Today, we are sharing with you a special interview with Stéphanie Toschi, Director of United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) at NMUN 2016. She is one of our young MUN:Planet members who is working for one of the largest MUNs worldwide - right at the Headquarters of the United Nations in New York. Read more on her as a MUNer and what got her to NMUN.
introduce yourself shortly to our readers on MUN:Planet
My name is Stéphanie, I am 23 years old and I am originally from Luxembourg. I am currently finishing up my Masters in International Relations at the Université Libre de Bruxelles, after having received a BA in Political Science and Sociology at the University of Bonn. I’ve been doing MUNs for a little over 4 years now, participating at conferences in Europe and the US. I’ve been in multiple different positions, delegate, rapporteur, and editor-in-chief but now I mainly chair.
How have you started MUN?
I started MUN as part of a seminar in the second year of my undergrad studies, where our delegation participated in a couple of smaller Preparation Simulations to prepare us for the National Model United Nations (NMUN) in NY. In 2012, I participated for the first time in NMUN NY, and I have been returning ever since. I started MUN because I knew that my studies lacked something. Political science can be very abstract and broad, and I just didn’t feel satisfied with what they told us in class. I heard about this project and wanted to see if this could be something for me, and the curiosity developed into passion right away. Since then, my studies have become a lot more interesting and I feel a lot more confident about what I am doing.
What kept you going to MUNs throughout the years?
I love the MUN Spirit. Coming together as a group of highly engaged and interested people, sharing a passion that only few people outside the MUN bubble can understand. Every time I come back from a conference, I feel this rush of confidence that I can do anything and everything I set out to do. I feel at the same time exhausted and full of energy to continue with life because I feel like it has great things in store for me. Well, this sounded a lot cheesier than I intended it to sound, but it’s the truth.
The entire staff of NMUN NY 2015 Week A
Explain a bit about NMUN – what is it all about and how can I partake in the conference?
NMUN conferences take place every year in NY and DC, and lately also in Europe (check out the dates at Welcome to National Model United Nations !). The biggest one is the one in NY. NMUN NY is an academic level conference, meaning only university students can apply, and you apply as a delegation from a specific school, not as single delegates. You can also do joint delegations together with another school. There is a whole range of universities that are already participating every year, but nothing stops you from creating and applying as a new delegation from your university. NMUN NY is so big (around 5000 students every year!!) that we have to split up the conference in two weeks, so your delegation can choose to either partake in the first or the second week. Both weeks have the same committees and the same topics, the only difference are the universities that participate. The last day of the conference plus closing ceremony takes place in the UN HQ in the GA Hall so that’s pretty awesome.
What is your role at NMUN?
For two years now I have been an NMUN Staff Member and for the conference in 2016 I will be serving as Director for the for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA). This means that I will be writing part of the background guide on the topics and I will be directing the Committee during the conference. At the conference, I will be hiring a chair who will lead the Committee while I do the substantive work and step in if things get complicated and confusing (i.e. voting process, points of order and such). The chair will be selected from delegates, who previously applied for such a position.
How have you ended up in this position at NMUN? What is the most exciting thing about it? What the biggest challenge?
As I mentioned earlier, we select chairs directly from a pool of candidates from within the delegates. At one point in my NMUN career, I decided to apply for a position as chair or rapporteur, in order to find out if I could see myself on the Dais at NMUN. Although my responsibilities as rapporteur were limited (I wasn’t a member of the staff after all), it still gave me a good overview of what it means to be on staff at NMUN. AND I LOVED IT. So I decided to take it a step further and become part of the staff. It can be so hectic and stressful but that makes you grow all the closer together both with your delegates, and with your fellow staff members. The biggest challenge for this year will be that I am the person who makes the calls about my committee and I will be the sole person responsible if something doesn’t work out. Yikes, responsibility.
What is the
most valuable skill you have learned from working for NMUN?
