Model United Nations is a staple extracurricular program in the average American High School. In a simulation of its real-world organizational counterpart, students represent the desires of various nations, prepare resolutions to pressing global issues and engage in debates that critique and refine their solutions. Tiffany Chan’s (Shanghai American School c/o ‘19) experience with High School Model UN, however, is one that may come off as unconventional for American participants. As an international high school student, Tiffany led a program that championed a philosophy of “constructivism” and centralized around the THIMUN Model of MUN, as compared to the American Parliamentary model. We were fortunate enough to have the opportunity to interview Tiffany, currently studying Psychology and Economics at Brown University, and discuss her experiences in retrospect as an international MUNer as well as her advice for aspiring delegates and leaders.
Tiffany’s Model United Nations Story:
Tiffany’s first Model UN experience manifested itself on an early January weekend in 2015, when she dropped by a conference at a nearby school to follow her friends and the school delegation around. As she recalls, “over that weekend, I was very drawn to the amount of knowledge that each delegate seemed to possess regarding global affairs. I loved the structure of debate and I love that it isn’t a zero-sum game where one party can ‘win’ like in traditional debate clubs.” Four years later, Tiffany became a leading figure in her school’s MUN program, serving as the Secretary General of her school’s conference and leading the delegation to various conferences across Asia.
For her, MUN was a chance to “debate like-minded people and truly understand the world around [her] by literally adopting different perspectives.” Participating in conferences across China and in cities such as St. Petersburg, Washington DC and Hong Kong, Tiffany felt that MUN was not only just a way for her community to be introduced to different cultures, but was likewise a way to become more open minded to new ideas and perspectives. This was especially the case when members from their delegation adopted the persona of positions and nations whose agendas and behavior they didn’t necessarily agree with.
Bridging the Gap Between International & American Model UN:
While procedural rifts exist between THIMUN and American Parliamentary MUN (more information about THIMUN and its procedure can be found at https://foundation.thimun.org/), Tiffany believes that, equally as important, there are drastic underlying philosophical differences between the two systems. At her school, the program had emphasized "being constructive to other delegates rather than pushing others down to propel ourselves upwards.” This entailed actively mending flaws in resolutions instead of voting against them, being a mature delegate and stepping down from main-submitter positions, and putting the greater good of the group above all else.
For Tiffany, this philosophy was drastically different from the ones she witnessed in America. As Tiffany recalls of her participation in a conference at Georgetown, “the overall attitude that people approached MUN with was so foreign ... There was a toxic energy towards winning awards and official titles that I despised. The selfless philosophy that was preached at my high school was nowhere to be found.” Indeed, her experiences participating in THIMUN Conferences did not have the same atmosphere and emphasis surrounding awards and gavels.
Tiffany believes that there are things both systems can learn and adopt from each other. Particularly, she believes that “THIMUN procedure (one that most international high schools follow) could loosen up the debate structure a little bit” by allowing for more freedom in debate topic selection wherein delegates themselves motion for what topic are debated when and for how long. On the other hand, she also thinks that the American model could incorporate some of the values that THIMUN promotes: cooperation, compromise and an emphasis on content instead of rhetoric.
Advice for New Delegates:
“Do your research before coming into that committee room – not only will that improve the quality of your resolutions, but it will also boost you with the confidence of knowing that you understand what you are debating. Knowing your material makes sure that should you be challenged at the podium, you’ll know how to answer most points of information. “
“Speak with confidence – it really is half the battle. Even if you are unsure of yourself, try to portray yourself as a confident delegate. Of course, this isn’t to say that you should confidently blurt false information. But for the information that you do gather regarding your topic, present it with confidence so that the committee recognizes you as a delegate who knows what he or she is talking about and a delegate that they will want to work with. Perfect your opening speech – it is perhaps the most important piece of work that you will present. Not only does it provide a first-impression of you as a delegate but it will signal to the chairs that you are a delegate they want to call on.”
“Stay true to your country’s policies – even if it means you are proposing solutions you don’t agree with personally, you must keep in mind that you are representing the interests of a nation. Do not take advantage of this opportunity to propose absurd, immature solutions, but make sure that anything that comes out of your mouth could very well be said by an official, legitimate representative of your country.”
Advice for Aspiring Student Leaders:
“To lead, one must first learn to serve.”
Tiffany believes that those seeking to become student leaders in their MUN programs must first understand the roles of those in other positions. A chair, likewise, must be able to understand the dynamics of debate in order to steer it in the right direction. Similarly, it is imperative that he or she understands what type of leadership will best suit the people in the room whose attention must be commanded. Moreover, the chair must also understand the nuances of the issues and national agendas well enough to moderate debate and provide guidance when needed.
The task at hand becomes more difficult when one has the honor of serving as a Secretariat member. As Tiffany shares, “this leader must understand all the logistics, administrative tasks, and executive decisions that go into planning a conference. Only through serving the program can a student become a good leader of that program, all the while leading through example and staying humble and grateful for all the opportunities he or she is given.”
Tiffany further stresses humility as a pivotal quality for any student seeking to become a leading figure. This means not only having the ability to work with and listen to those of lower positions, but also boosting others during the processes. As she elaborates, “rather than hoarding leadership positions, a good leader will allow younger delegates to apply for chair or give the main-submitter position to a new delegate so that the program as a whole becomes more experienced.” Similarly, she believes that passion is another important quality, as when a program lacks participants with a passion for MUN and what it stands for, it will quickly fall apart after one or two generations of leaders have graduated. Finally, Tiffany stresses that “organization and teamwork are what make or break a program.” Especially, both attending and hosting a conference require meticulous planning on the leadership team’s part, and knowing the program and the participants well allows for a meritocratic system of delegation and leadership assignments.
Should you have any further questions or inquiries, you may reach out to Tiffany at tiff_chan@ brown.edu. This article was written by Christopher Shen in April 2020 as part of the Student Alliance’s Student Stories. You may find more information about the issue on our website www.thestudentalliance.org and instagram @thestudentalliance. Thanks for reading!