January 29 – February 1, 2015, two delegates continued AHMUNC tradition by attending the prestigious Ivy League Model United Nations Conference (ILMUNC) in the University of Pennsylvania. They traveled through below-freezing temperatures and busy intersections to the core of Philadelphia. Arriving and checking in at a formidable hotel, they navigated the meandering currents of well-dressed people to the opening ceremony, and then to their respective councils and organizations. Thus began four days of speeches, placards, blocs, resolutions/directives, votes, and dances.
Who were these two AHMUNC representatives, who were so bold as to penetrate the depths of perilous Philadelphia, and face the vast multitudes of high schoolers? Nathaniel Emery and myself.
Throughout those four days, as I went about resolving HIV stigma and fair elections in the UNDP, two major truths about ILMUNC impressed themselves upon me before the first session ended. Firstly, Model UN is about politics; and secondly, you either make the cut or you do not. There is no try.
Certainly, performing in Model UN takes both research and rhetoric. Your sphere of influence, your well-defined opinion, and your flexible plans all play a role. But politics trumps all. Identifying useful allies, managing profitable deals, agitating the crowd. If you don’t know how to set up connections, you aren’t going too far in MUN, as I quickly found. Once you have diplomacy down, eloquent speeches and well-planned resolutions are next on the delegate to do list. This order is of course somewhat blurred in the relatively small crisis committees, but in the general assemblies they are key.
My second lesson from ILMUNC. There are only two basic types of delegates at the end of conference: leaders and followers. And if you don’t create a stir in the first session, chances are you are not going to be a leader. That is, the first impression you bring into a committee makes all the difference, for both mental attitude and political influence. For one, simply sitting quiet in the first session will not gather you the willpower to raise your placard later. In addition, by the end of the first session, blocs will have already begun to form, and bloc leaders will dominate the remainder of the conference. Speaking at least once before the first unmod will generally ensure you at least some following.
However, this article is not meant to be a MUN 101, but an account of my ILMUNC experiences. The question naturally arises: are university conferences worth the trouble of preparing and speaking? My answer is that it depends on who you are going to be. University conferences certainly have their benefits, and their disadvantages. Nevertheless, without the right kind of delegate mind, one is likely to spend all of nine hours on the outskirts of bloc groups.
Model UN is definitely a challenge. In the general assemblies, there are at least thirty would-be best delegates, and about eighty units of cannon fodder. Out of the thirty aspirants, only ten will receive any form of recognition. Being one of the ten, ideally the one, ought to be the goal of all who wish to attempt university conferences. But how? This is where the two steps mentioned above come in.
A radical, yet well-thought-out plan is useful, but can only get you so far. You may never even open your research binders in conference. Oratory skills merely display your substance. The goal is to hit hard hit straight, and hit fast. You need to commit every ounce of yourself into the moment. Attempting ILMUNC without such devotion would be folly, and would likely end with a country foundering in the dust of other delegations.
For those who feel inadequate for the task, there is yet hope of attending a university conference. The above advice is aimed at the so-called ‘competitive’ delegates. Yet for the MUN devotee, conferences provide a wealth of benefits to those who attend. It provides you a truer picture of the United Nations, with councils both large and small. It strains all your MUN skills to the limit. It gives you an opportunity to laugh—or wince – at the high school lifestyle.
Above all, Model UN conferences are there for the experience. And in this experience I place the greatest benefit of Model UN. Conferences do not exist for writing practice, or for knowledge of current events, or for the resume bonus, or for school loyalty. Conferences exist for the recognition of world issues and of the United Nation’s significance is resolving those issues. I would recommend students to participate or audit university conferences, if for no other reason, than for this recognition.