Model United Nations (MUN) or as I prefer to call it, “role-playing for nerds”, is a surprisingly good way to improve your ability to engage in social issues. Before we jump into the reasons, allow me to explain what MUN is.
MUN is an extracurricular activity where students simulate United Nations meeting and attempt to write resolutions on their assigned issue. Resolutions are papers which suggest solutions and are voted on by committees; I find them to be similar to a detailed essay outline. MUN is generally an inter-school activity with hundreds if not thousands of students divided into committees ranging from 50-200 people. The meetings are called conferences. If you want to learn more, I would start by reading this article on bestdelegate.com.
1. Learning to Understand Different Points of View
With the help of the internet, it is so easy to get caught in an echo chamber where everyone agrees and supports what you say. In MUN, you are assigned a country to represent, and you must act in its interests, not you own. It can be uncomfortable at first: not being aligned with your personal morals, but this is a paramount skill in activism.
MUN helps you to examine the “other side’s” point of view not only as a devil’s advocate sort of exercise but as a legitimate point of view. When it comes to bridging differences, empathy is essential.
2. Building Up Your Ability to Discuss and Disagree
Social justice activism requires an incredible and occasionally overwhelming amount of discussion. Whether it is done through online forums, casual chats over dinner, or public debate, equality is affected by people trying to get others to understand their point of view. And in my opinion, there is no better way or place to practice this than a MUN conference.
The heart and soul of MUN is discussion. You basically spend 1-5 days having formal debates, side conversations, and trying to get people to sign your resolution. And a lot of that time is spent disagreeing. Yet you rarely see anyone get angry or shout in front of the committee. In MUN, you learn to disagree calmly and respectfully–something which I think the internet could use a lot more of.
3. Learn About the World Outside of America
So this one doesn’t apply to a lot of people, but I still think it is important. We Americans tend to be very focused on our own political scandals and pay very little attention to the plights of other countries. Even when we do look outside of our own little bubble, we still only examine the situation from our perspective. As I stated before, a key characteristic of MUN is assuming other world views. And for those of us who have forgotten about the crises outside of Donald Trump, the chance to understand politics and social issues from a more international standpoint is one which we should leap at.
4. Research Skills and Thinking on Your Feet
Another skill which MUN bolsters is your ability to do research. Before every convention, delegates are required to submit a position paper, which is about a page long and describe the problem, how affects your country specifically, and solutions which your country supports.
But conferences are rarely a read-and-resuscitate experience. Often, points will come up which you had not considered or researched as heavily. Or maybe the direction of debate will change entirely, and you’ll have to learn on the spot from your fellow students.
Model UN is one of those rare activities which provides ample time to do both.
I’m going to be honest: it isn’t easy to get up in front of 50 people you’ve never met and try to convince them of a certain viewpoint. But MUN provides a safe environment to do it. The people who run the conferences are well aware that certain students are shyer than others, and will ask if anyone who has not spoken yet wants to say something.
And even if you only speak for 2 minutes at the end of the day, it feels really, really good.
Personally, MUN has given me a confidence which I have never had before. My first time, I was terrified to say anything. My advisors kept urging me to go up there and speak, but I felt like I wouldn’t know what to say. But at the end of the day, I was fine. I made a tiny speech about cultural artifacts or something, and everything was okay. These days, I’m the first to volunteer to speak.
Right now, I and millions of other students are on summer break. So over the remaining month or so, please consider joining Model UN.
Who knows? Maybe I’ll see you at my next conference.