Crossing the Borders with Model UN
Updated: Jul 19, 2020
From January to June of 2019, I completed an exchange to Morocco, where I resided in the capital, Rabat, and studied at l’Université Internationale de Rabat. When I was still in high school, attending info sessions for the different universities in Ontario, I learned of uOttawa’s unique exchange program, where for the same tuition price, I could complete an exchange in a staggering number of countries. I learned that Morocco was an option, and there I made my decision. Years later, when the time finally came to leave on exchange, I was ecstatic- the time had finally come!
Though I had travelled on my own quite extensively for someone my age, I knew Morocco would offer new challenges, as it would be my longest period away from home thus far. It was a completely new continent and culture for me to explore. I knew that in order to adjust well to my new home, I needed to put measures in place to aid me through my culture shock and inevitable homesickness. Though I had little idea on how to do this, the opportunity presented itself in my first few weeks in Morocco.
In the first week of studies, the exchange students received a small presentation on student life and the different extracurricular activities the university offered. The aim was that the exchange students could participate in activities they enjoy at home, and hopefully make new friends and connections in their host country. The girl giving the presentation was named Hajar, an incredibly kind and outgoing girl that I connected with immediately. She and I became friends quickly, and I was thankful to have her; she often invited me out with her friend group, and it gave me opportunity to visit new venues in Rabat, and to make friendships that will last a lifetime.
In Morocco, MUN is not so much a campus based club sending delegations to different conferences, but nation-wide conferences hosted in universities across the country where any student can apply. A few weeks into my friendship with Hajar, she sent me the application for a conference taking place in the village of Ben Guerir, hosted at the Université Mohammed VI Polytechnique. I was thrilled- here was a way that I could participate in something I was passionate about, that gave me the comfort of home. My application was accepted and I was off to Ben Guerir the following week.
I was assigned The Islamic Republic of Iran on the Committee on the Status of Women; it was my first time playing such a crucial country in debate, and my first ECOSOC committee. In past conferences with UOMUNA, I was often shy and did not contribute to debate as much as I would have liked, at times feeling disappointed in myself when the conference was over.
I took the conference in Morocco as an opportunity to actively participate in debate, and to get over my fear of embarrassing myself during debate. I had to remind myself that I likely would not see these people again, and I couldn’t waste the opportunity to improve my skills. I researched the role heavily, and even prepared a few speeches pertaining to the committee’s different topics.
I was nervous to travel to Ben Guerir on my own; the village was three and a half hours south by train, and I was unsure how to get from the station to the university. Luckily that dilemma was solved for me, as the conference organizers set up group chats for the students in each city across the country, so that we might meet at the train station and travel together. There I met a girl named Hajar; we rode the train together and bumped into many other students attending the conference. There I met a boy named Mehdi and him and I still keep in contact today, planning to meet up in Ottawa this January while he’s on exchange in Quebec at l’Universite de Laval. Because of this, the first day of conference I had friends to take my meals with, and sip tea with on break, until I branched out and made new friends from my committee.
As many of the students attending the conference had never participated in MUN prior to this conference, and did not have clubs at their home universities, the conference began with a training session on MUN terminology and how to properly debate in committee. Following this, came a curveball. They had selected a topic, different from all the committee topics, where each delegate would have to give a 5 minute presentation on their state’s views and opinions. We had one hour to prepare, and over 300 students to present in front of. I was a nervous wreck. This session went on for hours, past 2 am. This was because there were so many students to present, and the chairs were paying close attention to proper debate technique. Roll call was restarted a number of times until every student began with “the delegate of ____ is present and voting.” The chairs emphasized the importance of proper debate. The resolution writing was a pain staking process, the chairs were very meticulous and pushed us hard. This was because some of the chairs had attended conferences in the past where some of the clauses from their resolution papers were drafted into real UN resolutions.
The next morning was when the committee sessions began. The flow of committee at this conference, and what was the standard at conferences across Morocco, was very different compared to what I was accustomed to at home. Instead of voting for which topic we would like to begin with and writing a separate working and resolution paper per topic, all three topics were amalgamated and represented in a single paper. Instead of voting on the paper, and getting a majority in order for the paper to pass, it was expected of us that all delegates would agree to the single paper.
Thus, one or two committee sessions were spent in debate, while the rest of the conference we spent on working papers. I saw this as an obstacle, but I actively worked with my fellow delegates. The main reason it made sense to amalgamate the topics together was the time constraint we were under. In Ontario, delegates arrive on Thursday and have the opening ceremonies and possibly first committee session. At the conference I attended in Morocco, delegates arrived on Friday and had opening ceremonies and the unique debate in the evening. Thus committee only begun on Saturday morning, and concluded Sunday morning, leaving us only one day to debate and draft a working paper, to be voted on the following morning.
On the last day of the conference, we had a feedback session. I spoke up by mentioning my experience with MUN with the club at my home university, and how conferences in Ontario conducted their committee. I had mentioned how ECOSOC typically is a committee where all the member states are represented and present in debate, therefore it would be impossible for each delegate to agree upon a single paper. I also explained how each topic would have its own working paper, and multiple would be written amongst the delegates. Nonetheless I enjoyed my time at this conference, and I was proud of myself for how actively I debated during committee. Following the feedback period, we concluded our last committee session and the end of the conference by signing each delegates placards and writing kind messages. Many photos were taken, folding up our country’s flag.
The highlight of the conference though, was the lunch we had together following closing ceremonies, before the buses picked us up to go to the train station. All of the students attending the conference sat in the university square and enjoyed an incredible meal of traditional Moroccan dishes. There was music playing and many of the students got up and danced around the tables; some of the students I had befriended over the weekend pulled me out of my chair and got me to join in on the dancing.
The positives of my experience doing MUN internationally are unending. I had the opportunity to participate in one of my passions while being abroad, abating my homesickness. I got over a lot of my fear of debate and the possibility of embarrassing myself. I made so many friends from all across the country, from Tangier to Agadir. My only wish is that my exchange lasted a month longer, so I could have attended the next MUN conference, in Agadir.
Entry by Maddie Kennedy Jones