A Blog by International Students at Leiden University
Since just before Christmas, a new delegation of Leiden students representing Leiden’s Model United Nations (MUN) committee met on a weekly basis in preparation for one of the biggest MUN events of the year – the Harvard conference in Boston, Massachusetts. Your humble TheLeidener reporter here, had the honour of being a part of that committee and so I’m going to try to give you an inside view of the energy of taking part in an MUN conference and of the excitement of what it was like to be on track for America. Keep checking the blog for an account of our trip to the States!
Firstly, what is Model United Nations? Well in all fairness, it does exactly what it says on the tin. MUN is a model set-up of a real United Nations sitting; representatives from as many countries as possible come together to discuss and moot a serious global issue. Then, as in a real meeting of the General Assembly, the countries form alliances based on shared interests to try to put a resolution together; this resolution will aim to resolve the issue the countries came together to discuss in the first place. The aim of course is to come up with innovative solutions to some of the world’s most pressing problems whilst simultaneously developing your public speaking and ability to work effectively with other people with varying agendas.
This is easier said than done and you have to quickly go from sitting and listening to everything that’s being said around you to be the one actually saying those things and responding to other people’s ideas and questions they may have for you on the spot. The committee in Leiden has a reputation for providing an excellent, if not gruelling, preparation track for its delegates and so although you may originally go into the programme with no previous experience of this kind of exercise, by the time it comes to ‘performing’ in front of other national or, indeed, international groups, not only do you feel ready for it but you’re actually looking forward to it…
Our prep track for Harvard included alumni sharing their skills and experience, practice debates, guest speakers (including an excellent workshop with the South African ambassador to the Netherlands) and a ‘dry run’ in the form of DIMUN (Dutch Invitational Model United Nations) in Nijmegen. This gave us the opportunity to put our newly learned skills to the test for the first time in front of total strangers, as well as do some networking with the other Dutch delegations who would be going off to Harvard with us. My partner and I were representing Mexico in a debate around health in prisons and listened intently to the ideas other people from MUN groups brought to the table, trying to work out if these were viable for our country and if they fit in appropriately with Mexico’s current policies. In addition to this, we also tried to speak as much as possible, letting others in the room know our priorities and ideas that we would want to see in any draft resolutions put forwards later on in the day.
DIMUN provided us with a great platform to practice what we’d been doing during the prep track but it also made it quite clear that when there are other MUNers involved, all trying to make their mark and ensure that their presence doesn’t go unnoticed, you have to be on the ball at all times… The second we’d spoken for the first time, flurries of notes were being passed commenting on what we’d just said and suggesting that we work together later on. To add to this, some delegates were already running outside to form blocs and alliances, lobbying with countries they felt were on the same wavelength as them. Although there were only two of us, we therefore realised that we had to do the work of four people: one listening to what’s going on, one making speeches, one reading and writing notes and the other lobbying outside. Stressful? Yes, but it was after this experience that I realised why I was doing what I was doing: it was fun.
We came back from DIMUN reenergised and ready for Harvard; we suddenly had experience, new contacts and a real sense of how a model United Nations committee goes. A few more prep sessions (and socials afterwards in the Keisertje) and we were pumped for the US. Harvard MUN was going to be on a much bigger scale than Nijmegen but we’d had a taster and we knew what we were in for. Or at least we thought… See the next MUN post to find out how we got on State-side!