The Compassion Principle

By Luke Sheehan 2019-04-25 16:23:55

How the Model U.N. helps to unite us

The United Nations Charter, Article 2, states that the purpose of the U.N. is to “develop friendly relations among nations based on respect for the principle of equal rights and self-determination of peoples.” As the core text of a group founded in the wake of the Second World War, the great emphasis of the Charter is on peaceful international cooperation. After 70 years of history, our globalized world has a need for well-adapted global citizens to maintain the progress of institutions like the U.N. So where does education fit in? While it might seem obvious that a good ‘Global Citizen’ is a well-informed person when it comes to global affairs, the reality is more complex. How to really understand the sorts of complex issues that do in fact threaten the world’s peace and stability? How to gain a practical sense of how human cooperation tries to generate solutions, rather than simply itemize and opine the many difficulties that bedevil our species?

YCIS Puxi student Anna representing the Seychelles at the THIMUN conference.

To participate in world politics as a committed global citizen means being able to see things from the point of view of other nations and citizens - no easy task. The Model United Nations (MUN), then, was created to give students opportunities to use their initiative to research and respond to serious problems via role-playing as diplomats from other nations. Many thousands of middle school, high school and college students encounter each other as participants in Model United Nations events held annually all around the globe.

How does it work? Student leaders meet, often traveling to a new city, where they connect with other students and represent the perspective of a particular country and then approach a complex issue with a view to maintaining specific U.N. priorities such as Sustainability Goals, while keeping individual national interests in mind as well. The process then follows the U.N.’s own pattern of reasoned debate and discussion, with groups drafting resolutions and then putting them to a vote.

In our fair city, Yew Chung International School of Shanghai (YCIS) has taken up the challenge of pursuing the MUN program at a high level. Students from both YCIS Puxi and YCIS Pudong campuses are very involved in MUN, and recently YCIS Puxi sent a delegation of students from their MUN club along with teacher advisors to the invitation-only The Hague International Model United Nations (THIMUN) conference at The Hague in the Netherlands where the International Court of Justice is located. Participation in MUN at YCIS Puxi Secondary is entirely voluntary; only those students with true motivation take part, adding to their workload and providing them with a unique but noble challenge.

Like all students that participate in MUN, these SAS students gain confidence, leadership skills, and the ability to think critically about complex problems.

Around the world, the popularity of MUN events has continued to grow, and the ways it is applied have evolved.

While the central role-play scenario tends to be the U.N. general assembly or Security Council, the core role-play concept of the MUN is also being applied in different ways to simulate more panels, groups and platforms around the world. Why not place yourself or your students into the role of a leader from the past during a critical confrontation, trying to figure out how to apply diplomacy to avoid the path of destruction? The International Court of Justice in The Hague is another fascinating, but challenging subject for MUN volunteers to take on.

One immediate effect is to open students’ eyes to the variety of the global family of nations that makes up the U.N. Jasmine Huang, a student at Shanghai American School (SAS), has been in the MUN program for 4 years, and believes that it has really changed her perspective on the wider world beyond China. She states that the “MUN has allowed me to come out of the comfort bubble that I live in, and has introduced me to the reality that we all live in. It’s allowed me to understand that not everyone is as privileged as I am and has inspired me to go out into the world and help solve these issues. A few years ago, if you had asked me what I thought the most pressing issue in the world is today, I would’ve been unable to answer. However, the Model United Nations has given me updated information on a plethora of issues – from the economy, to human rights, and even problems with the U.N. itself.”

During MUN conferences, delegates are put into groups with other people from other schools to work towards a resolution. At the CISSMUN conference YCIS attended, for example, students were at one point asked to consider a situation from the point of view of Burkina Faso – a West African country. The problem of witchcraft beliefs and how this affects modernization and development in Burkina Faso was debated. Simply discussing a problem is not the whole purpose of the program. Delegates must organize their ‘lobbying’ efforts and present drafted resolutions to a larger committee. The pressure to make one’s voice heard promotes confidence, public speaking skills and other interpersonal tools that can be applied in a multitude of ways, as well as bringing contemporary politics into sharper focus. YCIS Puxi student Anna reported that “this is all about collaboration”. She added that participants also live together from day to day during the conference, and she highlighted this as one of the striking features of the proceedings. “You become connected through your passion for international issues – and then there’s a collegiality because you’re under the same roof.”

YCIS students know that MUN is about collaboration more than it is about competition.

Thinking about solutions to problems on the spot boosts critical thinking abilities. More than this, the great advantage of the role-playing scenarios is that in order to succeed, one needs to cultivate one of the great virtues at the heart of the U.N. Charter: that of compassion for the vagaries and obstacles experienced by other nations.

