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CISSMUN: Fostering a Generation of Global Citizens

January, 2013
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The tension was palpable as the speaker slammed the gavel with a cacophonous thud, introducing the topic of discussion, “Enhancing the rights and status of the Palestinian people in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.” A placard displaying the Union Jack is raised, seconding the motion. “Seconded,” cries another. The Chair gestures towards the UK, informing them they have the floor and can speak.

This isn’t a secret government meeting in a darkened bunker though; this is the Concordia International School Shanghai Model United Nations (CISSMUN), a three-day simulation of how the actual United Nations operates. This year the event welcomes the participation of 480 individuals from 24 schools around the world, including many of Shanghai’s best international schools, with students arriving from as far away as Rome, Italy.

cissmun-1Each student must role play as a delegate representing their assigned country, doing extensive research about their nation state to prepare them, including voting track record, their influential ideologies, foreign policy, background information about the many issues being contested during the conference, as well as which countries are likely to support or reject their proposed resolutions. It’s like a political version of Dungeons and Dragons; only instead of hurling lightning bolts at the darkness, they throw facts at a room of their peers attempting to coax support out of them while speaking in the third person. Also, they dress much better.

Last year, CISSMUN became a THIMUN (The Hague International Model United Nations)-affiliated conference, an organization responsible for identifying Model United Nations (MUN) programs around the world “whose educational goals, standards and quality of organization are recognized as being of an appropriately high standard.”

“Peace, in all its forms, is the fundamental imperative for development,” declared Jonathan Tan, a student at Concordia, as well as acting Secretary-General at CISSMUN, introducing the theme for this year’s conference, the Peace Imperative. The purpose of MUN is for students to learn how to work together, with UN member states tackling real world issues in seven different forums, including three committees of the General Assembly (GA), the Economic and Social Council, the Security Council Advisory Panel on Proliferation and Nuclear Future, and lastly the International Court of Justice.

Director of CISSMUN, Erik Paulson, explains the significance of the intense debates that occur in the International Court of Justice stating, “They’re trying a case that’s actually on the docket on the real International Court of Justice between Costa Rica and Nicaragua. Each case will call several witnesses, they’ll be examined and cross-examined, and the judges will ultimately then have the task of not only listening to testimony, but weighing the physical evidence that gets submitted by advocates (lawyers) on both sides, and then issue an opinion.”

While the Court of Justice may seem like an overwhelming experience for beginners, Paulson assured me that MUN is for anyone, saying, “Part of the ethos of the conference is we always want it to be accessible to beginners.”

Casey Paulson, Erik. Paulson’s 9-year old son, made this evident by serving as a Page for the event, whose job it is to deliver notes from one delegate to another and ensuring they adhere to the rules that govern this practice, like only using the conference’s official language, English, as well as staying focused on the topic being discussed. For example, Casey shares “Some people write ‘Oh, I’m starving’. That’s before lunch though, after lunch I didn’t get as many of those.” 

Casey is privy to many of the notes being passed, which gives him an intriguing behind-the-scenes peek into the political moves that are behind made, so he’s aware when Syria is trying to drum up support for their resolution. They can’t just make a paper airplane and throw it across the room; it has to go through Casey.

“Many of the kids come in really scared of their opening one minute speech, walking up trembling, and by the end of one or two conferences, they are thinking on their feet, and willing to go up without having something printed out and shoot from the hip. It’s a wonderful experience for their confidence and public speaking,” exclaimed Chad Lowe, director of MUN from Green School in Bali, Indonesia.

They also face the reality of the actual UN, with hours of hard work and dedication going into researching a topic, drafting a resolution, debating it on the floor, and garnering the support of other delegates just to have it shot down by one of the permanent members of the Security Council (US, China, UK, France, Russia [P5]) who have veto power and can stop a resolution with a single vote. While cruel to some, it can help a student shed their naïve, idealistic view of how the world should work and figure out a way to work with the system in order to bring about change. .

Greta Corizza and Silvia Colabianchi came all the way from Liceo Scientifico Farnesina in Rome, Italy to learn this lesson, each of them representing a Muslim country trying to work together with other nations in the GA3, which dealt with passing resolutions concerning social issues like LGBT equality and gender imbalances, which proved to be an insurmountable task. They had to put aside their personal opinions and play the hand they were given.

“You have to feel it. Last year I represented the Russian Federation and I really felt it. My resolution went to the General Assembly and it passed. This year I’m representing Somalia so I don’t have the same shared passion,” admitted Greta.

Paulson explains this phenomenon, saying “A lot of students will find out what country they are representing and be disappointed. ‘Oh man, I can’t believe I’m Equatorial Guinea!’”

What I always tell students is the delegate makes the country. I’ve seen examples of the US or China being utterly ineffectual because they have a delegate who is timid or unprepared, and I’ve seen conferences just ruled by Tuvalu or Guinea Bissau because the delegates are very charismatic and prepared. Other people gravitate towards them; when they say things, people listen.”

“Generally the P5 are supposed to be the most involved, but I think the students’ individual personalities and charisma show through no matter what country they are,” said Chad Lowe, echoing the sentiment.

Mike Natenzon, a Green School student, demonstrated their point beautifully. Last year he represented China in China, and this year his role is ambassador for Chad in the GA1, which deals with issues pertaining to Disarmament and International Security. He wasted no time during the lobbying and merging phase, a free time when delegates can openly approach each other, taking advantage of the chaos and convincing Israel to include his clause about a buy-back scheme in their illicit arms trade resolution, as well as many of its more influential sponsors like Germany and Costa Rica. His buy-back scheme is based on an actual clause written by Australia, turning what could have been a mundane experience into a chance to showcase his passion and ability to persevere.

Homestays allowed students from Green School to partner up with Concordia students and stay at their homes, which according to Lowe “was the absolute highlight of last year’s students’ experiences, the friends that they made.”

Erik Paulson hopes that MUN will ultimately “foster a generation of global citizens with a sense of empathy and responsibility toward those less fortunate than themselves.”

Staring out into the analytical eyes of his fellow peers, most of whom he had never met before CISSMUN, Mike delivered his speech with confidence, citing his sources and presenting to the rest of the United Nations logical reasons to support him in the upcoming vote.

His resolution passed, easily achieving the requisite simple majority.


By Charlie Cooper


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