Warrane College UNSW | college accommodation for students at UNSW
Warrane College UNSW | college accommodation for students at UNSW

Truman gets a taste of life at the UN

Warrane resident Truman Biro is not a typical participant in the worldwide Model UN project. A fourth-year Commerce/Law student who attended high school on the Gold Coast, he says he knew “absolutely nothing” about international relations and the United Nations before a friend urged him to get involved.

“I was told that it was great fun, the people were great and the model UN itself was interesting,” says the residential tutor at Warrane, who is now also an academic tutor in law.

His first model UN – the Asia-Pacific Model United Nations Conference (AMUNC) took place in Canberra in winter last year. After passing the selection process, he was placed in the second General Assembly which was looking at the topic of economics and he was asked to represent the United States.

“It was indeed a lot of fun,” he said. “I learnt a lot, particularly about the Hawala an alternative remittance scheme that operates in middle eastern and north African states.

“The issue with Hawala is that it’s easy to launder money and props up the drug industry (particularly in post-war Afghanistan) but it’s also really helpful in sending money back to families, because the ‘legal’ options are quite expensive.”

Truman says that the main point of taking part in model UNs is to learn negotiation and diplomacy skills in a setting where you represent and argue a country’s opinion or policy, no matter how different it is to your own beliefs.

“I actually won best delegate for the committee at AMUNC,” he said. “And because I won that award, I was asked by UNSW to participate in the New York National Model UN Conference in April this year – the largest and most ‘competitive and prestigious’ model UN in the world.

“Even though it is called a ‘national’ model UN, people from all over the world go, and maybe only a third of the people were from the US. “Because the committees are so large – there were about 120 people in mine – we represented our countries in pairs.

“I was in UNESCO representing Saudi Arabia with a friend from uni. The topic was Freedom of Information, which, like Saudi Arabia, was quite interesting. Luckily people in the committee didn’t realise the irony of our participation, and the topic became focused on education, specifically women’s education – another fun one for us Saudis.

“The conference itself was intense, with the committee starting at 8:30am and finishing at 10:30pm.

“The US students were crazy and stayed up until 3.00 am writing resolutions.

“The conference was in the Marriott Marquis, right in Times Square, and while I was staying in the hotel over a period of one week there was a red carpet opening for a Broadway show and a massive promo for the Nokia Lumia in Times Square.

“The conference ended in the UN building itself where we got to use the General Assembly chambers, including voting on resolutions with the real voting buttons. It was really awesome running around to various countries and sitting there, knowing that some of the world’s great leaders had also sat right there!

“This was quite special because, given the heightened levels of security nowadays, it is actually quite difficult to see the chambers let alone to use it.”

Truman said that a few days later he and some of the other participants were lucky enough to convince someone from the US delegation to allow them clearance into a Security Council meeting.

“The most amazing thing about seeing the real Security Council meeting,” he said, “was that it was almost exactly how the model UN is run, and after speaking with a few delegates for various countries I confirmed that every committee mimics model UN as well – which makes it good future training for diplomats.”

After the conference Truman spent several weeks travelling to Washington DC and New York city. He says one other thing that made the experience worthwhile was the additional activities, including speeches by many interesting people, ranging from diplomats to politicians and journalists.

There were also careers fairs and similar activities to let participants know what jobs are available in the world of international relations and social events every night.

Truman concluded: “Although I had absolutely zero knowledge of international relations when I got involved, I came to realise just how important it is to almost every sphere of our lives.

“It’s not just future diplomats that would benefit from model UN but bankers, politicians, journalists and so on.”

The world of Model UN is not over for Truman yet. Early next year he will be representing UNSW at WorldMUN in Melbourne – the second-largest model UN, which is run by Harvard University .

He says that if anyone wants any information on that or Model UN generally to feel free to email him.