Not every U of T club gets to meet the Iraqi ambassador and defuse a North Korean nuclear crisis-in just four days and in Ottawa to boot. The University of Toronto Model UN Society participated in the CANIMUN conference from March 7 to 10, their fifth model UN conference this year.
“You definitely develop empathy for other countries,” said Felicia Moursalien, who, despite being new to the model UN this year, won an outstanding delegate award representing Iraq. She was briefed by Iraq’s ambassador on the kind of arguments the Iraqi government might use.
“What I gleaned from the Iraqi ambassador was the need for bilateral agreements between countries and more one-on-one discussions,” she said.
Just 12 U of T students went to CANIMUN, two of whom took home outstanding delegate awards. Jeff Claydon, a four-year veteran of model UN who represented Slovakia, took home his third Gavel award for best delegate.
Because the model UN intends to replicate the views and policies from each country, delegates need to carefully research their assigned country. Big issues this year included the situations in Darfur and North Korea-where delegates defused a mock nuclear crisis-as well as the problem of cluster-bombing in international conflicts. At its best, the model UN is a learning experience where students have to defend positions they do not agree with, or look at an issue from a foreign perspective.
Although the UN is an incredible tool, the students agree that its sheer size and all of the administrative procedures necessary can get in the way.
“Countries use some of the procedures and arguments as an escape to not participate in something,” Moursalien said. “There are definitely some roadblocks, so you get a sense of some of the frustrations that happen for real countries.”
“You realize that [the UN] is not [creating problems] on purpose, they do care,” said Muzammil Ghanchi, the U of T Model UN communications director. “But then again they’re not world representatives and they will do what is in their country’s best interests first.”
Ghanchi warned those who hope to sign multiple peace accords that even in a mock-UN, it’s not so easy. Because of how much red tape is involved, some find it too depressing to participate. It’s difficult to make a difference immediately, and that turns some students away from the group.
“You can’t go in as an idealist,” said Ghanchi. “I’m a realist. I know there’s a reason that there’s not world peace right now. But the model UN helps me learn so much more.”
Though its members claim the model UN is ripe with opportunities for student networking and communication skills practice, U of T’s society is fairly small considering the size of the university. Offsetting the benefits of model UN membership is the cost of attending the group’s events. While many other societies across North America have their conference trips paid for by their schools, U of T does not offer money to the model UN.
In the past, some of the individual colleges have offered up funds for students, but many delegates still miss the more exotic conferences due to monetary restraints. Only five or six U of T delegates will attend the World Model UN Conference this week in Geneva, Switzerland for this very reason.
“Next year, we’re pushing to increase U of T’s role in funding the activities,” said Moursalien, who considered going to the conference in Geneva, but was put off by the $2,000-plus price tag.
Any of the society members can attend conferences, and are prepared over the course of the year through a training program that explains the rules, and a series of mock debates in the second semester.
“It’s not that big in Canada right now, but we’ve seen it explode in the States,” said Ghanchi. “The only way you can consider change is by experiencing it first-hand. It’s for everyone-all you need is to be interested.”