A Dream Came True: How I Represented Indonesia in the United Nations

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July 2017. I was sitting in the General Assembly room in the UN Headquarter in New York City. The representatives of my country were about to present a statement in front of 192 other world leaders regarding Indonesia’s efforts towards the advancement of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals. Ever since I was a young girl, it has been my long-term dream to work in the United Nations. This summer, I got to do that and even better, represent my country, Indonesia.

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 (ECOSOC), the Trusteeship Council, the International Court of Justice, and the UN Secretariat. In order to maintain the relationship between members and the work of every UN bodies and entities, each country has a permanent representative that acts as the head of a country.

The Permanent Mission of Indonesia itself was established in September of 1950 in the General Assembly and continues to carry out its commitments to the United Nations over the past half century.

At the United Nations HQ, General Assembly Hall
At the United Nations HQ, General Assembly Hall

I learned about the internship through my previous internship in the Indonesian Ministry of Foreign Affairs (particularly the Bureau of the North American Affairs). Thus, I landed the job through the contacts I maintained and made in the Indonesian Foreign Service network.

Valuable Lessons

As a grad student majoring in International Affairs, the courses that I took, ranging from International Law to Childcare in Humanitarian Assistance, have definitely trained me to think critically. More importantly, George Washington University’s Elliott School of International Affairs has a rigorous curriculum that taught me to be an open-minded world citizen who can apply theoretical point of views to real world policy questions.

One of the many lessons I learned during this internship is that I built a strong knowledge and practical skills of the day-to-day activities of the United Nations. I also sharpened my understanding of current human rights issues and the policies that entail their protection and promotion. This was achieved while working particularly under the United Nations Third Committee of the General Assembly. Daily, I dealt with data collection and analysis regarding vulnerable people (i.e. children in humanitarian emergencies, refugees, women) and researching Indonesia’s commitments and actions regarding the protection of such target groups.

Formal briefing and public speaking are some of the competencies that I acquired through my work in the Mission. By monitoring High Level Meetings in the ECOSOC Chamber regarding commitments to the 2017 SDGs, I could learn various soft skills from the delegates. While acting as a note taker and document translator reporting directly to the Indonesian Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ Bureau of Public Diplomacy, I successfully contributed to the assistance in the preparation of the High Level Political Forum (HLPF) on the 2017 SDGs.

Exposure to the entire UN system was another valuable lesson. The UN system is vast and I learned something new every day. I learned through the daily engagement with other Delegates that multilateral diplomacy is not as simple as it sounds. I also learned about the art of multilateralism through multilingualism. Entering the UN building, and being surrounded with people from all over the world, speaking many different languages, has broaden my horizon. The diverse working environment has definitely taught me how to understand and work together with different cultures.

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Be Proactive

My advice to young people who are interested in a career in the United Nations is to, firstly, be proactive. Be eager to ask a lot of questions, research beforehand, and be active in looking for opportunities; be it regionally (like the United Nations Information Center) or internationally (internships in UN programs- UNDP, UNHCR, UNICEF, etc). I am convinced that contacting people and following up on applications is the way to go, especially when it comes to the most important part of job hunting – getting your foot in the door and spreading little seeds of interest. If you can make up relevant questions to ask and initiate personal contact – call and show your interest.

It doesn’t necessarily have to give you the job you are applying for, but if you manage to introduce yourself properly, make a lasting impression, or in some other way convince the right person that you have valuable skills, they might pass you on to another agency, keep you in mind for the next time, or even contact you when they hear of something relevant. True story.

Do Your Research

To get your “foot in the door,” do your research and select the most appropriate method for you. Ask yourself the basic question, are you currently enrolled in a master’s or Ph.D. level program? Are you willing to accept an unpaid position to receive academic credit and a firsthand impression of the inner workings of the UN and is fluent in either one or two of the 5 major languages of the UN (French, English, Arabic, Russian, and Chinese)?. If so, then the UN internship program can be a staple starting point.

Be Persistent

Apply, apply, and apply again. I applied to several internships in the UN, and when I realized that one route that I could get my foot in the door was through the Permanent Mission of my own country, I was immediately drawn to it. I was always looking at the different ways I could engage with the works of the UN; both indirectly or directly, while at the same time be a representative of Indonesia.

Later on, I discovered that the Permanent Mission of Indonesia could also give me access to attend the Summer UN Youth Assembly. The Youth Assembly provided me with the opportunity to attend the General Assembly discussion as a Delegate from Indonesia, and thus, to be an Ambassador in my campus.

This internship has most certainly shaped my career trajectory for the future. In the following years, I would like to continue to engage in the works of the United Nations, in particular, with the UN Youth Office and UNICEF. I felt that with the combination of the area of study in International Law that I am currently pursuing right now, this internship sparked my interest even more in human rights issues, in particular, with youth-led conflicts and in peacebuilding.

Thus, it may sound daunting and difficult to start a career in the UN, but with the three advise I stated above coupled with full-flung optimism, a humble character, and the stamina to never give up, I believe that more young Indonesians will be represented in the United Nations in the near future.

Hence, all I can say for now is that, I look forward to that day.

Photos are provided by the author.

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Isabella Veronica Silalahi, or better known as, Bella, is a 21-year-old Graduate student at the George Washington University in Washington D.C., pursuing her Master's degree in Intl. Affairs (M.A.) with a concentration in Intl. Law & Organization. Previously, she earned her Bachelor's degree with a double major in Intl. Relations and Politics, and a minor in Business from UNSW in Sydney, Australia. Passionate about human rights issues, the UN, and youth empowerment, Isabella has experiences in working with organizations ranging from the Permanent Mission of Indonesia to the UN in New York to Voice of America (VOA), and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Indonesia. Her passion and activism for social humanitarian causes aside, Bella is also an art, fasion-conscious and social media activist and is passionate in the intersection of creative innovation, youth, digital media, and sustainable fashion.
  • rantyka

    Kak, may I get your email address? There are plenty of questions to be asked, just if you want to share. Thank you.

    • Syafia

      It’s on her bio on instagram.

    • Isabella Veronica Silalahi

      Yes of course you can, ask away, im at: i.bellaveronica@gmail.com :)