Students Debate International Issues, Roleplay UN Delegates

Their names are Emily Livermore, Kate VerMeulen, and Annalise Brinks, but they have aliases spanning the globe: Brazil, Canada, Australia, Nigeria.

Want to know more about them? Ask how they feel about nuclear proliferation, climate change, or ISIS. But expect a different perspective if you ask them as their alias.

The trio of East Grand Rapids High School students eagerly awaited learning which country’s moniker they would take on when they serve as delegates for the Michigan State University’s Model United Nations Conference Jan. 30 and Feb 1. The girls started Model UN as a new club at East Grand Rapids High School, with teachers, Tad VandenBrink and Tommy Kawel advising. They participated on Forest Hills Northern High School’s team last year.

“We kind of fell in love with the whole thing. We thought it would be crazy for kids at East not to have the same opportunity,” Emily said.

Their excitement for Model UN, an academic simulation of the United Nations, has piqued the interest of peers. Twenty-five students will attend the MSU conference, playing delegates from different countries and attempting to solve real-world issues using the policies and perspectives of their assigned country. It’s fun, rigorous role playing which creates informed citizens. They start their round-table discussions, declaring themselves “present and voting” before launching into discussion of international importance.East Grand Rapids High School juniors  Annalise Brinks, Kate VerMeulen and Emily Livermore recently started a Model UN Club at their school

“The main thing is knowing your country well enough to know what stand they would take on an issue,” said Emily, a senior. “It’s intense; it’s tiring but it’s so much fun. You’re with kids your own age discussing what’s going on internationally.”

As they did for the recent Great Lakes Invitational Conference Model UN Conference in Kalamazoo, students immerse themselves in information about their assigned country to prepare themselves to take a stand on polemic issues like human rights, the situation in Syria and economic empowerment of women and youth.

They get so involved the process that they start referring to each other by country, Kate joked.

Comments overheard: “I can’t believe Italy’s siding with China.” “Turkmenistan is a really good delegate.”

Students can attend Model UN conferences around the world, organized for colleges, high school, middle school and elementary school students. There is no central governing body for Model UN. Any school can create a team and register for any conference they wish to attend, Kawel said.

Kate said the experience has brought her out of her shell. It’s fun to debate issues and talk about policy with other high school students, she said.

A student represents Democratic Republic of the Congo

Representing a country’s stance on topics can be tricky when they are assigned countries like North Korea or the Russian Federation, the girls said, but if they are well versed on a country’s perspective they play the part.

“Understanding different cultures will always be a part of my life,” Emily said. “I think all of the diverse skills you learn in Model UN will benefit you no matter what you go into.”

While there’s a competitive nature, students vie for awards, there’s a broader goal in mind. “It’s about working together and coming up to a resolution that speaks to your country’s desires,” said Kawal, an English teacher.

“It presents that overall global citizenship. I always talk to my kids about being politically savvy, and understanding the international community in terms of issues that are out there,” said VandenBrink, a history teacher.

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Erin Albanese
Erin Albanese has worked as a journalist in the Grand Rapids area since 2000. A graduate of Central Michigan University, she has written for The Grand Rapids Press, Advance Newspapers and On-the-Town Magazine. She has been covering the many exciting facets of K-12 public education for School News Network since 2013. Read Erin's full bio

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