Back in 2011, Grade 11 Cissy Tang got bit by the UN bug after visiting a Model UN Conference at UBC. The Britannia student thoroughly enjoyed the conference and set her mind to attend the Harvard Model United Nations Conference (HMUN), the top ranked model UN in the world.
After applying to Harvard, Tang and her friend Angelu Oriola heard back that they were accepted and would be assigned the country of Spain. The next step was to figure out a way to raise enough money to cover the cost of the trip.
After an initial offer of financial aid of around $1,400 from Harvard, the students set out on a proactive fundraising campaign to raise the rest of money on their own. They wrote letters to local businesses asking for financial aid. Meanwhile they also began an intense series of prep sessions to bring themselves up to speed on Spanish UN objectives.
On January 25, the team touched down in Boston and travelled to the swank Sheraton Boston hotel where the conference was being held.
The Britannia teens joined 3,000 other secondary students from 37 countries. They were one of only three Canadian schools attending the conference.
"Often, we found ourselves asking students what their schools were like from countries we've never been to before, like India and Turkey," says Tang. "That was one of the best parts about HMUN - meeting and getting to know people all over the world."
Once the conference got going, Tang and her friends were tasked with representing Spain on the UN Economic-Social Council, in four different committees as well as on the UN High Commission for Refugees, UN Human Rights Council, UNESCO and UN Futuristic Commission for Population and Development.
They had their work cut out for them. Some of the topics they tackled included the situation in Cote d'Ivoire, child soldiers, media censorship, euthanasia, and prison systems. During one committee meeting they got a surprise visit from a representative of the police forces of Myanmar, who had some strong feelings about the ongoing talks around child soldiers.
"From MUN procedure, to speaking for the country you represent, true model UN learning can only happen in hands-on experience during conferences," says Tang. "All of us also took away a greater understanding of the topics that faced us, and the solutions that we could use to solve global issues."
Tang says that while the topics were set for each committee months in advance (allowing committee members to prepare position papers stating their countries' stance) the bulk of the conference was spent in committee sessions, where all countries negotiated to develop a resolution paper dealing with particular issues. All told, Tang says it was a phenomenal experience.
"We all took away a great experience. We are already looking forward to going again next year," she says.