Our delegates to this year’s Harvard Model United Nations immersed themselves in the political, cultural, and social issues of their chosen country, Denmark. Read their story!
“May I never hear the words ‘nuclear proliferation’ ever again!”
So said Aleksandra Chernyak ’15 of her time at the 2014 Harvard National Model United Nations this February. As one of the Bay Path College delegates to the student-run event in Boston, her specific subcommittee was the historic general assembly of 1993. While she discussed the historic fears of that late Cold War period, Chernyak said that the opportunity to be one of the students at the conference was a lesson that travelled far beyond the classroom.
Over 3,000 students from across the globe participated in the 60-year old annual event, a Harvard University student-run facsimile of the United Nations. Students from colleges in the United States and abroad assumed the roles of specific countries or international organizations and immersed themselves within the strictures of their adopted policies, cultures, mores, and political beliefs.
HNMUN, as it’s known, is an intense, four-day meeting of students, each passionately committed to creating resolutions, working collaboratively with other countries to pass these resolutions, and debating within subcommittees to further their country’s agendas.
Bay Path College has sent a team of delegates to the HNMUN for over ten years. Originally organized by Professor John Jarvis, these days he and Professor Bob Surbrug alternate years at the helm of Humanities 330, “United Nations, Policies and Practices.” Surbrug and his class this year decided to adopt Denmark as their chosen country.
The class takes place in the fall semester, preparing for the U.N. session in February. Surbrug said that while he and Jarvis approach the fundamentals of the class slightly differently—his focus is history while Jarvis examines cultural perspectives—there is a core of information for the class to prepare for the event in February. “We look at the history of the U.N., some of their historic interventions and events they been involved in, their peacekeeping operations and their mechanisms.”
The second half of the course prepares them for the event itself. The Harvard team asks the participating “countries” to submit position papers on a variety of topics. This submerges the students into the multifaceted policy decisions that would be undertaken by their host nation.
Surbrug said the benefits for his class hinge on the polemical approach to international diplomacy. “Coming up with compromises when you’re up against different blocs in the committees, it gives the students a good sense of how the U.N. works,” he said. “It gives them an appreciation of international cultures and differences. Yet many of them also end up maintaining friendships with people they’ve met there. This is another example of the experiential learning that we strive for at Bay Path.”
Students living in other countries have a much better sense of the role of the U.N., he added. “This gives our students more of an international consciousness,” he explained. “No matter what field of study you’re in, it’s helpful to put yourselves in someone else’s perspective. Learning about the U.N. is in and of itself useful in becoming good global citizens.”
For Chernyak, who is originally from Russia, navigating this social sphere with her peers has just as much relevance as the actual political exercises.
“When you read in the news about politicians in constant disagreement, you think there’s no way for our countries to get anything done,” she said. “Yet here, the fact that we’re thinking of different avenues to solve the problems at hand, this is astounding.”
Several students from Venezuela were participating at the HNMUN. Chernyak said that the entire student body was aware of the very real violence and strife that has recently taken over their capital city of Caracas. “Ideologically we may be different,” she said, “but here, we were all students. We rallied to support them whatever way we could.”
“While we were in character most of the time for our adopted nations, for this instance, it was a sense of togetherness—we came together as one world,” she continued. “And just because the bureaucrats in power around the world can’t come to an agreement, doesn’t mean my generation can’t.”