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Model United Nations: Taking on the Role of Citizen of the World
by Hilary Glazer

Consider this...

Take a moment to consider the following questions. What would your answer be if:

  • A new friend at school asked you where you live?
  • A competitor at the state championship cross-country track meet asked where you live?
  • A student at a national conference in Washington, D.C. asked you where you're from?
  • A fellow attendee at an international convention held in Geneva asked where you're from?
Your answers are likely to change depending on the identity of the person asking, and where the question is being asked. If a school friend asks you where you live, it's not going to tell him much if you answer "Illinois"—you would probably give a more specific answer, like your street address or neighborhood. If you're in Geneva talking to a person from Japan, then your answer will probably be "the United States." Your answers also reflect your own identity, as a citizen of your city, your state, your nation, and the world.

Are You a Citizen of the World?
Most of us spend our lives focusing on a local level—our families, our schools, our neighborhoods, and our cities. It's easy to lose sight of the fact that we are also citizens of the world. Being a citizen of the world means being aware of global issues, and interacting with citizens at a global level. Global awareness is increasingly important in a world in which some issues—from environmental devastation to nation-building—can only be dealt with through concerted global action.

Model United Nations
Model United Nations (Model UN) programs exist all over the United States as well as in other countries, and approximately 60,000 students participate in Model UN programs across the world every year. Model UN programs exist in various forms and formats—some are conducted solely in classes or schools, and many are statewide and/or regional. There is also an international Model U.N. program, involving students from all over the world, which is held in the home city of the real United Nations, Geneva.

Participants in Model U.N. programs learn how the United Nations works through an advanced form of role-playing. In most programs, students assume the roles of ambassadors from various countries that are member states of the United Nations and take part in a simulated General Assembly session; during the simulation, they try to formulate policies to resolve current international problems that the world faces. While doing so, they gain an understanding of international relations, negotiating, strategizing, and the art of diplomacy, as well as familiarity with the rules and procedures of the real U.N.

To become effective Model U.N. delegates, students must research cultural, economic, and political aspects of their assigned country, and become familiar with its history and foreign policy. Learning about the country's needs and goals aids students in resolving conflicts with other countries, and gives them a better understanding of how nations must work together to achieve peace and prosperity.

Taking part in a Model UN program provides students with an enriching experience on many levels. Catherine (who is now in college) participated in a Model U.N. program through her high school in Chicago. She spoke highly of the program, saying, "It gave me a sense of the practical applications of international politics, I learned a lot about public speaking, and, most importantly, it was a great experience to meet other students from all over the country who cared about what was going on in the world."

A Call to the Citizens of the World

U Thant"A new quality of planetary imagination is demanded from all of us as the price of human survival. I am not decrying that form of nationalism that prompts the individual citizen to appreciate and praise the achievements and values that his native land has contributed to the well-being and happiness of the whole human race. Nor am I calling for international homogenization, for I rejoice in cultural and national uniqueness. But I am making a plea—a plea based on these ten years of looking at the human condition from my unique vantage point—for a dual allegiance. This implies an open acceptance of belonging—as in fact we all do—to the human race as well as to our local community or nation. I even believe that the mark of the truly educated and imaginative person facing the twenty-first century is that he feels himself to be a planetary citizen."

U Thant was United Nations Secretary General from 1961 to 1971.

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