When I started university, I decided to explore all kinds of career-oriented clubs because learning something new is always exciting for me. I wanted something fun but also productive. Something I could use to sharpen my skills and pave the way to success.
The one I attend most regularly is the Jahangirnagar University Model United Nations Association or JUMUNA. Model United Nations conferences are sessions where participants take on the roles of representatives from different countries to simulate a UN meeting. Each attendee tries to represent the views of their countries and works towards achieving their foreign policy goals. In this way, young people get a taste of how the massive international agency works and a bit of insight into the difficult task of diplomacy.
The club emphasises three primary skills: communication, leadership, and research. To succeed at a MUN conference, you must understand your position as a representative of your chosen country, communicate what you want, express it to other delegates convincingly, and make alliances to pass the broad legislation the UN represents.
These ideas appealed to me, and I’ve since become an active member of JUMUNA. JUMUNA organises MUN conferences and sends teams to other universities across the country to participate in them. It also arranges writing competitions, quiz competitions, and workshops related to MUN inquiries and celebrates national and international days. I’ve had a great time as a general member, and I have to say how sweet and strong the relationships are between the junior and senior members of the club.
But, while I had attended smaller events, I had yet to be part of the big conferences. Then, on Jan 13 and Jan 14, came my chance. The JUMUNA Diplomatic Coven 2023 would be my first chance to test my training. I hoped to get a country that wouldn’t be at the centre of the proceedings. I wanted to take my time to study the other delegates and ease into the debate. At the very least, I hoped to avoid the three countries that would undoubtedly be drawn into heated showdowns – China, Russia, and the US.
That wasn’t to be. Two days before the conference kicked off, I was working with my seniors at the club when I was told, to my shock and horror, that I would be the delegate of the United States of America. And we were told that we should behave like the heads of our respective governments. This, of course, meant that I would be playing President Joe Biden!
I didn’t have much time to research, but I had a few advantages. Firstly, I was on the World Health Organization committee, and the topic was ‘Establishing epidemic and pandemic preparedness protocol’. As a Public Health and Informatics student, this gave me some helpful prior knowledge. I hoped to do a good job at my first MUN attempt, but the pressure of representing the US was daunting.
On the opening day, I arrived at the venue just in time. Ironically, one thing I learned that day was draping a saree by myself in two minutes (a personal record). I was nervous the entire way.
After our opening ceremony, three executive board members led us to the committee conference room, where they took a short workshop on the rules of procedure, or ROP, we should follow during the conference. There are many formalities to keep in mind. As a rookie, I regularly forgot to raise my placard for the roll call or to raise a point. Instead, I kept raising my hand, even resulting in a few of my votes being discounted.
But the executive board of our committee was quite patient with us. After all, of the 13 delegates, 10 were first-timers, while the remaining three had only been to one other conference. It proved an excellent opportunity for all of us to study the formalities and skills needed to be a proper diplomat.
There were three sessions – the General Speakers List, where the stances of the countries on the agenda are stated, and motions are raised; the Moderated Caucus (MOD), which features a debate on the sub-topics in the schedule; and finally, the Unmoderated Caucus (Un-MOD), where delegates have a chance to talk among themselves. This third session is where the politicking begins as we compete to make blocs, push for our own issues, negotiate, and come to a solution in the given time. It was pretty thrilling.
Quite a few funny things came up during our sessions. The delegate of the UK had intended to dominate the whole committee since the first online meet-up. Since he’s a good friend in real life, I could understand his drive - a determination to be the best at whatever he does. But, without understanding the basics of the MUN, surface knowledge isn’t enough to be the best. From the first MOD, he kept criticising every delegate, raising questions about their country’s stances. During Un-MOD, he chose to make his team heavier by picking the wrong bloc, often forgetting that he needed support from his ally countries first. Call it instinctual or behavioural; I can’t tolerate attempts at dominance. But, as it was my first time attending a conference, I didn’t have too much time to research the issues of other countries. If I had done so, I’m sure I could have crushed the UK delegate with several points of information.
By the time the day ended at 6 pm, though, I had begun feeling nauseous. I decided to take a walk before heading home. I met up with friends and had a few cups of tea, a small snack, and a flavoured drink to try and perk up my mood. At 8 pm, I took the university bus home.
The next day, I was fully prepared with research and paperwork. But here’s where bad luck comes into play. As I was draping my saree, I felt intense pain in my abdomen. Unfortunately, I couldn’t attend the rest of the conference.
Despite this, I had some strong takeaways from my first authentic MUN experience. I had to learn to communicate with everyone present on the committee, come up with new ideas and express them so we could work together toward a resolution. As the sub-topics for the moderated caucus were chosen on the spot, I had to deliver impromptu speeches based on my existing knowledge and what I had picked up during the debate up to that point. When the other delegates and the executive board asked questions about my stance, I had to answer them correctly and defend the US’s positions. Though I had little time to research America’s stances, I had to read up and then use that knowledge and understanding to negotiate while not breaking any of the country’s established policies.
Overall, the experience of my first MUN was phenomenal and has only reinforced my enthusiasm for the club. I’d encourage anyone who thinks they might enjoy the experience to try it out. Not only will you get a unique experience that is fun and builds relationships with other participants, but it will also help you develop real-life skills that will smooth your way forward.
Few decisions in life have truly made me happy, and joining this club was one of them. It feels fantastic when I get the chance to express that passion and work for the club.
This article is part of Stripe, bdnews24.com's special publication focusing on culture and society from a youth perspective.