Meet Robert Birnbaum




Robert is an intern at the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs (DESA) in New York



I finished my studies in economic in fall of 2015 and was very surprised when I was accepted for an internship with the United Nations in New York, because actually I totally forgot about my application.But after accepting it, it felt to me like the right decision and an opportunity to learn in such a multicultural environment would be worth the trip overseas.

Completing such an internship in a city such as New York, unpaid and so far away from home, was no easy task for anyone. Was I willing to go and gain valuable experience, and then come back less financially secure? I weighed the pros and cons and thus I began to calculate the numbers and worked at carrying out this opportunity. After doing the math however, it turned out I would have to be homeless in NYC in order to afford it, a challenge that I believed, would be worth it.

As I began to formulate a plan, the thought of being homeless, in the dead of winter really took me aback a couple times, but nonetheless I carried on planning. As time went on my concerns gradually dissipated and my confidence grew, I began to realize that in one way or another my end goal would be achieved. Armed only with 3 nights of accommodation, sleeping bag, sleeping pad, backpack and clothes I departed for John F. Kennedy Airport on the 26th of January (thanks to the blizzard, 3 days later than I had planned).

Since January 27th, I have been couch surfing at various people’s flats. Every time, I’ve gotten along very well with my hosts and I would cook some delicious dinner in the evening for all of us. Sometimes it’s quite exhausting but overall I’m having a fun time, even though I wouldn’t recommend it to other interns. The toughest part is scheduling housing almost on a daily basis. Every time I move to a new place I have to unpack and then have to pack up again the next morning, as I head to work at 1 United Nations Plaza. At the security I would have to receive extra treatment from the guards as my backpack doesn’t fit in the baggage scanner. UN Security would have to come and manually check my belongings, usually skeptical, but always friendly. After security, is the walk to my office where I always catch a few extra gazes as a tall man in a suit, with a big backpack is very unusual in the Secretariat building.

To date, it has been one month since I started and I have another one to go. I have already stayed with a very diverse range of people all over New York. Many thanks go out to my lovely fellow interns who are very eager to support me in my endeavour by offering me housing. With one more exciting month to go, I eagerly await what other experiences I would get to be a part of. Thank you to the United Nations for making these opportunities possible 😉

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