The BYU Model Arab League won awards and networked with other students at a regional competition for western universities March 21-23.
The 16 students brought home 14 awards from the competition, which was hosted at the University of Utah. Middle Eastern Studies Department Chair James Toronto was the adviser of the Model Arab League, which was started up again after a several-year hiatus.
"It was the first come back," said Bay Ying-Bei, a Middle Eastern studies student from Shanghai who won an honorable mention for her efforts. "I was surprised that we did that well. I'm just so proud."
Students hope to continue building relationships at the next level. They have been invited to the national competition in Washington, D.C. Several students hope to attend the competition April 12-14 depending on funding availability.
David Romney led the team this year.
"Being new to it, I was a little under-experienced, but I had a lot of help from people at the other schools," Romney said. "I just ended up having a lot more fun than I thought I would."
More than half the BYU students had the advantage of having traveled to the Middle East as part of the Arabic language-learning study abroad.
"Honestly we already had a lot of background information about Palestine because of our major," said Stefanie Stakland, a Middle Eastern studies major.
The competition is similar to a role-playing game where students act like the leaders of their assigned country by making proposals and resolving issues. These issues ranged from chemical warfare between Syria and Israel to passing a resolution on the creation of robotic camel jockeys.
Middle Eastern studies major Colby Peterson called the "camel jockey" resolution a high point because it was a creative solution they developed on the spot. He joined the team hoping to learn about parliamentary procedure and successful diplomacy from the conference. The company was another plus — most of the Model Arab League students were already friends from their major or their study abroad experience.
"Just like a big hang-out," Peterson said, adding that he was excited to share his expertise on the team next year.
No student had any previous experience with Model United Nations or Model European Union. The students have been preparing for the competition all semester by taking a 1/2-credit class where they met weekly and created a research binder of resources. They did mock competition sessions and were coached by two guest speakers, including Cory Leonard, the Kennedy Center of International Studies director.
"Our Model United Nations, Model Arab League and Model European Union programs all have received top awards — and give students from other universities the chance to interact with Latter-day Saints who come from all over the globe, speak a myriad of languages and yet are effective in highly competitive negotiation simulations in New York, Seattle and Washington, D.C," Leonard said in an email.
Leonard also praised "our nationally-recognized Middle East Studies/Arabic program," the major most of these students hailed from.
Their competitors included university students from Colorado, Montana, the University of Utah and the Air Force Academy.
"We tried not to stay with BYU people because the whole point was to meet new people," Stakland said.
For Stakland, this effort included dinner with the Air Force students and lunch with students from Montana, who asked them many questions about The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. However, the BYU students joined together for a celebratory dinner of Middle Eastern food at the end.