For my fall semester community involvement project, I was extremely fortunate to continue an activity I deeply enjoy at my home school. I joined the Kyoto branch of Japan’s Model UN competition cycle. The branch includes Doshisha University, Kyoto University, and Ritsumeikan University, housing about forty college students. Through the organizations, I was able to gain a first-hand look at the inner workings of MUN in Japan as well as improve my own skills as an international delegate.
I come from an institution that takes the activity quite seriously. I spent nearly twenty hours a week on Model UN activities at the peak of competition season and a failure to win an award at competitions can end your career on the team. Our hard work shows—UChicago has been ranked number one in North America from 2011-2016. A slip due to negligence and changing competition style dropped us to 5th place in 2017, although reapplication has put us back at #1 for the start of the 2018 cycle. Needless to say, I was ready to dive into a similar level of competition in Japan.
What I found was quite different. The first shock was the level of collaboration between students from different institutions. Within the Kyoto branch, Ritsumeikan, Kyo-dai and Doshisha students share research and training sessions. The branch also hosts small simulations of topics large competitions will discuss. That is to say, the Kyoto branch may host a simulation of a committee on refugees when a national conference will offer the same topic a month later. From an American competition perspective, this would be near-suicidal. If a student from a different institution found my plans for committee before the actual competition, I’d be forced to scrap all of those plans and start anew. Such an issue seemed barely on the periphery of the Kyoto branch.
Yet there were many hidden benefits from the relaxed style of competition. The most glaring difference between the American and Japanese competitions spheres was the presence of women. American Model UN has a distinct male focus, with a ratio of about three men to every one woman. In Japan, the ratio was near equal if not more heavily tilted towards women. I was very interested in what tactics made female participation easier or more enticing on the Japanese side. Two of my friends (both women) told me they had never thought of it. Nothing in their experience on the team made it harder for them to compete than their male counterparts. I believe this may directly linked to the inherent lack of team competition. Japanese college students compete as individuals at nationwide conferences. This means you could be paired up with a student from another school, or in my case, even another country. Since there’s no team honor to defend, participants can focus solely on their own growth and knowledge. I believe America could take a lesson.
I would advise any future American participants in Japanese Model UN to keep an open mind. If you have competed in America, the laxness of Japanese competition will surely feel inadequate. However, enjoy the increased range of participation loosening competition allows participants. Develop yourself as a delegate, and take your time learning new vocabulary and building new friendships. You may not return to your American team with new skills, but you will certainly return with a greater understanding of the internationality of MUN.
You make a point to emphasize the lax nature of the UN team in Japan and how it may be helpful in America. I noticed that during KCJS, you remained active in Model UN at UChiacgo. Do you think your experience here will in change the way you act both individually and in a team back at home?
I’m also very curious about that! As I prepare for AJMUN, a competition in Tokyo, I’m also preparing for UCBMUN, University of California Berkeley’s conference. I’m hoping I can create a kind of fusion between Japanese and American styles to come up with a good fit. American MUN is obviously more competitive and requires perfection in speaking and research skills. I hope to bring that to AJMUN. However, the Japanese style is, in my opinion, for more human and welcoming. I’m hoping to gain a good balance of competition and friendliness when I return to America. I really that those skills could be valuable in improving me not just as a delegate but as a public speaker and leader.
Its very interesting to see this kind of comment from someone native to the American way of doing things. Back in Costa Rica, MUN programs exist to a fairly limited extent, and those that exist are entirely casual to the point that meeting students from other high schools/colleges is more emphasized than any competition. Honestly, I always found the American model kind of depressing following that, as an experience that felt like a lighthearted extracurricular turned into a downright hateful competition, which ultimately led me to stop as I started going to an American college. From my perspective its actually kind of nice to see that other places in the world have a more Costa Rican attitude about extracurriculars, and it makes me wonder whether the US’s decision to provide careerist benefits for high school activities is what makes their college students take activities the way that they do, for good or ill.
Regardless, its great that you were able to participate in an activity like this, especially despite the language barrier that feels like would inevitably result. I considered going for something similar and was deterred by that concern, so I hope that future KCJS people are encouraged by this post.