On MUNning

Finally, the time has come to write about my short MUN career.

Introduction

There comes a time in a man’s life when he has to say goodbye to things of his youth. This too is reflected in the Bible, where 1 Corinthians 13:11 writes:

When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me.

This is not to say that I have become a ‘man’ based on however one understands that term, or that MUNning is an activity for children. Rather, it reflects a more prosaic reality that one becomes increasingly concerned with as they grow up: The passage of time.

Some things, like music, may continue with one throughout life for a fairly long period of time save injury or disease. Others, such as gaming, occasionally surface later during one’s life in the form of ‘get together gaming sessions’, and many adults do still game. For me though, games have generally faded away as one’s time becomes occupied with other things: God, ministry, academics and planning for a future career, taking care of one’s friendships and God willing, a relationship.

It is for this reason that I wish to expound on the reasons for my retirement from the MUN circuit/scene and recollect the three MUNs I have been for while I have some time post-finals to reflect. Perhaps this too may serve as a page of interest for those walking along this path or seeking to enter the circuit. Ultimately, I think there is no better time to reflect than the present: In the future, I will have less clarity in recollection and likely less time as well to type out these thoughts. So without further fluff, let’s go~

SMUN 2015

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Receiving the award – such a brilliant smile.

I originally wrote little on this topic because I had many other things to take care of in the aftermath of what happened, so what recollection exists occurred a year after it actually took place.

That said, I stand by what I’ve written in that original post:

  1. “You get the chance to wear nice clothes and walk around pretending/feeling important’ – Yes, yes, yes. I say half-jokingly to my MUN friends that MUN is the most elaborate game of D&D/roleplaying ever: People buy nice suits and actually fly for conferences just to pretend to be somebody they’re not. It does help one academically understand current problems, perhaps, but it’s still good ‘ol roleplaying at heart.
  2. ‘You meet new people, younger and older than you, and you learn new things from them.’ – Yep, I have been impressed by many delegate I’ve met, some even a decade younger than me (I’m an old man now, lol). Some have been for more MUNs than me when they were half my age, so this experience shows itself…quite remarkably in the way they carry themselves during Council sessions).
  3. ‘You get moments of outrageous humor, periods of high tension and stress, and a pretty strong sense of accomplishment after your Council or Committee has successfully resolved a problem.’ – Indeed, some moments of humor are simply priceless, and the stress which comes with MUN doesn’t decrease as one goes for more MUNs; one just learns to cope better with it. The sense of accomplishment might be lacking if a Resolution fails, though, but by and large if it’s passed, even by a slim margin, there’s a definite sense of ‘we did it’ among those that fought tooth and nail for it to be passed.
  4. ‘You may encounter some eyecandy attractive individuals within your Council or during the social events which are held…’ – It is no secret that many guys secretly find most girls at MUNs more attractive, and it’s also no secret that nothing aside from longing gazes usually happens. These academic conferences don’t exactly provide the best atmosphere to chat a girl up, and even social events themselves are fairly public. One might find it difficult to pull a girl away from her group of other friends and engage her in something less superficial than what passes for conversation in group settings, so…yea. For the most part there are always attractive individuals in every MUN; it’s just a question of how many are in one’s Council and whether they’re friendly or cold outside of Council Sessions.

Having covered what I’ve originally written in a bit more detail, I should talk about the circumstances of SMUN 2015 slightly. I had just finished my National Service and somehow found out about this – I was super interested to join and prepared a pretty good position paper after two weeks of spending time researching, writing, re-editing it and reflecting on it. I read up as many guides as I could on BestDelegate and basically pumped myself up to go in as a small country nobody knew (Albania), in a Council few people cared about (Refugee Council: UNHCR).

At that time the Syrian Civil War was in full swing and refugee numbers were climbing, so I went in there nervous as heck and basically didn’t do much for the first couple of days. I remember having a lot of fun writing notes though, to other delegates, and voting was also most fun. But I was completely new to this and the direction of discussion was handily controlled by more experienced delegates who were slightly younger than me; the first topic saw a resolution that was passed after just two days without me playing any significant role in it.

