Preventing an arms race in outer space was our task, and we only had three days to do it. The gavel hit the podium and the University of Havana Model United Nations (HAVMUN) conference began. The Committee on Disarmament met in a hot room at the law school of the University of Havana, the alma matter of Fidel Castro. The room was full of students from various Cuban universities, German colleges, and myself from the United States. We were representing countries from around the world in the hopes that we could think like current world leaders to solve pressing international issues.
I represented Germany, the German students represented China, and a Cuban student represented the United States. We all watched each other grapple with the complexities of each country’s foreign policy with amusement. The entire committee was in English, even though I was the only person there whose native tongue was English. The speeches were sharp, the research was deep, and the final resolution was profound. Together, we decided that the future of international space policy would follow these guidelines:
- Use of outer space will be peaceful
- Actions taken in outer space will be transparent
- Treaties made about outer space will be multilateral
While the resolution building process was undeniably cool, I looked most forward to the speakers at the conference. We heard from representatives of the United Nations and experts around the country about international diplomacy, especially as it affects Cuba. It was a very different conversation than I had taken part in at Model United Nations conferences in the States. To be a great MUNer, you have to be able to get into the head of the country you represent, and there is no better way to do that than to visit the country itself. Seeing diplomacy in action in Cuba was incredible, and seeing Cubans in my generation craft it was even more so.
Rolling with the punches:
HAVMUN was organized a lot differently than Model UN conferences in the North American circuit. As someone who likes to over-prepare for everything, the conference was a shock to me. The speeches were given differently, resolutions written in ways unfamiliar to me, and the general conference logistics not what I expected. Studying abroad in Cuba forced me to accept that I will not always be prepared for everything; “que será, sera” became my motto. This conference gave me experience with improvisation that I will be grateful for if I ever become an ambassador. My fellow delegates were more than happy to explain what was going on and help me take part in the conference.
The best part of the conference was undoubtedly the people I met. The best friends I made abroad were people I met at this conference! Model UN was one of the few clubs I could join at the University of Havana, and I am so glad I took advantage. None of the other students in my program wanted to do it with me, so I took the plunge alone. After the conference, I stayed in touch with most of the delegates that had been in my committee. With their help, I have been able to complete a research grant through Gettysburg College focusing on the legacy of José Martí, the Cuban national hero. Speaking to them about the opening of relations with the United States, the death of Fidel Castro, and the American pop culture stars that are visiting Cuba reminds me that even though my friends and I are form completely different cultures, we have so much in common.
When it comes down to it, that is really what Model United Nations conferences are all about—bringing people from different backgrounds together to solve global problems. Representing different countries gives you the ability to empathize and working with people from around the world gives you the ability to see global problems from an alternative perspective. I never thought I would have the opportunity to go to Cuba, let alone discuss disarmament in space with students my age. HAVMUN gave me an amazing weekend full of research, creativity, and fun. More than that, it gave me a roomful of lifelong friends that are bound for amazing achievements in the realm of international affairs.
- Join clubs when you study abroad.
- Don’t be afraid to get out of your comfort zone.
- Above all, engage difference.
You’ll never regret it.
Marley Dizney was a Political Studies major at Gettysburg College and studied abroad with IFSA on the Universidad de La Habana program in Havana, Cuba in Spring 2016. She served as an alumni ambassador for IFSA.