There are two things that I value extremely when it comes to NMUN. Every year through the Background guide writing process, your superiors edit your work and push you hard to produce the best possible outcome. I feel like my writing and editing skills have improved immensely thanks to NMUN. The second thing is leadership. I’ve learned that you don’t have to be an extrovert to be a leader and a role model, and that has been extremely helpful. I am not the most outgoing person and still I have the skills to run my committee smoothly, be in control of it, and to be a role model for my delegates.
What makes NMUN a unique experience no MUNer should miss?
NMUN is big. If you ever wanted to sit in an actual plenary sized committee, NMUN should be high up on your list. Besides, NMUN pushes you a lot harder than other conferences. We have sessions until 9:30PM or 10PM, which can be very tiring, frustrating, rewarding and exhilarating at the same time. We also want delegates to be proud of their work and have them produce the best possible text, which is why we edit very extensively and give elaborate feedback on working papers. This experience makes you bond with your committee and especially your working group like nothing else. Also, the closing ceremony is in the GA Hall so that’s pretty dope!
The Under SG of NMUN NY 2015 and the directors and assistant-directors of the ECOSOC
When asked “My favourite thing that happened at NMUN was…” what would you answer?
Ban Ki-moon happened and I still can’t believe it. At this year’s conference (2015), we had Ban Ki-moon as our closing speaker and nobody was expecting him. In fact, we had a doppelgänger at the conference, a faculty advisor who looked exactly like him, which lead to the running gag that Ban Ki-moon was our special guest and then he really was and our minds were blown. It’s not only the thought of him speaking to us that still gives me goose bumps, but the reactions of the delegates, who all jumped out of their seats and started screaming and cheering and clapped so hard it was deafening. It was a really moving sight, the symbolic value his presence had for those 1500 students in the GA Hall.
Do you consider your (N)MUN experience helpful for entering the professional labour market?
I would have none of the skills I have that are valuable for the job market without MUN. I’ve learned so much about international law, international politics and diplomacy that is useful in my everyday work life, even if it is only to hold an informed conversation with a co-worker or superior. Also, my ability to put abstract ideas into concrete proposals is something that has come in handy a lot. Right now I am interning at the Council of Europe and I have to write reports on meetings, and it’s so easy for me to synthesize a 3-hour long meeting in a report of merely half a page. This is in great deal due to MUN.
Never have I ever – what is left on your MUN journey that you are eager to experience?
It’s a shame but I’ve never been on ExCom. And that is something that I would love to do at some point because I love organizing things and I’ve never been able to do it in the MUN context.
If you could choose any position in any UN institution, which one would it be and why?
I’d love to work as a Human Rights Officer at one of the UN missions abroad. I am convinced about the importance of human rights (one of the reasons why I am a big fan of the Council of Europe) and their observance, and I love living abroad, so this would be great. I know it wouldn’t be an easy task, but I feel like that would be quite an awesome job.
MUN:Planet is the most active MUN community online – what would you tell fellow MUNers most about the page?
MUN:Planet is awesome because it gives some structure to the wild jungle that is the MUN world. You can find information about specific conferences, as well as best practices for ExCom, chairs and delegates. It is super useful especially for first-timers at all levels and is a great resource to start your research on what you have to expect. I love the questions, because they are a great outlet for people who want to share their experience, and people who are looking for answers to questions they always asked themselves.
At MUN we always here at the closing event “You will change the world” – What are your plans in that regard?
This is a tricky question. I used to have very high ambitions and be very idealistic about things. I used to think that at one point, I will be able to change the world just because I believed in me. I don’t think that anymore. I now know that it takes a lot more than idealistic ideas and self-confidence to change the world and that the changes you are able to make are not necessarily ones that are visible or noticeable. But if everybody does their part, together we will be able to give a future to the generations that come after us. So to do that, everybody has to get out there and become active to the extent of his/her abilities! So my personal plan is to share my belief that international organizations are worth the effort and will be able to contribute massively to changing the world with the people I meet throughout life. I will try to stay passionate about the things I care about and not let myself get disappointed by setbacks or failure.
Thank you for taking the time for this interview, Stéphanie!
Do you have any questions to Stéphanie? Have you been to NMUN before? Share your experiences in the comment section!