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A Law student's experience of MITSO 2018 in Belarus

Louise Smith represented both LSBU and the United Kingdom

Studying at LSBU I have had a number of opportunities to develop my legal skills and understanding of different legal careers; being offered the opportunity to travel to Belarus to represent my University and the United Kingdom has been by far the most challenging and enriching yet.

From the get go I knew that one of the best parts of the experience was going to be the camaraderie between our fellow competitors. During the week I shared a room with the Finnish team, two enthusiastic, bubbly girls who loved to share their interests, hobbies and thankfully their shampoo. On our first night our teams joined up for a drink at the bar and from that moment on we were sharing breakfast, lunch and dinner with delegates from all over the world.

As we all had an interest in international humanitarian law it was refreshing to be in the company of people who enjoyed debate and suggesting solutions to some of the biggest legal issues we’re faced with on an international scale. Having such a broad range of experiences and perspectives forced me to think outside of the box and massively broadened my understanding of the topics in question.

Our second day was jam packed with lectures at MITSO University from some of the leading professors on International humanitarian law and beyond. On a typical day one might expect a day of back to back learning to grow boring but from start to finish my mind was racing with all of the new information, and after each lecture my team mate Austin and I would turn to each other and just say ‘wow’. I was so inspired by every facet of what we were being told, from Descartes professor Dr Strauss’s lecture on privatisation to Cranfield’s Turns on the use of chemical weapons. Note to anyone taking part in the future, take the biggest notebook you can find and at least two pens!

That night we were all invited to an ice-breaker party which was one of my favourite nights of the week for three reasons. Firstly, it gave us all the opportunity to present the best side of our nations, be it through video presentations, anecdotes, food or song. Some of the competitors actually got up and sang a song, all this time I thought I was brave standing up to moot!

Secondly, this was the night that I started talking to delegates about their career ambitions and it was clear that differing legal systems have a massive impact on the way we study and think about the law. This wasn’t something that I had given any thought to until that night, and I now have a strong desire to learn more about comparative law.

Thirdly, once all the teams had finished their presentations we were handed the bundle of information for the competition and though everyone was exhausted we all rushed back to our rooms to get stuck into the materials. I thought that I’d be overwhelmed with all of the information but the simulation was so complex, engaging and well thought out that Austin and I were like children on Christmas morning.

The Opening Ceremony

The next morning, despite pouring over the bundle until almost 4am, we were up bright and early to go over what we’d prepared and to head to the University for the official opening ceremony and press conference. I wasn’t expecting a single part of what we were confronted with! Not only was the main hall filled with the competitors, but with cameras from local television stations and officials from all over the world. One of my room mates was interviewed and made it to the national news! The opening ceremony was brilliant, with dancers and music, from the 2017 Belarussian Eurovision team no less. When the ceremony had finished we were plunged back into reality; it was time to receive the brief for the competition.

The competition

The competition itself involved moots based upon the information we had received. When the first round began we had 1 hour and 30 minutes to familiarise ourselves with both sides of the problem, before receiving the side that we would be representing 30 minutes prior to the moot. Having only ever been in situations where I had weeks to prepare, this was certainly what felt like being thrown in at the deep end. We both had to be alert to the specifics of the task at hand, speedily identifying the points that needed to be made and adding our own creativity to deliver a strong argument.

I was so nervous when we entered the room and saw the judges that I was physically shaking, but Austin assured me that we were in it together and that as a team we could rely on one another if the pressure got the best of us. My submissions were a blur, but I found that having prepared a strong argument I was able to keep my cool when the interventions from the judges came. When the time had run out I felt on top of the world. Not only had Austin and I performed well but we’d done it as a team, both assisting each other and communicating when the going got tough.

The second round was just as trying. We had received further developments to the simulation and were frantically familiarising ourselves with the relevant law. This time, however, before we had even stepped into the room to compete we had agreed that communication was our greatest strength and should one of us struggle the other would do their best to help. Following some tricky questions from the judges we had covered three out of four of our submissions within the first half of our time. We had to think quick to strengthen our position, and thankfully my knowledge of the materials enabled me to think on my feet.

Dealing with the judges’ intervention was nerve wracking but the confidence I had gained in the first round allowed me to be assertive and not bow under pressure. I left the room a little shaken, but after talking to the team we had just faced, Ukraine, I remembered that we were all in the same boat and that the experience was about more than winning. We didn’t allow our desire to win to taint the relationships we’d built with the other delegates and shortly after the moot was over we were all drinking coffee and laughing together again.

A rewarding experience

Though we didn’t get through to the next round I couldn’t be happier with how we performed in the competition. We congratulated the semi-finalists when the results were announced and began signing the other teams up to a Facebook page, so that we could stay in touch and hopefully visit each other’s home countries in the future. Throughout the rest of the week we were taken sightseeing and visited some fascinating museums, getting a feel for the town and taking photographs. When it came to the day of the final we were excited to see how the relations between the simulation states had escalated and the two teams presented such a detailed argument that we were able to follow without any physical materials. After the winners, MGIMO University from Russia had been announced some further awards were called out, and Austin took home a beautiful plaque for being the ‘Best Speaker’ of the competition.

Our final night with the other competitors was probably my favourite night of the week. We all sat outside in little cabins whilst the organisers cooked a BBQ banquet over open fires. Finally everyone could share ideas and talk about the competition itself; again I was amazed by the variety of thought processes and how differently everyone had approached the challenges. As the night progressed it felt like we had all been together for much longer, I already knew a lot of the delegates so well and I couldn’t help but feel sad knowing that it was all over. The week had been taxing for everyone: late nights, long days and a lot of adrenaline. I would do it all over again, knowing that I made great friends and gained the knowledge and confidence that I have today.