I was the delegate of Sweden, in the Economic and Financial Council of the General Assembly, discussing the aftermath of the global economic crises, in 2009. The Chair of the committee asked me if I wished to make a speech.
“No”, I said.
“Are you sure?”
Such was my first Model UN experience.
Today, one decade and twenty conferences later, I serve as a faculty adviser at Model UN conferences, chaperoning and guiding various sets of students through the conference.
How did I get here?
Model UN – The Friend
In the last ten years, Model UN has played many roles in my life. It has transitioned from being a hobby, to a competitive activity, to a profession, to a passion.
I spent most of my school years in Bombay. However, in the middle of my 9th grade, fate had me plucked from my whole world, and placed delicately into the pollen-fields of Bangalore. Not only did I gain an allergy, but I also lost everything I knew to be home. It was tough being the ‘new kid’ in a school when every student there had been around since their early years. Groups were formed, interests defined, and I was still getting used to the idea of eating lunch at school.
And then it hit! The school was going to be organizing a Model UN conference. I had no idea what it meant, but the teachers said that it was compulsory, and that we needed to participate in pairs.
“Perfect”, I must have thought, but my optimism was short-lived.
To cut a long story short, my fellow delegate backed out of the event at the last moment, and I was left without country – without friend. The school acted quickly to dissolve my country (Vietnam, by the way), and replace my badge with one from the Press Corps.
“Interview the kids. Make it hard.”
Those were my instructions, before I was swiftly pushed onto stage. I was to emulate the role of the press, asking questions to my fellow classmates about controversial matters in their country in Arnab Goswami style.
That was my chance. And I took it.
I probably lost even more of my potential to make friends in that school that day, but I did make one friend: Model UN.
For the next year, my interests, activities and friends were largely defined by my Model UN participation. My conversations became themed around global issues and around finding legal loopholes in international treaty documents.
But then I went to that conference I first spoke about, as the Delegate of Sweden. It was three days of silent observation on my part, and that’s when I realized: I’m not even in the same league as real delegates. My friend had just been fantasy.
Model UN – The Identity
Right after that conference, I moved into junior college, or junior year of high school. Almost immediately, I enrolled myself into the Model UN Club, repeating my strategy from the previous year.
Our first conference came up pretty quickly, and I was tasked with being the Delegate of France, in the Security Council. I clearly recall, in one of my speeches, I denied “any military alliance with the USA.”
“What about NATO, delegate?”
“Umm. No, no. No military alliance with the USA.”
What had just happened? As I stood there without much realization of my faux-pas, taking in the judgmental eyes of my 16-year old peers, I learned that Model UN is not about being the illustrious, satirical, condescending speaker, but that it requires a complete and thorough understanding of international relations, foreign policies, and the general state of the world.
I could have given up on that day, and perhaps my life would have looked very different today if I did. But something attracted me about the whole experience – something called out to me, as if to say, “This is what you’ve been waiting for.”
You see, compared to many other extra-curricular activities, Model UN was the most democratic. It was student-led, student-funded, and had no faculty members on the organizing committee. It was almost like the setting of an after-class rumble in the parking lot: self-defined rules, self-imposed judgement, and no audience.
Keeping this in mind, and encouraged further by the lure of free attendance, I went on to the next conference, and the next, and many more after that.
Soon, I was winning awards more frequently than I had ever done before. My visits to the principal’s office became congratulatory instead of punitive. My absence from college became ‘necessary’ instead of problematic.
I was getting better and better at being a delegate, and in my senior year of high school, we managed to beat the strongest delegation of the city!
I had arrived and was here to stay. Or so I thought.