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19 February 2024

The Monday Briefing: American Life

The Monday Briefing - American Life

Prior to half term, I had the huge pleasure of taking six students over to Boston in the United States for a Model UN trip at the prestigious Massachusetts university MIT.

This was the fourth time I’ve headed up the trip, and the sixth time in which the College has participated.

In a previous blog, I extolled the virtues of Model UN, and the conference this year, the sixteenth to be held at MIT, was no different. 

The trip featured over 350 students from 33 different schools across four different continents, and students debating issues as wide ranging as the economics of water security, the Mediterranean refugee crisis, nuclear weapons containment and future space exploration.

On the trip, what occurred to me most of all was not the rigours of the conference itself. Rather, it was the fact that our six students were emboldened by it in a range of different ways. Without naming names, I’ll explain the journey of each in the course of this blog.

Student A found it all too much. Having sat in one fast paced conference session, he felt that he simply couldn’t continue as it overwhelmed him. Having significant needs, getting the approach right with him was vital. It required recognition that for him, success was coming on the trip in the first place. One could see the rising anxiety which he was experiencing during check in, leaving his passport at the check in desk, and finding it hard to focus on instructions at security. But he was keen to ask questions when we got over to Boston, and, though he didn’t interact with students from other schools, he was clearly at home with his peers. To see how far he has come since joining the College is heartening, but I did feel for him a touch when he seemed so lost with it all.

Student B has had huge issues with punctuality and getting into College on time. I was hugely impressed with her conduct on this trip. She was never late to a conference session, partook in every single part of it, and, at one point half way through, expressed her joy that she was ‘really starting to get into it’. She was the first student I saw at the airport at the start of the trip, and, though she would never be forthcoming by saying how much she enjoyed it, clearly did.

Student C is incredibly quiet in College, but it was so pleasing to see him emerging from such a position of sitting back to taking the lead in making new friends, conversing with students from other countries, and declaring that his country was happy to invade another - though it was in jest. What was perhaps most pleasing was being able to see him open up a touch. At College he is quite a closed book, given the amount of big characters and confident personalities we have here. Student C was able to join in far more with others, including his presence at the Delegate Dance.

Student D is a kind and keen one, and this was his second time at the conference. His helpful nature towards others who had not been before was really pleasing, and shows just how ready for university he is. It was really good to see his optimistic nature taking hold, as I know, from the discussions we’ve had this year, that there have been points where he has been unhappy. But the fact that he actually emerged from the conference disappointed that he hadn’t contributed enough shows that he has high standards for himself and that he knows what kind of person he wants to be - someone who steps forward and gets involved, rather than being someone who sits in the shadows.

Student E is, again, a fairly quiet one. He emerged as a real team player, who was happy to look out for others on the trip, and particularly through his support of Student A throughout. Taking his time to observe and understand what was going on, he then built confidence as the conference progressed, starting to speak up more during the caucuses, debates and discussions, to a point where he was clearly starting to enjoy the strategy of it all. I think the biggest transition he had to undergo was to the food.

Student F has such great potential - to work with others and to hold sway with them. She has been rather misguided this year, prioritising work before College, and struggling to get the balance right in terms of the approach to her studies. I was really worried that she might have adopted a truly careless approach when she arrived at the airport ten minutes late, then left her passport on the plane when coming into Boston. An hour of dealing with Immigration and the airline later, it was retrieved, but it was not the best way to start the trip. A good chat with her on the bus to the hotel showed that this was not her true character though, and she was really pleasant throughout the rest of the trip, not letting me down any further. It was really pleasing to see her recognise and speak to students who she met last year too.

Personally, I enjoyed playing my part as someone who had been on the trip before, guiding round those from our partner school and helping them to understand the rigours of a Model UN conference. I was also left extremely pleased by the conduct and attitude of the students who came - they were tremendous ambassadors for the College.

They may not have won any awards, or truly grasped the nettle in terms of debate, but this was excellent preparation for them to be going to university: meeting new people; striking up conversations with them; leading their own way forward.

All students have such a wide range of starting points at the College, and this was truly visible on the trip. The importance of them coming together as a cohesive unit was what I wanted to see - and they did that incredibly well.

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