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How to Get Involved in Global Issues as a Student

By Rafis Abazov

Updated March 21, 2021 Updated March 21, 2021

A major challenge for all students at colleges and universities outside of large metropolitan centers is how to get involved in global issues and international networks – yet surely everyone wants to. After all, we live in a globalizing world and many of the most exciting opportunities are at the international level.

Is it impossible to get right to the top of global issues while still a student? Yes; the right combination of an innovative approach and creative thinking can help you open the right doors. I have one example to provide: a couple of months of hard but exciting work, and my students from Al Farabi Kazakh National University (KazNU) were able to shake hands with a Nobel Prize winner in economics and have pictures taken with high-level UN officials. Here’s how…

Choose to study global issues

So often students work on boring assignments and unexciting final papers! Yet, choose the right topic in virtually any field and you can make links to global issues and the most-discussed topics around the world – from climate change to economic crisis, and from new financial tools supporting the least-developed countries to biological research to help solve the global food crisis.

For example, my students at Al Farabi KazNU have taken a lead in organizing their classmates, colleagues and all interested students from universities from around Almaty city to discuss the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) within the framework of a mini Model UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) conference titled “Renewed and Strengthened Global Partnership for the Development of Least Developed Countries.”

Over the course of several sessions they discussed the major challenges for the implementation of SDGs and the RIO+20 agenda in the world’s least developed countries. This event represented a unique opportunity to discuss global issues within Kazakhstan’s national priorities, such as the Green Bridge and Green Economy initiatives, Strategy Kazakhstan 2050 and Astana World Expo 2017.

Get involved in the Model UN

The right amount of creative thinking, in-depth research and analysis of global issues should allow you to develop interesting and robust ideas; the next step is to share these with others interested in the same questions. There are many opportunities in the rapidly globalizing educational system to have your say on global issues, and the Model UN is one of them.

All Model UN conferences are a part of the global Model UN university and school students’ movement, which features world-leading universities such as Columbia University, Harvard University, Oxford University, Moscow State University and others. It is an effective and exciting platform not only for students, but also for all young people to learn about the UN system, global development and international cooperation, and a chance to meet real practitioners from the UN system and international NGOs.

For instance, the Model UN Silk Way initiative was established at Farabi Kazakh National University (KazNU) in Fall 2013 as a national and regional hub to bring together all students and interested parties who have an interest in the work of the UN system and global agenda for sustainable development, and create an international platform for discussing and addressing issues related to sustainable development.

Start building an international network

Your activity at a local level – at your college or university – is an important first step towards building an international network. It is great to prepare a strong high-quality paper or report and organize your classmates and friends into a Model UN conference or debate. However, it is equally important to reach out to the right people – the drivers of global agendas and ideas – and work with them to build an international network.

For example, our Model UN-New Silk Way focused on a topic which is widely discussed among world leaders and therefore it attracted attention from leading international experts, from the United Nations Information Center (UNIO), United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) and some others. Importantly, our forum brought together about 100 young participants with a strong interest in sustainable development issues and the work of the UN system in this area, who actively interacted and exchanged ideas.

Our mini Model UN New Silk Way has become a step towards preparation for a large regional Model UN Silk Way conference, which will be held at Al Farabi KazNU in May 2014. It is expected that prominent officials from the UN headquarters in New York City will attend, as well as representatives of about 10 countries in Central and South Asia will take part, including Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Afghanistan, India and Pakistan. Participants will be selected on a competitive basis according to their knowledge of the work of the UN system and global sustainable development agenda.

Have questions about how to get involved in the Model UN? Leave a comment below.

This article was originally published in February 2014 . It was last updated in March 2021

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Written by

Dr Rafis Abazov is a visiting professor at Al Farabi Kazakh National University, Almaty, Kazakhstan, where he also manages a joint program with Earth Institute of Columbia University (New York, USA). He has written 10 books, including The Culture and Customs of the Central Asian Republics (2007) and has regularly contributed op-eds to The New York Times. Mr Abazov enjoys collecting rare books on British exploration of Central Asia and reading travelogues on Central Asia and the Middle East by Eugene Schuyler, Vladimir Bartold and Lord George Curzon. He has also authored photo exhibitions about his trips to Central Asian republics, Turkey and Afghanistan. 

Contact info: Office 1400 Rectorat, 71 Al Farabi Ave., Al Farabi KazNU, Almaty, 050040, Kazakhstan