My Chairs were Shasha along with a few other assistant Chairs like Levonne and Shasha was an absolutely beast. Super strict and pretty much had delegates on their toes the whole time, most happy to scold delegates that were engaging in side conversations or usage of electronic devices and some joked her favourite phrase was *Knocking gavel* ‘Delegates, Decorum.’ I’ve only been for two MUNs where I had a Chair and after Shasha no other Chair was quite as fierce as her, lol. She wasn’t nicknamed ‘The Tiger’ for nothing. But she’s pretty nice outside of MUN and occasionally I’ve bumped into her in and out of school, so that’s cool.

After the first topic ended and I had done pretty much jack all, I decided to up my game and asked myself what I was there to do: just write notes, or contribute to the discussion, take control of it and form a bloc and get my name on a reso? I decided on the latter and used what I had observed from the first topic to direct the discussion as best as I could (which wasn’t a lot), lobby the powerful/relevant nations and got busy writing working papers and Draft Resos aplenty. Lots of time was spent editing – I came home every night continuing to work on the Working Papers and Draft Resos long after Council had ended around 6pm.

All this work paid off – A reso sponsored by a tiny country (Albania) and a few superpowers made it to the voting round and was successfully passed by a razor thin margin. But what mattered was that it passed, and I was overjoyed. I was even more surprised when I was awarded the Best Position Paper later on and well, slightly less surprised when I heard that a majority of the delegates (from secondary schools/junior colleges) hadn’t bothered to submit their Position Paper and of those that did, most were low quality. That Position Paper I wrote was fairly low quality in comparison to most of my essays written since then but I suppose it fared favourably compared to the writings of others, so…yea. My first MUN and I had won an award – I was pretty happy about that.

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Yea the name’s a bit messed up but I’m fine with it. And all the signatures too 😀

I was fairly sure that that would be my last conference, but…2016 rolled around, and I was approached to be part of the Chairing team instead of going as a participant.

SMUN 2016

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Meeting up with some SMUN 2015 friends that continued on to SMUN 2016

And so, I accepted. Having no internship to speak of (because I was just a Year 1->Year 2 and not many ministries were interested in Year 1’s…) and busy clearing driving, I signed up as a Crisis Staff Member (actually called Backroom Staff because I didn’t chair a single committee session) for a Joint Crisis Committee led by my good friend Nigel, who I had met in SMUN 2015.

There was a horrendous amount of preparation involved…from making the giant maps that would be used in the topic ‘1941 Malayan Campaign’ pitting British troops in one Council against Imperial Japanese troops in another Council to making the graphic designs and figuring out how to make the whole thing run. Some walkie talkies I had purchased post-NS turned out to be super useful because phones weren’t used, plus they added to the ‘war’ feel that we were using.

And so, we in the Backroom watched as things progressed on the actual days. So much time spent preparing for the conference – it did not go to waste as many amusing moments happened (such as when one side – I think it was the British – got their callsigns confused and sent a fighter squadron to bomb Japanese ships while using their bomber squadrons to escort said fighters. Needless to say, their fighters did not do much against the Japanese navy and the bombers were destroyed by Japanese fighters) and much discussion was held in the initial and middle stages of the fight.

At the end, the Japanese outmaneuvered the British and scored a victory – this team was led by Russell. It was my first time meeting this extraordinary individual – as I later found out, he was fairly well known in the NUS MUN community. Aside from a passing acquaintance with him though, I hardly got time to talk to most of the other delegates as I spent most of my time running back and forth the rooms to update both Council sides as battles progressed, so…yes, I didn’t make that many friends from that MUN sadly. It did give me a new perspective from being a participant, though: how much time and preparation went into preparing the conference and the study guide, the drama that happened between the Chairs and Organizing Committee at times, the disillusionment which sometimes resulted from stress or conflict. Needless to say, SMUN 2016 was considerably more emotional than SMUN 2015 – not for me but others that I later got to know, and it marked a maturity of sorts from the initial ‘rainbows and unicorns’ perspective I had of MUN when I first began.

A post I wrote following SMUN 2016 went into slightly more detail at some points, so it may be of interest to those that wish to read more. At the same time, for those that query how I ended up with a Gavel despite not being a Chair or winning a Best Delegate before, we had an awesome SG (Secretary General) that was organizing his last conference, and so wanted to give a present to all the Chairs. As a mere Backroom Staff Member, I didn’t expect to receive this awesome toy but receive one I did, and I was overjoyed. Finally, I thought, I could retire in peace. It even had my name engraved on it; what more could one ask for?

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Now I can finally be the one saying ‘Delegates, Order, Order!’. Also, Crisis Secretariat sounds like a pretty cool name/role.

