While I was a student at McGill University, I was a massive Model United Nations (MUN) nerd. Massive.
MUN, put simply, is competitive debating. At an MUN conference, committees of the United Nations are simulated and delegates representing individual member states debate on issues selected for discussion in each of the committees.
For example, if you’re simulating the Economic Commission for Africa, there may be a discussion concerning bringing information technology to Africa. Each delegate sitting on that committee would be assigned an African country to represent, and they would debate on the information technology issue, from the perspective of that country.
MUN is like role-playing games meets international relations. Sexy, right?
I did it for a long time and I was insanely committed. My life at McGill consisted of four things: MUN, sleeping, drinking and sometimes school…when I wasn’t busy with the other three. I was involved with MUN from two different angles: I attended conferences as a delegate and I helped planned McGill’s high school MUN conference, the Secondary Schools’ United Nations Symposium.
To be a successful delegate, you must read and process information quickly, be diplomatic and creative, be a solid public speaker, and be an Olympian in the art of bullshit.
MUN conferences can be intimidating. They are filled with bright, well-dressed, smooth-talking university students, each with an ego the size of Texas. I have always been a confident person, but my very first university-level conference at the University of Pennsylvania scared the hell of out of me.
MUN taught me how to hold my own in a room full of smart people with strong personalities.
At its core, MUN is all about thinking on your feet and communicating. Preparation before the conference is important. Learning your country’s position on HIV/AIDS education or foreign direct investment is essential.
However, once you get to the conference, it’s all about taking what you know and manipulating it in a way to get what your country wants.
The very same thing can be said about the professional world, in my opinion. You have to be prepared, but once you get into the office or into a meeting, it’s all about what you do with what you know.
If being a MUN delegate gave me great professional skills, planning a conference as a part of a team taught me a great deal about how to work in a professional environment with others to reach a common goal.
For the Secondary Schools’ United Nations Symposium, I was responsible for the organization and staffing of the debate committees. I chose the committees and approved the topics we were running. I was responsible for hiring, training and managing all of the university students who staffed these committees. It was a big role and I loved every second of it. I learned practical skills such as how to edit and write professional emails, how to solve problems and, unfortunately, how to fire people.
I have not had as much responsibility at any of my other jobs, simply because most companies don’t trust university students with that kind of work. As a result, I firmly believe I have learned as much, if not more, from running a MUN conference as I have from my summer jobs.
At McGill, within the MUN club, we had a great deal of inter-office drama. I was exposed to many of the issues and problems that can occur in any office environment, and I know better how to deal with them.
My experience with MUN has made me a firm believer in the value of extra-curricular activities. If you’re involved at a high level, beyond the casual once-a-week meeting, the possibilities for professional growth and learning are massive. It’s encouraging to hear that some companies are looking at extra-curriculars when evaluating candidates, but I think more weight should be placed on these experiences.