Anna Bryner has found a way to put a positive spin on how COVID-19 restrictions have affected her academic experience: “I’ll never be able to say I went to National Model UN in person,” she says, “but few people will be able to say that they went to National Model UN online.”
Anna is one of 26 BYU students who participated in the recent National Model United Nations competition, held March 28–31. This yearly competition is usually held in New York City, but COVID-19 restrictions required it to be held online this year. In the competition, schools are assigned to represent different countries (BYU represented Italy this year) on various committees to debate important issues. Normally these committees would meet in person at the competition venue, but this year, they had to do it all via a platform called Gatherly. To give students a change of scenery and help them focus on the event, faculty advisor Cory Leonard took the whole team up to Salt Lake, where they participated in the competition via their computers from the BYU Salt Lake Center.
“Some parts were a little bit tricky,” says team member Anela Hansen, “like trying to figure out how to find a way to cut in in a huddle when there isn’t a clear break, or what to do when someone’s Wi-Fi is kind of coming in and out. Trying to communicate effectively online is interesting sometimes. But I was surprised by how fun it was and how interactive it was still able to be considering the online format.”
Team member Brad Grisenti even sees an advantage to this kind of competition: “My favorite part of the conference was just how international it was. There were a lot of times the groups I was working with were made up of only foreign students. I don’t know if they could have been in New York.” That, he says, was an advantage of an online conference: “It was pretty easy for people to come from all over the world. We were all in different time zones and we still effectively got a lot done.”
The BYU team performed admirably and were named an outstanding delegation, the highest award given at the competition. “I was so impressed by our delegation,” says Hansen. “They came in with a lot of consistency and a lot of grit, and they worked so hard. They were able to stay focused despite the obstacles, despite the circumstances, and even though I know that a lot of them were tired and trying to balance their own responsibilities with this conference. So they were really impressive.”
“I feel really accomplished, like I did something,” says team member Jenna Cook. “It’s funny because a lot of people don’t even know what Model United Nations is, and sometimes it can be easy to say ‘Does MUN really actually matter?’ But in reality, I feel like I was able to learn how to work with people when I am 500% exhausted, how to find ways to be diplomatic, how to find ways to be kind to people when all I want to do is sleep. Using those skills of negotiation and really getting your ideas in the paper—these are all things I am going to take away from MUN.”
Model UN is open to students of all majors who would like to improve their skills in writing, speaking, and diplomacy; interested students should contact Cory Leonard at email@example.com or check out the Model UN page.