What makes an unpaid, full-time internship- mostly at super expensive cities like Geneva, New York, Tokyo and Vienna- so popular among students and graduates?
Well, from my experience of being an intern at United Nations Environment - while it still gives me chills on being on a very tight budget in Geneva, no such issues would match up to the unique work experience, culturally diverse atmosphere and the brilliant conversations I have had while working there.

Why UN internship?

There is no one particular reason why students apply for UN internships. A lot of universities and courses have an internship semester, mostly before their thesis so students can have hands-on experience on projects related to their fields, and they would be graded for the internship reports too. So the better and engaging their internships, better their grades.

When I applied for the internship, I had just completed my post graduation in Public relations and Corporate Communications from Sheffield Hallam University in UK, after an undergraduate degree in Civil Engineering from TKM College of Engineering. I started applying to various UN internships towards the end of my masters, mostly communications and PR internships. What I looked for when applying was to get an opportunity to work in a multi cultural international organization, and hoping that would enhance my resume while applying for jobs after my internship.

Meenakshi Sajeev
Meenakshi with UN officials Karen Sudmeir, Marisol Estrella and Muralee Thummarukudi

 

What is the Internship like?

I shared my room with four other interns, even though all of us were interns in the Post Conflict and Disaster Management Branch (PCDMB) of UN Environment, each of us had different duties under different supervisors. I was mainly working on compiling the MOOC (Massive Online Open Course)- an online study material that the department was rolling out. The other intern in my room, who was an Urban Planning student, was in charge of the weekly newsletter, another one in charge assisting the communications team with internal communications and the other one, who did his masters in petrochemical engineering, was in charge of preparing the Country Background papers on where PCDMB operations were carried out.

We worked from 9:30 to 5:30, Monday through Friday, but there were also part-time interns who worked three days a week. The minimum period of a UN internship is 2 months, and maximum duration being 6 months. 
An intern in the UN Environment plays as important a role in the working of the organization as any other employee, hence the rigorous screening and selection ordeal.

From my experience, the general atmosphere in the office was very welcoming and inclusive. I was lucky enough to get supervisors who were willing to clear doubts and who found time to give advices on future studies and career paths.

Meenakshi Sajeev
Meenakshi with other interns in International Environment House 

 

How to get an internship with UN Environment?

Firstly, you do not have to have a degree in Environmental studies for all internships with UN Environment. Even though it will be a huge advantage, a degree in Environmental related courses is not a prerequisite for all internships in UN Environment. There are internship openings for Communications people, IT people, lawyers and many more unrelated fields.

The postings will be listed in Inspira.com, and under each posting, the criteria for the particular opening will be given. The candidates can create a profile in Inspira and upload their resume and apply for the openings listed.

In most cases, the candidate will be notified if their resume is shortlisted. It will be followed up with a Skype Interview and a two-hour written test.

Upon getting the selection, you will receive the papers to process your visa by email. It would be made clear that the intern is responsible for attaining a visa, and bearing the travel and living expenses throughout the internship period.

My experiences in UNEP

While working at UN Environment, besides the things one picks up at the work front, what amazed me was how each lunch table conversation enriched you about various cultures, political and religious situations in countries that I might have never read about.  Another thing that I found surprising was how accommodating people in International organizations are about cultural differences. Having had worked in other cities in India, especially in Chennai, that is so close to Kerala, I have felt something of an outsider while working there, but no such thing happened in Geneva.

There is a well functioning Intern board, where you can discuss your problems, plan outings, hiking and wine and cheese tasting trips and explore Geneva and the rest of Switzerland. It also conducts Friday evening after-work drinks and snacks, for the interns every week.

My favorite part of the internship is how ideally placed Geneva was in Europe, as Paris, Milan, Vienna and Munich etc, were a night bus ride away. If you plan out trips and book tickets in advance, you can travel comfortably in small budgets.

Internship with the UN Environment in Geneva is not at all easy on your savings, but if one qualifies for an internship and can afford it, I would say it is a great learning experience as well as a networking opportunity; you would not want to give a miss.