After 50 Years, NAIMUN Thrives
Published: Monday, February 18, 2013
Updated: Monday, February 18, 2013 16:02
After months of researching topics, writing briefs, establishing committees and determining logistics, the Georgetown International Relations Association held the 50th North American Invitational Model United Nations this weekend.
The three-day conference marks the culmination of more than 11 months of Georgetown students’ hard work.
“I never would’ve imagined the amount of work that goes into it,” Director of Media and Technology Omika Jikaria (SFS ’15), a former special writer for The Hoya said. “We’ve been planning since last March.”
Putting on a conference for thousands of students requires extensive preparation, organization and manpower. There is a 21-person secretariat and nearly 200 student volunteers that compromise the general staff.
“Before NAIMUN starts, we all have very distinct roles,” Jikaria said. “But during the conference, our roles really overlap.”
This year marks the 50thanniversary of the conference, which has been hosted annually by GIRA since 1963. The high school students gather in the Washington Hilton for the largest independent student-run conference of its kind in the Western Hemisphere.
“There are a lot of Model UN conferences out there, but there are a couple of things that separate NAIMUN,” Secretary-General of NAIMUN 50 Theresa Lou (SFS ’14) said, referencing Georgetown’s expertise in international affairs and location in Washington, D.C.
While GIRA is an independent 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, the conference benefits from its relationship with Georgetown. NAIMUN is staffed entirely by Georgetown students — primarily International Relations Club members — and Georgetown professors have long given the event’s keynote address. Many of the Georgetown student staffers attended the conference in high school.
“At our fall interest meeting, I’d say over 80 percent of those in attendance raised their hands when we asked who had attended NAIMUN as a high schooler,” Executive Director Cody Cowan (SFS ’14) said.
Former delegates said staffing the conference is rewarding.
“As a delegate, I didn’t really think about how many people it took to run NAIMUN or that they were all full-time students,” Director General Luke Young (MSB ’15) said. “Being on the other side is almost more fun. When you’ve invested so many years into an activity like Model UN, you constantly look for ways to make it new.”
Many of the staffers have forgone classes this week, despite looming midterms, in order to ensure that everything is ready for the weekend.
“I’ve spent almost an entire year doing this, and I don’t think I’ve regretted a minute of it,” Cowan said. “Except maybe when the 18-wheeler pulled up to my townhouse with over 3,500 pounds of NAIMUN merchandise to unload.”
Secretariat members said NAIMUN is as relevant now as it was when it was founded 50 years ago.
“We live in an interconnected world whether we like it or not,” Lou said. “I feel like as a global citizen, we have a duty to know what is going on around us. In 20 years, we’re going to be the people who have to deal with the legality of drones, with Palestine, and incur all of the mess. Model UN might not be realistic, but because there is no actual constraint of reality, you can do anything in MUN, and that’s when the best ideas are formed.”
To celebrate its anniversary, NAIMUN is introducing new features to the conference, including the NAIMUN smartphone app, which is designed to streamline the conference and give students and moderators easy access to important information, such as the conference schedule. Students have also already begun using the new NAIMUN social network to connect with their peers both before and after the conference.
“Many students come in taking [NAIMUN] as a competition,” Jikaria said. “This is just a way for delegates to get to know each other before hand and keep in touch afterwards.”
Young agreed and said that Model UN builds important and useful skills that may not necessarily be honed in a university classroom.
“MUN is an opportunity for high schoolers to reach out of their box and become more confident speaking in a public setting,” he said. “When you have to leave the committee room and work with a group of total strangers to get a document passed by the body — it is one of the most interactive and multifaceted versions of debate you can take part in.”
Though Cowan did not participate in Model UN in high school, he appreciates the “NAIMUN love” espoused by the high school delegates.
“I lovewhen we get a tweet from a delegate saying, ‘I can’t wait!’ and they tag all the friends throughout the country they’ve met through NAIMUN that they’ve only known for four days,” he said. “NAIMUN is only going to make for better diplomats, businessmen and representatives in the Peace Corps. Learning to stand in front of a room of 300 people you’ve never met and argue something you may not even believe — it’s a whole ecosystem that I can’t even begin to comprehend.”
For many high school delegates, their experience at NAIMUN stirs interest in attending Georgetown later on.
“As a delegate my senior year, I fell in love with the conference,” Chief of Staff Tommy Larson (SFS ’13) said. “Seeing 200 good-looking, smart, talented, and engaged college students — I became completely addicted to that. I was so enamored of Georgetown — it just became my dream school and what I wanted to do.”
Larson said that staffers also influence the students about their university decisions.