Elena Ganacheva is an International Relations student (Commerce minor) at UBC. Actively involved in the Model United Nations (MUN) community there, Elena’s biggest commitment is leading a team as Secretary-General to organize UBCMUN, a conference that attracts over 300 delegates across North America each year. Elena’s past leadership positions include Vice-President Internal of the MUN Students Association at UBC and director for committees at various MUN conferences. Verna Yam (questions in bold) interviewed Elena on behalf of UNAC-V.
Can you tell us more about your interests?
I’m really passionate about international issues and learning about them, as well as helping others learn more about them too. I really enjoy MUN as a means to do that.
How did you learn about MUN and what moved you to try it out?
I learned about MUN at Clubs Days, where all student clubs set up booths to promote their activities in September. My friend and I were looking for opportunities and found the MUN Student Association (MUNSA). I really liked the idea of MUN, especially since I used to do debate, and realize there is no collaboration in debate, there is only argument. So, I was attracted to the idea of MUN since I get to use my debate skills but also collaborate with other delegates to find solutions to world issues.
So how exactly did you start getting involved?
I bit the bullet and signed up to go with MUNSA to Northwest MUN-Seattle right away. I represented Bolivia in the General Assembly, which was really interesting because we talked about sustainable development, and Bolivia advocates for the rights of Mother Earth. If I had not represented Bolivia in that committee, I would never have learned about the initiatives that Bolivia is working on.
What’s the most valuable thing that you’ve learned from MUN?
Simulating the UN and pretending to be a diplomat within that framework really opened my eyes to how international relations actually works in the UN, and what the challenges are to implementing changes that we want in the world. I also learned about the limitations of the UN framework and how the UN can actually effect change within their limitations.
What other knowledge, lessons, or skills did you learn from MUN?
Through MUN, I’ve become much more comfortable with speaking in front of other people, meeting new people and talking to them about things I care about, even if I’ve never talked to them before. Before doing MUN, I was quite shy and not very good at public speaking. Through MUN, I’ve become much more comfortable with anything to do with speaking. This will help me in the future with networking and lobbying and actually getting my ideas out to the world.
It’s also really helped me with research. When I write a paper, it’s a lot easier for me to find the sources I need and write something really concisely and quickly.
Aside from MUN, what role does the UN play in your life?
My knowledge of the UN has motivated me to pursue a career more involved with what UN does. I’m really interested in policy; especially making sure Canada takes on Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and implements them here. We hear a lot about Canada helping implement SDGs abroad, but I feel that Canadians don’t understand how relevant SDGs can be locally.
What’s one thing about the UN that you think fellow students or youth should know?
I don’t think people in Canada or my age understand the scope of what the UN does. We always hear how the UN Security Council isn’t reacting to a certain situation and the failures of Peacekeepers. However, I don’t think that most people understand that the UN addresses a lot of other things, like the Law of the Sea or other multilateral negotiations on shipping and air travel. There’s also the work of the UN does in developing nations and providing emergency aid. These are very concrete things that the UN does that are often overlooked, which I wish more people knew about. That’s why I really like MUN, because it’s how I learned about all these things that the UN does.
You mentioned earlier that you want to engage people in international issues – why do you think it’s important for youth to learn about the UN?
The UN is a major framework for international relations. Even for youth that aren’t pursuing international relations, even if they are pursuing engineering or computer science for example, they will be doing things that the UN engages in internationally. Considering our globalizing world, if you know about the amazing amount of resources the UN provides; you can actually use that to your advantage in the future.