Srour Sorkunthika, 18, was shocked when she was asked to represent the United States at the United Nations. For a first-year international studies student at the Royal University of Phnom Penh’s Institute of Foreign Languages, taking on the role of the world’s most powerful country seemed a heavy burden.
“The United States is a powerful country compared to Cambodia, and at the time, I felt worried inside and I didn’t know what I needed to focus on,” she said.
Sorkunthika was among 39 Cambodian students immersed into the cutthroat world of international diplomacy on Saturday as they role-played UN delegates at the Phnom Penh Model United Nations.
The conference, which was held at the Cambodia-Korea Cooperation Center and organised by the UN Volunteers program in conjunction with the Royal University of Phnom Penh’s Department of International Studies at the Institute of Foreign Languages, saw 39 Cambodian students from five universities playing delegates at the UN Economic and Social Council.
The delegates voted 38-1 to pass a resolution, which defined fictional terms for the UN’s real-life Post-2015 Development Agenda.
Isabelle Devylder, the UN Volunteers program officer in Cambodia, said that Model UN programs play an effective role in educating young people about the inner-workings of international relations while teaching important skill sets.
“This is the great learning opportunity for the students to practice speaking skills, negotiation skills, problem solving skills and team work,” she said.
The fake assembly was chaired by Sam Ath Sambath Sreysour, a 21-year-old student from the Institute of Foreign Language’s Department of International Studies.
Sreysour, who filled the role of the French delegate at last year’s Security Council simulation, said that it was an even greater challenge to mediate between all 39 participants.
She said: “I have learnt a lot of skills from school and the conference by practicing the UN system, diplomacy, public speaking skills, writing skills, flexibility and understanding the process of the international system – especially the culture of sharing.”
Khieu Sunpheng, the 21-year-old Institute of Foreign Languages student who played the Kyrgyzstani delegate, said that he could now better appreciate issues common to developing countries.
“Even though the situation of this country was not far different from Cambodia, I can learn how to raise solutions and to defend arguments of [Kyrgyzstan], which meant that I had to challenge other countries and to cooperate with other delegates.”
United States delegate Sorkunthika said that being in the shoes of the world’s foremost superpower put her world knowledge to the test.
“I tried my best to work on my research of the United States’ situation, the background of the countries that are under the power of the United States, and I was committed to learn different things until the end because it could help me, as well as society as a whole, to understand more about diplomatic situations around the world.”
Although this is the fourth Model UN held at the Royal University, where the Institute of Foreign Languages organised the event, this is the first year that the UN officially endorsed the event through its UN Volunteers program. Chandarith Neak, lecturer at the Department of International Studies, said that the partnership with the UN made the conference stronger.
“It was an inspiration to work in international diplomacy and leadership,” he said.