Article By Darya Foroohar
Darya is a senior at Bard High School Early College Manhattan, where she is the Under-Secretary General for her school’s MUN team. She enjoys crisis and has won multiple awards in various conferences, the highest being best delegate. Outside of committee, her writing on MUN-related issues has been published on Best Delegate, and she runs an extremely funny MUN meme account called @poi_ntofinformation.
It was 10:30 P.M. on the eve of my first Model UN conference, and I was wondering what I had gotten myself into. My alarm was set for 5:45 A.M. My suitcase was filled to the brim with Western Business Attire. I had emailed all of my teachers to notify them of my upcoming absence, finished the work that was going to be due while I was away, and stuffed my backpack full of writing supplies. There was only one more thing to be done. Hands trembling, I feverishly googled “how do you do model un.” My heart beat faster as I realized I understood nothing about what I was going to do the next day.
I had impulsively signed up for this conference in March, after my friend, who was on the Secretariat of my school’s MUN team, told me there was an empty spot at CMUNC, Cornell’s conference, which was hosted in April. Even though I hadn’t done Model UN before, I immediately said yes, having been interested in the club for a long time but never taking the opportunity to join. Unfortunately, my busy schedule prevented me from actually going to any of the Model UN meetings before the conference, so I only had a vague idea of what MUN was. When it was time to choose committees, I had no idea what any of the acronyms, like ECOSOC and SOCHUM, meant, and I was too embarrassed to ask. I didn’t even know what a committee was. Unsure, I impulsively picked the one whose name I could at least somewhat understand: “Crisis: Animal Farm.” I didn’t know what crisis meant, but I had read Animal Farm, which seemed like a start. Yet the warnings of my fellow club members, who told me of vicious power delegates and ruthless bloc politics, filled my head with visions of failure and humiliation.
Their words were racing through my mind as I frantically tried to teach myself how to MUN in one night; they stayed with me on the bus to Ithaca and did not depart as I nibbled on pre-conference pizza. During opening ceremonies, I stared in awe at the huge auditorium and the hundreds of delegates that filled it, each looking more prepared than I was. I wanted nothing more than to run away, but I knew that if I chickened out, I would never forgive myself. Before I entered the committee room, I reminded myself what my friend had told me: no one else knows what they’re doing, either.
My committee was a simulation of the novel Animal Farm, set right after the animals had revolted and driven Mr. Jones out of the farm. The objective of the committee was to form a functioning government while dealing with both internal and external threats, which would come in the form of crisis updates caused by both staffers and delegates. I was representing Mr. Whymper, which made my situation slightly more difficult because he was not an animal and therefore did not have the trust of most of the people in the room. As the chair was making his welcoming remarks, I looked around the room, wondering if anyone else was as confused and nervous as I was.
I never did find out the answer to this, but I certainly discovered that I was far from the least capable in committee, a fear that had consumed me in the days leading up to the conference. Put on the spot during a round robin, I stammered out a few words and then sunk back into my seat, hoping people wouldn’t snicker. No one did. In fact, the amusement came from the delegate representing Mr. Jones, who spoke in a southern drawl and pretended to be drunk for the entirety of his one-minute speech. Other delegates spoke even less than I did. I was filled with relief– this wasn’t so bad! In fact, once I got over my fear of speaking, committee became fun. Each crisis note I wrote was more inventive, I raised my placard more often, and I formed alliances with multiple delegates. The fast pace of crisis kept me engaged, and the multiple updates assured me that if my first plan didn’t work, I could keep trying.
Whenever I was back with my MUN team, I gushed about how much I loved my committee and told them about all my crisis plans (such as creating an opium trade ring). My worries had vanished; all I worried about now was if I would get a chance to speak in the next moderated caucus. The committee was excellently run, a fact I appreciate in hindsight due to later experiences in disorganized committees. My chair was good-natured and the other delegates, while frustrating at times, were far from the malicious snakes I was told to expect. Many, even those I wasn’t working with in committee, offered encouragement and tips after hearing it was my first conference. I was awed by their eloquence and confidence in committee, seeing how different strategies– from playing the mediator to dedicating all time and energy to crisis notes– paid off. Yet I didn’t just learn how to do well in MUN, I learned that I was capable of doing well, a fact I had not dared to believe beforehand, not wanting to be disappointed in myself. Ultimately, I didn’t get an award, a fact which did not surprise me, seeing as committee did not shape itself around my crisis arc (I didn’t even know what a crisis arc was). But instead of being disappointed, I was eager to return to the competitive, exhilarating world I had gotten just a taste of. I eagerly signed up for conferences the following year and even became a club officer, encouraging newcomers to go to conferences even though they didn’t know much about how do do MUN yet. At every conference I’ve been to since, I have learned new ways to debate and communicate with people, winning awards and shaping committee, but it was at CMUNC, my first conference, that I truly learned not just what it means to do model UN, but how to try something new: you may think you don’t know what you’re doing, but neither does anyone else.