This summer, I am interning with the United Nations High Commission for Refugees in Geneva, Switzerland. The UNHCR was established in 1950 by the United Nations General Assembly. The agency is mandated to lead and coordinate international action to protect refugees and resolve refugee problems worldwide. Its primary purpose is to safeguard the rights and well-being of refugees. It strives to ensure that everyone can exercise the right to seek asylum and find safe refuge in another State, with the option to return home voluntarily, integrate locally or to resettle in a third country. It also has a mandate to help stateless people (UNHCR). The UNHCR Website provides extensive information on its areas of focus, including emergency response, protection and capacity building. They also put out updates each week on major refugee crises around the world.
As an International Development and Public Health student, I have spent a lot of time learning about the UN system in my coursework and am still in awe that this has materialized. As a freshman, I started talking to a contact in the UNHCR about her job, her perspective on the organization, and any advice she had for pursuing a career in this field. As a sophomore, I started inquiring about potential internship opportunities. Between my relative lack of experience and the fact that I may have started inquiring too late in the year, she told me that there weren’t any open positions that I could fill that summer. I found another great internship opportunity, where I gained valuable experience and expanded both my skill set and my resume. Early this fall, I got in touch with her again. Because I was ahead on credits, I told her that if there was a higher demand for interns in the spring than in the summer, I was available to take the semester off to work with the UNHCR (my alternative to a traditional study abroad). I provided her my updated resume and was able to talk about my interest in a more informed way. After seeing my dedication (or realizing that I wasn’t going to give up and leave her alone) she offered me a position for the summer of 2015.
This is an incredible opportunity for me to learn what it is like to work in a multinational organization. I feel that with three years of undergrad under my belt, I will be able to make a meaningful contribution to this organization. I am excited to get a first hand perspective of how international organizations like the UNHCR actually work. I think this will be a great learning experience for me, particularly in understanding the challenges the UN organizations face from a first hand perspective.
I will primarily work with the Communications and Public Relations department under UNHCR Spokesperson Melissa Fleming, who was recently featured on TED, discussing the Syrian refugee crisis and working towards more transformative refugee interventions. She has done a lot of work in my field of interest, and I am excited to learn more about how she got to where she is today.
I will contribute to daily media monitoring and will be responsible for pulling together a weekly impact report. This report will outline how UNHCR press releases, briefing notes and multimedia were covered in the media and on external platforms. I will also gather input from social media for this analysis. I will do research on current crises that will be used in articles, columns and speeches throughout the summer. The UNHCR is also planning for World Refugee Day on June 20th. Helping to organize this event will be a major part of my role in the beginning of the summer.
Additionally, I hope to shadow in the Public Health department one day a week. While I will not have as active a role as I will in the communications department, I hope to learn more about different roles within public health in the field of disaster response. I have spoken to my supervisor about this and we will have to work out the logistics of this option once I start work in May. I’ll be sure to keep you all posted!
In just three weeks, I’ll be taking off for Geneva. I’m not sure what to expect, but I know this is going to be the learning experience of a lifetime.