Most of the contributors of this blog, including the two co-founders, have participated and continue to participate in Model United Nations, also known as MUNs or Model UN, which are “an extra-curricular activity in which students typically role-play delegates to the United Nations and simulate UN committees.”
The delegates who participate in MUNs represent and defend a specific country’s interests on a certain topic that is debated within one of the UN Committees, such as the General Assembly, ECOSOC, UNDP, World Bank and so on. After days of debating, the delegates are supposed to form alliances and write and pass a UN Resolution, with all it’s formal writing and clauses.
But here’s the catch: it’s not real !
Well, it is- to a certain extent. Theoretically, delegates are supposed to stick to their country’s “real” foreign policy and the information that they use is indeed real, but the resolution that passes serves no purpose. These resolutions that delegates work so hard on do not, as some may think, get sent to the United Nations in the way of youthful advice or something of the sort.
And at this point you, the reader, may start asking yourself: why would someone want to spend days debating politics in a make-believe scenario with role-play?
That is a very legit question and let us tell you: there are many reasons why we, and thousands of students around the world enjoy MUN.
However, like all things, MUN has its pros and its cons, which is why we decided to write this article in the first place.
But before we get to the pros and cons, we’ll briefly explain a little bit more about how MUNs work.
First of all, anyone can attend MUNs.
Groups, pairs or individual students can apply to these conferences, they choose a country and a UN Committee and, once their country is assigned to them, they represent that country. High school students, undergraduate and graduates can all attend MUNs. Usually high schools and universities have an MUN society or club, where students can sign up and prepare for MUNs and then the university or school sends their “group delegation” to conferences overseas.
While MUN societies in Europe and Asia are usually established in universities, students from South America and the US often get involved in this activity when they are in high school. MUN is very popular on that side of the world. Having said that, not all high schools and universities have such clubs, which is why students from these schools are also allowed to sign up to MUNs as “individual delegations”. Although it is uncommon, it is also possible for people who are no longer students to attend MUNs- and we have witnessed that.
Over the years there has been an “MUN boom” in the sense that it has become an extremely popular extracurricular activity.
MUNs are held worldwide, in countries and cities of all continents. Some MUNs are more “selective” than others, in the sense that not only do they require delegates to fill out an application form, but they also ask for CVs and motivation letters. To others, a person can just apply, pay and attend the conference.
As we mentioned earlier, once the conference begins, the delegates have to debate one, two or three topics within the UN committee that they have been assigned to. During the debate, they have to find solutions to pressing issues of all types (oil distribution and economic aid in South Sudan, trade barriers in agriculture for food aid, the Palestinian bid for statehood) while trying to stay faithful to their country’s foreign policy. For delegates who are representing a country that is enduring hardships, it means that they have to try to find a solution to their situation, but for delegates representing more complex or powerful countries, it means that they have to try to find the best “deal” for their country while trying to pretend like they care about the wellbeing of the international community (or justify, diplomatically, why they do not).
Moving on to the pros and cons of MUNs, this is why we believe that MUNs are awesome:
– the Common Interest: The people that you meet are MUNs come from different countries, speak different languages, and study different things. Do not think that the only people that attend these conferences only study subjects like Law, Political Sciences, International Relations or Political Sciences, because you would be wrong. At MUNs you can meet people that study all of those things, and then there’s them, those fascinating people who are in completely unrelated fields of study, such as Medicine, Biology, Chemical Engineering, Communication, Business and so on. Think about it, it’s admirable enough that students spend their free time debating politics, but those people, like the med students, have a lot less reasons to get involved in MUN and yet there they are, ready and passionate like everyone else. Just the fact that some conferences hold up to 1500 students from all over the world and studying all kinds of things but united by a common interest in international affairs… that still awes me.
– Contacts. Need we say more?
– finding out how the UN really works: Most people studying international affairs dream of working for the UN; they see it as the benevolent supervisor of the international community and often discard its flaws. But once you’re at MUN and you realize that in order to pass your resolution you need to find allies at all costs (otherwise you won’t have enough votes), you realize that it’s not as efficient as you thought it was. This is because sometimes, in order to actually get enough sponsors, you need to adjust your resolution in order to please your allies, to the point where you have a 5 page resolution with about 38 amendments with a whole lot of writing but that, in reality, says a whole lot of nothing. MUNs give a practical, first-hand experience of what its like to be ambassadors at the UN and pass resolutions, and sometimes the extent to which it is politicized comes as a shock to people. At my first MUN I approached one of my fellow delegates and said “You’re not finding any common ground. How do you expect to help the people dying of malaria if you won’t meet us halfway?” and the guy looked at me and said “I’m not here to help those people, I’m here to defend the interests of my country”. Back in the day I was a first year undergrad, I was naive and idealistic, and his comment hit me like a bucket of cold water. The reason why I decided to put this in the “pros” of MUNs is because it allows us delegates to see the flaws of the system and try to adjust our perspective accordingly.
