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Practicing Diplomacy in Model Organization of American States

Ten BYU students recently traveled to Washington, DC to participate in a Model Organization of American States event.

The event, called a “model,” was held 11–15 April 2022. “It is an attempt to recreate how an actual OAS meeting would be run,” says Erick Calderon, an MOAS team member and double major in Sociology and Latin American Studies. “Therefore, schools represent a country in the Americas and attempt to have their concerns heard as they create solutions for issues involving COVID-19, immigration, refugees, war, tourism, and so on.”

Though MOAS is a simulation program much like Model United Nations, the WMOAS (Washington Model Organization of American States) model differs in the fact that it is not a competition. Kristen Haws, another team member and Latin American Studies major, says, “With Model OAS, the focus is more on the actual legislative process, so I feel like it’s more realistic—you’re focused on getting your resolution passed, rather than being the best representative there.”

The ten students who participated in the model took part in a class, led by Dr. Jeff Shumway, in the months leading up to the model. BYU was assigned to represent Guatemala, so a big part of the class was spent studying that country. Haws says, “We dove really deep into Guatemalan history so we could know who the country was we were representing; a lot of people have a surface-level understanding of Guatemala, but I got to learn a lot more.”

Another part of the preparation involved writing, says Calderon: “There are 5 committees within the model that address certain issues, and students research and write a PDR (post draft resolution) which includes possible solutions that would ideally tackle these issues.” During the model, students got the chance to present, argue, and negotiate in their assigned committees; the preparation paid off, because all of the BYU team’s PDRs got passed.

Calderon, however, had a different set of responsibilities: “I was able to participate this year in the actual model as a Rapporteur. My tasks included organizing the model, filling out reports of each school’s PDR outcomes, and helping run the meeting more smoothly.”

The students didn’t spend their entire time in Washington DC in model meetings, however. They went sightseeing, visited Georgetown University, and had two notable meetings: one with a Guatemalan representative from the real OAS, and one with the Guatemalan ambassador to the US. “It was a question and answer session,” says Haws, “which was really cool. We sat down with the ambassador and got to know him; he asked us about ourselves and told us about himself.”

Calderon and Haws agree that they learned a lot from the experience. Haws says, “Just writing the resolution was completely different from anything else I’ve ever done, because it’s a different form of writing. It was eye opening.” She also notes that she learned a lot about diplomacy and negotiation. “You make friends, but you also have to learn how to say no to those friends. Some of the first friends we made on our first day were representing Venezuela, and they had a resolution that Guatemala just couldn’t agree with. We had to learn how to maintain diplomatic relations while staying true to who Guatemala is, which is so different than anything you’d ever do anywhere else.”

Calderon states, “It was an incredible leadership opportunity that enabled me to improve on my leadership skills, and I hope to have represented BYU well. All in all, the best part of the model is the diplomatic experience. That is the model’s main objective: to act and delegate like diplomats would. That includes making alliances with different countries, researching proposals, and writing and delivering speeches.”

Shumway, the team’s director, says, “The students got to combine their Latin American Studies knowledge with a very practical experience of participating in a simulated diplomatic conference. In addition to researching and writing their resolutions, students had to meet other delegates from other universities and get them to co-sign their resolutions. They had to network and negotiate. They had to give a speech on their resolution in front of their committees. So it was ‘academia meeting the real world.’ Our students made a lot of friends, and learned a lot about the importance of diplomacy.”

The benefits, Calderon says, are notable: “These skills have led some of our students to get accepted into amazing grad programs. It has also resulted in great networking opportunities, and an overall marvelous experience.”

Students interested in learning more about MOAS should reach out to Jeff Shumway.