As students walk along the sidewalk from Nickerson Street towards the Student Union Building, they can see a sign next to the building that not only displays the school’s name, but SPU’s motto as well: Engaging the culture, changing the world.
First year Khaled Al-Sheikh aims to put that motto into action; he hopes to help students engage with many cultures and learn as much as they can about them. So Al-Sheikh has been working to start a Model United Nations (Model UN or MUN) club at SPU.
An active club in various middle schools and high school across the nation, Al-Sheikh has participated in MUN since the seventh grade and has “loved it ever since.”
By the 11th grade, he had been elected his school’s MUN President. He has been to international conferences, such as the TMUN conference in Kaohsiung, Taiwan; the ACMUN conference in Thessaloniki, Greece; and the GEMUN conference in Genoa, Italy.
So, he decided to start a Model UN club at SPU with his friend Talbot Miller.
“We both had a great interest in international affairs. We started talking to a few people we know as we needed five people to officially become a club. Four days later, we are at 21 members and growing,” Al-Sheikh said.
He and Miller approached as many people as they could, Al-Sheikh said. As things stand, they are at the point where they are being approached more often than they are recruiting.
The club, though, still in its beginning stages.
Some members have participated in Model UN in the past and are passionate about international politics; others have never seen the inside of a political science lecture, but Al-Sheikh insists that everyone is welcome to join regardless of experience.
“Model United Nations is all in the name. It’s a simulation of real-life United Nations conferences. Students are assigned countries and they represent the views of the country they were assigned in a debate format with other students representing other countries,” he explains.
Al-Sheikh, born in Saudi Arabia, hopes that starting an MUN club at SPU will allow students to explore international political issues and engage with new cultures in a way that cannot be accomplished by simply reading about them.
Tim Strachan is excited about the opportunity to be a part of the new Model UN at SPU. Like Al-Sheikh, he also participated in MUN in high school and thoroughly enjoyed his experience.
“I think there are a lot of conflicts in the world that you can look at and easily say for yourself where you stand, but what makes [MUN] so educational is that when you’re assigned a country, you have to be that country and put yourself in the shoes of the people in that country,” Strachan said.
The debates are usually very competitive, says Al-Sheikh.
The goal for each country’s representative is to pass a resolution regarding their topic. They also must be accurate — the other debtors will not let it slide if a participate inaccurately represents their assigned country, he explained.
“It’s so important to represent the culture and the people of the country you’ve been assigned. If you don’t do that, people will easily call you out at conferences for not representing it the way you should be,” Strachan said. “It involves a lot of research, because you’re advocating for a group of people you may have known nothing about [before the competition].
“Whether I was representing Iceland or somewhere in Malaysia, it was such an educational opportunity to step into somebody else’s shoes that you may not have imagined before,” Strachan said.
Emma Hamann, while she has never participated before, is excited to begin. She sees the educational value in the club, as Strachan and Al-Sheikh do, and feels it may aid her in learning more about a potential field of study she is interested in.
“When Khaled came up to me and told me about this club, I thought it sounded like a really cool opportunity because I wasn’t given this opportunity in my high school,” Hamann said. “I’m also interested in Global Development possibly as a major, so it seemed like a cool opportunity to learn about other countries.”
She says that she knows new members without past MUN experiences are very welcome, and it is easy to get involved as a brand new member. She feels confident that she will be able to learn the ropes quickly with the help of Al-Sheikh and Strachan.
Abram Johnson, a fellow new member, is also interested in MUN because of his major and interests in international affairs. The political science major says that he looks forward to debating and learning about the politics and culture of new places in a fun and competitive format.
Studying political science, international affairs and sociology, he saw the club as an opportunity to get involved in politics.
“The UN has always been fascinating [to me], how it works and how it doesn’t. So I feel like a Model UN will be a great way to learn about that,” Johnson said.
He also loves that it requires the participants to do extensive research into their assigned countries and their respective cultures because that inevitably leads to learning and exploring deeper into other cultures, he explained.
Jeremiah Zerig agrees with Johnson. The intrigue of the club, for him, lies in learning about and engaging with culture in a new and exciting way.
Learning about new places and people is always a good idea, he said.
“I think it’s a good idea because I don’t think a lot of people know about the individual GDPs of different countries, sort of how they’re set up and how they work. Economic systems and such. Learning about a country’s status and their economic systems and the resources they have is … important for people to learn about,” Zerig said.
Al-Sheikh wants to emphasize that “Model United Nations is a really good way for people to improve their global understanding, and is a catalyst for them becoming a global citizen, a globally aware citizen especially.”
Khaled Al-Sheikh can be contacted at email@example.com, or in person on the Sixth floor of Hill Residence Hall.