“Seasoned MUNers have the responsibility to train the future generation of delegates, chairs, organizers and then take a step back and let them lead.”
Fridays with MUNPlanet talked to Diego Salama, one of the most-experienced MUNers in the world. He participated in over 50 MUNs since 2003, and now works with the United Nations University in Maastricht. Diego speaks about his MUN path and importance of MUNs for life and career.
MUNPlanet: Diego, you were born in Bolivia, but now live in the Netherlands. Tell us something about your life path, and what was the deciding factor that led you to your first MUN.
Diego: First of all I want to thank you and the rest of the MUN:Planet team for inviting me to join this project; I am very happy that I’ve been given an opportunity to make a small contribution.
I grew up in Cochabamba, Bolivia, where I did my first MUN in September of 2003. I have always enjoyed talking about politics and debating, so participating in MUNs seemed like a fantastic idea. It was because of MUNs that I was able to do a one year fellowship at the United Nations in Peru right out of high school. During my time in Peru, I served as Conference Manager of a UN-sponsored MUN in Lima.
I lived in various countries in Latin America which gave me the opportunity to participate in conferences with different philosophies, languages and modus operandi. It was fascinating for me to be able to explore the different types of conferences we had in South America. In 2011, I served as Secretary-General of the fifth Colombia Model UN (COLMUN), which is one of the largest in the country and the region. COLMUN was a fantastic experience because I was surrounded with a great team. One of the things I was most proud of was the fact that we were able to sponsor 100 students from public schools to participate in the conference. We trained and provided them with all the necessities, ensuring that they have a great time.
I decided to finish my academic education in Maastricht and then I had the privilege to serve as Secretary-General of the sixth European Model UN (EuroMUN 2013), which was both the most rewarding and the most difficult thing I have ever done. We had over 600 participants and we simulated very interesting committees, such as the Peacebuilding Commission, the G20, NATO-EAPC, while trying to balance heavy academic experience with fun social program.
“I lived in various countries in Latin America which gave me the opportunity to participate in conferences with different philosophies, languages and modus operandi.”
Diego: Yes, I am addicted to MUNs. The most fun I have ever had was during MUNs; most of my best friends come from different conferences that I attended. Their most addictive feature is the fact that they provide you with the space to talk politics all day while wearing a suit and having beers with your friends at night.
MUNPlanet: You mentioned it is difficult to retire from MUNs - why is that so, and can a true MUNer actually ever fully retire from the community?
Diego: Well, it is hard to retire because it’s fantastic to have the chance to leave your day to day life behind for a long weekend, travel with your friends, play the role of a diplomat, get to know people from all over the world. Every MUN is a new opportunity to make new friends and engage in global dialogue. I believe that MUNs are the perfect platform for young people to practice cultural diplomacy because, even though we play a certain role during sessions, at the end of day we are all students who have similar goals and and cal learn much from each other.
I tried twice so far! Now I’m hoping I will actually succeed after EuroMUN 2014. I believe that after you hit a certain age and/or a certain stage in your career, it is no longer beneficial to actively participate in conferences. Moreover, seasoned MUNers have the responsibility to train the future generation of delegates, chairs, organizers and, when the time comes, take a step back and let them lead.
However, the fact that someone isn’t going to MUNs anymore doesn’t necesarily mean that they retired from the MUN Community; it’s possible to stay in touch with organizers, give advice when solicited. I think that spaces like MUN:Planet allow retired MUNers to keep in touch and support the current leaders of the MUN international circuit.
MUNPlanet: On your MUNPlanet profile, you stated that you attended 54 MUNs. From that variety, what conferences made greatest impact on you, and why?
Diego: This is a very difficult question. I think that COLMUN 2010, EuroMUN 2011, and OxIMUN 2012 were among the most important conferences I attended, not only because I met some of my best friends there, but also because they were very professionally planned and executed. EuroMUN 2013 is also very special to me because I was fortunate enough to lead it.
MUNPlanet: In 2013 you served as the Secretary-General of EuroMUN. What were the greatest challenges and rewards you experienced at that time?
Diego: The biggest challenge we faced was financial in nature. We struggled to find sponsors and the fact that we did find them in the end was one of the greatest rewards I received personally. Moreover, coordinating a staff of over 45 is always complicated. I worked with professional and ambitious people who made my everyday life much easier.I learned a lot during my time as SecGen, I think that participating in this type of exercises gives you such a training that university simply does not, which is why MUNs are so important in the development of one’s skills - particularly if one is interested in a career in international politics.
MUNPlanet: How your MUN experience connects to the career building efforts, and what would you recommend to the upcoming MUNers in that regard?
Well, I do think that MUNs help in developing your network and they are a career-building exercise out of which it’s possible to extract opportunities and meet people. The only advice I would give them is to use this opportunity not only to debate, but also to make friends, share experiences, listen to what others have to say, and keep in touch after the conference is over.
“The concept of MUN is a force to reckon with because it’s allowing students to leave the ideological paradigms of their politicians and actually engage in cultural diplomacy."
MUNPlanet: What MUN committees are your favourite? What do you think about historical and futuristic simulations - are they more demanding for delegates than the others?
Diego: My absolute favorite committees are crisis. I have coordinated crisis simulations for Colombia Model United Nations (COLMUN) , EuroMUN, Maastricht, HamMUN among others, and all of them were amazing experiences because the scenarios were always stressful and allowed you to see the true capacities of all the people participating. Moreover, if a crisis is done professionally, then it really allows the delegates to get a first glance into the lives of diplomats who have to deal with situations which require rapid response, coordination and diplomacy.
Historical committees are quite interesting because if you actually do the work and put yourself in the shoes and context of the actual diplomats then you can get familiar with how did the international system worked at the time and how many things changed between then and now. However, I don’t like historical committees which deal with cliché topics, such as the Cuban Missile Crisis or the Six Day War. When it comes to crisis, part of the challenge is to be original.
I am not a fan of futuristic committees, either. I don’t like the idea of a UN body which is based solely on predictions and speculations. While it may be good fun to try predicting how the United Nations will look like 100 years from now, we simply don’t have the proper means to make accurate predictions which is why I don’t see the academic value in doing such exercises.
MUNPlanet: In the past ten years, the number of MUNs has increased manifold. How do you see the future of MUNs as a concept, and can they really serve as a platform for change and become a transformative force in this interdependent world?
Diego: The concept of MUN is a force to reckon with because it’s allowing students to leave the ideological paradigms of their politicians and actually engage in cultural diplomacy. My favorite example of the strength that MUNs have is that during EuroMUN 2013 we had delegates and chairs from Pakistan and Israel who not only became great friends but who also had the chance to listen to one another and realize that they have things in common. If it wasn’t for MUN, they would have never met. MUNs are definitely transforming the way we see each other and they have the potential to build bridges.
MUNPlanet: One of the goals of MUNplanet is to gather MUNers who could become agents of positive change. Do you believe that MUNers can make for a real and impactful change in the world, and in International Relations as such?
Diego: Yes, we can and we have; there are many former MUNers who are working for the United Nations, other international organizations, as well as national governments, and they have, hopefully, taken with them all the valuable lessons that MUN gives to all of us.
MUNPlanet: Diego, thank you for sharing your insights for Fridays with MUNPlanet. All the best in your endeavors, and see you in the community.