Social Education 58(7), 1994, p. 434
National Council for the Social Studies

Experiencing a Model United Nations

Susan Travis
South Washington County Schools in suburban St. Paul, Minnesota, has an active international exchange program. Besides exchange students from around the world in classrooms, each year students from high schools, junior highs, and even elementary schools of District 833 are traveling to Novosibirsk, Siberia; Guayaquil, Ecuador; Montevideo, Uruguay; Quebec, Canada; southern France; and Dublin, Ireland.
Through a sister school contact with St. Andrews College in Dublin, the students at Woodbury High School were invited to SAIMUN (St. Andrews International Model United Nations). During the Easter holidays in both 1993 and 1994, delegations of Woodbury students kissed the Blarney Stone, watched the sun set on Galway Bay, and wished they too and not just their advisers were invited on the tour of the Guiness Brewery in Dublin. But the five to eight students were hard at work settling the larger global issues of the UN. These Minnesota 17- and 18-year olds from a public high school were debating and deliberating with 650 high school students from mostly private schools in Ireland, England, Germany, the Netherlands, Luxembourg, Italy, and Portugal.

Our students' preparation included research at the UN Depository Library at the University of Minnesota (most states have similar collections of UN documents), some Internet searches, and traditional researching. Our eight students in April 1994 represented two countries: Cuba and Nigeria.

A number of committees met simultaneously during half of the four-day event. One of our Cuban delegates was anxious to arrive in time to lobby with other delegates about the agenda item in the First Political Committee which dealt with Cuba's desire to have the United States lift economic sanctions on Cuba. Other delegates were concerned with issues of capital punishment and embryonic research in the Human Rights Committee. Another major issue among the many Irish nationals in Dublin was the topic of Northern Ireland. The Security Council dealt with the issue of Bosnia while the Environment Committee debated rain forest topics.

For these students, this international Model UN will be a highlight of their school experience. They will remember feeling a bit ill-at-ease when they were confronted with many more politically aware European students. They will convey some of the sense of the awesome power of the United States and the hint of resentment at that power which many European students expressed when they role-played the United States in the Model UN. These American students will remember being invited to elementary and junior high school classes at home to talk about their trip. They will no doubt help to kindle the desire to participate in the Model UN among future generations of Minnesota youth.

And that won't be financially out of reach for students in this school district in the middle of the country because the administration has for a number of years set aside the per-pupil monies generated by exchange students in the district to defray costs for teachers to plan and chaperone international programs such as this Model UN in Dublin.

Susan Travis teaches at Woodbury High School in the St. Paul metropolitan area of Minnesota.