While it has taken place predominantly in-person, the 2020-2021 school year is, in many ways, a “virtual year.” Teachers have considered digital teaching tools, sports teams have relied on Google Meets for film sessions, and school concerts and plays take place virtually as well.
In some cases, students and administrators have found virtual tools valuable and suggested that they continue to use these tools even after the pandemic. In other cases, students have felt that virtual methods have completely replicated the in-person experience. One such experience: Model UN.
During the first weekend of spring break, a group of club members attended the General School Model UN Conference virtually, hoping for as authentic of an experience as possible.
Although most students found the conference worthwhile, they felt it was different from the traditional in-person experience.
“[The virtual conference] made it less of a social space where you didn’t really talk directly to other committee members as much,” Sixth Former Carter McCann said, “and it was more about making speeches and communicating with the whole committee in moderated caucuses.”
McCann, a Model UN veteran, has attended in-person conferences throughout high school. During the most recent virtual conference, he was part of a Crisis Committee on the Banana Republic Wars. Although there were positive takeaways from his experience, McCann explained that key aspects of Model UN are lost when face-to-face moments are infeasible.
“A lot of Model UN is about social interaction, even in between and outside of committees,” McCann said. “You lose out on all of that virtually.”
Fourth Former Owen Yu also found that there were several differences between the in-person and virtual experience, in particular, student motivation. During this conference, he was a part of the Assemblée Nationale committee, examining the Yellow Vest riots and French immigration policies.
“A lot of people really didn’t seem to care as much as they would if it was in-person,” Yu said. “There was a small committee at the beginning, with maybe 17 people, but by the end of the second day there were only like 10 people still there.”
The change in the environment itself—from the lively bustling conference hall to the peace and quiet of one’s room—contributed toward a change in attention and motivation.
“The atmosphere was just very different. It’s hard to pay attention and interact with others when you’re doing Model UN online.”Owen Yu ’23
“The atmosphere was just very different. It’s hard to pay attention and interact with others when you’re doing Model UN online,” Yu said. “When you’re sitting at home and you’re comfortable, you kind of lose focus. In comparison, if you were at the [in-person] conference, you would have a nice shirt and tie on, and you’d be sitting at a round table constantly talking to people.”
Still, students believed the event was well-organized, given the difficulties associated with coordinating a virtual conference.
“I think it was still worth it,” McCann said. “We had had interesting conversations about important topics, so in that sense, it still held up as being an effective conference, but there was still a good part of the Model UN experience that was lost.”