By Gianluca D’Elia
The Model U.N. team returned from its annual conference in New York City as a formidable champion once again this year, placing in the top 15 percent out of a total of 500 other colleges from around the world.
The 2018 team from Rider was assigned to represent Turkey at the National Model U. N. Conference (NMUN). The students took home a Distinguished Delegation award and three Outstanding Position Paper awards for their work in the Economic and Social Council, the Organization for Prohibition of Chemical Weapons and the World Health Organization.
Drew Gandham, a junior business major and one of next year’s head delegates, said, “It’s always been competitive, but especially this year, it became more combative. Despite the competing personalities in the committee, we had a good ability to work with others.”
“This year definitely took a lot out of me, but it was the most rewarding,” said Gandham, who has been competing on the team for three years now.
Sophomore global studies major Carissa Zanfardino added, “It’s important to us because our team was very new this year, and the ratio of returners to newcomers was different than last year. So, being able to teach these fresh new faces all of the ins and outs of foreign policy is quite, quite amazing.”
Meanwhile, senior political science major Kenny Dillon said the group has been trying to keep up with the changing nature of the NMUN conference, where the focus seems to have shifted from research to relationship building, he said.
“This year, we were always on our toes because essentially, you’re out trying to make friends but you’re also trying to play a political game,” Dillon said.
Charles Palmer, a sophomore political science major, was appreciative of that shift.
“I gained friendships from all around the world,” he said. “I met people from Canada, Australia and Mexico.”
Students from the team also appreciated the challenge of taking on a country that has been all over the news lately.
“Turkey has been a leader in humanitarian assistance, but it has also been called out because of its intervention in Syria,” Gandham said.
Zanfardino also noted that Turkey is a “hotly contested” country.
“We had Panama last year, and you don’t hear about them a lot in the news,” she said.
“Turkey is constantly in the news for things happening within the country, the unfortunate attacks on the Kurdish community, the government not recognizing them as people and for Turkey’s involvement in Syria. In a way, it’s also the model Middle Eastern country, sort of, because it has those roots but it also implemented secular, Western thoughts. It makes it a unique country.”
Dillon said this year’s team intentionally sought out a country that is often in the spotlight of global affairs. In fact, when they made a list of requested countries to be assigned for NMUN, they put South Korea at the top.
Turkey was also difficult to research at times. For example, talking about sustainable development was difficult for students assigned to Middle Eastern nations, which heavily depend on the oil industry, Zanfardino said.
Zanfardino’s research focused on people’s right to self-determination, which proved to be a hard topic, given the civil rights struggle between the Kurdish people, who are the largest ethnic minority in Turkey, and the Turkish government. She anticipated that representing Turkey while discussing this topic would lead to “being attacked a lot by multiple countries.”
“Turkey does not recognize self-determination for the Kurdish people,” she said. “So, when I saw that was our topic, I was mortified. I thought, ‘Oh, my God, how am I going to do this?’”
Palmer faced similar difficulties while studying artificial intelligence.
“It was hard because artificial intelligence is in its early stages all around the world for the most part,” he said. “One of the most challenging parts was finding Turkey’s position on it.”
However, the hard work proved to be worth it when Palmer was in a committee of 40 other countries at NMUN working on an initiative to “promote digital citizenship among youth.”
Senior political science major and Head Delegate Jelani Walker, who has been part of the team for four years, said, “From my experience, every other day there was something in the news about Turkey. So, every day our country’s position developed by the hour, really.”
Zanfardino emphasized that Model U.N. helps students expand their perspectives beyond what they know about politics and government in the U.S.
“You might think one way as an American student and have your thoughts and opinions,” Zanfardino said. “But researching and trying to become the government of another nation is so different, and it’s fun. The work we put in is hard, but it’s effective and it means something.”