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Students Reflect on Experiences at MUN Competitions

Delegates returned to New York City for a fully in-person conference this past April 2023 as BYU’s Model United Nations team competed in the week-long National Model United Nations (NMUN) conference, the culminating experience for the two-semester Kennedy Center course (IAS 351). The team of thirty-eight students represented Kuwait and India, with both winning an Outstanding Delegation award, the highest possible recognition given and a unique accomplishment. From 2005 to 2017, BYU received Outstanding awards for both countries they represented—placing BYU teams among the top five percent of competing delegations.

BYU Model UN Team 2023

And BYU students kept winning: this year ties with 2022 for having the team receive six Position Paper Awards. This recognizes the policy writing abilities of twelve BYU students: Tania Carillo (Political Science), Macy Conrad (English), Jori Hall (Political Science), Ben Marr (International Relations), Jordan Bowen (Political Science), Collin Powell (Economics), Brendan Armstrong (Economics), Emma Cummings (Strategic Management), Brooke Layton (Public Health), Emi Yamazaki (English), Olivia Allread (MES/A), and Christina Parry (English).

Students from more than two hundred universities around the world participated at the Hilton New York Hotel, with closing ceremonies in the UN Great Hall of the General Assembly. Delegates at the NMUN conference addressed numerous major global issues, including climate change, migration, adequate housing, intolerance and discrimination based on religious belief, and artificial intelligence and the rule of law, among others. They also participated in a full complement of briefings and career sessions with alumni and professionals in the city.

Committee speech with Brendan Armstrong and Emma Cummings.

BYU MUN team member Emi Yamazaki, a senior majoring in English with a minor in Japanese, says that the skills she gained are helping to prepare her for law school and begin a career in public interest law. She most enjoyed how effectively diplomatic skills, such as communicating and writing, were taught in the classes. She also liked building relationships and friendships with classmates and peers at the conference. “I think that one way our team stands out is by being able to lead but in an approachable way. I think it’s just inevitable when you do Model UN in a competition that some people can be overbearing, and then others are intimidated. It’s just the whole spectrum of personalities and leadership styles. So I think we did a great job of finding somewhere in between—where we could use our strengths to enhance others.”

Macy Conrad, a junior studying English with a minor in International Development and Spanish, also spoke about her experience of learning to work with others. “I think it’s about improving communication. The more you listen and ask questions, the better you understand someone and the easier it is to be patient. People within the class and the conference have very different opinions and perspectives. However, I was still able to have good meaningful conversations with them. I think part of the reason we were able to do that is because of the things we’ve learned in class.” Conrad relished being on the Commission on the Status of Women, working with a large group of students to find solutions. Her desire to create an international impact solidified after her Spanish-speaking mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints during the pandemic and during eight months working on her father’s bee farm. There, she befriended employees from other countries and came to recognize how difficult the immigration process can be in the United States. Conrad encourages anyone considering joining MUN to go for it.

Small group at a team meeting.

Benjamin Marr, a junior majoring in International Relations, was first exposed to the U.S. Foreign Service on his Church mission in Indonesia, where he met diplomats and appreciated their work and lifestyle. Marr is currently pursuing a minor in Asian Studies and working toward a career in diplomacy. “I just love the idea of immersing myself in other cultures while furthering national interests and building relations between countries,” he says. Marr also valued his time in New York at the conference, saying, “It felt like finally putting into practice the things I’ve been learning for the last three years in my major. I think the International Relation major tends to be very theoretical—you talk a lot about policies and how nations interact with each other. Participation in class at the NMUN conference shows how it’s done.”

Scott Sawaya, an Economics major, came to Model UN with some previous international experience. He used the experience to keep refining his diplomatic, persuasion, and leadership skills. “It’s fun to develop relationships with people under the context of you representing a different country. I was assigned to India and became good friends with one or two delegates representing Sri Lanka. So then we’d joke about healing or improving Sri Lankan/Indian relationships, even though it’s a roleplay scenario,” he says, adding, “I would say that Model UN is great because literally anyone can do it. It’s all about developing who you are, including your capacity to communicate, to connect with the people around you, and to understand their perspectives. That’s something I’ve always wanted to work on and improve myself—it touches so many different aspects of college and life. I’ve been really grateful for the opportunities that BYU Kennedy Center’s program has given me to develop those skills.”

Tour of Columbia University grad programs.

Mauricio Morales, who joined the team this past fall semester, says, “When it comes to my future career, I think that MUN helped me to get the ‘gas’ I needed to continue. Sometimes we can get discouraged because the path may feel hard, but opportunities like this one helped me to remember why I do what I do and why I want to pursue a career in diplomacy.” Morales continues, “One of my memorable experiences [at the conference] was during the heat of the moment, having the opportunity to apply what we are constantly taught about fostering peace. While people were fighting and trying to get control of things, I decided to foster peace by walking around the room; asking people about their days, ideas, and thoughts; helping to ease the ambiance; and looking for opportunities to find a common ground of understanding. It helped me to understand that by fighting we cannot accomplish anything—but with peace and real diplomacy, we can find ways to move forward away from our differences.” Another experience Morales had was “walking in and sitting at the main Assembly Hall at the United Nations Headquarters. I have dreamed about that day since I was 12 years old. Not in those wildest dreams could I imagine I was going to be in a place I only saw in pictures and videos. That moment was like time stopped for a second and all the work, stress, tiredness—everything—disappeared and I had the entire place to myself. It was a very special moment filled with deep gratitude for my loved ones and everyone who supported and believed in me.” To those who are hesitant about getting involved with MUN, Morales says, “If you think that you are not good enough in public speaking, or writing, or in diplomacy—trust me, you will get all the help you need.”

Brendan Armstrong, one of the six Model UN teaching assistants, says, “I got involved with Model UN in 2021 on a recommendation from my sister. I honestly didn't know anything about the class or the content so I didn't know what I was getting myself into. But based on her recommendation, I decided to give it a go. I loved it so much that I competed last year for the team and then came back a second year as a teaching assistant.” He adds, “Everyone in MUN spends so much time together that you basically become a family. We all truly care for one another, and that was evident so many times throughout the year. . . . Overall, just spending time with everyone in the class brings so much joy and laughter to one's college experience.”

BYU Kuwait Team at Permanent Mission of Kuwait to the UN.

Megan Tanner, another teaching assistant, reflected on her time teaching students and helping them grow academically, professionally, and socially. She says, “The Model UN class itself is a unique experience at BYU because you don’t often have classes that last a year or with a group of people you get close to. Model UN offers that kind of experience where you get to learn and stick with the same group of people for eight months, three hours a night, every Tuesday. It’s a really fun environment where people get to practice diplomacy, learn how to apply skills they’ve read about in their majors, or maybe that they’ve never encountered before. And it’s just a very hands-on learning experience.” Tanner shared how, at the conference BYU students stand out not just in their professionalism, but also in their conduct—including opportunities to share one’s faith and beliefs. More than anything, Tanner wants students from across campus in every major to recognize that Model UN is for everyone, as it provides opportunities to learn through cases, simulations, and engaging exercises in the art of persuasion, negotiation, research, and writing. “Even if you know nothing about world politics, global issues, or international organizations like the UN, or if you’re not interested in government work or nongovernment work like NGOs, there is a place for everyone. It allows you to put into practice skills that you will use throughout your life.”