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St. Louis students visit Qatar for Model UN

For nearly two weeks in January, I traveled to Doha, Qatar with 27 classmates and friends from John Burroughs School to take part in The Hague International Model United Nations (THIMUN) Qatar. Even with the grueling 14-hour flight and eight-hour layover, the trip was life-altering — I had almost never experienced such an unfamiliar culture and prestigious conference. 

In Model United Nations, delegations of students represent various nations or other entities in a simulation of the U.N. Students research international issues and take part in debates and committee meetings, advocating for the best interests of the nations they represent, while following the same rules of procedure as the real U.N.

For example, the Burroughs delegation was split into groups representing Australia and Equatorial Guinea, and another representing the press and International Court of Justice (ICJ) advocates. Our THIMUN club spent over four months researching global conflicts, writing speeches and resolutions, honing debate and cross-examination skills and absorbing cultural competency lessons in St. Louis before our departure. To us, attending and succeeding at THIMUN was the epitome of what it meant to understand Model United Nations at a high-school level. However, even with all this training, our visit to Qatar also was significant because of our unique explorations of the country.

For the first half of the visit, we devoted most of our energy to enjoying Qatar — jet-lag was no challenge to our eagerness. From early-morning runs in the city along the Persian Gulf to late-night pool parties at the hotel, there was no time wasted for anything but fun. 

Among our notable experiences was a bus tour around the capital city of Doha, where we not only experienced the size and scale of the city’s skyscrapers, but also stopped at the enormous Qatar National Library, Education City and Souq Waqif. From these destinations, we traveled to the outskirts of Doha, where we embarked on Land Rovers to zoom up and down the incredible sand dunes of the Mesaieed Desert. Except for the time that I spent struggling to carry myself up a treacherous dune, I found this to be the most thrilling highlight of the trip. Also, on this day, was a visit to the Qatar State Mosque, where we learned of how Qatar integrates Islam into daily life. 

On the final day of our touring section of the trip, we walked to the Museum of Islamic Art, an architectural materpiece that was almost as enlightening as the art inside. During this time, we met up with the delegation from Afghanistan, who were representing Switzerland at THIMUN (they also roomed with us in our hotel), and we brought our fun to a dhow boat cruise: the setting for our nighttime festivities. Here, we bonded and broke bread with the Afghani teens, and after we enjoyed ourselves with the glistening lights of the city behind us, it was time to go to THIMUN itself the following morning.

THIMUN was a new rush of excitement; finally, I felt as if I could put my training and preparation from our long Sunday meetings to use. And I did. After much negotiation and improvisation, I, like many of my classmates, became head-submitter of my resolution. However, my resolution, which aimed to curb the Syrian Crisis with an emphasis on the human-displacement implications, was not only a product of my work at home, but also one of many efforts by my group to succeed. I felt proud of the collaborative nature in the group’s authoring of the resolution. 

Then came the debate. I wrote more speeches on the fly than I ever thought possible, answered an unfathomable number of questions from delegates and worked hard to pass my resolution (and it fortunately did, by an overwhelming majority). I also spoke for those delegates and their resolutions with whom I thought Australia most agreed, and in contrast, as well (this included the Burroughs delegate of Equatorial Guinea, but I was so enamored by the conference that it didn’t even register in my mind that I was speaking against a fellow classmate). That’s how much I loved my time on the floor at THIMUN — so much so that my authenticity was prioritized over a potential vote. But there were other aspects at the Qatar National Convention Center that were equally as memorable. 

Burroughs students were fortunate to meet many important figures in the realm of United Nations, including officials with the U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime to the actual Australian ambassador to Qatar. Hearing from U.N. officials targeting the very issues that we had focused on also proved to be fascinating. 

Burroughs won the second-place prize in Global Aid with Impact Awards for our efforts in lowering the stigma against the usage of feminine-hygiene products. A video that described our project was played for all 3,000-something participants in the closing ceremony. 

Indeed, my classmates and I felt the rewards of hard work and the pleasures of traveling in a strange, yet exciting environment. I am grateful for the opportunity to have been selected as a delegate for THIMUN. 

Yes, I had reservations of traveling to the Arab state as a Jew and was concerned for safety of the women in my group, but I found so much more there, as demonstrated by all the wonderful experiences I had. Thus, this global citizenship that I have begun to cultivate is so valuable to me, especially as a Jewish teen, and that is why I wanted to share this experience with the readers of the Light.