BHHS hosts first multilingual Model UN conference in Michigan

By: Brendan Losinski | Birmingham - Bloomfield Eagle | Published February 12, 2018

 Bloomfield Hills High School students, from the left, Dalia Schwarzbaum, Sabastian Franco, Marco Lozano and Sara Susanto deliberate in Spanish about drug trafficking.

Bloomfield Hills High School students, from the left, Dalia Schwarzbaum, Sabastian Franco, Marco Lozano and Sara Susanto deliberate in Spanish about drug trafficking.

Photo by Erin Sanchez

BLOOMFIELD HILLS — The Model United Nations program at Bloomfield Hills High School went the extra mile with its latest conference to provide an authentic international experience for students.

On Feb. 3, for the first time, the school hosted a conference with portions conducted in a foreign language. One of the conference’s committees was performed entirely in Spanish.

“It’s a small practice conference with five schools participating,” explained Matt McLeod, the Model UN adviser for Bloomfield Hills High School. “Oakland University students are chairing the committees, and all five participating high schools will be going to OU’s full conference in a few weeks.”

The other participating schools were Rochester Adams High School, Royal Oak High School, Warren Fitzgerald High School and International Academy West.

“Students can learn at a small practice conference how Model UN works if they are new to the program, and teams can be more prepared for a major conference like the one coming up at OU in March,” said Paul Kubicek, who teaches political science at the university and aids with its Model UN program. “Our students are chairing and running the committees and preparing research materials for the (BHHS) conference, which not only helps the high schoolers but is good practice for themselves.”

McLeod said this will provide a new layer of authenticity for students in the program and will teach them to interact with others in a non-English context.

“This is the first time any Model UN event was hosted in a multilingual setting in Michigan,” he said. “We dabbled with French and German committees as well, but we couldn’t get enough interest from the other schools this year. We are doing Spanish as a sort of proof-of-concept, so if it’s successful, we will expand this conference to other languages next year.”

The Spanish-speaking committee was focused on the topic of drug trafficking in Central and South America, and how to counter it.

“I got the idea from (BHHS) Principal Charlie Hollerith, who told me about a school out West who did a conference all in Spanish, and we wanted to try it in Michigan,” said McLeod. “It’s not just about growing (the Model UN program) in size; it’s also about improving the experience for our students.”

McLeod said that it is an interesting experiment because a number of the participating students are native Spanish speakers. This allows them an edge in an activity where they might usually face an extra challenge because they may not be as well-versed in English as their counterparts. It also provides the other students with the additional challenge of performing a familiar program in a fresh, new way.

“About one-third of the students are native speakers; the rest are in upper-level Spanish classes,” said McLeod. “If the students find it engaging and something that expands their learning, we will consider it a success. It’s all student driven.”

Student feedback from the event was overwhelmingly positive. They said the addition of foreign languages adds a new dimension to the familiar Model UN proceedings.

“They’re really liking it,” remarked BHHS senior Megan O’Gorman, the head of the Spanish-speaking committee. “Some students feel a bit out of their depth working with native speakers, but I’m still only hearing good things. Everyone still gets to combine something they’re good at with something they’re passionate about.”

O’Gorman said she hopes to build on this program next year and add additional languages, as well as additional schools. She said adding additional languages only enhances the experience.

“Speaking in a different language forces you to fall into a different perspective,” said O’Gorman. “We so often look at issues from a solely U.S.-centric perspective, but this lets you break a mental lock you didn’t know you had. You also have native Spanish speakers who may not usually be among the best at Model UN, who now are suddenly among the strongest speakers.”