In our new series, Reflections, working professionals will share their stories on the impact Model UN made on their lives, personally and professionally. Our first story comes from Alex Lohman, a practicing attorney and former delegate. Here she touches on the skills that she learned in MUN and that have been valuable in her work as a lawyer.
As a lawyer, I am often asked to empathize and understand situations that I have never known. During law school, I chose to work in public defenders offices and clinics across the country, defending people who were often already judged by society before they even walked into a courtroom. In my life time I have acquired two speeding tickets and sweat bullets every time a police officer is within 1,000 feet of me. That’s to say, I’m generally not a rule breaker, nor am finding myself in those situations.
I say all of this to highlight one point: my ability to understand and to empathize is one part who I am and another part learned. Learning to understand the world around you from differing perspectives is not something life automatically teaches us. More often than not, we are taught at a young age to be competitive and self-interested so we can go to the best schools, have the best jobs, live in the best neighborhoods, etc. What is outside that we may know from news stories or academia. Beyond those means, it’s difficult to really understand what exists that isn’t already within our own universes.
I stumbled into Model United Nations in High School. Someone told me, “You like to talk a lot—you’re going to love this.” I followed their advice and joined as a freshman, only stopping my participation until I graduated college. At first, I thought it was an interesting challenge, representing another country, learning issues I had never heard of (capital punishment, human sex trafficking, the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict). But what I didn’t realize at the time was that I was learning to observe the world through a different lens and learning to empathize with cultures, people, issues, that were so very different from the world I knew in Southern California. My very first conference I remember to this day (that being 10 years ago, now): North Korea in the 6th Committee Legal discussing Capital Punishment in the International Community. Talk about an eye opener.
As a lawyer, I am required to be zealous, yet genuine. I have to be honest, yet defend my client at every turn. Sometimes these objective turn out to be competing interests, but that’s why lawyers are lawyers: they find ways to meet all these demands. That is exactly what Model United Nations teaches high school and college students to do. You can open a text book and discuss the competing interests of the United States in Middle Eastern politics or you can get into a simulation and navigate the complexities yourself, constantly under scrutiny from your peers. Without those experiences, I would not understand the research and preciseness of what it takes to be a lawyer. I would not understand that I can have a legal opinion, a personal opinion, and a political opinion, all very different from one another, and still engage with and represent people very different from those beliefs. I wouldn’t understand that in order to live in the world that I want to live in, I can’t stand aside. Whether at home or abroad, I have to advocate and improve what is around me.
I’d be shocked if there wasn’t a positive correlation between Model United Nations and professional success levels of students. I wrote for BestDelegate.com about the practical toolkit that Model UN provides for students of the law – tools that can be applied across many professions. Reading, researching, writing, public speaking, diplomacy; all seemingly generic terms that you really cannot teach someone on the fly. They have to be ingrained and reinforced in order to really have an impact on an individual. I reckon 8 years of Model UN helped me in many ways.
The most important thing I will say is this: to those who might think this program is frivolous or unnecessary: I implore you to see the benefits, not only statistically and pragmatically, but ideologically. Parents and leaders often throw out the phrase, “I would like to leave behind a better world for my children and their children,” into perpetuity. Half of that battle is not only creating an inhabitable and stable world, but teaching future generations to understand that world and the necessity of global cooperation.
If a child or young adult cannot look upon someone they do not know, but see someone they could try and understand, how do we expect them to look beyond the borders of their own lives and into the world of others? How do we expect them to realize that without lending a hand to help someone in need, you cannot expect that hand to reach out to you in return? How can we hope that our children will grow up and share the same sentiment of wanting a better tomorrow if they don’t understand how important the world is today? Without Model United Nations, I would have never learned these pivotal lessons.
In my profession, I am often asked to critique, analyze, and holistically understand “an issue.” But “an issue,” more often than not, is a person; a person in a difficult situation who needs my assistance and is relying on my ability to reason, to understand, and to empathize. I am fairly new to my profession, I will admit, but I’d like to think I’m on my way to becoming that lawyer that other people might need. I do know that I can look at other people and not pretend to know exactly their situation, but I can genuinely try to understand and share in their experience.
At the end of the day, I think I have a couple of gavels to thank for that.