As European Capital of Culture 2017, Aarhus is the place to be when it comes to events that encourage us to rethink our world. Within this context, volunteer association AarhusMUN is organising the city’s first edition of the Model United Nations (MUN), taking place from June 26th to June 30th, 2017.
by Alessandro Ghiberti, feature photo by Giang Pham
MUN is a simulation of UN committees, where students from around the world represent a country of their choice as delegates in order to discuss current international issues. The first such conference took place back in the 1920s, when groups of students simulated the assemblies of the League of Nations – pioneer to the UN – at Harvard University. With the United Nations replacing the League of Nations after World War II, the design of the conference, renamed Model United Nations, was adapted to the newly structured organisation.
The aim of the MUN events is to allow young people to experience how real diplomats and representatives work during international meetings. There are hundreds of MUN organisations around the world including, for example, HarvardMUN, EuroMUN, and RomeMUN.
We met Vitor Hugo Dahlstrøm Mendes, age 25, the founder and Secretary General of AarhusMUN, to find out more about the project and his motivation to organise it in Aarhus.
When did you discover MUN?
It was during my second year of high school, when I was the delegate of Romania for UNHCR, looking into the Darfour’s crisis. I literally had no idea about the rules and the procedures, but I really liked the experience. After that, I suffered what we in Brazil call the ‘DPS’: Depression Post Simulation.
I therefore decided to arrange a simulation at my high school in São Paulo, Brazil. I wanted to provide my schoolmates with the opportunity to learn something about politics and diplomacy. The event was a great success and has become a tradition; the 10th edition is taking place in July. Meanwhile, I was participating in other MUNs all around my country.
During my first year of university in São Paulo, I found it ridiculous that there were no simulations organised by the students of International Relations, so I created the Rio Branco University MUN in 2009. At the same time, and together with other students, I also started working on the first edition of São Paulo MUN for high school students. It took place in 2010. In the beginning it was a small and informal event with 200 participants. Now, it has a solid structure and attracts around 500 to 600 students.
What can people learn from this experience?
As a participant you develop a lot of different skills: public speaking, teamwork, listening, negotiating and persuading, to name only a few. But, in my opinion, one of the most important things about MUN is its ability to make you change your perspectives. You have to ‘wear’ the logic, culture, needs, and overall reality of another country. Putting your mindset in a country other than your own helps to understand a nation’s decisions. I think that this can foster the development of human cooperation, because it empowers people to be tolerant.
The motto of Aarhus European Capital of Culture is ‘Let’s Rethink’, so let’s apply this to international relations. Recent events have shown us that the world – politics and the needs of the people – are no longer what they used to be. MUNs are an opportunity to connect people who can, one day, potentially fill important leadership positions.
As a result of participating in a MUN event, young people can be more sensitive regarding international cooperation, human rights and tolerance. So, for instance, why don’t we rethink globalisation in order to connect us even more?
Who can participate in AarhusMUN?
Potentially everyone who is willing to try. Of course, people who study Political Science or International Relations are at an advantage. But let us not forget that the subjects up for discussion are very broad. The tasks will be distributed with regards to the respective level of preparation and experience. The academic staff is already working on the papers that will help participants prepare themselves for the topics that will be on the agenda. In addition, at the end of the conference we will be giving feedback to all participants.
Many skills gained during a MUN can be used in social and professional lives. You may not be interested in becoming a diplomat, but at some point you’ll have to face the world. Being able to negotiate, talk and reach compromises will be useful. Yet, MUN is more than discussions and academia. There will be many social events, including parties, during the simulation week. It’s a great occasion to meet new and like-minded people. I’ve made many good friends at MUNs.
How is it organising a MUN in Aarhus? What are the challenges? What are the opportunities?
Unfortunately, MUNs are popular around Europe but not in the Scandinavian countries. Hence, there is a lot of work to do in order to reach potential participants, institutions and sponsors. On the other hand, I think that there is a positive attitude towards cultural and international events in Denmark, so I am quite optimistic that we will find support, cooperation and interest. It won’t be easy, but we are working hard and with passion.
Can you tell us more about the AarhusMUN staff?
Our organisation is divided into three main branches: Academics, Logistics and Public Relations. At the moment, there are almost 70 people from up to 30 different nationalities working in these fields. Back in February we held an information meeting for those interested in joining our staff, and many people from a diversity of backgrounds showed up.
The international environment of Aarhus and its university provides us with no better place matching the spirit of MUN; a great indication of what we have to look forward to in June!