I have wanted to get better acquainted with UNESCO, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, for several years. As an international organization, UNESCO has 195 member states, Finland being one of them. UNESCO happens to have its headquarters in Paris, France. As I am finishing my studies in French language and literature at Åbo Akademi University in Turku, Finland, an opportunity to do an internship in the French capital with interesting duties seemed too perfect to pass by. So I didn’t.
The stars seemed aligned last winter when I applied, was interviewed and got accepted to the Permanent Delegation of Finland to UNESCO. The delegation in question represents Finland within UNESCO, in the similar way as an embassy represents a country within a foreign country. The delegation serves the political decision makers and the government in Finland as well as the Finnish society in general in order to promote economic and social development and to reach foreign policy objectives.
As an intern at the Permanent Delegation of Finland to UNESCO, I did more than just make coffee and copy documents (even though I did that too). The delegation is small, so the interns were handed responsible assignments. My main duty was to attend seminars, meetings and press conferences at UNESCO and subsequently to write reports about them. At many meetings I was Finland’s only representative, while at others there were many Finnish diplomats and experts. I also wrote some content for the delegation’s web page upon request. Additionally, I often took care of the delegation’s e-mail, sent and received mail and took care of other usual routines at the office.
I found my internship very fascinating with varied assignments, which required both teamwork skills and the capacity to work independently. I especially enjoyed attending meetings: the themes varied from protecting cultural heritage to fighting against the radicalization of the youth. During the summer, I learned more about education, culture and science than I ever thought possible. As a side note, events were also a possibility to see celebrities, like Prince Albert II of Monaco and the French Minster of Foreign Affairs Laurent Fabius. Besides official events, I was also encouraged to attend art exhibitions, dance shows and cocktail events organized at UNESCO. I enjoyed them very much, partly because they were unforgettable cultural experiences and partly because they offered a great possibility to network with others. In fact, one of the most rewarding parts of my internship was interacting – or networking – with people from around the world. I was constantly in the company of the UNESCO secretariat, Finnish diplomats and the other delegations’ representatives. Working at the Finnish delegation can in fact be called having “one foot in Finland and one foot in the international work community”.
The most difficult part of the internship was trying to grasp the big picture of things at UNESCO, as there was such a vast amount of priorities, objectives and documents to master. Also the long hours, tight schedules, rigid bureaucracy and unexpected events caused occasional trouble and fatigue. Additionally as an intern, money was tight. Paris is not a cheap city, not by a long shot. All in all, three months at the Permanent Delegation of Finland to UNESCO was just a scratch on the surface, but a very rewarding, interesting and educational scratch at that. It would be amazing to return there one day.
What is required for a successful internship in my view? At least my love for languages paid off during my summer in Paris. Skills in Finnish, English, French and Swedish are needed. Other language skills are naturally an advantage. During the meetings simultaneous interpreting was offered; and I was always amazed at the impressive skills the interpreters possessed. Besides language requirements, the Permanent Delegation of Finland to UNESCO seeks individuals who are interested in working in an international environment with varied assignments in the fields of education, culture and science. Furthermore, an open and flexible attitude combined with an eagerness to learn is useful for the internship. Could that be you, dear reader?
I appreciate the fact that I was able to work, even for the shortest of time periods, for an organization that aims to do good in the world. UNESCO’s motto is “building peace in the minds of men and women”. That has never seemed more relevant than in today’s society.
Text: Maaria Tirri