INTERVIEW: Ria Tandon of UPES on How Model United Nations (MUNs) Help Law Students

Meet Ria Tandon, a law student from UPES Dehradun who made it big in the MUN circuit through a rather unconventional route- The International Press(IP).

For the uninitiated The International Press (IP) is that part of the MUN Conferences which simulates the role played by the print media during an actual UN Conference. Basically, they write Reuters/Al-Jazeera – styled articles analyzing the debate which happens in the MUN.

In this interview to Lawctopus Ria talks about excelling in MUNs, the top 3 MUNs in India, how MUNing as a member of the “International Press” helps a law student and addresses all doubts a prospective law school MUNer may have regarding participating in MUNs as a part of the International Press.

PS- RW is Ryan Wilson.

RW: Hi Ria, so what got you interested in MUN Conferences?

Ria: I got a chance to experience MUN at my school where I got to know about the concept but sadly I couldn’t attend it. My real interest developed when the concept was introduced to me in my University. Since I had a slight idea about Model UNs, it was easier from me to pick up from there.

Some seniors in my college use to hold mock sessions so that we juniors could have deep insight and learn the techniques to have handle the technical aspects of the Model UN. We use to discuss topic like Illicit trafficking of Small Arms, Rape as a Weapon of War and Sleep cells , and the 9 /11 attack , so we learnt much more than what we learnt from our law classes .

These topic were challenging and it helped us to get out of our mundane routine. In first year you really don’t expect to understand International Law but Model UN helped me enhance my knowledge- who doesn’t like to learn something extra in law school! These topics interested me and slowly I developed a deeper insight and liking towards International affairs.

RW: Any awards/achievements you’re proud of?

Ria: To be selected as the head of Reporters for PIMUN, Paris (but couldn’t attend for some reasons and then again came the opportunity to be a part of Model UN workshop held at UN Headquarters New York .

All these opportunities came after I was selected as the Deputy Secretary General for UPESMUN 2012.  Then being successively selected as the Head of International Press for MUN’s like IIT Kanpur and Editor in Chief for Jamia Milia Model United Nations.

RW: How does the International Press work in an MUN and what role it plays during the MUN conference?

Ria: The International Press plays a significant role in any MUN conference. No conference can be complete without the Press Corp.

Think how your life would be if you had a plain newspaper just with pictures but no words and no people who would pour out their emotions which is in sync with the correct way to write-

The International Press captures the two/three days of debate which happens in Model UN Conference in the form of daily newsletters. It keeps a hawk eye on the not just every move of the delegates or the participants and much like the real Press which is there at the actual UN analyses stances of various delegates.

For example, if we are discussing the Kyoto Protocol, the reporter in the committee captures the stance of the countries and adds his/ her own unique analysis. The most important aspect of the Press is to tell the delegates and even the people at large as to how discussions regarding the agenda concluded.

In the Model UN world the trusted sources which are mostly relied on with respect to the reports which the delegates present to the executive board are press reports of agencies like Reuters which are very careful about the use of words.

For example, whenever the Reuters use the word “terrorist” in their articles, they make sure that the word is in “direct speech”, so as retain their perception of being unbiased.

Then you have other sources like Al Jazeera also strive for such an unbiased perception by news coverage that presents both the sides of the coin. These were some of the technicalities we as the Press members have to keep in mind even at the time of a Model UN Conference. Technicalities apart, there is also a lot of hard work involved!

RW: How does a member of the IP prepare for an MUN Conference?

I personally start my preparation first with brain storming with regards to deciding on the theme for a newsletter followed by a Name complementing the newsletter.

Once the whole structure is prepared, I instruct my Press Team to read the agenda in detail with respect to the committee which I allot them. I personally make that I have an overview of the agenda to grill delegates during “Press Conferences” (where the International Press interacts with delegates).

RW: Do MUNs (in general) incentivize the IP as much as the delegates or the Executive Board?

Ria: The International Press is greatly undervalued by many organizers in the MUN world. Funnily enough, those who undermine its value wish to see their pictures clicked and have elaborated interviews in the Press Conferences. In high quality Model UN Conferences, you have the press members actively participating as well.

In my opinion many MUN organizers feel content with persons who are merely good writers and with little knowledge on how Model UNs work. This is why I really appreciate the high standards of the International Press maintained in the Delhi MUN circuit(and the lucrative prize money as well).

