The Model United Nations program has resulted in not only an outstanding winning streak, but also a number of marriages.
BYU sends a large team of students to compete in an international Model United Nations (UN) competition each year in New York. The team spends two semesters preparing for the competition and works closely together.
BYU senior Madi Markel participated in the program from 2015 to 2016 and is a TA for the program this year. She is engaged to one of her teammates from last year.
“I met my fiancé during fall semester,” Markel said. “He was in my TA group, but I didn’t really notice him at first.”
Markel had never heard of the Model UN program before, but was on the David M. Kennedy Center for International Studies website looking at study abroad options when she came across the program. She noticed BYU consistently receives outstanding awards in the Model UN competition in New York and decided she wanted to join.
Markel and her fiancé Blake first became friends when they participated as staff for a Model UN program BYU puts on for high school students in the fall.
“He was my friend but I wasn’t interested,” Markel said. “I wasn’t planning on applying for Winter and going to New York, but someone in one of my Russian classes encouraged me to apply.”
Markle and Blake started dating right before they went to New York and spent the whole week together in New York.
“I owe Model UN a lot,” Markle said. “If we were just in a class together I don’t think I would have noticed him. He’s an IT major and I’m an English major, so I don’t know where we would have crossed paths.”
Markle said she cherishes the friendships she made doing Model UN.
“You become really great friends with people and it’s been the best community I’ve been a part of,” Markle said. “The friends you make you make forever, so I feel like it was what (Blake and I) needed.”
Markle and Blake are not alone — a number of married BYU alumni met each other while doing Model UN.
Assistant director at the David M. Kennedy Center for International Studies, Cory Leonard, has been involved in the Model United Nations program at BYU for over 20 years. The program was created 55 years ago, before the Kennedy Center even existed.
He said he has seen a number of his students in relationships and many end in marriage.
“It’s like any intensive experience at BYU, it’s a chance for people to interact,” Leonard said. “Not only are there couples that come out, but there are friendships among the students.”
Leonard puts all students in partnerships as part of the program, although he noted none of the partnerships have resulted in marriages he knows of.
“We’re putting you (students) with people who compliment your strengths and help overcome your weaknesses, because you are a working partnership,” Leonard said. “Students learn how to work together in a professional setting.”
Students learn valuable skills, such how to communicate, express expectations and set boundaries with a partner through Model UN.
“You come away and say ‘I know how to work in a partnership and be effective,'” Leonard said.
This year’s Model UN team will leave Friday, Mar. 17, for the competition in New York. Students will participate in eight Model UN sessions over five days, competing with 450 other students from universities worldwide.
The BYU team has received the outstanding award for the past 14 years straight. This means in every session of the competition BYU teams are within the top 10 percent of their competitors.
The program has both a competition side and an educational side as students learn valuable, transferable skills such as public speaking, research and debate.
“The students want to win, but not at any cost,” Leonard said. “The goal of any of our simulations is to achieve consensus. The goal of politics is to agree on something.”