Debating world problems in a Central American country is not on the list of typical spring break plans, but the University of New Mexico’s World Affairs Delegation club will be doing just that.

Members from WAD will travel to Panama City, Panama on Saturday to compete in Harvard University’s World Model United Nations conference. The conference is an annual event held by Harvard in partnership with a university in the host country, and this year it will take place from March 12 to 16.

“This conference is really exciting, because it’s in Central America, which is a place our club hasn’t gone in a while, so this will be a new experience for our members,” said Devrim Tiryaki, president of UNM WAD and a senior studying economics and political science. Tiryaki is one of the 16 members who will travel to Panama.

The WMUN conference describes itself as “the Olympics of Model United Nations.” It is the largest model UN conference outside of the United States and Canada, hosting more than 2,000 college students from about 110 countries. Students act as delegates and participate in 20 simulated committees based on real U.N. committees.

“It’s really a good way for our people to see what it’s like, the next level, post-graduation. This is what diplomacy really feels like,” Tiryaki said.

Tiryaki, whose father is from Turkey and worked for the Turkish government, said he has been interested in diplomacy from a young age.

UNM WAD is “a way to really challenge yourself on critical thinking and problem-(solving) at the highest level,” Tiryaki said.

Sara Gutierrez, vice president of UNM WAD and a senior studying political science and philosophy, has attended two previous WMUN conferences. She said interacting with students from all over the world is one thing that makes the conferences special.

“The amount of people there that are really strong public speakers that will be the leaders of their respective countries one day, it’s amazing, and the level of performance that they’re at is overwhelming,” she said.

Gutierrez said not just anyone gets to join the team of delegates traveling to Panama City.

The club requires members who are interested in traveling to submit an application and their level of interest well before the planning process for the trip begins, she said. This ensures that only students who are serious about the conference will go.

“We want to make sure we’re taking the very best people and the people who are going to perform to the very best of their ability no matter what level they are,” Gutierrez said.

In addition to submitting the application, students prepare and research the position of the country they will represent at WMUN. This year, UNM WAD will represent Thailand.

“You have to spend hours, weeks in preparation just so you know what would really happen if you were that person as a representative of Thailand and what you would do,” Gutierrez said.

Students who were chosen to go needed to help fundraise for the expenses of the trip.

Registration fees for the conference were about $2,500, lodging was about $500 and individual plane tickets were about $700. The club obtains some funds through the Associated Students of UNM club appropriations, but other fundraisers are necessary to afford the trip, Tiryaki said.

“Fundraising is a huge part of our organization,” Tiryaki said. “We do appropriations through ASUNM, we have bake sales every week in the (Student Union Building) and we have all of our members apply to various scholarships.”

Once UNM WAD arrives in Panama City, they will have some time to prepare and sight-see before the conference begins. Each night the conference also hosts social events so that delegates can get to know one another.

Delegates who perform well are given awards. Gutierrez said that although UNM WAD does not go to the conference just for the awards, the older club members are hopeful.

“I think a bunch of our seniors this year are really striving for those awards,” Gutierrez said. “There’s been a lot of preparation this year. Hopefully we’ll get something that shows how hard we’ve worked.”

Tom Hanlon is a news reporter at the Daily Lobo. He can be contacted at or on Twitter @TomHanlonNM.