(Almost) Away From Virtuality, Back To Reality
by Kennedi Munson
COVID-19. A word, a statement, but most of all a reality that globally we’ve all been obligated to live in for nearly two years. Depending on who you ask, it’s clear that this pandemic has impacted people in a plethora of different ways. With this year's PANAMUN conference being around the corner, it’s undeniable that a degree of nostalgia can be presented amongst former participants, especially having experienced the obstacles that came with the prior year’s conference being online.
During the hectic few hours of individuals finalizing their committees’ doors for the upcoming conference, admin María Laura Young Sanchez provides some insight on her PANAMUN experience, and her position as an admin this year. With three years of PANAMUN experience under her belt – being a delegate in 9th and 10th and now being an admin in 11th – it’s obvious that María has a degree of expertise that a lot of new coming delegates don’t have. As an admin this year, María describes her job as “doing the doors for the committees, and passing notes between the delegates during the conferences”; however, it hasn’t always been that way. Though a newcomer to PANAMUN in 9th grade, María mentions how such an event was “scary, yet informative”. Although that was her first time engaged in this debate-like setting, she states how she was able to “interact with many people from a variety of different countries and schools” and thus recalls it as a “fun experience overall”. Unfortunately, due to the unforeseeable implications of COVID, it’s clear that such a gratifying experience was unable to be replicated, as what once was an engaging in-person event, turned into one that was both “depleting and tiresome”. As a delegate in 10th grade, María explained how dissimilarly from the year prior she “didn’t talk to anyone”. Describing her communication with other delegates as “awkward, and compulsory”, she expresses how unlike in 9th grade when she found comfort in the excitement of other people, she found that people online were discouraged and not very thrilled to participate. Given also the factor of one being in an at-home setting, accompanied by the fact that not many connections could be formed due to the chat being disabled, it’s undeniable that Maria found the online setting to be dull in comparison to her 9th-grade experience. Having now had both of those experiences, María expresses how she’s apprehensive, yet excited to see how this year’s PANAMUN (XXIX) conference will turn out.
Offering another perspective on this topic is Regina, foreign co-chair of The UNW (United Nations Women Committee), and a participant of PANAMUN since 2019. Within her committee, both Regina and her co-chair Camila discuss topics surrounding women and gender equality. As a chair, Regina’s role is to moderate the debate: maintaining order while also making sure the debate is interesting and civil. Given that this is her third year in PANAMUN and her second time chairing, it’s undeniable that Regina understands aspects of PANAMUN that other individuals may not. With delegate experience in both 2019 and 2020, there’s an interesting contrast in her experiences as a delegate in both an in-person and online setting. “I think it was a better experience than I was expecting!” she states. Given it was her first online conference, as it was for many others, “there were some technical problems every once in a while, but nothing major”. She remarks how “being online brought many advantages since communication actually felt easier while [they] were lobbying and the debate flow was still very good”. Such an experience can be compared to her in-person experience back in 2019, as she mentions it was “very different”. Whilst the online setting brought upon technical difficulties, in-person, Regina felt as though a “main challenge, and difference [was] finding the group of people that you (wanted) to write your resolution with”. Nevertheless, after you have established the group, (she) actually (felt) like (the) unmoderated part of the debate [felt] more organized when it was online. For Regina, a crucial difference between online, and in-person was viewing her fellow delegates’ body language, specifically when they were debating or merely speaking. Given you can only see the top half of someone’s body on screen, compared to their full figure in person, she felt as though “sometimes it wasn’t enough”. Beyond that critique, Regina acknowledged how despite both experiences being different, she genuinely wouldn’t choose one over the other as they have a lot of benefits and different things to offer. Finalizing the interview with Regina, there was a curiosity in knowing what potential fears she had regarding the conference, and if she had any advice or words of encouragement for incoming delegates. Whether you’re online or in-person, Regina states that “one should always be prepared”. One of her biggest fears is having a lack of preparation, specifically when it comes to an online conference when one “doesn’t know how to solve their technical difficulties”. As a result, she mentioned that one should always try to be familiarized with whatever medium they’ll be debating with/on. Be it understanding your online platforms before the conference, and/or doing further research about your country, it’s evident that preparation is overall a very useful skill that not only makes one's life easier but also saves you a lot of time.
Based upon the insight offered by admin María Laura Young Sanchez and co-chair Regina, it’s clear that despite having different experiences with the online conference, they share similar viewpoints when it comes to the advantages of an in-person environment. Be it body language, or more effective communication and reciprocated excitement, it’s evident that though customary, the in-person debate conference does make a vast difference on participants, and the excitement in our community is enthusiastically building up to see what this year has in store.