Before 2015, La Jolla’s Country Day School — a private K-12 school — never had a Model UN (MUN) club that lasted more than a year or two. But when Niki Nair and Matthew Wirtz decided to create a five-year plan in eighth grade for their own Model UN program, it was the beginning of a MUN legacy at Country Day.
“I don’t know many middle schoolers with a five-year plan,” said Jonathan Shulman, Country Day’s upper school history educator and the director for the school’s Center for Excellence in Citizenship. “On top of that, to do it as a group with like-minded, mature students who are onboard to see this through, that’s beyond compare. They’re leaving a legacy to the students who come after them.”
Now a Country Day senior, Nair is a first-generation American in her family, her parents and older sister all born in India before moving to the states. Despite long discussions about global politics at the dinner table, Nair realized her classmates were not as privy to world events and that even her own understanding was fairly surface level. Her desire to be more educated and informed about issues like border disputes happening right in San Diego’s backyard, is one of the many reasons Nair decided to help create a MUN club at her school.
“It’s easy to stay ignorant and close your eyes and ears and be unaware of what was happening to people in the world when it doesn’t affect your own bubble,” said Nair. “I saw Model UN as my ticket to get better educated about the world and better educate my classmates.”
Nair and Wirtz’s MUN plan had two final objectives with their MUN club: to be invited to The Hague International Model United Nations Conference (THIMUN) and host their own MUN conference at Country Day. In the last five years, Country Day’s Model UN club has grown to include nearly 50 students including senior Lauren Ziment. The three seniors have led their club members in local San Diego MUN conference competitions at UCSD, state MUN conferences at UC Berkley, and international MUN conferences at Yale and the International School of Panama in Panama City. This year, the club’s extensive portfolio got them noticed by THIMUN, and the Country Day students were invited to attend the Netherlands conference.
“This was by far the most internationally diverse conference we’ve been to,” said Ziment of THIMUN, a five-day MUN competition which hosted more than 3,200 students from 200 schools located across 100 different countries. “It was quite the unique experience. It was very emotional at times too, because this is what we’ve been working toward for years.”
Modeled after real debates in the UN, THIMUN assigns students to certain committees to represent a chosen country. In structured debates, the students present, wrestle with, and vote on different resolutions in subjects ranging from sporting venues and environmentally-friendly professional sporting equipment to women’s rights in Afghanistan and interreligious conflicts.
“In the states, MUN can typically take a very Americanized approach to these problems, but when you go to an international conference, you get a different perspective,” said Nair. “You can hear the sincerity in the debates with these other kids from other countries. These issues are impacting their lives every day and it makes these resolutions we’re proposing a lot more real and enriched.”
“With the exception of Antarctica, there were students from every continent around the world there, and North Americans were the minority,” added Shulman, who chaperoned the students during the conference. “Over the five days of these students working together, they start to see profound differences in the way they see the world. When you add on top of that they’re all playing the roles of countries they’re not from, it adds another level.”
In order to attend THIMUN, MUN students must be invited to conference by THIMUN, and clubs without prior MUN competition experience tend to be excluded. Because of Ziment, Nair and Wirtz, new Country Day MUN members will be eligible to attend. In addition, another goal of Nair and Wirtz’s original five-year plan is coming to fruition with Country Day hosting its own MUN conference competition at the school, partnering with UCSD’s Preuss charter school. The theme for the conference is “Finding Identity and Belonging in a Global Community” and will take place Saturday, April 18.
“We’re also reaching out to schools in Tijuana to have them come and participate and there will be a committee for adults,” said Nair. “We’re trying to get as many people involved to participate and learn about MUN as possible.”
“I’m in my 15th year here at Country Day so knowing there’s going to be something I dedicated my time to and that I was proud to be a part of, it’s a really nice feeling,” added Ziment. “Model UN means so much to me, that I want others to have that opportunity. This is bigger than just us.”