Angelo Vasquez’s first trip outside his home country of Guatemala was to get together with 3,000 other high-schoolers from around the world, seeking ways to solve the world's problems.
On his 16th birthday, he flew to Washington, D.C., for the North American Invitational Model U.N. 2020 conference — known as MUN — to simulate the problem-solving of the United Nations around water, territorial, poverty and development issues, among others.
“A lot of people have been really friendly ... they come from a lot of places in the world,” Angelo said. “It’s a privilege and honor to be here at MUN.”
Vasquez, a high school sophomore, came from one of the 18 countries that participated in this year's MUN. He was assigned to represent Brunei, a small Muslim nation on the island of Borneo that sits east of Singapore.
Vasquez said he knew nothing about Brunei before MUN and had to read many books before coming to the conference. The high schooler said he feels we should all know more about “small and developing countries.”
“They have a lot of things in common with other great countries. This country is rich in oil, and it has a lot of history,” he said.
Isabelle Canadine, the only freshman participant from Colegio Interamericano in Guatamela, represented Egyptian comedian Bassem Youssef — a media critic whom the Egyptian government has filed an arrest warrant against.
“I had to do really in-depth research, but I think it's worth doing," Canadine said. "It's been going really great,” noting that most of the videos she found of Youssef were in Arabic.
After sitting in on a meeting of the Islamic Development Bank, Canadine said there was only one event left: the Delegates Dance, organized for all of the young participants.
“I’m looking forward to the Delegates’ Dance; that’s going to be fun,” she said early Saturday. “Although nobody has asked me …”
After the final session Saturday, students discussed the skills acquired at the conference.
“I got to know my colleagues. In school, I was kind of scared to talk to them, but now I have the confidence,” Vasquez said, adding that he became close with students who were older.
But one stood out, from ninth grade, he added slowly, barely containing a smile. “There is a person, and she’s ... she’s really funny,” without elaborating further.
At the end of the hard work, students gathered for “Candygrams” — invitations to the dance with a piece of candy attached.
Messages, some including short poems, were read. The moderator picked up one Candygram labeled “Isabelle” and handed it to the freshman, who took the note and returned to her seat.
"Who's it from?" her teacher asked her in a quick text. Canadine only blushed and smiled.