For students from international schools like YCIS and SAS, looking at nuanced global problems allows them to realize their great advantages and to see how their international upbringing can help prepare them to respond sensitively to complex issues affecting the global populace. This comes directly from meeting students from nations that may be suffering the very unrest that they can read about in the news. YCIS students at The Hague met learners from Sudan and Venezuela, countries that have been having a rocky ride through recent history. Trying to tackle a thorny issue that might repeat itself elsewhere in the world or have ramifications beyond one nation teaches students to be respectful and ready to listen when it comes to meeting fellow Global Citizens.

Said Ms Alison Hall, a Secondary Science teacher from YCIS Puxi and MUN advisor, “universities are looking for particular skills such as the ones our students develop in MUN. It’s actually becoming very popular in the US and Europe as well, and it’s something that we urge all students to put on their university applications.” YCIS Puxi Year 10 student Sophia emphasized how practical the engagement is in MUN, saying “You have to engage with other students practically. And sometimes I think when people see things on the news, they just say, ‘oh, but why don’t politicians just go and do this’? But when you’re actually there at MUN, you see that there are so many different countries, they all have their own interests and…you see how hard it actually is to agree on solutions. I think this is something that’s beneficial if you want to go into law or politics – the entire experience is helpful.”

Proud SAS students at a MUN event.


Sophia’s comment brings up another interesting point about the MUN experience. Students sometimes form a sense of empathy toward politicians who face difficult obstacles that might not be obvious from the way news media cover international stories.

Jasmine Huang emphasized the obvious relevance of MUN to the way international schools lead students to multicultural experiences.

“We have so many cultures in the hallways; we cannot stay ignorant of each other’s histories and homes. We learn more about each other through our country’s politics. In addition, as an international school, it is inevitable that our students will end up all over the world. Whether it is in America, Europe, Asia, Australia, or Africa, they often end up scattered across the globe, moving from place to place.”


Anna from YCIS stated that the process involved questioning how behavior in policy and negotiation can relate to core development goals established in the hallways of the grown-up U.N. “Well, for example, a topic I worked on was actually how to balance economic growth with sustainable development…to work towards the sustainable development goals for 2030.”

MUN participants, like these senior members of the SAS leadership team, join the program voluntarily through personal motivation.


Therefore, why not take advantage of a special form of international experience to enrich minds for education as well as for future roles as Global Citizens? “It allows the top 1% of the world, who live with the privilege of education, of a family, basic needs, to see the people who don’t. It is what makes our world more than black and white. The people who have the resources to change the world, and to help those in need [can help to] stop the segregation between oblivious, entitled, wealthy people and more impoverished people,” said Jasmine Huang from SAS. The striking differences between the countries that participants are asked to represent was a common theme for students reflecting on experiences in The Hague. Ms Alison Hall from YCIS observed that “rather than being competitive, you’re collaborating with people, you’re working together with them. You’re not opposing each other although you come from different nations and are representing other nations. You might be representing DPRK (North Korea) and lobbying with another student representing Germany for example. The question is, ‘How are we going to come together and try to find the best solution for the world?’”

How to approach the touchy topic of traditional beliefs in Burkina Faso? Sophia from YCIS shared that, “We had people saying, ‘oh, we should just move on to the next issue because this is not so important’. But if you think about it, you can’t. It’s really hard because you can’t just tell the people of Burkina Faso that sorcery or witchcraft doesn’t exist. In this case, you have to try and find solutions to educate the people there to help them understand that even though they think sorcery may exist, it’s not an option just to kill other people. That was really interesting. Because obviously you can’t just say no, your ideology is wrong. That’s just not being very empathetic.”

Feedback from participants confirms that the greatest advantages of participating in MUN are that the students’ collaborative efforts lead them to think through solutions, responding to dilemmas in a world of atomization and political disillusionment. Frequently, students report that their confidence in their own opinions increases, as well as respect for those of others. This program is about underlining the fundamental premise of the U.N. – that wide-ranging discussion and a positive mindset really can provide benefits for the global community. The voluntary engagement shown by these students is bound to form a positive precedent for peers in the classroom. Not only can they share what they have learned from their experiences and act as positive role models, they also gain valuable traveling experiences and establish first-layer social networks, meeting motivated people from all parts of the globe. From Shanghai to Singapore to U.S. High School and College campuses, all the way to The Hague, these debates are continuing to develop, showing the real politicians that students as young as 14 years old do actually have the ability to act as Global Citizens, finding potential solutions to real geopolitical problems.