Over 100 students from six countries attended the first session of the BME Model United Nations Conference.
“The BME Model UN Conference is built on openness and fresh ideas: this is what we need if we want to find solutions for global challenges, the financial crisis, refugee issues and environmental problems”, said Anirudh Bodkhe, a student at BME’s Faculty of Mechanical Engineering and Secretary General of the recently established BMEMUN (BME Model United Nations 2018) Conference, in his address during the opening ceremony of the international event, supported by the Faculty of Economics and Social Sciences. “Now close your eyes for a moment and when you open them again, look at the challenges of the coming days through the eyes of responsible decision-makers”, the organiser asked the participants.
Model UN Conferences have been organised for several decades in many countries by MUN clubs, schools or universities. Their role is to simulate the procedural and organisational environment of an international body by inviting secondary school or university students to debate certain socio-political issues, learn about the opinions of other countries or organisations and eventually reach a consensus.
The first BMEMUN was an English-language event organised at the university, which attracted great interest with over one hundred delegates registering: most of them foreign students studying in Hungary, but some also arriving from five other countries.
Applicants were asked to download the background materials from the BMEMUN website and use them to argue the position of the country they represented. In practice, just like in real life, it involved committee meetings, debates and technical discussions.
Participants simulated the work of five bodies, for example the UN’s General Assembly debated the political and economic impact of asylum seekers and forced migrants, while the Economic and Social Committee discussed ways to promote sustainable development.
“The conference allows participants to gain valuable experience in working as committee members or organising an event by themselves”, Gyula Zilahy, Vice Dean for Research and International Affairs of the Faculty of Economics and Social Sciences and associate professor of the Department of Environmental Economics, who, as a main organiser, helped students to realise the event and also provided the venue for the programmes. He added that as an expert in environmental economics, he was aware of the importance of interdisciplinarity, to have people from different professional backgrounds think and work together, and finally spoke highly of the impressive, active attitude of the young people involved in organising the event.
The keynote speaker of the plenary session before the committee meetings was Valéria Horváth, who works for the Climate Reality Project founded by former US Vice President Al Gore. The aim of the organisation is to inform the public about the socio-economic problems triggered by climate change. She outlined the main effects of the phenomenon and asked the participants to consider these during their work. These changes can affect most areas of life: floods or drought can impact living conditions and the productivity of agriculture, forest fires or storms can demolish entire settlements, while the homes of millions may be jeopardised by rising ocean levels. These all affect political decisions to a great degree.
“Through the Model UN Conference young people can get to know other countries better and experience the problems faced by the people living there”, stressed coordinator for international affairs Valéria Balogh, who also help foreign students in organising the event. She mentioned that she first heard about the UN Model project two decades ago, when her own children took part in it. “I was very happy to see my students proactively put together such an event here at BME, so I also tried to help them with some useful ideas”, she said, adding that mobilising students is not always easy. Due to the shortage of time it was problematic to attract a lot of students from abroad, because lengthy visa application processes made the invitation difficult. “This will be the challenge of the next forum”, she said, expressing her hopes for future BMEMUN events.
“Debating can only be learnt by doing it. Participants learnt about the need for formulating opinions and about the processes this involves, while also having the opportunity to practice accepting or politely rejecting the points of view of others. Also, they could acquire presentation techniques without any serious consequences and improve their presentation skills”, said Valéria Balogh, adding that the students who were most actively involved in organising the BMEMUN Conference were those who also participated in other programmes, such as excursions or the recently held „International festival 2018” event either as performers or members of the audience. (Editor’s note: bme.hu also reported on the festival.) „During the festival they showcased their own countries and traditions in an informal environment, while here they demonstrated the skills required for disciplined work.”
After the success of this event the organisers are already working on the preparations for next year’s conference.
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Photo: János Philip