When I was 12 years old, I remember completing a history project on ancient civilizations. One of the components I chose to complete of the project was describing the “political science” of the ancient societies, including Egypt, Greece, and Mesopotamia.
As a wide-eyed sixth grader, not quite certain of the implications of this term I had newly adopted, I turned for some clarification to none other than…my parents.
“Dad, what is ‘political science’?”
Looking at me quizzically, “Well, Dea, from the term itself you should be able to figure it out. Think about it: ‘Political’ ‘Science’”
And there is where it began, and I delved into an area of political science known as diplomacy and international relations, which, as my parents would say, I’ve been trying to “figure out” ever since.
Flip over ‘12’ to the ripe old age of 21, and I am working my first summer at the United Nations.
Here’s what my first week was like:
On Monday, May 23rd, I met with the Counsellor of the Permanent Mission of Albania to the United Nations, the Mission I will be serving during the summer in NYC.
After a briefing on Albanian foreign policy and expectations of my time representing Albania, I was cleared to receive my UN Grounds Pass (quite a memorable moment for the starry-eyed 12-year-old still inside of me), which I used to become acquainted with the Secretariat and Conference Building for the remainder of the day.
During the next few days it became clearer what my job would entail, but most people who also work here can tell you what it does not typically entail: monotony of routine.
Like other jobs, there is definitely a similar structure in the day of someone at the UN and that of someone working anywhere else: we all wake up, spend hours working, and then end the day.
In that sense, there is structure. But what excited me the most, was the general absence of expectancy of the routine of daily tasks that can make for a monotonous existence. Instead, UN work relies heavily on adaptation to circumstance and, context and constant prioritization and emergence of new–and sometimes unexpected–tasks. In that way, the day does not have a fixed “end” because the role of a delegate is all-encompassing which allows me to do what I love most: being on the constant move and actively harmonizing goals and assignments into one creative and efficient multifaceted framework.
Some mornings I am arranging delegate meetings and writing reports to present on at the Mission office, and others I am rushed to the Conference building to cover a committee and represent Albania. I find myself traveling from the Mission office to the Headquarters 2-3 times a day, with the afternoon finding me somewhere much different than where I started my morning. I am on the constant move and meeting with countless people in a single day, and I absolutely love it. I could not see myself functioning better during the day than in an environment where the stakes are always high and situations evolve unexpectedly, requiring diligent weighing of information and acute action. Delegating and representing has summoned the use of my acquired knowledge of international relations history and theory, regional politics, and economic insights and analysis to their most practical capacities.
Most of the time, I find myself studying past and present briefings and consecutive reports on the implementation of resolutions, researching country policy, theorizing and debating over possible solutions to conceptual gaps or structural inefficiencies whiles analyzing legislation and plans of action, and voluntarily writing position briefs on ensuing issues and future goals. Because I can commit my time here to what I am most passionate about, barely anything feels like work.
During my first day representing Albania in ECOSOC during a committee on middle income countries and reevaluating development measures, I was embarrassingly enough convinced–or, rather, stubbornly hoping–that the committee was only pausing for another short break at 6PM and would reconvene shortly to resume deliberations instead of adjourning. I had the agenda open in front of me, but given my interest and background in developmental economics I had become so engrossed in the debate and in my role as a Mission representative, that had lost all sense of time and had ignored that the committee was nonetheless even running late…
I find myself usually not wanting to leave the Mission Office and UN (shout out to the Mission staff who peered their head in my office to say, “Dea, remember, we don’t pay after-hours here,” joking at the fact that I’m not actually being paid at all but still in the offices after 6 pm) after the typical work day ends, and will delve about my work, reflect on the day, and prepare for the next day as much as foreseen expectations permit. Besides, the best view of the UN building is when the sun sets and the UN flag stands tall and independently at the end of the day, in dignified and powerful representation of all states. It is one of the most solemn sites I have ever seen, and it is a daily reminder of what we are working for…
For those like me, who are still pursuing their formal education while working at the UN, the experience is entirely what you make out of it. The UN offers channels to grow from and hone your skills as a critical thinker, speaker, and delegate, create relationships with extraordinary people who have made a career out of international service and humanity, and infinitely increase one’s knowledge base at an unprecedentedly accelerated and effective pace, but it does not force them upon anyone (*insert joke about everything at the UN being non-binding here*). It is easy to get lost in the pace and enormity of the organization and spend your time waiting to be given a job to do, but if you ever do find yourselves here–or at the footsteps of any other organization, private or governmental–seek out your own interaction, making the most of the parameters you are given, and constantly ask to act before you are asked to act.
You have been entrusted by people with extensive experience and expertise in their fields to carry out a job that has immediate, material implications in society. So if my suggestions are worth anything, I would say do it passionately and with full, tireless devotion, or do not do it at all.
My first week ended with yet another noteworthy experience, this time while covering the Security Council.
During my second and final Security Council assignment of the week I sat only a few feet away from the delegation of the Syrian Arab Republic addressing the Council which had convened to discuss and deliberate on the situation in Syria and resolutions 2139, 2165, 2191, and 2258 as debate ensued in the Council in the form IR and political economy students read about in their textbooks or discuss in class. (Note: for those interested, all of this public information can be found on the UN website, which is updated every afternoon with the following day’s agenda on the site’s Journal. Webcasts of committees are also available!)
I was present to absorb the eloquence of Samantha Power addressing the Council, passionate statements from other interested parties, and a direct video-conference briefing from UN Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, Stephen O’Brien, from Geneva. (Catch a UN briefing on the consultations here from Reuters via YouTube.)
I understand that this stage of enchantment with the process will wear off soon enough, especially as days become more psychologically consuming and physically demanding and committee meetings like the above mentioned become commonplace, but for now I will rejoice in this green phase for as long as I can before normalcy sets its course.
After all, it is not every day you have front row seats (quite literally) to diplomatic history in the making. Unless, that is, you work at the UN.
More to come in the next post as I cover another week of a summer of IR. Until then, I hope I get better at this blog thing…
Humbly yours and always in your service,