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Internship Abroad at the United Nations in Switzerland

United Nations building in snow in Geneva, Switzerland.
United Nations building covered by a snowfall in Geneva, Switzerland.

The day after returning home from my first study abroad experience, I began searching for a program that provided the opportunity to complete an international internship. I knew that in the field of International Affairs, it was important for my résumé to have experience not only living overseas, but working abroad as well. I also wanted to work on improving my language and intercultural business skills.

I found what I was looking for through the Kent State University Geneva Program. During my study abroad semester, I was given the chance to interview for a variety of internships of interest. I landed an interesting internship that introduced me to people from around the world and brought me to the ground floor of the United Nations.

My internship was with the Indigenous People’s Center for Documentation, Research, and Information (doCip) which serves as the Technical Secretariat for the United Nations’ Human Rights Council (known during my internship as the Commission on Human Rights). DoCip is a unique non-profit that acts as a hub for indigenous issues and information dissemination. It is tasked with the responsibility of assisting indigenous representatives attending the Council, ensuring that they have the support and tools necessary to allow their voices to be heard amongst the much larger countries and representative groups in attendance.

During my internship, I worked side by side with the non-profit’s employees to prepare for and implement the Technical Secretariat for that year. This included arranging accommodations, providing translation and interpretation services, and advocating for the representatives’ needs, as well as giving access to simple but essential items such as photocopying and technology tools at the conference. While other nation groups had sophisticated means of promoting their goals, indigenous representatives often lacked the basic means of furthering their cause, and the organization I joined helped to fill that gap. Part of my internship also supported the indigenous representatives attending the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, held in New York, NY every year.

One of my favorite memories is when I had the honor of meeting and delivering a letter to the President of the Commission. The letter advocated for the needs of a certain indigenous group, and after watching a session, it was my job to make contact with him once it concluded. As I approached him, I completely forgot the message I had repeatedly practiced in French and resorted to using English. Fortunately, he was perfectly gracious and I was able to deliver my message on behalf of the representatives.

In addition to being able to take part in the Commission on Human Rights, I had the pleasure of meeting passionate and brilliant representatives from nations around the world. At one point, I was even asked to help with the meal preparation for a dinner reception consisting in over 400 representatives. This led to a wonderful evening of learning how to make traditional molé out of a borrowed kitchen, staying up until 4 a.m. to slowly stir the concoction to perfection. That night I learned more about the culture of an indigenous population than a textbook could have ever provided. During the hours that passed prior to and during the actual Commission, I had the chance to sit and talk with many of the representatives, learning fascinating aspects regarding their culture and their historical struggle as a people.

View of the Lake of Geneva.
View of the Lake of Geneva.

Three Tips for Finding the Right Internship Abroad

International internships provide a diversified learning platform through which one can develop interpersonal, cultural, and business related skills while immersed in a foreign environment. Internships overseas can be an enjoyable and rewarding experience, but there are also a few things to keep in mind when searching for the right fit.

1. You may not get your first choice of internships for a variety of reasons.
During my interview process, I was not selected for certain internships due to my age, lack of fluency in French, and issues with availability. I was disappointed at the beginning, but with persistence, I found an internship that was a good fit for my professional goals. Be open to interviewing with different organizations in order to find the one that will be the most beneficial for you in the end.

2. Internships require commitment.
While the rest of my friends traveled to Turkey over spring break, I had to remain at work because of my internship. While many internships are flexible regarding providing time off that aligns with study abroad schedules, my internship required me to attend the actual Commission, which was held the week of spring break. Fortunately, I was aware of this prior to accepting the position and was prepared. Be sure to get full details about all time foreseen time commitments prior to accepting an internship position.

3. Do not overestimate or stretch the truth about your language skills.
International internships require different levels of fluency. Be honest about your language abilities, as they will definitely test you during the course of an interview. Prior to going into interviews, I thought I had the ability to hold basic conversations in French. However, once I began interviewing I realized that classroom French and actual conversational French were very different. I was happy to find an internship that helped me develop my language skills in a supportive environment where English was also used frequently.

The internship at doCip with the U.N. in Geneva, Switzerland resulted in unique experiences that have helped me in both my personal and professional life. I highly recommend international internships to people looking to combine building a resume with cultural adventure.

Mary Ware in Switerland.

Mary Ware is a graduate of The George Washington University, where she majored in International Affairs: Global Public Health. She is an avid traveler, including having studied abroad in both Southeast Asia and Europe.

Related Topics
Internships in Europe
Articles and Resources for Living in Switzerland

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