Wednesday, May 1, 2013

UI Model EU Club Participates in Midwest Model EU in St. Louis

by Paul Christianson

For three days running from April 11, 2013 to April 13, 2013, the Model European Union club at the University of Illinois participated in the Midwest Model EU conference, this year hosted by the University of Missouri-St. Louis. The Midwest Model EU is now the second conference attended by the fledgling Registered Student Organization, which is providing its undergraduate student members with experiences only possible outside of the classroom.

The Model EU organization, as I wrote about here, provides students with an opportunity to learn about the European Union as well as develop a variety of skills. It is student run, but receives counseling and guidance from faculty sponsor Professor Kostas Kourtikakis. Costs for traveling to conferences with the club are subsidized by support from the EU Center at Illinois and SORF Funding.

Committees can often be overwhelming to new participants, because it requires them to possess confidence in their speaking ability and knowledge on a given subject. Good debate skills and an ability to compromise and build coalitions are also a must. So it follows that many students spend their first conference getting a feel for procedure and the typical flow of committee.

The second conference is usually when students feel comfortable and gain the confidence to be participants or leaders in their committee, which is the experience shared by many of the club members. Sophomore Sarah Bahn and Junior Michael Normoyle each attended both the Pittsburgh and St. Louis conferences and participated more and more the second time around. Normoyle even won an award for a strong performance in his committee, in which he represented the Austrian Environmental Minister in the Council of the European Union. Bahn, who will be the Vice President of the club next year, had this to say about the experience: “I figured that it (Model EU) would be one of those clubs that I go to the first few meetings, and then just kind of fade out quietly. However, a few weeks later I found myself in Pittsburgh and then two months later in St. Louis. Model EU has not only helped boost my public speaking skills, but it has raised my confidence in doing so, as well as in thinking on my feet.”

It is also important to note that the conferences, while competitive, are a lot of fun as well. Sophomore Pathik Patel has been a member since the beginning and has attended nearly every meeting and both conferences, saying: “The conference trips were a blast, and exploring new cities was just as exciting as attending conferences. Some clubs on campus that I've given a try definitely came off as rather boring and dry, but Model EU is definitely not one of them.”

In addition to helping students develop a speaking ability, Model EU also fosters an interest in the EU among its members. Because of the club Bahn applied for and received an EU Center travel grant to participate in an EU study tour. “The people I have met through this club are some of the most encouraging, friendly, unique, and social people I have ever met in my life,” she explained, adding that because of the club she “not only applied for a grant to go to Brussels, Belgium this summer to learn more about the EU and other European/international institutions, but was able to receive the grant.”

Lastly, this article is a little bittersweet for me as it will be the last thing I write about the organization here at Illinois. I am graduating in a few weeks and am in the process of passing on leadership of the club to Nicacio Corral and Sarah Bahn, the new President and Vice President. The club has an established group and at this point a history of success in conferences and multiple people capable of building the club for the future, and someone else may be writing these articles next year.

Paul Christianson is an undergraduate senior at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign majoring in Political Science and History, with a focus on international relations for both. He spent much of 2012 studying international organizations and diplomacy in Vienna before experiencing firsthand the European Union in the University of Washington’s Summer EU Studies Program. After returning the Urbana-Champaign in August, he felt the inspiration to form a Model EU organization at the University of Illinois. The organization meets weekly on Wednesdays and can be contacted through its email address at illinoismodeleu@gmail.com.

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