Interested in improving your public speaking skills? Intrigued by global politics? Want to learn more about the world around you? Participate in Model United Nations, a team competition and  simulation of the United Nations and its bodies where students debate issues ranging from the possession of nuclear arms to gender equality and food security.

The following is the adjusted transcript of an interview with senior Leo Shih, founder of Lubbock High School’s Model UN team, which is currently the only high school Model UN team in Lubbock.

Helen Xie (HX): Hi! Would you like to introduce yourself?

Leo Shih (LS): My name is Leo Shih, and I am now the Student Advisor of Lubbock High School’s Model United Nations team.

HX: That’s exciting. Okay, what is Model UN?

LS: Model UN is an extracurricular activity that combines everything from speech and debate to research skills to academic writing. At its core, it’s centered around the Model UN conference. These are one to three day events where you get to research a country, write position papers, write speeches, and then go to these conferences and discuss your positions with other students -other delegates, who are representing other countries – and the goal is, at the end of the conference, to produce a resolution. 

HX: Okay. You did mention you’re the Student Advisor now, but you also started the Model UN team at Lubbock High. So why did you decide to start a Model UN team?

LS: So, before I started Model UN, I was in the debate team at Lubbock High, and I did humorous interpretation, extemporaneous [impromptu] speaking, mostly foreign. And I also did original oratory. And what I realized was, to an extent, FX [extemporaneous speaking] was my favorite activity out of three. And, you know, just learning about the different countries, learning about the politics and issues facing the world today was really interesting. And of course, the high stakes, think on your feet speaking was really fun as well.

I had the opportunity to go to the World Scout Jamboree, where I met a Dr. Sheldon Williams, who runs the Osgood Center for International Studies… They had a Model UN Conference at the Jamboree and afterwards, I approached him and asked him if he would be willing to help us get off the ground, maybe go to the Texas Model United Nations. Jamboree ends, I get back to Lubbock. Then in October we send an email and get ready to go to TexMUN.

HX: Okay. What’s your favorite part of Model UN?

LS: My favorite part of Model UN. This is probably the hardest question on the list. I really, really like going to conferences. I think that if you’re in Model UN you need to like going to conferences or else the whole thing is moot, right? Yeah. I love traveling with the team. Before the COVID lockdowns, we went to Texas Model United Nations, and I still think that’s probably the most fun school trip I’ve ever been on. We went to Houston, Texas and had fun and like, had good pastries and had boba tea. As far as the academic challenges, personally, I really love the speaking parts. As you can probably tell from this.

HX: Okay, you started a Model UN team, so do you think learning about international relations is important?

LS: I think that studying international relations is very important. And I think that honestly, having a world history, really more modern international relations course, should be a part of every high school and college curriculum. Of course, I’m biased. But the thing is the world today, there’s no way you’re going to be able to make it through life without interacting with people of different cultures, of different nationalities, maybe going overseas and, you know, interacting and working with people. So understanding the different tensions and the different cultural backgrounds and historical backgrounds of different groups and how they interact with each other is going to be vitally important. 

HX: What are some skills you personally gained or improved by participating in Model UN?

LS: For me, my writing skills have definitely been polished, especially my 30-minutes-till-the-deadline, hurry-up-and-get-this-paper done writing skills. I think my speaking skills definitely have improved. Funnily enough, I didn’t win any tournaments for FX and if I went back, I think that would probably still be the case. But I would get a lot closer, I think. And I think also, as a leader of the group, my leadership skills have improved a lot more. I’m a Scout, so I learned a lot about leadership just being in the scouting program. But the thing about leading in the real world or leading a UN compared to leading people like Scouts or the military is that whenever you are in scouting, there’s a really defined chain of command, there are ranks, there is seniority, and it’s fairly easier that way. But when you’re starting a new group, or when you’re rolling into a group that’s a lot more equitable in decision-making, like Model UN, taking those leadership principles over it can be pretty tough. And so you kind of have to relearn stuff that you know. Of course, the previous leadership experience helps. But I would say that definitely Model UN- you know, organizing and getting a team to go to a conference has been the most challenging leadership experience in my life so far.

HX: All right. How can people get started in Model UN?

LS: So if you want to get started in Model United Nations, the first thing that I would recommend is see if you have any local teams. If there’s a team at your high school, great, if your district has a team, great. Some cities have a team. I know a girl in New Zealand who runs the New Zealand-wide Model UN team because New Zealand is a tiny country. Often there’ll be conferences that are really welcoming of individual delegates, especially now that there’s virtual stuff. I know that YISMUN, or the Youth International Summit Model United Nations, takes individual delegates. I know that there are just a lot of other MUNs like that, that you can start out at  and get the gist of Model UN. There’s a lot of online guides; I would recommend Best Delegate. If you go through the r/MUN Reddit, there’s a lot of resources there. 

HX: Well, all right, thank you, Leo!

You can learn more about YISMUN here.

Lubbock High School Model UN is reachable at:

This article is part of an ongoing series on the Robin’s Nest blog where we explore various extracurricular activities that our tutors take part in.

This article was written by Helen Xie. Helen is a junior at Lubbock High School and is involved in many extracurriculars in addition to volunteer work, including Model UN and Robotics. 

This article was edited by Ruby Barenberg. Ruby is a junior at Lubbock High School where, outside of volunteering for Robin’s Nest Tutoring, she participates in academic decathlon, UIL events, and Model UN. She also runs a book blog.

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