s harder to move between breakout rooms as much.”
Cheon did mention that, “after the initial technical problems were fixed, it was pretty straightforward to attend the conference virtually,” with things like passing notes being “a lot faster” and it being “easier to project your voice.”
Not all of the members of Atholton’s MUN Club felt like they were missing something by having to attend the conference on Zoom.
Pearl felt that the conference “exceeded my expectations.” Initially anxious about participation from other people, she was excited to see that “everyone was still really spirited and super into the conference” despite its online setting, which she remarked “made it a lot more enjoyable for everyone.”
Dressed in business casual attire from the waist up and wearing sweatpants from the waist down, delegates from various schools debated on real-world issues such as nuclear proliferation, the militarization of outer space, and human rights in the context of digital privacy from small boxes on computer screens. Some shifted in their seats as the two-and-a-half hour long sessions passed, visibly bored, while others enthusiastically proposed measures that would benefit their respective countries, only stopping when there were technical difficulties as they tried to join breakout rooms for further discussion. During lunch, the student delegates thought of the pizza that was normally served at the conference as they ate their meals alone at home.
In the sixteen years that Frederick County Public Schools and Hood College have held the Frederick County Model United Nations Conference, this was the first time it was ever held online. Changes like this have happened across the world as countries grapple with the pandemic and try to curb the spread of coronavirus.
After seeing an admirable measure of success from the virtual conference, Leger, alongside fellow senior and MUN member Peter Cunningham, is looking forward to hosting Atholton’s own virtual MUN conference on Saturday, April 24, which she described as “similar” to the Frederick County conference, but “much smaller.”
According to Cunningham, Atholton’s conference will involve students from Atholton and Marriott’s Ridge High School. He also explained that the delegates will “discuss current domestic and global issues” in each committee during the conference.
“I think it is a positive experience. I think that there’s a lot of great lessons that can be learned from it,” said Leger on being a member of MUN. “You come away with a lot of great public speaking skills, great knowledge about international relations and what’s going on in other countries, and understanding global politics also. It’s nice to hear from other people’s perspectives—or other countries’ perspectives—and it’s also great to just meet people, too. I’ve made so many friends just by going to conferences and talking to people. It’s just a great place to meet people and learn things. I think that it really does so much good for people,” the senior professed. “I really hope that it keeps going after I graduate.”