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7 Things We Learned at the United Nations

Pomona students during their recent visit to the United Nations.

Zuzana Vuova ’14 (pictured) and Kelebogile “Kelly” Zvobgo ’14 were named outstanding delegates.

The Pomona College students who recently returned from the National Model U.N. Conference in New York did more than excel in the simulation, in which they represented the Republic of Guinea.

During the weeklong trip sponsored by the College, the 11 students--including one from neighboring Scripps--also benefited from access to technical experts at UNAIDS and UNICEF, and to diplomats at the permanent missions of Botswana, Pakistan and Sweden. Those connections came through former U.N. official Bertil Lindblad ’78, who today is Pomona’s senior adviser for international initiatives.

 “It was an incredible, once-in-a-lifetime experience,” adds Zuzana Vuova ’14, who, along with Kelebogile “Kelly” Zvobgo ’14, was named outstanding delegate. The entire delegation received an honorable mention in the competition.

 Here are seven lessons the students learned inside and outside of the official event:

1) Diplomacy takes time. Students got a real taste of diplomatic endurance as they worked 14-hour days hammering out resolutions, negotiating and strategizing outside of the formal sessions over breakfast, lunch and dinner. “We made it our job to make sure everyone in committee understood the issues, had a stake in their resolution, contributed to working paper and resolution drafting, and felt included,” says Zvobgo.

2)  Social skills matter. With large committees, there were only so many opportunities to speak to the entire group. Much of the work of honing resolutions happened behind the scenes, as the students worked to persuade representatives from other nations person by person. 

3) So do writing skills. Students worked on position papers in advance of the event, and during the conference, the writing of resolutions was divvied up. “The idea of the conference is that you produce a substantial piece of work you can take with you,” says Vuova.

4) Agreement is possible. In three days of work involving the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, Zvobgo and Vuova were able to craft a resolution that recognized Guinea’s key concerns regarding internally displaced persons, overcoming initial objections from the German and Italian delegations. “You spend three days stressed,” says Vuova of the simulation. “And then you’re quite satisfied with the outcome.”

5) You really can make a difference. During their visit to UNAIDS, students were moved by their meeting with civil society adviser Eric Sawyer, who spoke to them about his fight to promote awareness during the early days of HIV. Then, little was known about HIV, there was no cure, and patients faced not only the illness but societal stigma as well. Visits to UNAIDS and UNICEF “really drove home the fact the even though what we do in Model U.N. is just a simulation, it is related to real institutions and policies that have an impact on many people's lives,” says Derek Ha ’14. 

6) Other people can, too. One high point of the event was the opportunity to meet students from all corners of the globe who are interested in international diplomacy, says Vuova, who jumped at the chance to practice her Spanish and French.

7) It helps to have an experienced guide. Students cited Lindblad’s connections and knowledge for making the trip an unforgettable educational experience. “We had the opportunity to meet some of the world's most inspiring people dedicated to the tough issues these U.N. offices and missions face,” says David Baxter ’16.

 Lindblad returned the compliment. “I was very impressed with their commitment and skills,” he says. “The students were very well prepared for participation in the conference, and their interaction with the U.N. diplomats and officials was impressive.”

Next year, the students have plans to expand their ranks and participate in more competitions. Sameer Rana ’17, an international student from Nepal, says the trip helped him to realize what he wanted to get from his time at Pomona: “I want to place myself in challenging situations, learn from my successes and failures, and most importantly, form close and meaningful relationships with the people around me.”

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