Ahh, September in New York: the time when summer slowly starts to come to an end, when the nights get a little longer, and when the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) comes to town.
As written in my earlier posts, I am lucky enough to work at the United Nations. I’m even luckier that my position coincides with the UNGA–the time of year when NYC traffic gets even worse than normal as presidents, prime ministers, and foreign ministers from all over the world make their way to the UN headquarters. During this time (this year, the 19-23 September), I volunteered with the Media Accreditation Liaison Unit to help deal with the influx of several thousand journalists, photographers, and videographers covering the UNGA. It was one of the most exciting and tiring weeks of my life, but I wouldn’t change a thing about it. Here’s why:
I met and interacted with media from dozens of countries
I tried to keep track of the countries whose media I interacted with, but I lost track at 33. Some were your average journalists covering the meetings, others were the official media for their royalty (Jordan) or for their state (China). While there were some language barriers, it was a lot of fun chatting with the press about where they were from and figuring out where everyone needed to be at any given moment (some running was involved).
I got to practice my French
While French is one of the official UN Languages, it’s rare that I actually use it in my day-to-day workplace. I’m researching and writing in English, so French has no use. However, not everyone in the world speaks English and that became apparent on my first day helping out with the UNGA. Lots of people from Africa only understood French so I had to step up my game. I was impressed with how quickly my skills came back (one guy from CAR even asked if I was French). I even made friends with some press from Djibouti all en francais. It was definitely tiring switching from one language to another at a moment’s notice though.
I saw world leaders and celebrities walk mere feet from where I was standing (some even acknowledged me)
Unfortunately, one of the stipulations of this position was that we would not take pictures of or with the people that we saw. I will, however, have those memories emblazoned in my mind forever. George and Amal Clooney walked by me three times (they are absolutely gorgeous in person). Boris Johnson walked by me countless times and told me to keep up the good work. Francois Hollande walked by a few times and even nodded at me once. The French office also had several large cartfuls of Laduree macarons delivered to them, which we all found hilarious. Theresa May walked by a few times (she has really stylish shoes). The President of Egypt, el-Sisi, walked by me on the way to meet Hollande. Jean-Marc Ayrault (Foreign Minister of France) walked by countless times–I even got to go to one of his press conferences! He said bonjour to us on Friday. Samantha Bee filmed something on our hall. No, I did not see Obama, Emma Watson, or Kerry, I was too busy doing my job to sneak away for a peak. I’m also afraid of breaking rules, and sneaking away wasn’t allowed…
I met Madeleine Albright
As I mentioned just above, Samantha Bee filmed something on our hall. She filmed that something with the Madeleine Albright. Ms. Albright sat down on the chairs right next to our desk and I quickly worked up the courage to go introduce myself to her and tell her how much I admired what she has done for our country. She was incredibly sweet and told me to take every chance to learn and absorb everything I could. She also won an essay contest when she was in high school! As I was thanking her, she asked if I wanted a picture and I couldn’t say no. (A loophole to the above-mentioned rule). I can’t tell you how surreal it was meeting someone like her. I still think I dreamt it.
I got a lot of exercise
My usual average of 4 miles of walking per day skyrocketed this week. Walking up and down long hallways and hidden corridors with stairs to media booths meant my daily mileage increased a ton. I think Tuesday (when I worked 12 hours) I walked over 6 miles during work alone. Wednesday, there was an early meeting and I climbed 20 flights of stairs within an hour. Needless to say, I was very sore and took lots of ibuprofen. But it was great to stay moving throughout the day. I just wish I didn’t have to do it in business shoes…ouch!
I became a morning person
I normally get to work at 10. This week I had to be at work at 7. That meant leaving for work no later than 6:15. When it was still dark outside…not my ideal morning. I could have taken the afternoon shift and started at 2, but I wanted to make a change in my routine and start the day earlier so I could get more out of it. It’s now Sunday and my “sleeping in” thus far has been to 7AM…So I guess I’m now a morning person?
I met some great new people
The UNGA also means working with people whom you normally wouldn’t get to meet. I’m not sure how they divvy up the groups but I got to spend the week working with people from China, Germany, Colombia, Azerbaijan, Turkey, and more. I made some friends with whom I’ll hopefully remain in contact for the rest of my internship.
All in all, I’m still in disbelief about this week. It was one of the most exhausting, most exciting, and most rewarding experiences of my life, and it restored my faith in diplomacy and worldwide cooperation.
Wow! What an experience that must have been. And that is really awesome that Madeleine Albright asked if you wanted to take a photo with her. That is pure class all the way. Hope you stay connected with the volunteers you met from other countries. Always great to have contacts around the world as you travel for either work or personal reasons.