My first interviewee was S7EN student Maia Finkelstein. This was her second MEC summit, and her third year preparing for one (last year’s MEC was unfortunately cancelled). This year, she was the Head of State of Poland.
Why did you sign up again to MEC this year?
I signed up is because this is my last year of school and I really wanted to be able to do MEC one last time. Even though MEC 2019 was so fun, I wanted to make some more MEC memories before leaving!
I also thought that it was important for me as one of the only people who has experienced a real MEC in the school to be able to advise the future generations of MEC (…) because [MEC] is something very different to school and anything you may have done before. And… I didn’t want to leave school with only 1 MEC!
As somebody who had already experienced MEC in ‘normal’ times, at large in situ summits, were you concerned that MEC would not work as well in an online format?
I think like most people, when they heard that MEC was going to be online in 2021, we were all a bit sceptical of how it was going to be and whether it would match up to the real thing: Maybe there would be technical problems, or it wouldn’t even have the same feeling, maybe the debates weren’t going to be the same; how would you have 160 people doing urgent debates, the plenary sessions, the press questions…? Also, how would you socialise with people from other European Schools, which you would normally do in the evenings? How would it work if everyone was across the European Union?
There were all these questions flying around in everyone’s minds, but I think anyone who did MEC 2021 can agree that we were incredibly pleasantly surprised. It really surpassed – I think – anyone’s expectations. This was thanks to all the organisers and advisors, especially in Alicante, where we can thank Frau Fischer and Herr Thalhammer and the school itself for making that experience so close to the real thing – we had computers, tables where we could meet up in our delegations, it was just beyond any expectations anyone had.
How did the online format differ from what you had already experienced?
There were things that were different, of course: the trip part wasn’t there. But I have to say – yes of course, a trip is always really fun – but it really didn’t need it! I think it was an incredible experience, even if there wasn’t a trip.
There were also other changes: everything was done over Teams so, instead of voting with your plaques, you would either raise your hand or just turn on your microphone. We also started having to send amendments through the Team chat. Of course, it’s different debating when everyone is sitting together than when everyone is debating from their own computers!
What was cool was that everyone had virtual backgrounds from their countries, with different flags.
Did it affect cohesion in the council?
No, it in no way affected the cohesion of the council. The first day, people were still getting used to it, so it was not as fluid or as heated, but as people got into it, the debates got more interesting and super heated!
Poland did incredibly well… My ministers in Council 4 and 5 were featured in the newspaper about how they were standing out in the debates, so they did really well!
What were your responsibilities as Polish Prime Minister?
At first – like every other MEC participant – I had to prepare my proposals, look at my position to each point in the proposals, come up with amendments, have talking points and debating points as well as preparing answers to the scary press questions (they’re terrifying!)
My other roles were to write the opening speech which each Head of State gives on the first day, as well as advising my ministers, and co-ordinating the delegation so Poland had a cohesive position.
The Polish delegation
You are in 7th year, so this was your last year of participation in MEC. Will you remember MEC fondly when you leave? Has it allowed you to learn and do things you otherwise would not have, in ordinary school?
After doing 3 years of preparing for MEC and 2 summits, I will forever remember MEC incredibly fondly, and it will have many memories that will stay with me for essentially the rest of my life. And not only that – the things that I learned will really stick with me, especially as someone who, before doing MEC, really struggled with communicating and people skills – that was not my forte! Now, however, I am not intimidated to speak in front of large crowds or give my opinions. My communication skills and people skills have improved a lot; MEC has allowed me to convince other people of opinions, to stand up to my point and not be scared to give a presentation or a speech in front of a large crowd.
MEC has taught me how to research things on the Internet and find certain information that I need while researching for proposals. I think that’s an important skill: how to filter through information and find exactly what you need. MEC has also allowed me to meet lots of people, some incredible, like-minded people – and socialise with people who I would not have socialised with otherwise.
Also, as someone who applied to medicine this year, I had to do interviews. I think without MEC I would not have been able to perform as well as I did and would not have had the opportunity to gain a place in medicine. I think this is a testimony to what MEC teaches you – I have MEC and its advisors to thank for teaching me how to perform in interviews.
Finally, what was your favourite moment in this year’s MEC? And the funniest moment?
Firstly, I’d say, being featured on the front page of the MEC newspaper for my very, very questionable views as Poland. It was really incredible! It’s something different when you see that what you said appears on the front page of a newspaper.
Also, it was incredible to have Ursula von der Leyen [European Commission President] speaking for us on the last day… In general, the whole MEC was incredible!
On Thursday, we had ‘Urgent Debates’. (you get topics the day before, then frantically prepare them for the following day to expose in the plenary session) In the Salón de Actos, our team started to re-organise the tables and chairs and move around the flags, then tried to stick them up with black duct tape. People were on chairs trying to hang up the flags with the black duct tape and they (the flags, I hope) kept falling down – it was really hilarious!
My thanks to Maia for giving up her time to provide such a brilliant interview. We all wish her every success next year studying Medicine at the University of Plymouth, and beyond!