A weekend in the United Nations

The St. Thomas University Model UN delegation stands on the steps of the The Harry Elkins Widener Library in Boston two weeks ago. (Submitted)

The man behind the customs desk raised an eyebrow when he heard why I was leaving the country.

“I’m going to Boston for the Harvard National Model United Nations Conference,” I told him through a big grin.

After taking one look at my red pea coat and polka-dot dress, he decided I probably wasn’t making this up, so he stamped my passport and let me through.

A few hours later, I arrived at my final destination, the Boston Park Plaza Hotel, where I was united with thousands of other well-dressed, academic types.

I was one of 17 St. Thomas University students who travelled south of the border two weeks ago to take part in the 2012 HNMUN conference. It’s a simulation of the UN, where for five days, students from around the world transform into diplomats.

St. Thomas represented the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela on committees including the International Monetary Fund and the World Health Organization. When we entered a session, we stopped being ourselves and started being Hugo Chávez.

I quickly learned that half of what you say is how you say it and that Model UN required both knowledge and theatrics. There were 165 people in my committee and I’m convinced if diplomacy doesn’t work out for them, there is an acting career waiting.

Another thing I learned was just how seriously schools take this conference. Some universities flew from the other side of the world to participate. There were delegations from as far away as Australia, Brazil and the Netherlands. It was my first time, but some students had been to over 15 of them.

With thousands of brilliant minds in one room, it’s easy to get intimidated. I worked with one guy for a few days before I took a closer look at his name tag. He went to Yale. No big deal.

I was nervous at first, but soon realized you don’t have to go to an Ivy League school to be intelligent. I was proud to be from St. Thomas, because our students held their own against students paying $50,000 a year for tuition.

I was also proud to say I was Canadian. I made it my mission to seek out every Canadian at the conference and was rather successful. You don’t realize how Canadian you are until you meet someone and immediately try to find a mutual friend. At the closing ceremonies, we found out the University of Western Ontario was sitting behind us and within minutes, we were standing and belting out our national anthem.

I didn’t know what to expect going to HNMUN. Part of me envisioned hundreds of people running around with thick-rimmed glasses, pocket protectors and brief cases. Another part of me pictured a lot of pretentious and competitive jerks.

But apart from being incredibly smart and unusually focused, they are just like any other university student. They like to have fun and they like to party – even if they may or may not run the actual UN someday.

Now that I think of it, maybe I should have got their autographs.

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