Not long ago, I was in a discussion about consuls and the United Nations. Recapping UN history: it was founded on October 24, 1945 in San Francisco with 51 member nations. Today there are 193, and the head quarters are in New York City (you may tour certain parts of the building to learn about the art from around the world, and with the help of one of the wonderful guides get all kinds of tidbits that put a human face on this world-wide organization).
Throughout the United States, we then find chapters of the “UN Association of the United States of America” and under that umbrella, groups of “Model UN” functioning at schools and universities. This is where local consuls come in.
Foreign consuls are a great resource for adding a global flavor to local UN activities. I ‘ve lost track of how many events I attended over the years in my consular role, even serving as a judge at one or two mock UN meetings at a school. On a higher educational level, such as any UN event hosted by a university, the consular stakes are higher. Everyone wants participation by the local consuls, but what to do with them? Let’s look at that dilemma for a moment.
Consuls, career and honorary, receive loads of invitations to local events. Like the rest of us, they have to do a cost-benefit analysis of the situation: is my presence (in this case, at a UN event) a tribute to the country I represent, or will my absence reflect poorly on it? That’s something every consul has to decide on his/her own. But here’s the kicker: when consuls are invited to something like this they should be recognized for what they are, the local official representatives of other nations.
I recall how I hustled to get to one particular UN event, because I believed it was important that Finland was present since we were not that well-known in the community at the time. In other words, I wanted to be there for the sake of my country, not for who I was as a person. Because of the inconvenient location there were no more than a handful of colleagues, but at least our little group had gone through the effort of attending on behalf of the countries we represented. Later, we commented to each other how only two of us were acknowledged (correctly with the name of the country). The rest of us might as well have stayed at the office.
Very simply, at your next UN event and if you’re fortunate enough to have consuls attend, make sure you recognize their countries (alphabetical order works very well). This takes the gathering from being local to international.