– the Friendships: It is not an easy task to wake up at 7 (after a very eventful social event involving a lot of party-crazy Asians event and a memorable hangover), get dressed in Western business attire and go and discuss the technicalities of, for example, how military equipment could be used to deliver food aid, for an intense 8 hours. Between the debates, the lunch breaks, the nerdy jokes and the social events that are organized to make the delegates mingle, MUN days are extremely intense and you spend a lot of time with the same people. This means that, if it usually takes you a month to live certain experiences or things in order to call someone a “friend”, in MUN that process gets put on fast forward. It’s almost as if MUN experiences were magnified. Once you’ve seen someone being diplomatic, indirectly declaring war, losing all decorum after their third cocktail, hungover and cranky, desperately trying to convince you to act as a wingwoman/wingman, assiduously asking you to support their resolution in exchange for “economic aid”… then all of a sudden you’ve skipped all the usual steps and gone from “delegates at an MUN” to “friends”. You may not see these friends very often, because chances are you do not live in the same countries, but it doesn’t mean that you won’t bump into each other at other MUNs, keep in touch or organize trips to meet up. Fotios and I met at LIMUN more than a year ago and we haven’t seen each other since, but aside from both of us working at The Global Oyster, we more or less talk once a week and have become really good friends.
– the things you Learn: Even those of us studying international relations as a bachelors do not usually explore specific topics such as the inclusion of non-state actors in the UN General Assembly. MUNs give students the chance to explore issues that they would not usually look into on a day-to-day basis. This does not mean that all of the topics you get assigned will be worth doing a backflip for, but the majority of them are very interesting. To the average person this might not seem like a big pro, but those of us who go to MUNs are pretty nerdy so learning about these topics is actually stimulating for us. But aside from the specific topics that get debated within each committee, MUNs give a good general view of how the international community works within the UN, the different committees and the alliances within them. It’s one thing to study the nature of international politics from a book, but it definitely sticks more if you live it.
There are many more perks to being part of an MUN society (the traveling, the parties…), but we believe that those are among the most important ones. On the other hand, there are also a lot of cons to MUNs.
– MUN is an “expensive sport”. If someone wants to participate in a Model United Nations abroad, it is very likely that they will have to spend approximately 400 euros. Transport, participation fees, accommodation and the social pack are the most important expenses for a delegate. Of course nothing’s free, but let’s be honest; people that don’t have the economic capacity can not travel abroad and live the whole experience. In many universities MUN is mandatory, so delegates have to do it, and it gets worse when they don’t receive any ﬁnancial support. But this is, usually, the exception. In the average scenario the participation of MUNs are covered by the university itself. But, in other universities students have to pay every cent for the participation. And this is a very negative point.
– Student from the so-called “important universities” start showing off once the conference begins. Arrogant, sarcastic and unwilling to cooperate, they always want to be under the spotlight. Most of the other delegates don’t like them, as they are the ones that are always fighting for the award, trying every possible method. These people are actually the biggest problem a delegate has to confront in these conferences. These delegates are always trying to offend you and make you feel bad about the choices you have made in your life so far. They work as a factor towards pessimism.
– Justifying the attitude of the “arrogant delegates” is the awards. The awards are actually the worst thing in a Model UN. They are the big price, the “beautiful Hellen” or “Iris’ apple”. Awards are the mostunfair way to congratulate someone for their performance. This is what all the delegates desire and the reason for which the delegates are becoming so competitive. A little bit of competition is healthy, but some of them are going to absurd extremes. The whole experience of MUNs could be destroyed just because everyone is aiming for the award. Ok, we are young and we love to be recognized, but a lot of people can become embarrassingly competitive to the point where they are just rude and this is really obvious during the conference. The reason? The awards.
– The Board or Secretariat. Their role is essential, but if they out themselves in a “pantheon” and they become arrogant, then they become a problem. They are always extremely qualiﬁed and they know it, so sometimes they seem to be unnecessarily sarcastic and very judgmental about ever upturning. But thankfully this does not happen very often.
– Post MUN depression. It happens to all of us. When those few days of buzzing excitement are over and we go back to reality, we have MUN blues. We’re not quite sure what it is that makes us like MUNs so much, but it’s probably being surrounded by such driven and ambitious people who are open-minded and passionate about our shared interests. It’s being part of something great that, even though its “make believe”, gives you the feeling that you’re doing something worthwhile, that you can do something to make things better as well as being good at it. So when all of that is over, the rush, the provocative debate, the challenge… We all have the blues for at least a week.
Everything in life has its pros and its cons, but MUN definitely has a lot more positive aspects than negative ones. So if you’ve never done one, give it a try! Remember that at MUNs you can be whoever you want to be; you can be an autocratic country or a softer one, a shy person or an outspoken one.. Chances are everyone in your committee will be strangers at first, so use this opportunity to reinvent yourself, to grow and to surprise yourself too. And if you are in the MUN circuit, we look forward to meeting you at some point. In the meantime why don’t YOU tell us your favorite and least favorite things about Model United Nations?
Co-written by Chiara Romano Bosch and Fotios Stravoravdis.