And so, I wrote my post expecting to leave the MUN circuit for good…and 2017 rolled around, and I couldn’t attend SMUN 2017 due to a slew of camps clashing with the dates.

And I thought, maybe this was it. It certainly seemed like a good time to retire on, but…

December 2017 approached and I had already planned to go for SWAT 2017 (Studying the Word All Together, a Christian camp I was super excited to go for after my experience at AnnTiC 2016). Out of five weeks…one week spent at camp, and smack in the middle of the five weeks too. It would be quite difficult to secure an internship with such a schedule like that, so…

PAMUN 2017? Wow, a regional conference? Sounds great. UNSC? SOUNDS GREAT.

Sign me up.

PAMUN 2017

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I love this casual shot; much lulz. And yes, that’s me with the handphone pretending to take a selfie. Millennials, amirite?

Aside from attending a few practice sessions and briefings that took some precious time out of my week fortnightly, I didn’t do much to prepare for the conference. The briefings were really cool though, but yea…I mostly did research when I needed to write my position paper, met up with fellow NUS delegates that were going to be in the same Council as me and studied for my finals.

And…the conference was a blast. I‘ve written my most recent thoughts here in a super long reflection, but beyond those…in the context of my two previous MUNs, I attended this MUN not as a fresh-eyed young kid but a world-weary old man.

Yes, of course I hadn’t been for as many MUNs as Russell, who was our Head Delegate, or even some of the Taiwanese students that were a lot more experienced than me. But compared to my previous two MUNs, I was no longer as optimistic and energetic as I once was, neither was I striving to prove myself in the circuit. I had tangible memories and first-hand experience of the drama, conflicts and occasional disillusionment that goes into/happens during these conferences, so…I adopted an approach more befitting of a mentor than a combatant/warrior: Share my experiences and leave it to the young, energetic, bright and more capable to fight. So that they might not make the same mistakes I did; I explained to them how these Councils might run and what are some things to consider. The actual fighting, as I wrote, I did little after the first day. And they performed admirably in spite of it being their first MUN – combined with the skills of a veteran (the Delegate of Egypt), everything went accordingly to plan. Or as the meme goes, “Just as planned.”

Did I go expecting to win something? Nope. Did I go hoping to win something? Yes – I think it would’ve been nice to write on a resume. And on an ego level, to prove that one still ‘had it’. Did I have any qualms after the awards were given? Nope – all who won deserved it much more than me, and I was fairly surprised to have received an Oral Commendation.

But was I surprised when they announced PAMUN 2017 would end? Somewhat, but not entirely. No, I did not know about it beforehand, but….based on my knowledge and experience with SMUN 2016, I can very well imagine how these conflicts and simmering resentment might drain the willingness of a MUN club, or even several disparate members put together from different schools, to continue holding the conference in future years.

There is…little to no gratification for running a conference. I compare it to a concert: The participants go because they see a performance – they have an incentive. The performers go because they enjoy others enjoying their music. The concert organizers…they may enjoy others having an opportunity to hear bands, but there is little external incentive (aside from money/potential earnings) to do a good job, or even repeat the concert in future years.

Similarly, delegates don’t need to put in much work to prepare for the conference by handling programs, finances, liaisons, logistics, academics and publicity. Delegates don’t need to stay up late at night going over registration details or trying to find sponsors for the event; neither do delegates have to book venue locations and brief those that are helping with the event.

They simply do some preparation, come in and have fun talking, debating, interacting with other delegates. Maybe even win some awards if they’re so inclined. And at the end of it, they go home.

For some, awards are the motivation. For others, getting to befriend and interact with other delegates are the motivation. What motivation exists for the organizers, who are given neither awards nor get the chance to know their participating delegates closely? Even chairs feel this distance from their delegates because they’re usually seen in positions of power – they are isolated from the regular conversations that go on between delegates, the solidarity which develops into budding friendships.

And this is assuming there are no conflicts, no drama, no disagreements, no cock-ups (problems). If there are….boy, it’s a lot harder to stomach all the stress, and look up and say ‘let’s do it again next time’. Sometimes friendships are permanently ruined because of such things – little wonder most would shy away from continuing to run such a conference. And so with limited ability (declining MUN club members) and possibly willingness,  the running of PAMUN came to an end.

In a way, it is almost poetic. The final edition of PAMUN, the final MUN conference for me. I felt so strongly about the conference that I made not just one video, but three – one general video as shown in the link above for this section, one for the socials, and one for my Council specifically.

