How I Found My Voice

Six years ago, I attended my first Model United Nations conference — YMUNT — without any training. I couldn’t find much information around Uganda’s stance in WHO and didn’t know what to say at the conference.

To make the matters worse, I couldn’t get myself to raise the placard because I thought I was not good enough. I was intimidated by all the kids who had the poise and confidence to talk all the time. I admired their eloquence and was nervous about my inexperience and accent. I thought to myself: What do I have to say? Even if I had something to say, who would want to hear it anyway? Even if someone would want to hear, how am I able to effectively share my viewpoint?

Overwhelmed by my own self-doubt, I didn’t speak until the last day of the conference. On the last day of the conference, I thought about the $200 conference fee and hated myself for being silent throughout. During the last session, the committee chairs began to signal quiet delegates to speak up. After avoiding a few glances, I finally, reluctantly, raised my placard. I was immediately called upstage and delivered a short speech I’ve rewritten many times. I spoke super fast because I just wanted to get off and move on. I was speaking so fast that the audience became a blur. After speaking for one minute, I quickly wrapped up and dashed back to my seat. If I were to measure ROI, my one-minute speech is valued at $200.

That was Charlene at 16. Super insecure, anxious, and carrying the worst beliefs in mind.

However, I was so in love with the concept of Model United Nations that I preemptively convinced my mom to pay for a week-long training program at Harvard. After the conference, I was too ashamed to talk about how I flopped and chose to swallow the fear. 

Before attending the training program, I attended a 6-week summer session at Philips Andover. During the six weeks, I took a seminar on current global events and another one on writing. Since the classes are taught in a 10-person seminar, participation is not only encouraged but required. To make the situation worse, one of my instructors introduced a scoring system to get everyone talking. She gave each of us a stack of color cards, and we are told to move one card whenever we speak up. This social pressure prompted me to speak up at least once every day. While this scoring system was terrifying, it did push me to get the words out of my mouth. Slowly but surely, I began to form my own viewpoint on tough issues such as gun control, climate change, immigration policy, etc. That’s when I started to hear my own voice.

After the summer session, I finally gained the confidence to speak in front of strangers. During the weeklong MUN training program, we would go through a topical training each morning and a mock trial each afternoon. During the mock trial, we would get a country assigned the day before, which means that my country research needs to be done in one evening. This short timeframe gave me a panic attack because I’d usually spend a week preparing for an issue and the country I am representing. How would I be able to prepare myself for an opening speech, negotiate well, and strike a consensus with fellow candidates?

Fortunately, I was not paralyzed by my self-doubt. After reviewing the lessons and researching at night, I was too tired to argue with myself. Being in such a small program also helped me build trust with fellow delegates — many of them are still my good friends to this day. This time, I stopped doubting myself and kept raising my placard high.

While my speech was not flawless, I noticed my huge improvement. I was able to deliver impromptu speeches, ask challenging questions, and debate on the spot. More importantly, I could easily share my unique viewpoint and tell myself a different story.

After this week of transformation, I wanted to share this transformative experience with more people, so I sought out the program’s founder to help me bring these professional skills back to Taiwan. In two months, I founded the JMUN — the first middle school training camp for local school students like me in Taiwan. Through training 400 students to think critically and speak in front of the audience, I got to help others and myself find our own voices.

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