Not just any internship: interning at the United Nations

UN Interns Group Photo with SGMy name is Haodan, currently a Public Information intern in the Department of Economic and Social Affairs (DESA) at the United Nations. It was a long journey that brought me here, to this internship.  It took a lot of reflecting, on who I am, where my passion lies in, what I am good at and how I can and want contribute to the world.

Since childhood, I have been dreaming of making the world a better place by eliminating inequality and injustice. Driven by this belief, I studied hard and accumulated experience in the public field. But the route to the UN truly began with a friend’s casual remark about an internship opportunity at the UN: “Why not try to realize your dream on a global level?” she said.

Enlightened by her words, I submitted the online application. After months of waiting, I eventually secured this precious opportunity and started this wonderful, unforgettable trip.

A hard day’s work, but great experience

DESA works closely with governments and stakeholders to help countries around the world meet their economic, social and environmental goals. Interns here are always busy and work in different areas. In our department, I am responsible for communication. Every day, when I arrive at the office at 9 am, the first thing to do is open different UN-related websites and social media platforms to browse  world news or upcoming events related to the department’s work, then draft Facebook and Twitter posts based on them. Before leaving the office at 5 pm I publish or schedule all of the posts. Occasionally, I get a special assignment: supporting the communication team by writing stories on important UN events.

For me, every day is similar but different: I am doing the same work at the office, but the content I come across is different every day. The time I get a new topic to work on is also the time I start learning.

Sometimes interns get to attend different kinds of meetings hosted at the UN, from small-scale meetings within the division to large-scale international meetings involving all Member States. Melanie is an intern working on drought management in West Asia and North Africa. She particularly appreciates the opportunities of being present in the meetings. “Attending meetings is interesting. I could feel the ‘UN atmosphere’ and that was a great experience,” she said.

Intercultural environment, interesting network

Working in this unique environment, the network of UN interns is no longer limited to people from the same country. We become “international people” – this is not only reflected through us getting accustomed to different English accents, but also in building friendships with a group of cool young people from all over the world.

Sarabeth, a former intern for water management at DESA, is now a consultant. “I really enjoy working with people from different backgrounds. They are interesting. I want to make friends and stay connected with them.” When I asked why this is so important to her, she said: “I learned a lot from them, like culture, experience… everyone has their stories.”

An internship at DESA is not just an internship – in the process we gain experience that’s probably better than what you would gain in most organizations, and a network cooler than anywhere else.

More information: UN internship programme