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Conquering Columbia & The Big Apple: Model United Nations Goes to New York

Hans Decrop and students
Mission Principles: Compelling & Connected Academic Program, Connection to Local & Global Communities, Pursuit of the Balance of Rigor & Joy, Understanding of Social Justice & Global Systems

In mid-January, Pacific Ridge’s Model United Nations club traveled to New York City to participate in Columbia University’s Model United Nations Conference and Exposition (CMUNCE). Here, one faculty advisor and two student participants share their reflections on the experience.

History teacher Hans Decrop explains why CMUNCE is a favorite conference for Pacific Ridge students:
While there are many Model UN conferences held throughout the year, and we attend an average of 4-5 local conferences (UCSD, Laguna, Stanford, Claremont-Mckenna, and the North Coast Regional Conference [NCRC] that we co-host with High Tech High San Marcos), the Columbia MUN conference holds a special place in our hearts.
It is held in New York each year around Martin Luther King, Jr. weekend and lasts for 3 days. We typically fly in the day before and leave even before the awards ceremony. Students invariably complain about a lack of sleep, long plane rides and excess homework, but every year we hear the same expressions of awe and enthusiasm. 
So, what makes this conference so special?
The CMUNCE sets up a type of conference geared towards crisis management and on-the-fly conflict resolution, something we focus on specifically during our own conference. NCRC is held at the beginning of December every year, and our crisis committees come up with ever more inventive ways to disrupt ongoing discussions and demand immediate responses through moderated and unmoderated caucuses. Creative thinking and collaborative leadership are assets every bit as valuable as the actual background knowledge of the geopolitical situation of any particular country or region.
Without a doubt, the character of the committees is such that the quality of the candidates is deemed more important than the quantity of some of the interventions. Some MUN conferences are notorious for awarding frequent speaking times regardless of the content being discussed, and quite often the awards tend to focus on the more verbiose delegates. Columbia takes a more sophisticated approach, which makes the experience more valuable for everyone.
The delegates at the Columbia conference are among some of the best in the country and our students really appreciate the challenge and opportunity to work with such a quality group of people. As teachers, we can only dream of this kind of enthusiasm and preparation for what is - in reality - only a simulation. After each session, students emerge from their committees still working on resolutions, exchanging phone numbers and directives for future cooperation. 
Columbia is also our chance to take a bite out of the big apple for a few days: we generally attend one out-of-state conference each year, and although we discuss the available options (Georgetown, Harvard) we invariably pick New York. My guess is that, apart from Columbia being an academic giant for most of us Californians, it is the once-a-year East coast trip that represents a step into the real world for most people.
We certainly understand better why New York is the city that never sleeps.

Sophomore Connie Y. reflects on her first trip to CMUNCE:

So what does Columbia mean to me?

Well, going into the trip, it meant an immense opportunity (especially since I was lucky enough to go as a sophomore) to continue learning about Model United Nations and to further challenge myself. When I joined the club freshman year, MUN seemingly was this world of international relations and public speaking (which terrified me), and it felt completely foreign and uncomfortable for me. I pushed myself to join with the intention of just putting my best foot forward and working hard to learn something new. That’s the precept that has carried me to this point and will continue to guide me.

All I knew before leaving for this trip to New York was that it was going to be a new conference, a new city, and new coast – I should explore as much as possible, expect the unexpected, go with the flow, and manage school work (because it exists even when you’re not at school) on top of the all-day conference committees. I knew these would be exhausting, but that’s not remotely accurate enough to describe how tired we all ended up being. My attitude was, really, just to make the most of it.

Highlights of the trip: good food – really, really good food, diverse people and places, new atmosphere and culture, spontaneous adventures in the city (possibly at midnight - good times with the club). Some downs: long airplane rides and trying to keep my life together and not get lost in cold weather on minimal sleep, all on a new pair of heels.

After the trip, it felt great having participated in the most engaging crisis committee and experiencing the deeper dimension of trying to think logically and react in the moment. Problem-solving, strategizing, and collaborating were key (who am I kiddin’; everyone in the committee hated Michael R.’s and my dual delegation – as in they car bombed us on the first day because we were the international oil consortium trying to take over a third world country with a military coup…give us a break!). It was definitely a transforming experience, and I’m so thankful I was able to have lived it with some of the most dysfunctional people I know (that includes Mr. Silk and Mr. Decrop).

(Connie and Michael won the best delegate award in their committee – dual delegations rarely get best delegate awards because there are two people involved, so this puts both these delegates in a special category; great performance on their first-ever Columbia conference trip) - Decrop

Junior Robert F. shares his impressions of New York City:
There was a moment when we stepped off the bus that I will never forget. Organized chaos surrounded me as vast skyscrapers towered over. Times Square felt more like a movie set than an actual city expanse. Later on, when we had wrapped up our first debate, I stepped outside of the subway station and was awestruck. The ambient light doesn’t change in Times Square! The billboards and advertisements illuminated the air to the point where it felt like daytime came early. The expression “The city doesn’t sleep” never really made sense to me until then.
Subways were more than transportation to us. They were our home. I think I spent more time with my back to an oscillating door than with my back against a bed. I felt closer to my fellow delegates than ever before, physically and metaphysically. There’s also something magical about watching five Pacific Ridge students domino into each other each time we pulled out of the station. Pretty soon they caught on but it was a wonderful sight for the regular riders!
The conference was amazing. The committees were held in classrooms that had been converted from learning centers to war rooms. One great moment I remember happened during the second committee. We were in the midst of discussing how to combat cyber-terrorism in Europe when we learned of a major security breach at Sony and had to respond appropriately. Some students worked immediately on short-term solutions that would "patch the hole" while others, like myself, focused on long-term solutions that would prevent further similar incidents from occurring. We spent five hours drafting and composing, which exhausted and depleted me, but it was worth it upon learning that it worked!
Columbia itself was an entirely different creature. On one end, there was a giant library. On the other end, another giant library staring right back at it. It was absolute heaven for bookworms like myself. Pacific Ridge's campus and Columbia's campus feel surprisingly similar to each other. Even though they are on opposing coasts, they each seem to create an area of "peace." When you walk down a path at Columbia University, you see only students. While you are in one of the largest cities in the world, the campus creates a little haven, much like Pacific Ridge. On the inside of the halls and rooms, fliers are posted and cover every square inch of the walls advertising language learning and global traveling just like our school! It really does feel like a natural stepping stone for PRS students.
(Robert received an outstanding delegate award) - Decrop