Most professional and academic experience worthy of mentioning on your CV often implies lots of tedious hard work that can be quite unrewarding. If you are currently a student, you probably know all about it. However, there is one activity that can teach you precious assets for your post-graduate life while bringing you countless unforgettable memories: Model United Nations.
In case you’re not familiar with what Model UN is, here’s the rundown: for as little as one day and as many as seven or even nine days, you as an individual will represent the delegation of a country debating a specific topic in a political body, most often a United Nations committee such as the Security Council or the World Health Organisation. During those few days, you will need to defend your country’s position to obtain a resolution that will be as favourable to you as possible.
This may sound awfully geeky and politics-oriented, but that’s not the whole picture. Despite having always been interested in politics myself, I have met MUN participants studying law, economics, psychology, engineering, and even biology! Here’s why: the skills you acquire while taking part in these conferences and the training leading up to them are countless.
When I joined my university’s Model UN team in 2011, I had heard of the concept but I didn’t really know what it implied. I was a shy first-year student who was overwhelmed with stress at the prospect of public speaking. I wasn’t particularly good at improvisation and argumentation, and I had no idea how the United Nations worked.
The weekly meetings and the conferences our team took part in taught me how to feel confident when speaking in front of an audience. Improvisation exercises and simulations we organised with other MUN teams taught me how to negotiate like a professional. The team trainers regularly took us out of our comfort zone and told us to defend positions we didn’t agree with – a difficult task, but one that teaches you to think outside the box. Going to conferences also involves succinct preparation and writing position papers (namely, a document which presents your country’s position in relation to a certain topic), which of course develops your writing skills and your ability to convey your opinion through a written document.
During MUN conferences themselves, you will become an expert at many other things – and no, I’m not talking about your ability to discuss women’s rights in the Kashmir region after having been out clubbing with your fellow delegates until 6am. Throughout the committee sessions, you learn to listen to other points of view, negotiate what is best for your country, and work out what the best compromise could be. For several days the topic is discussed, a deal is sought, and the end goal is to write a resolution that will obtain a majority when submitted to voting. And voilà, you and your fellow delegates have saved the world.
For those who worry this festival of negotiations may be too politics-oriented, worry not: there has recently been a sharp increase in less conventional Model UN conferences, which deal with subjects ranging from organised crime in 1920s Chicago to Magellan’s first voyage. And let’s not forget about the Star Wars-themed committees, which draw more and more fans every year.
Because Model UN is such a global concept, you are very likely to meet students from dozens of different countries. Although you will be able to boast a multicultural array of friends, this has the notable downside of flooding your Facebook news feed with statuses in languages you don’t understand. And here’s a tip: don’t use a translation tool to try and understand them – you may end up “liking” an unsuccessful job interview, or worse still, the passing of your friend’s pet goldfish. All jokes aside, having friends or contacts spread across the world is an invaluable tool in this globalised environment we live in.
But the best part about being in an MUN team is without the shadow of a doubt the places you travel to and the fun you have when taking part in international conferences. Over the past three years I have been stuck in a snowstorm in Berlin, crossed the English Channel on a ferry full of drunken 60-year-olds, helped a very old non-English-speaking Indian woman navigate her way across Munich Airport using only hand movements, stood atop the sixth-century Kalemegdan Fortress in Belgrade watching the sun set over the Danube and Sava Rivers, shared the horror of my friends when they were presented with a dish in Romania consisting of fried shreds of pork skin, and pleaded with staff at Hull Harbour to delay a ship’s departure so that two team members who had forgotten their passports could get on the boat for the trip back to Belgium. I was introduced to the exhilarating Serbian tradition of dancing on tables, had the great opportunity to discuss the Syrian crisis in the Palatul Parlamentului of Bucharest (the largest civilian building with an administrative function in the world and a relic of the Communist era), and topped off our most recent conference in Cambridge with a two-day trip to the exciting-as-ever city of London.
Joining my university’s Model UN team has made my student years incredibly rewarding. On top of having acquired the aforementioned skills, meeting with the same group of people on a weekly basis and traveling with those same people has been the trigger of friendships that, I hope, will last a lifetime. The best thing I can recommend you to do is to look for your university’s MUN organisation and apply to join. It will teach you many things, bring you countless memories, and make your university experience even more unforgettable.