Model UN is not what I thought it was. Having only gone to one middle school conference and not being able to participate in high school because we didn't have a club, I thought Model UN was all about General Assembly sessions and resolution writing. And yes, part of it is that, but it's so much more. You can imagine my surprise when I was successfully able to "marry" the Princess of Ethiopia in a historical crisis committee at Georgetown's National Collegiate Security Conference (NCSC). All I needed was one semester in the club for it to defy my expectations, and here's what it taught me.
1. The international system is a mess.
The idea that the international system is an anarchical mess should come as no surprise to anyone who has sat through an Intro to International Relations course, but it's something else entirely to see it first-hand. Yes, the idea of the United Nations is for countries to come together and work issues out (as idealistic as that is), but with so many different countries represented with so many different goals and motives, it's no wonder the international system is slow at responding to times of crisis.
2. How the United Nations works.
The UN Peacekeepers are under control of the UN Security Council. The UN General Assembly is broken into several different committees set to handle different topics. The UN has such a thing called the Special Committee of Decolonization. Now, these tidbits of information are basic knowledge to me, but I definitely did not know these things four months ago when I had never participated in a competitive Model UN club or conference.
3. It's more than General Assembly.
When most people picture Model UN, they see hundreds of students in a room representing different countries and debating over a topic of international importance. There are, however, different types of committees. Crisis Committees are essentially fantasy and, to me at least, incredibly fun. The two Crisis Committees I've been in were the organizing committee for the 1977 Rock Against Racism concert and the 1921 Cairo Conference. In Crisis, you are an individual part of a specific organization. You write directives (similar to resolutions), but you also interact with the outside world and can make the most ridiculous things happen. My 1921 Cairo Conference ended with King Tut being resurrected and burning down Egypt, but not before we were able to use the lore of The Mummy to end him. Realistic stuff.
4. Soft skills – the importance of persuasion, negotiation and cooperation.
At the end of the day, collegiate Model UN is all about competition and power. Not only must you be substantive, but you must have the charisma to lead the room, shape debate and get groups of people to agree that your way of doing things is right. You better be loud, outgoing, in control, but also cooperative and engage in small talk. This does sound like an introvert's nightmare, but at the end of the day, the soft skills you need in Model UN conferences are the same soft skills that will get you that meeting, job or promotion later in life.
5. The balance of power between individuals.
As mentioned above, Model UN is about power. Who has power and control over the room of dozens if not hundreds of students? Being a first-year, I'm far from mastering this skill. But power comes in many ways. Who's the one asking to meet with people? Who's delegating roles? If you leave the bloc to spy on the other, will you lose your control over your bloc? These are all tiny things to constantly observe in interactions with other delegates. Because you want to come out on top, you become hyper-aware of the power moves and plays going on.
6. You have to know it all (or at least act like you do).
Resolving the world's issues requires precision and detail, and if you don't have that in your resolutions or strategy, you won't have control of your bloc. If you want to ban weapons, what kind of weapons? If you want to send military forces somewhere, what specific places, how many people and what are their specific duties? If you don't have substance, you should at least act like you do. On my Model UN team, the first-years were told of a recent grad who rarely wrote any resolution, yet always went up on the highly coveted Q&A and won top-tier awards simply because he was ridiculously proficient in the art of persuasion. One way to win is to know everything, but you can always fake it 'til you make it.
As a Political Science major with a concentration in International Relations, joining Model UN was a no-brainer. Model UN – as cut-throat and competitive as it is – is not that different than the international relations system. You won't just be making friends and having fun in this club, you can grow into a more confident and empowered leader.
Lead Image Credit: UNSW United Nations Society