Last summer, I did an internship in the United Nations (UN) in New York City for almost three months starting June 2015 until August 2015. Interning in the UN has broaden my perspective and enriched my experienced in working outside of my home country, Indonesia. It also increased my connections because I was interacting with people all over the world. In my unit, for example, we have twelve people from eleven countries. That being said, UN is indeed global and diverse. This writing will actually summarize my experience interning in the UN and how I can get the opportunity to have an internship there. However, let me explain about the UN, because yes, UN is indeed huge.
What is the UN?  The United Nations is an international organization founded in 1945. It is currently made up of 193 Member States. The mission and work of the United Nations are guided by the purposes and principles contained in its founding Charter. The main organs of the UN are the General Assembly, the Security Council, the Economic and Social Council, the Trusteeship Council, the International Court of Justice, and the UN Secretariat. The Secretariat, one of the main organs of the UN, is organized along departmental lines, with each department or office having a distinct area of action and responsibility. Offices and departments coordinate with each other to ensure cohesion as they carry out the day-to-day work of the Organization in offices and duty stations around the world.
At the head of the United Nations Secretariat is the Secretary-General. Aside of that, The UN system, also known unofficially as the “UN family”, is made up of the UN itself and many affiliated programs, funds, and specialized agencies, all with their own membership, leadership, and budget, such as UNICEF, UNDP, WFP, UNCTAD, UN Women, etc. The programs and funds are financed through voluntary rather than assessed contributions. Further, the Specialized Agencies are independent international organizations funded by both voluntary and assessed contributions. Some of the specialized agencies are: World Bank, FAO (Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN), ICAO (International Civil Aviation Organization), IFAD (International Fund for Agricultural Development), ILO (International Labour Organization), UNESCO, etc.
From all of those programs, I was interning in the UN Secretariat in Department of Economics and Social Affairs, specifically in the Office of ECOSOC (the Economic and Social Council) Support and Coordination. My Unit is Policy Coordination Branch. My main task was researching some materials for the writing process of Secretary General Report 2015 related to Globalization and Interdependence. I also had a chance to attend some meetings related to Economics and Financial issues in ECOSOC Chamber. Last but not least, I had the opportunity to meet the Secretary General directly and took a picture with him. J
Regarding the application process to apply to the UN, I submitted my application via Inspira, which is UN career portal. I checked their website regularly to see the internship opportunity and when I found some internship opportunities related to my major, I created application via Inspira and submitted it. I really have no connection that can easily help me to go to the UN. I was really doing the normal process through UN Career portal. Unfortunately, I did not meet a lot of Indonesian people interning in the UN. I only met two Indonesian students, one in UNICEF and the other one in UNDP. Compared to other countries like France, Germany, Korea, China, Pakistan, India, etc, the number of Indonesian interns in the UN is few. Some countries with many UN interns even have their own facebook group because of the large number of their interns.
Interning in the UN is one of a lifetime experience. UN staffs, colleagues and also the interns are bright people coming from all over the world. People are so high profile and yet so humble in the UN. It’s very natural to hear people speaking in different languages. For example, one of my friends from French, he speaks five languages. I personally think, the ability to speak many languages can be a good asset to work in the UN. Aside of the language skill, previous working experiences, especially related to policy or economics research is very beneficial. One of my UN friends from Korea, she was not currently doing her master degree, however she could interning in the UN because she has a strong economic research background from her previous job. In fact she quitted her paid job in order to be an intern in the UN. Besides language skills and previous working experience, having good grades/ GPA might also be a good factor to be chosen as an intern. One of my UN friends from Guatemala, for example, he actually had no previous working experience. However, he told me that he considers his high GPA and his ability to speak Spanish as the factors that bring him to the UN. For me personally, my strong research background from my previous working experiences is one of the most important factors that bring me to the UN.
Some notes before applying for the internship position in the UN, firstly, you need to be aware that UN internship is unpaid. Living in the most expensive city in the world like New York City, you need to have “enough” money especially if you want to hang out and socialize with the other interns. I am lucky enough to have my scholarship and Cornell that pay for all my living costs in Manhattan. Secondly, it would be great if you apply for the UN internship during your Master study. This is because UN interns are mostly master or Phd candidates. Some people can possibly get this internship position even without doing their master degree. However, you need to have previous working experiences related to the unit that you applied. My last note, do your best in answering your application and don’t forget to pray. 😀