Saeed, 17, a high school student who excels in scientific subjects, hopes to enroll in a dual major that combines his two passions, math and politics. An advocate since 7th grade of the Model United Nations program, commonly referred to as MUN, Saeed is attracted to humanities subjects in higher education despite his science-oriented mind.
“The more you stay in MUN the more engaged you become,” said Saeed, who asked to be identified by his first name only. “One is influenced just by the fact of being exposed to the world of the United Nations, diplomacy and international relations.”
The experience “made me appreciate the value of debate,” he said. “It made me look into something less technical and more into humanities.”
Students who experience Model United Nations simulations and remained engaged in the program tend to enroll in hybrid subjects in higher education, combining analytical disciplines like engineering, math or medicine, and humanities-based subjects, educators say.
“Through the MUN program, students are really thrust into politics and cross-country collaboration,” Saeed said. “You get to understand what the field is about and if you like, which is usually the case, you become primed to picking majors like politics and international affairs.”
“Through the MUN program, students are really thrust into politics and cross-country collaboration.”Saeed
A high school student
Millions of students from around the world have experienced MUN, a simulation of the United Nations General Assembly and other multilateral bodies. They step into the shoes of ambassadors from U.N. member states to debate issues on the organization’s agenda. While playing their roles, the students, designated as “delegates,” make speeches, prepare draft resolutions, negotiate with allies and adversaries, resolve conflicts, and navigate the MUN conference procedures.
Increasingly Popular in the Arab region
The programs, organized by pupils themselves as a voluntary, extracurricular activity from 6th grade upwards, are growing in popularity in Arab countries. Training sessions usually take place at weekends and culminate in conferences with U.N. officials attending.
A conference held in Dubai last year and organized online because of the Covid-19 pandemic attracted more than 500 delegates from 31 schools in the region. Former U.N. secretary general Ban Ki Moon was a guest speaker.
Elie Samia, assistant vice president for outreach and civic engagement at the Lebanese American University and director of the Model United Nations program in Lebanon, describes the simulations as “an enriching and enlightening journey for middle and high school students.”
“It makes them good decision makers and agenda setters, aware of what’s going on in the world around them,” Samia said. “It is a holistic education in diplomacy, negotiations and public speaking, in addition to discussing and reaching resolutions.”
“Also, when they choose their majors in college, they tend to go for at least a minor, if not a major, in international affairs or related subjects.” (See a related article, “How International Relations, an ‘American’ Discipline, Is Taught in the Arab World.”)
The Lebanese American University’s department of outreach and civic engagement has run the program in Lebanon since 2005, engaging students from some 250 private and public schools. It has developed the simulation modems to become more comprehensive.
“We started with U.N. simulation, and then moved on to having a Model Arab League program, followed by a Model European Union, Model African Union, and a program in model good governance,” Samia said. (See a related article, “A Conversation with the LAU President: Education and Lebanon’s Future.”)
Samia contends that through MUN, students gain a wide range of skills and information critical to success in high school, college, and beyond. They learn public speaking and gain self-confidence by speaking in front of an audience. They hone their research skills and synthesize information. They practice how to write policies, and learn about cultures they never even knew existed.
“Definitely not only people majoring in international affairs become leaders of the society,” Samia said. “You have engineers, medical doctors, entrepreneurs etc. … Independent of the major, the MUN experience not only influences higher education studies but the students’ life beyond that.”
The Model United Nations experience had a significant impact on the path chosen by Hussein Khalil. Following undergraduate studies in political science at the American University of Beirut, he enrolled in master’s degree programs in international affairs with a focus on human-rights and conflict resolution at King’s College London.
“The exposure I had in MUN, more than anything else, helped me understand what I wanted to study and do in life.”Hussein Khalil
A political science student at the American University of Beirut
“The exposure I had in MUN, more than anything else, helped me understand what I wanted to study and do in life,” he said. “It affected all the courses I have taken and made me aware of human rights issues and the extent of inequalities that existed in the world.”
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Khalil initially joined the MUN program in middle school with few expectations.
“I wanted to experience something new and have it on my CV,” he said, “but as I got more engaged I was exposed to many issues that I had little or no knowledge about.
“It was a very empowering environment where one learns critical thinking and how to approach a problem from different perspectives, in addition to gaining confidence, which are skills you use all your life.” (See a related article, “Critical Citizenship for Critical Times.”)