Russian to Fix the World – Q&A with Kay Powell
Model United Nations Conferences (MUNs) have been running since as early as 1952. Often hosted by Universities or Schools, these interactive conferences aim to get young people discussing current global issues, such as nuclear weapons, global warming, and universal healthcare.
Kay Powell is a University of Canberra graduate, now studying her Masters in Social Science (International Criminology) at Western Sydney University. Having been involved in MUNs since 2015, she is now directing the International Press Gallery committee at the upcoming Asia-Pacific Mondel United Nations Conference (AMUNC) in Sydney this July.
Journalist Eliza Walker sat down with Kay to speak to her about the purpose and benefits of Model UNs, and how involvement with them can impact on your future career.
Q: How does a Model U.N. work, and what is its purpose?
A: It works by splitting into committees with each person representing a country, and each committee is given their own topic to discuss and debate. You then have to debate that topic based on your country’s position or stance, and try to reach a resolution that best suits your country and is closest to their ideal outcome. For example, in AMUNC coming up this July, the International Olympic Committee will be talking about the future viability of a roaming Olympics, and how that will effect relationships between countries. And they’ll discuss everything that’s going on and could effect that, like terrorism and human rights violations, etc. And to add on top of that, you’ve got the press and lobbyists who have their own agendas, and they get involved and ask questions and hold you accountable as well.
It’s not about trying to solve all the world’s problems, either; it’s more about trying to develop those “soft skills” that you don’t really learn when you study at uni. It’s a lot of practical stuff, learning diplomacy skills and actually learning to negotiate with people you wouldn’t normally talk to about topics you normally wouldn’t talk about. And you’re not talking about it from your personal perspective, either… You’re debating and discussing from your country’s perspective, which often pushes you outside your own comfort zone. But there’s also a huge benefit to that in that you don’t have to get too personal with the views you’re putting forward.
Q: How was it that you got involved in MUNs?
A: During my time doing my Bachelor’s degree, my Uni’s U.N. Society mentioned it, they said “look this is a conference that’s going on, do you want to come?” and I did, so I went. I sort of fell off it a bit and then last year I had some MUN friends I’d met there saying “hey, we haven’t seen you in a while, you should come back”. It’s not really a big thing at Western Sydney… but I went again, and fell in-love with the International Press Gallery!
Q: What is it about MUNs that keeps you and so many others returning year-after-year for more?
A: In all honesty, I think it’s the friends you make. It’s really interesting talking to the different people you meet, so many people you wouldn’t normally talk to, and getting all these different ideas on the same topic. And it’s full of politics, just like you’d expect at any conference full of law and politics and international relations students, but they’re all really genuine people. And it’s just so much fun; all it takes is a good committee and a good director and you spend a whole week just loving every minute. Something I’ve noticed is that some people get too caught up in thinking it’s super serious – and it’s not! It’s honestly so much more about the people you meet and the connections to make, and learning to broaden your perspective on all these different issues.
Q: Do MUNs have much of an impact on a global scale?
A: I wouldn’t say directly, like we don’t debate an issue, reach a resolution and then it’s resolved in real life. But indirectly it really does. Like I said before, you’re learning all these practical skills you get to use in real life. I was speaking to someone before who used to MUN, and with the skills they learnt they went on to work for the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, where they get to influence government policy and make a difference. I also know someone now working for Fairfax who was involved in the International Press Gallery at MUNs, so it certainly has an impact on the lives of those who participate.
Q: How has it changed how you view global affairs?
A: Oh yeah, it really has. When we learn about international concerns we tend to be taught about it from a domestic perspective, and forget that it impacts other countries differently. And the good thing about MUNs is that it forces you into looking at that same issue from a different perspective; taking into account cultural, social, medical and economic factors that we don’t have here.
Q: How has it changed your own Australian political views?
A: Again, because you meet so many different people from all different backgrounds, all of which have their own views, you gain a much broader perspective on things. Even just different uni’s, the demographic at each uni is different and so they’re going to have their own political leaning. But MUNs are open to all of those people, so you get a real mix. I’ve made friends with conservatives [through MUNs], which is something I never thought would happen, and I have to say they’ve actually helped me understand their own views a bit more and I’m now a little more of a centralist. On that same point, I’ve known people who are more politically conservative to become less-so because they’re learning more about the progressive stance.
Q: You mentioned before about the skills you learn at MUNs; what are some of the educational benefits more specifically?
A: You get to refine your critical thinking skills, and it makes you actually think about stuff a lot more. And you’re not just analysing other people, but even after MUN you find yourself stopping and analysing your own opinions and sort of double-checking yourself. Then there’s that you learn actual policy writing, which is something they don’t really teach you at university. But at MUNs they get you to write resolutions that look like actual policies. The other thing is that you get real-life, face-to-face negotiations with people, not just being a key-board warrior.
Q: What kinds of people would you encourage to get involved?
A: Literally anyone. Your obvious ones are law, international relations and politics, because they’re already learning about this stuff and are interested in it. The International Press Gallery will also gladly accept any journalism students, or anyone really who knows how to write and ask questions. I also think that if you’re doing social science or psychology, you’d be suited because you learn way more about putting together policy proposals and getting to break things down and talk about them from every angle. And you can’t forget, either that there’s a place for everyone. If you’re a journalist go to the Press Gallery, if you’re interested in advocacy go to the lobbyists, whether it’s the environment or health or whatever, there are committees available for you. At AMUNC we have 18 committees, from all the regular ones like Security Council and the World Health Organisation, but we also have a few new ones, like the International Olympic Committee and Brexit Negotiations.
Q: What is the one piece of advice you would give to someone thinking of trying out a MUN for the first time?
A: Go in to have fun. Do your research and make sure you know your [country’s] position… but just enjoy yourself. You’re there to meet people, you’re there to understand more about the topic. Don’t take things too seriously, don’t take things too personally. You’re going to get yelled at by the press, unless you are the press, and it can get very overwhelming, so it’s super important to just focus on enjoying yourself.
Want to get involved?
The Asia-Pacific Model United Nations Conference 2018 (AMUNC) will be hosted at UNSW, Sydney, over the 8-13 July. Registrations expected to close sometime in June. For more information or to register, go check out the website, or email Kay directly at: firstname.lastname@example.org