Intern at the United Nations Department for Economic and Social Affairs (UN-DESA) in New York
Internships are cool, right? Well, for many like myself who apply for the UN internship each year, the idea of interning at the United Nations often sounds way cooler the first time. We all have our individual reasons why we go for it, but truth be said, it often boils down to that feeling that interning at the UN is just the coolest thing in the world to do. As young people we always want to be seen, heard, and feel important and what better place to make that dream come through than in the world’s most influential hub: the UNITED NATIONS. Not to mention the privilege it offers interns to live in and explore New York City.
Sadly all this imaginary and magical experiences soon becomes almost illusive and suddenly disappears once you step through the doors, and face the reality of working adult life in New York. At least that was where it began for me. Coming from a developing country and having no sponsorship, I had to start answering the difficult questions of where to live, how to get to work, what or where to eat etc. Essentially asking myself the ridiculous question of how to survive in NYC as a working adult without a working adult income. Well, thanks to Airbnb I found a deal for the cheapest possible housing you could ever imagine in New Jersey and booked in as soon as I could for a few weeks. Needless to say the price, I would rather do myself the honor of preserving what is left of my humanity.
As an international student from the global south, I was already in a difficult place having to work to pay for grad school and I was hoping that doing an internship would buy me some time, but I guess I was not smart to ask how? And because I was essentially leaving a paid part time job I had while studying to take up an unpaid full time internship at the UN, it soon became clear that the math just did not add up. But I was still caught in the euphoria of impressing others with my new status of becoming a “UN intern” that I somehow chose deniability.
But as the first few weeks rolled by, I could see the dusts settling and my long nurtured enthusiasm for the UN gradually waning, not because I was losing faith in the cause, or disliked what I was doing, but quite on the contrary I was learning so much, yet I could no longer deny the reality of my difficult living circumstances. Since then it has also been a very bad learning curve as I hobble around Airbnb and managing to keep myself alive while interning. It is my sincere hope that the shifting culture of recruitment in our societies today will cause many like myself to question the system.
We need a more sustainable way to empower young people and stop draining them and its high time institutions, governments, and civil society start listening.