After two years of pandemic disruptions, Model United Nations competitions are returning to normal, and the BYU MUN team was glad to be back in New York City.
The COVID-19 pandemic caused the annual New York City competition in spring of 2020 to be canceled and the 2021 competition to be held online, so this school year is the first time in over a year that students could travel for a competition. With travel restrictions lifting last fall, much of the team traveled to Washington DC for a smaller competition, and from 2–10 April, the whole team went to New York City for the culmination of their year of preparation.
Forty BYU students joined 2500 participants from around the world, half of whom came from outside the United States. As part of the competition, students are assigned to represent a country; this year, half the BYU team represented Morocco, while the rest represented Panama.
Alix Hess, a Political Science major and TA for the MUN class, was glad to be meeting in person after last year’s virtual conference. “It was more difficult to connect and collaborate with the other people at [last year’s] conference,” she says. Pandemic restrictions still affected the conference; participants had to be vaccinated and remain masked at all times while in session. But being there in person, even with those changes, made all the difference. “Being in person fosters greater conversation and deeper connections because you are able to meet people and see them as they really are,” Hess observes.
In addition to the conference, MUN team members got to experience New York City, many of them for the first time. Along with setting aside time for tours and sightseeing, the team’s director, Cory Leonard, organized a number of learning events, such as the team’s first ever MUN alumni networking event and a service project with a ward in Harlem. There was also a fireside with Walter Raines, an artist, New York City resident, and member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
This chance to experience New York City, Hess says, was one of the big benefits for students attending the conference; they got to “experience the mix of cultures, arts, and ways of life that coexist in the city.” She adds, “The networking event in Brooklyn was a highlight because we were able to network with BYU alums in a variety of fields, learn about future career paths, and enjoy a beautiful New York skyline.”
The competition was intense, lasting up to fourteen hours a day, but the team persevered and were recognized for their excellent work and preparation: the Morocco team was recognized as an Outstanding Delegation—the highest honor a delegation can receive—while the Panama team was recognized as a Distinguished Delegation. Six of the partnerships from BYU received position paper awards, and three partnerships received peer awards, making this one of BYU’s most successful MUN competitions in a decade.
But for Hess, it’s not about the awards. “For me, the best part of the conference, hands down, is working with students from all around the world,” she says, then reconsiders. “Actually, maybe it’s a tie with the friendships and connections I make with the members of our team!”
The list of skills she has honed in her time at MUN is impressive: “Diplomacy and interpersonal skills, research abilities, practice articulating my thoughts when making speeches, and understanding parliamentary procedure.” Because of this, she thinks other students can benefit from participation in the Model United Nations Program. “Be part of a tight knit and supportive community!” she encourages. “Learn important soft skills that can help you in any career! Everyone is welcome at BYU MUN!”