RW: In your opinion, what are the top 3 MUNs in the country?

Ria: The top three MUNs in the country for me would be HMUN India, IGIT Delhi and CBIT MUN because their selection procedure is unbiased   and in these MUN, the IP is of high standard.

Ria Tandon of UPES on MUNs, model united nations

RW: It is said that the quality of MUNs being organized is deteriorating. Is it true? If yes, why so?

Ria: I wouldn’t say that the quality is deteriorating but there are some aspects which has clogged and stagnated the circuit. People are not getting selected based on their merit, but because they are friends with the organizers or that they are have some influence in the selection procedure.

Some MUN only for money but not for the passion anymore(I do not blame them because it is very logical that any college student who has the skills   will do it but the sad part is that the passion is dying). It has become more like a commercialized activity.

I have seen many MUN training camps extracting huge money from the school students not for the reason for imparting education but only to further a business model.

RW: How does MUNing, especially as a part of the IP, help a law student?

Ria: A law Student can benefit great benefit comes in abundance. When you do research generally you have agenda (The Topic of Debate), for example “Universal Jurisdiction” which involve International Law preparation. Then comes the aspect of writing well, anyone can right but very few can “write right”.

The most important aspect as being a part of International Press is that you have be correct with your grammar and also have a good hold over the vocabulary.

As a law student we  are indoctrinated with the habit of  reading a lot and in MUNs you have to read a lot about the agenda you deal with and then by writing it in the form of a report, you enhance your understanding of the agenda.

It is pretty similar to what a law student does while writing a research paper- take an aspect or view point and then add one’s views to it. This is how a good research paper differs from that of one where you obtain the idea but do not add you own understanding or essence to it.

As the member of International Press you become almost perfect when it comes to the work of editing. The work of editing is no walk in the park!

In model UNs, as a member of International Press it is important to know what the significant points should be included in the newsletter as it is not humanely possible to include everything which happens in a three day conference. We are very selective with our choice with respect to what we put in the newsletter.

As a Law student have greatly benefitted by being a part of International Press , it helped me in increase my typing speed, put my thoughts in a proper way and removed redundancy which was earlier present whenever started to write an essay.

Many law students are part of the editorial board of various law journals, so I would recommend to those who are looking for starting one at their college to try out MUN once so that you get an experience on how to do the editing work.

This will just not help you in your projects, essays or research papers but will also give you a chance to be the editor-in chief for your college law journal. It might even help you tailor your resume!

RW: Critics of MUNs say one’s MUNs achievements have little value on a CV for a job. What are your thoughts on this?

Ria: This is a pertinent question which I would like to answer in depth. When I started with International Press most of the people (who were solely focused on moots and parliamentary debates) said that it was a waste of time. I too had my doubts at first so I consulted some of the students who were actively involved with MUNs at Harvard. They told me to focus on one thing which you are good at.

The moment you enter college, seniors are buzzing with the word “mooting”. I am sure every lawyer is not good at litigation, which is why it is important to do what you’re good at and be best in whatever it is.  MUNs look just as good on your CV as do Moots or Parliamentary Debates.

It is just that you should know how to sell your skills which you have learnt during the Model UN Conference. There are terms like “Chairperson”/”Crisis Director” which the non-MUN world wouldn’t know, so it is not undervalued it is just how smartly you are able to show your prospective employees that you have the skills which they are looking for.

Ivy League universities give special recognition to students who are involved in activities like Model UNs. All these activities be it Mooting, Parliamentary Debates and Model UNs are a great way to enhance your personality and have an edge over your counter parts.

Nothing is harmful if it contributes in a constructive manner.

I would like to share the example of Ryan Villanueva (a delegate from Yale) who quit his job at Goldman Sachs in 2010 to start “Best Delegate”(an online magazine specific to MUNing) with Mr. Chan, a graduate of the University of California, Los Angeles.

They met while competing, and now help high schools, universities and nonprofit organizations create Model U.N. systems and travel the world live-blogging at college-run conferences.

RW: If you had to sum up the insight MUNs have given you on diplomacy.

Ria: I’d quote Daniele Vare, who said that diplomacy is the art of letting someone have your way.

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