My first day interning at the United Nations in New York City was also my first day in New York City. It was both exciting and confusing.
I got stuck on the wrong subway, was yelled at by a bus driver, felt a rush of energy when walking with the morning crowds in my business suit, and finally spent minutes standing in awe in front of the tall building of the United Nations (UN) Secretariat building at the corner of 1st Avenue and 42nd Street.
Most of all, however, I was wondering how I had actually ended up here, reporting for duty at the United Nations, a place I had only pictured in my wildest dreams.
Growing up in a small city in Germany, I was lucky to be raised by parents, a German-Romanian couple, who stressed the importance of education, cultural understanding and exploring the world.
No matter what “silly” idea I had, whether it was founding my own student newspaper in fifth grade or traveling to Australia by myself at the age of 19, they trusted and encouraged me to do whatever I wanted to do.
Despite the free spirit of the home I grew up in, being able to attend graduate school in the United States and having the chance to work for the United Nations were opportunities I considered too far away to even imagine.
The United Nations
The months I spent at the UN’s headquarters were breathtaking. I felt like I was not “just” an intern, but someone whose opinion was being respected and whose needs mattered.
At the same time, I was challenged in a way that very much helped me grow. From the first week, I became part of a team that took notes at consultations with 120 UN Member States. Sitting in those conference rooms, and listening to the voices of interpreters through headphones while taking notes was something I had, so far, only known from TV.
Many amazing opportunities followed: I was tasked with monitoring situations of conflict, provided research assistance on the topics of genocide and the responsibility to protect, drafted internal reports, accompanied two Special Advisers to high-level meetings, and attended conferences and lectures.
I was there for the 68th session of the General Assembly, when state leaders and diplomats gathered from all over the world, and one amazing event followed another.
I witnessed how indigenous groups from various regions came together to discuss current issues, and admired how I was suddenly surrounded by crowds dressed in colorful traditional clothes.
As part of a group of interns, I had the chance to meet the Secretary-General and to take a picture with him in the old General Assembly Hall.
In addition to the professional skills and expertise that I gained during this time, I also took a large portion of inspiration with me – thanks to the wonderful people I was working with.
A Path with Direction
Looking back today, I realize how many of the little steps I took throughout the years actually led me to the path I am now following, even though I did not know the direction I was headed at the time.
- My time in Australia, where I met many young travellers from all over the world, encouraged me to think more about what happens in other parts of the world and strengthened my interest in other cultures.
- Working as a freelance journalist forced me to work hard on my writing skills and taught me to be proactive and to work independently.
- Even the small action of reading a book about Afghanistan was a step along the way, as it sparked my interest in conflict studies, which then motivated me to intern with a foreign policy think tank and to write a Bachelor’s thesis on the Afghanistan conflict.
- When looking for further education in the field of international relations, my path then led me to Northeastern and, ultimately, to interning at and working for the United Nations.
Having recently graduated, I am once again not sure where exactly I am going. But knowing that there are so many things out there to be discovered and fought for, I view this as rather freeing than frightening.
The experiences and knowledge my colleagues brought with them from every corner of this world as well as the passion and dedication they brought to their work every day, are standards that I very much wish to live up to in the future.
And while this time is – again – a little bit confusing, it is also incredibly exciting. I trust that my path will continue to lead me.