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Preparing for the Unexpected: the Value of Exchange

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(Photo above: Josie on the left with her teammates at MUN)

By: Josie K., YES Abroad 2017-2018, Bosnia and Herzegovina, from State College, PA 

You never know the meaning of the word “compromise” until you are locked in a room with twenty-seven other students––representing the United States of America, the Russian Federation, the State of Israel, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and countless other nations––and you have to work towards one goal: how to combat and react to cyberattacks.

Over the course of two days I, along with many other students from around the globe, found the opportunity to do just that at a recent Model United Nations (MUN) conference, held in Mostar, another city of my host country, and hosted by its United World College (UWC) students. As I am currently studying abroad in Sarajevo, I was able to represent my school, Druga Gimnazija, alongside my fellow YES Abroad participant Haley. The opportunity, both fantastic and slightly enigmatic (as I had absolutely no idea what the conference would entail), forced me to spend many evenings researching my own country’s view on cybersecurity and the control of small arms in post-conflict zones, no small feat as I represented a controversial nation in the committee: The State of Israel.

When we arrived to Mostar, we were immediately greeted with a speech by Guillaume Rousson, the French Ambassador to Bosnia and Herzegovina, as well as several stunning performances by the UWC students. We were warmly approached by a number of students, who similarly expressed their excitement for the following day’s committee sessions, where many of the world’s problems were set to be resolved in closed rooms by students from around the world.

The following day was nothing but excitement and anxiety for many as opening speeches were made, rebuttals were composed, blocs were formed, and resolutions were drafted. Following over ten hours of committee sessions and lobbying, my committee--the Disarmament and International Security Committee (DISEC)--successfully passed two resolutions in which the internet was banned to combat cybersecurity and governments initiated strict arms control aimed at deweaponization through confiscation of illegal arms to combat their sale in post-conflict zones. Although banning the internet may not necessarily be seen as a solution to cyber-attacks (yes, this resolution did pass), I learned two extremely important lessons easily applicable to any exchange year: be flexible and have fun. 

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Photo above: Josie in Mostar at the Old Bridge.

Both in my daily life and at the conference, I found myself expecting an event to go one way and having it go entirely the opposite. Public transportation, for example, is an incredibly important aspect of life for any citizen of Sarajevo. Yet, throughout the year, I have found it to be at times unreliable, with my daily bus often breaking down. I am forced to adapt to the circumstance and find an alternative mode of transportation or risk being late to the coffee date I have planned. As a result, I know the walk to school like the back of my hand and, in the end, even prefer walking rather than taking the bus.

At the conference, I prepared a resolution with other nations in my committee who had similar viewpoints. Collectively, the bloc I joined created a sound and reasonable resolution, lacking irrational clauses. We felt sure it would pass with flying colors; however, as we began to present the resolution, other nations consistently argued and debated various clauses, ultimately resulting in a narrow failure during the voting procedure. As a committee we were forced to move on to the next resolution, in which many representatives from my bloc debated in a similar manner. Through the intense debating, the DISEC committee was able to compromise and create an ultimate solution to problem. Though I had not expected the original resolution to fail, I and others from my block worked to resolve any issues we saw to devise a peaceful and coherent solution.

Although passing a resolution was necessary, and arriving on time is important, I found enjoying my time and laughing at the mistakes to be far more essential. Although the walk to school can be long, I have met many locals along the walk and have built connections with them, even going out for coffee following our conversations and stroll. At the conference it was no different. I found myself laughing until my stomach hurt during a karaoke night, hiding from water guns during a surprise “co-ops attack,” and participating in the talent show while representing America. I had come to try and solve some of the world’s greatest issues, and although I found it important to focus, I found it equally important to enjoy the people around me and establish relationships with those who shared similar values.

Overall, the Model UN Conference in Mostar further emphasized many of the lessons I have learned throughout my (almost) eight months here in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Although the committee did not manifest how I had originally thought, it allowed me to meet new people, create new friendships, and build resolutions with the ultimate goal of making the world a better place.

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Photo above: Josie (left) and Haley (second from right) were joined at the UWC Conference by Kelton (second from left) and Leah (right), YES Abroad students at Gimnazija Banja Luka in northern Bosnia and Herzegovina.