By Tais A. Ruiz Palacios, PR Coordinator 2020 / 2021
As our GrunnMUN delegate applications open and people decide to apply, two things will become obvious: 1) while being extremely fun, an MUN conference is a daunting experience, which 2) does not resemble much any other sort of activity. While it has the “debate” part in common with parliamentary debate and the like, where you usually represent a particular point of view in order to win and convince that you are correct, MUN is not about being the winner or convincing others that they are wrong. At the same time, while it may have certain elements in common with learning history or about politics, it is quite difficult to understand how international politics work, the nuances of each particular country’s policy, and even how international law relates to the issues at hand.
During my first conference, I was confused by all the MUN-specific terminology, such as “draft resolution”, “working papers”, and “moderated/unmoderated caucuses”. Also, I didn’t quite know where to start researching, or even where to find the (accurate) information I needed. Should I look solely at the information provided by the country I was to represent, or should I explore that of NGOs, and international organisations? Is my policy what is presented by my country in its laws, what the population in general supports, or what politicians say in their speeches? Even more so, besides the study and research part of an MUN, how do I prepare myself to face a crowd, and to be diplomatic? Not only is this dependent on how you look, but also on how you speak and carry yourself when engaging with your fellow delegates.
Many of these questions may still come up as you decide to apply to a MUN conference, and for a particular council/country, and make you a bit stressed if you are a newcomer to the MUN scene. Therefore, some advice is in order to lessen your preoccupations, and make preparing for an MUN less of a frightening and unsurmountable task, and make it an interesting and fun process!
Make sure you feel and look your best!
While you do not need to be a “fashion icon”, there are certain things you must take into consideration when dressing up for an MUN conference. It’s not the Fanciest Event of the Year, so no need to break out the cutest pair of shoes nor the fanciest outfit you own. However, there is a certain formal element that must be respected (and might earn you some points with your chairs while at the conference!).
During conferences, it is required that delegates (and chairs too) wear western business attire. This means: no jeans, no sneakers or otherwise casual footwear, and no t-shirts. An example of western business attire is a suit with a dress shirt underneath, as well as dress shoes (whether they are heels or not it’s up to you, pick what makes you the most comfortable!). Other good ideas are skirts and dresses that fit properly. However, the most important thing is that you feel comfortable (and powerful) in what you’re wearing, as it will boost your confidence and make you look much more at ease (even if you’re super nervous, we’ve all been there).
Skills? Where can I buy that?
Unlike clothing, skills such as oration, academic writing and negotiation cannot be bought and must be acquired and practiced throughout time. One of the skills that will be extremely useful is to know how to speak to a crowd, and how to reach a consensus. This is where your possible parliamentary debate knowledge might not be necessary: MUN is all about finding consensus on the “best solution” to the problem discussed in your committee. The point is to be diplomatic and know how to express your ideas, and incorporate that of others.
So, you may ask: how can I develop these MUN skills? And how can I practice them before the conference starts? Well, you may already have certain skills (or at least began developing them) thanks to your academic career! In school and university, academic writing and giving presentations gives you a push towards the right direction. However, if you want more specialized knowledge (and to know more about the MUN community in general) it might do you some good to join your local MUN club.
In Groningen, we have TEIMUN Society! As their Instagram says, “this is the best way to prepare for the MUN conferences in coming months while socialising and engaging in creative activities. Stimulate your debating and team-working skills!” They hold their sessions every Thursday between 19:00-21:00 Amsterdam time; the trainers prepare different exercises where you can polish your negotiation skills, oratory technique, and draft your first resolutions or working papers (where your proposals are outlined). You can find them on @teimunsociety on Instagram and on Facebook!
Researching, researching… where did I end up?
Let’s be honest, researching can either be the worst or the best part of preparing for an MUN, or both at the same time. Once you get the hang of it, and know where to find the necessary info, you’re set (for the most part). Certain people might have a bit of an advantage, especially those studying topics such as international law, international relations and economics. However, for all those of you that study other tracks, worry not: here are a few basics to help you get started with your “country profile” and identifying which solutions would be in line with your assigned country’s policy.
1. The United Nations Treaty Series (https://treaties.un.org): Here you can find the text of different treaties (i.e. the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the Convention on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination), as well as whether your country has signed them, and whether it has made a reservation (this is important to note, as it usually gives insight to what is your country’s policy towards a particular area). You don’t need to know these by heart, but it is useful to back up your proposals/arguments on a solid basis.
2. The website of the council you are attending (i.e. UNHRC): International organisations, their organs, and related specialised agencies publish documents where the performance of countries and of the overall international community is evaluated. Once the conclusions are reached, recommendations are issued. While this might not always give you the exact policy of your country, it will give you starting points/ideas to create your proposals, and a brief outlook of what actions have been taken recently or not. Also, while the structure of the committee will likely be explained to you by your chairs, you can investigate a bit more about how the committee works and what its goals are.
3. Official documents of your country: This might seem like the most obvious, but it is important to mention regardless. Look up your constitution, recent press statements and communiqués (verify that they are official sources!), and programs/laws passed on the topic you are going to debate on. Other “non-official” sources might give you an idea of the opinions of the population, and might not always present the information accurately (beware of fake news!), so going to the official government’s website, or that of recognised institutes and organisations (see point #2) is the safest bet.