Of course, these socials happen aplenty – every MUN has them. But this was the last socials PAMUN would ever have – no longer would there be future editions of PAMUN. And so I don’t feel it was a waste to commemorate the closing of the MUN by spending a good day and more than that working on these videos – for myself, yes, and also for others that enjoy a good video.

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I really like the faded background colour they used. Simple, yet stylish.

Reasons for Retirement

I realize I’ve typed much, but never actually went into the reasons for my retirement. Well, here they are.

The first problem is a lack of time. As a Year 3 student approaching Sem 2 (as of this writing), I’ll probably be spending next year’s summer doing an internship (hopefully) at a ministry so I can write it on my resume, learn something about that particular ministry’s working culture and get paid for doing so. Running a conference or even participating as a delegate would likely conflict with this goal; I was approached to help out as a Director for SMUN 2018, but declined on the basis that I couldn’t confirm my attendance for it. If I indeed had a long internship as I hoped for…it would be inconsiderate, unprincipled and even reckless to commit to something, only to pull out later and leave the conference in jeopardy. And as for the follow year’s December winter break from Y4S1 to Y4S2, I’ll probably be preparing for my thesis writing so…it’s most difficult to see how I might attend a MUN during that period. Also, there’ll be no more PAMUN to attend.

The second problem is a lack of persistence. Most veteran MUNers I know entered when they were in secondary school or junior college; some of the better schools have MUN clubs or such programs that they join, gain experience when they’re so young, and eventually use it to pwn newbs like me when they’re much older. I only entered after my army because, well, neither my secondary school nor junior college had such a program. So by the time I found out about it, I was literally going to matriculate as a freshman in that same year I participated in that MUN. Eventually though; one has to retire from the MUN circuit: Unless one’s a graduate student, one can’t be involved in such MUN as a delegate or Chair after they’ve graduated and hit the working world. Lack of time and other commitments lead to this inevitability. And so, it makes sense to me to go out now when the end is rapidly approaching anyway.

The final problem is a lack of purpose. I have spoken to veteran MUNers that have ascended to the “highest” stage of MUNing: The Harvard World MUNs. But some eventually leave after being disillusioned even as delegates; others join the organizing community for such MUNs and find their delegate days behind them. For me, I have no such desire to “prove myself” at the “highest” stage of MUNs, neither do I have the desire to run such intricate programs from where I’m standing. I might not have seen all that MUN has to offer or traveled to exotic places to debate on different topics in different councils, but I’ve seen enough that satisfied my curiosity. I know what it feels like to win, and not win, an award; I know what it feels like to be a delegate and someone within the chairing team; I know also what it feels like to be new and fresh as well as old and weary.

What then drives one to compete and continue participating in such MUNs? Some might arrive at a new answer after having searched themselves for motivation; I find there to be no such answer after reflection, but simply a calm acceptance of a graceful exit. I have seen much of this world that I was initially curious about when I first stepped into it; now the time beckons for me to leave it, and leave it to pursue other commitments, I shall.

Concluding Thoughts.

MUN will always, always hold a special place in my heart; it is where I’ve formed friendships with new people – Singaporeans and international students alike; it is where I’ve learnt much academically as well as inter-personally; it is where I have seen myself grown from one stage to another. Every moment was cherished; every memory continues to be retained as best as possible, and writing these memories down as in this page certainly do help.

It is a place where I have found my voice; it is a place where I have been challenged by others to find myself, and it is a place where I have found others. Indeed, as I wrote at the end of my PAMUN 2017 video, ‘Every new beginning comes from some other beginning’s end.’

As I embark on the last stage, the twilight of my undergraduate university career, it is abundantly clear to me that what I had begun in 2015 as a bright-eyed, green delegate, has now come to an end. In its place is a slightly older, slightly more experienced delegate who now has to lay down some things in order to pick up others.

Such is the natural progress of life; things, yes, even life, come to an end, and we move on. People become memories, and memories, treasures. Yet I look back upon my short MUN career not with grief, but with gladness – that I was able to see what I saw, hear what I heard, and feel what I felt.

And so…

The motion to cease debate has passed.

This delegate lays down his placard.

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This delegate is much amused. Also is that Russell in the background? 😀

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One thought on “On MUNning

  1. Pingback: A few announcements | Ramblings of Roe

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