In the United Nations General Assembly hall in New York City, 16 Western students rise to a roar of applause as the Secretary General of National Model United Nations, New York announces Western’s International Affairs Association as “Distinguished Delegation” at the nation’s premiere conference. Five days of committee, seven days of New York, the team stands exhausted, but proud in the face of national recognition.
What is MUN?
Model United Nations is a unique kind of activity, the kind of thing that you would typically associate with an unkempt person with too much time on their hands. As a four-year veteran of MUN, I’ve become used to that sort of label, passively amused by the people who feel the need to remind me, “Oh, you do Model UN? You do know that that’s not real.”
In all honesty, the funny thing is how far they are from the truth. While MUN is a rigorous academic exercise that puts one’s ability to research, lead, adapt and communicate to the ultimate test for two to five days straight, it’s also a consortium for everything between professional networking to some of the most insane social situations.
Picture this. If you are selected to join the team on its annual trip to the National Model UN Conference, you’re allowed [on the cost of less than half a month of minimum wage pay] an all-expense paid ticket to Manhattan for spring break. You are then lodged in a not-too-shabby hotel downtown, only a handful of blocks either way from Central Park or Times Square. You’ll stand amongst 3,000 other like-minded young professionals hailing from six continents. Some of them with resumes including stints in warzones or degrees from the most prestigious of diplomatic academies. These people, are going to be the world’s next diplomats, presidents, warlords and CEO’s.
You and these peers spend five days socializing, convincing, impressing, leading, befriending and of course – partying, for the prospect of bettering yourself and wining an award for the good of your club and school. A common phrase uttered by Model UN participants is, “There isn’t a continent where I can’t call someone I’ve met through MUN and find a couch to sleep on.”
On top of that, The Big Apple is only one of the many destinations the club visits. Others include north to University of British Columbia for UBCMUN, down to Seattle for NWMUN and Portland for NMUN NW.
NMUN: A day in the life of a Model United Nations Delegate
After four years, I knew going into this that NMUN stood as the greatest test of one’s ability. For weeks prior to flying to New York, I and my competition partner Ani Mesropian prepared for the conference by writing speeches, pouring over official documents, and identifying weaknesses and potential openings for our official strategy. We represented the nation of Kuwait. We were tasked to lead their interests into the General Assembly Second Committee on the topics of agriculture and development, international loans and disaster relief policy. Though untested as a pair, our combined strengths - mine of harsh leadership, hers of benevolent approachability - made us into what we thought was an unstoppable pair.
March 28 & 29: Sleepless in New York
Zero hour: the club flies to LaGuardia Airport in New York. After missing and entire night of sleep, we’re given free rein to walk about New York City before we pass out from exhaustion at 6 p.m.
March 30: Nerd Heaven
Day off, the entire city is our oyster. New York bagels, Rueben sandwiches, museums and everything in between is eaten or visited. At 7 p.m. we report to the Sheridan Hotel for opening ceremonies. Unbeknownst to us, a surprise guest speaker is there to greet us: Samantha Power, United States Ambassador to the United Nations. Detailing her career in and outside the United Nations she chides, laughs with and inspires us, saying, “I am in nerd heaven.” The ceremony ends with the pound of a gavel and an announcement that “NMUN 2014 has officially opened.”
March 31: Connecting Kuwait
After our meeting with the Permanent Mission of Kuwait concludes, we move onto the first round of sessions where we split into our respective committees. Ani and I are uneasy but alert. Amongst us in the room stand 400 other delegates. I go to one side of the room to make friends, Ani moves to the other. The night passes quickly as delegates scramble to meet as many of their peers as they can in their room. After this, the debate begins as each country’s team vies to convince others to set the agenda to their liking. We’re unable to speak, but our strategy is simple: continue to make friends, let the other pairs fight each other for the frivolity of which topic to discuss first. Eventually the topic is declared, but the session is over so we join back with our teammates at the Hilton Midtown.
April 1: Trouble in Paradise
We enter our committees again to find the real debate has begun. Topics are set, speakers roll out and blocs based upon geographic locations are being formed. Ani and I get off to a rough start on the African bloc, and traitors in Saudi Arabia steamroll our plans for a pristine Arab bloc. Ani attempts to mend the situation, while I try a new strategy to bring less-developed nations and developed nations together for a more powerful bloc. I’m further frustrated, when two opposing delegates from Brigham Young University refuse to speak with each other since their national and bloc priorities are “different.” Eventually Kuwait is given the floor, whereby the exhausted members of Western’s team make a plea for international cooperation in the face of geographic divides. Our words are unheeded, and the night ends in disappointment.
April 2: Started From the Bottom
The final day. Our committee is finally finishing up on its last details. With all hope gone for me personally, I assumed the worst. Ani however, had a different plan in mind. Armed with a single idea stemming from our research paper, she approaches other groups to garner support. While other papers dealt with tangible solutions to the problem of agricultural sustainability, Ani’s idea was unique in that it was a change in definition for the entire United Nations as an organization. After educating a group of delegates on the strength of our ideas, we quickly gain ground in the committee chamber, allying ourselves with a diverse pact of nations ranging from Pakistan to Denmark.
After dangling our idea to the rest of the committee, we soon become the hottest pair to walk the floor. Everybody wants the Kuwait paper to be integrated into theirs. Like an attractive woman walking through a men’s boarding school, we are approached by representatives from every major bloc. After gaining concessions from each, we ally ourselves with Iran, thus strengthening the Iranian paper to an unmatchable scale. At the end of the day we enter voting bloc. Seven papers are voted upon, each is passed. The one with the least “no’s” is the Iranian-Kuwait paper, which becomes a resolution with a 93 percent in affirmation vote.
April 3: Oh, Sweet Victory
After a hearty celebration the night before, the we arrive at the United Nations Headquarters to receive our award. The award is calculated based upon the performance of the entire team overall, including the performance given by both Ani and I in the General Assembly Committee. There, under the auspices that held presidents, warlords, diplomats and war criminals, we received an affirmation of our skill and prowess, “Distinguished Delegation.” It’s the most recent of a long line of national awards that helped define this Western club as an internationally ranked top-80-percentile team.
April 4: Roll Out
We return home in style, preparing for the next competitions in the years to come.
If you’d like to learn more about the Western International Affairs Association, our meetings are at 7 p.m. on Wednesdays in Miller Hall 154.