Model United Nations (MUN) Program at THS

  • 2023
  • High School
Kyle King, High School Co-Principal, and Henrik Hoeg, Learning Extension Coordinator

 

Sometimes difficult problems arrive at the very same time as their solutions serendipitously come at you from another angle. This happened to us recently. The problem was figuring out what made the Model United Nations club at THS work so well. They had started winning awards at MUN conferences. More awards than other MUN clubs we knew about, and if we looked at the awards per delegate the difference was especially massive. They were thriving, and doing so with an intense, hectic, student-led aplomb. There was something unique going on, but we didn’t have the terminology to describe it. 

By complete coincidence, we had just joined a faculty-based book club. The chosen book was The Geek Way by Andrew McAfee, named by The Economist, Forbes, and several other publications as one of the best business books of 2023. And yet, despite being ostensibly a book about how geeky approaches to business were changing how modern companies operate, our reaction was ‘THAT’S IT! THAT’S THS MUN!’

Rather than paraphrase, let us directly quote to show what we mean:

The geek way leans into arguments and loathes bureaucracy. It favors iteration over planning, shuns coordination, and tolerates some chaos. Its practitioners are vocal and egalitarian, and they’re not afraid to fail, challenge the boss [or teachers, ha!], or be proven wrong. Instead of respecting hierarchy and credentials, they respect helpfulness and chops.

While the “geeky” business leaders took this attitude to the traditionally ordered and rigid structures of late 20th-century companies, our MUN students are—unknowingly, we suspect—doing the same to the challenges they face at MUN conferences. That’s not to say that the processes and procedures of MUN events are being geek-ified, they remain a mirror of the mostly formal and orderly organization they model. It’s instead in the process of preparing, practicing, and training. Everything that happens between conferences is done in what McAfee would call a geeky way, and that’s the magic of it. How did it happen? 

Last year Tom South, former THS Humanities Teacher, introduced MUN to the High School. Notwithstanding the scrupulous procedures that govern MUN, we have witnessed the purest forms of student-driven learning, an aspect that Mr. South touted about the program. We posit that it is this autonomy that has struck a chord with our high schoolers, given that many students choose THS as an alternative to the rigid structure and practices that characterize international schools in Hong Kong. MUN has attracted even our most nonconforming students offering them a fair platform to use their critical thinking skills and voice, values that are nurtured in classes such as Reading the Media, Critiquing the Media, Speak your Mind, and Trigger Warning, to name a few. It is unequivocal that our geek recipe has found great success on the MUN scene in Hong Kong. In just over a year that we have been running the program, we have taken home over 19 Delegate Awards and had 4 coveted Chairing Experiences. 

Perhaps the best way to understand what makes THS MUN tick is to ask the student organizers themselves; Marnix Wisgerhof and Isaac Chan.

What made you both interested in MUN to begin with?

Marnix: When Mr. South initially proposed the group he was my mentor and recommended that I partake. It fit with my existing interests in politics, history, and geography. It simply made sense because it matched my interests and beliefs.

Isaac: Similar story for me, strong interests in geopolitics and debate, which I also did at my previous school. MUN ties in nicely with where I see myself going, I hope to be a lawyer one day, and the transferable skills are clear. I was happy to find a more formal, serious version of talking about current events and politics with my friends.

Is there something particular that makes THS MUN work at an individual or cultural level?

Marnix: Well, a lot of MUN organizations at other schools are quite large and participation is either strongly encouraged or even mandatory. At THS we’ve formed a smaller, tight-knit group composed only of students who have shown very keen interest. It takes a lot of time and effort to prepare for these conferences, and you lose a lot of weekends. You have to find that trade-off worth it.

Isaac: I agree, there’s a strength in the size,but also in being more student-led than teacher-led. We’re not just developing knowledge of politics or procedure, but we’re learning how to organize ourselves, take charge, and efficiently manage a team. There’s just as much learning to be done in running an MUN as there is in merely participating in one. 

Marnix: The smaller group size also allowed us to attend more conferences with a larger portion of our group, meaning that we quickly honed our skills, iterating and learning from each other. We collaborate on difficult delegate assignments and constantly give each other honest feedback.

Where do you see THS MUN heading in the future?

Marnix: We see it going from strength to strength. We already have a very strong base of future organizers such as Jeremy, Oscar, Jino, Jian, and others. We hope to continue winning awards and taking on more chairing roles, which are hard, but rewarding. 

Isaac: We’re also considering running our own conference at The Harbour School, which we’ve begun to work on logistically even as we prepare for the rest of the conferences we’re attending this year. There’s a lot of exciting stuff happening.

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We anticipate great success for the MUN team moving forward, and can’t wait to see how they handle the hurdles and challenges they’ll encounter. We want to express our pride in not only Isaac and Marnix, but the whole crew, each of whom is an integral part of a brilliant whole.

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