Every year, the Harvard Model Congress Dubai sees growing numbers of participants from hundreds of schools in the UAE. Vision looks at how the event is helping shape the region's future diplomats
The fourth edition of the annual Harvard Model Congress Dubai (HMC Dubai) witnessed outstanding levels of participation from hundreds of high school students across the Emirates. Held in late January 2016, under the auspices of the American University in Dubai, HMC Dubai is the regional offshoot of the world's premier government simulation, Harvard Model Congress.
A truly unique conference of its kind, the Congress is run entirely by Harvard students and dedicated to teaching high school students about the American government, international politics and diplomacy.
For three days, students enact the roles of US Representatives, US Senators, Congressmen, ambassadors and UN representatives; engaging in lively (if sometimes hostile!) debate about some of the world's most pressing and complex issues such as money laundering, terrorism, human trafficking, stem cell research, the Patriot Act and war crimes.
The art of eloquence, negotiation and compromise comes to the fore as students are challenged to engage in collaborative discourse, understand the nuances of politics and explore the intricacies of legislation.
Founded in Boston in 1986, the Congress claims a rich and growing legacy of providing immersive learning opportunities to students worldwide. In the last 30 years, this signature symposium has expanded its global footprint beyond America’s iconic college town; with annual events hosted in San Francisco, Rome, Seoul, and most recently, Sao Paolo.
Since its Dubai debut in 2012 - spearheaded by then Harvard sophomore Eric Cervini - the Congress has achieved a steady student participation rate of between 200 to 300 students.
“Dubai may be one of our smaller cities in terms of attendance, but the intimacy and low student to staffer ratio of 12 to 1 allow for an unparalleled intimate rapport,” noted Rebecca Curran, a Harvard senior and President of Harvard Model Congress. This year’s Congress attracted 250 delegates from 20 schools and 5 different countries--including the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Turkey. “Year on year, HMC Dubai keeps growing in its offerings as we continue to expand committees,” explained Curran, “We had 12 committees alone this year, many of which were new, including The African Union and the CIA.”
For Curran, her involvement with HMC offers an unparalleled lens into the Middle East; a region she’d never previously been exposed to. “As a high school student, I’d participated in HMC Boston and found it so profoundly eye-opening and impactful that when I got accepted to Harvard, I knew I wanted to give other students that same educational experience, the opportunity to learn not only about the world but also about their own leadership potential.”
She sees Dubai as an influential city in the Middle East, given the sheer diversity of its population and its geopolitical position as a key political and commercial hub in the region. “Discussing issues such as the humanitarian and political crisis in Syria carry much more resonance at an event like HMC Dubai,” said Curran. “Some of our delegates may have family ties to Syria or may have been affected in some way by the ongoing war. It makes it very real and palpable and brings empathy into the equation, which is an important leadership quality.”
School administrators were unanimous in their praise for the event. Adrian Hall, Head of the History, Government and Politics departments at Dubai English Speaking College (DESC), whose students scooped several Best Delegate awards said: “We’re returning to HMC Dubai this year with even more student delegates, 22 students compared to the 6 delegates we had in 2015.”
For both the schools and students, HMC Dubai offers a transformative experience that was widely commended, accroding to Hall. “So many students truly blossomed over the course of the three day Congress. It gives me and my fellow teachers great pride to see our students praised for their mastery of the issues, to see their eloquence and persuasiveness in getting their Bills passed.”
By all accounts, HMC Dubai promises a profound experience for UAE students, sowing the seeds for liberal discourse and challenging teenagers to develop fundamental leadership, public speaking and teamwork skills that will no doubt set many of these students on exciting and enriching career paths. Amidst the lifelong memories, the Congress leadership team hopes to inspire the diplomats of tomorrow, leaders who will passionately look to build common ground in an increasingly divergent and polarised world.