My UNique Internship

October 2, 2008

Written by Pranay Jinna, a Duke MEM student from Hyderabad, India.

I spent an incredible two months interning at the United Nations headquarters in New York. My summer began with an orientation in the hallowed chambers of the Trusteeship council which is on the same floor as the Security Council and the General Assembly. After my orientation, we met our supervisors where we were given our tasks.

My internship was in the Aviation Transport Section (ATS). The main task of ATS was dealing with the short and long term leasing of aircraft for the different missions across the world. I was involved in the development of an Enterprise Budget Application for ATS and I also assisted in preparing the performance report for ATS.

Meeting and working with different interns and staff members from all over the world has given me a better understanding and appreciation of other cultures. The discussions on diverse topics like world politics, foreign policies, languages, Euro cup, etc with other interns were highly intellectual and stimulating.

Getting a firsthand insight into the power and politics of the world and the subtle diplomacy practiced along with the background for complex negotiations was a great experience. Some of what I learned was unbelievable. For example; the UN’s budget is smaller than that of the city of New York and the UN has the second largest number of troops deployed across the world after the US army. Even the diversity and the talent among the UN diplomats, staff and interns is staggering. A group of 20 people would probably turn out to be from 15 different nationalities and one of the astonishing things for me was the sheer number of different languages that people spoke. Although English has largely replaced French as the language for diplomacy, there were still many diplomats and staff members who could converse fluently with each other in more than one language.

As interns, we could attend any of the open conferences and there were parallel conferences on various topics apart from sessions in the General Assembly, Security Council and Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC). High level meetings on genocide, poverty, environmental sustainability and combating HIV/AIDS were just some of the conferences that I attended. I also attended the world leadership and diversity summit was also held at the UN while I was there. A huge chunk of the UN’s budget is spent on translation. Any speech during major conferences was simultaneously translated into the six official languages.

We interns also organized visits to the missions of various countries. The Cuban, American, European Union and Chinese missions were the most popular. The contrast between the American and the Cuban views was striking (lightly called as the American vs. Cuban propaganda). I tried to diversify as much as possible and also visited the Lebanon, Ghana, Egypt, Nepal, Spain, Korean and the Dutch missions. The Lebanese diplomat gave an extremely insightful analysis on the history of the Middle East conflict while the Lisbon treaty and the Irish referendum were touched upon at the EU mission.

Nearing the end of our internship we had a group photo with the Secretary General Mr. Ban Ki-Moon and I also managed to get a handshake. His words still resonate where he urged us to work for a non-profit firm for at least some time in our careers and not to forget what we learned at the UN: “Be an idealist without illusions”