Oxy at the U.N.


Author: Kirsten Wright|Kirsten Wright|Kirsten Wright|Kirsten Wright|Kirsten Wright

Fifty-one countries from all over the world came together after World War II to form the United Nations, an organization that has since worked to promote peace and friendly international relations and to fight disease, poverty, illiteracy and hunger. Although this mission reaches every corner of the globe, it also lives in the hearts of a select number of students who participate in one of the most competitive programs at Occidental: the Oxy at the U.N. internship. This relationship between the United Nations and Occidental is the only one of its kind, with Occidental being the only undergraduate institution with a U.N. partnership like this.

Up to 16 senior students move to New York City each year to take two classes while participating in an internship at a foreign mission to the U.N. or an agency or non-governmental organization (NGO) related to the U.N. More than 340 Occidental students have participated in this program since its establishment in 1986. While in N.Y.C., students also get to explore the city while meeting and working with government officials from around the world.

The program gives Occidental students a taste of politics in the real world, and an arena to apply the knowledge they have learned in Los Angeles for the past three years to real situations, real events and real work. Though the Fall 2012 U.N. program participants are busy with long hours and no shortage of work, several students spoke with the Occidental Weekly about their experiences in New York so far this semester, and what they are looking forward to in the months to come. 


Jessie Durrett 
Major: Diplomacy and World Affairs
Hometown: Emeryville, Calif.

1. What are you specifically working on this semester? 
I work for the Costa Rican Mission to
the United Nations, where I work on General Assembly Third Committee Issues (human rights and humanitarian concerns.) The work of the committee starts next
week with social development issues, but will eventually cover a wide range of
issues from advancement of women to crime and drug-related violence. I know
that Costa Rica is cosponsoring a resolution on eradicating the death
penalty, which will be fascinating to follow. I
like working in Spanish, even though it can be challenging. I am looking
forward to getting into the substance of the Third Committee’s work and I think
the negotiations between countries will be interesting to see from the inside. This is definitely the hardest semester of my college career. There are always more
deadlines, both for work and class. Although it will be challenging, my
independent research on U.S. promotion of women’s issues and gender equality on
the Security Council will be interesting.

2. Favorite experiences so far? 

saw Obama speak in the United Nations General Assembly Hall, along with a
number of other world leaders. Some people from my office and I were very proud
to stage a walk-out of [Iranian President Mahmoud] Ahmadinejad’s speech. The program directors have also
invited some very interesting and experienced people to speak to our class,
which helps me see the big picture of the U.N.’s work and motivate myself to keep
plugging away.

3. What have you done in New York so far? 

I have also gotten really into using Groupon to help lead my
exploration of the city. The deals on burgers after work brighten the long days
and take me to unique nooks of the city. I have also visited the High Line Park twice and I love it! It’s an old railroad that runs through the city but has
been turned into an urban park with lots of great views and food. Generally, I
really love living next to Central Park, where I often go running. It is
absolutely beautiful and always provides great people and dog watching.

Katherine Carey 

Major: Diplomacy and World Affairs

Hometown: Sacramento, Calif.

1. What are you specifically working on this semester? 

My internship is at U.N. Women. Simply put, I’m researching gender-related critiques of the
Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and looking at ways that gender could be
more successfully integrated into the post-2015 development agenda, the
formation of which is already underway. One example of this is the debate
over whether gender should be mainstreamed in all other goals (for example: water, energy, employment, education, poverty, health, etc.), have its own
goal, or a combination of both. The goal is to make sure we focus on the
most important elements (examples might be political representation or violence
against women), have indicators that “measure” gender equality as
thoroughly as possible, and have all U.N. Women staff “on the same
page” about what the agency’s priorities are.

2. Are you enjoying your time at the U.N.? Have there been difficult aspects of your experience? 

I am enjoying it. The first couple weeks were rough as I adjusted to a new lifestyle, tried
to feel out my internship and missed everyone that was getting back to Oxy. My boss, who has been working over 10 years at the U.N., said she started
on a three-month contract after years of experience in the workforce, and still
felt lost and overwhelmed at first. The U.N. is a very special place, and
the work it does is unique and varies greatly depending on what part of the system
you’re in. Even though I had all these expectations coming in, it was
impossible to know exactly what it would be like, so, initially, making my expectations
and my reality match was hard. But a month under my belt has helped a
lot, and I’m really startING to enjoy myself.

3. What have you done in New York so far? What are you looking forward to as the semester continues? 

only having weekends to do longer adventures, we’ve done quite a lot! As a group, we’ve gone to a Mets game and been to Doug Gardner’s (the
director of the program) house where his wife cooked us incredible Thai food! On non-group organized activities, I’ve visited the High Line, Chelsea Market, the Brooklyn Bridge, the largest street fair in New York, the
Met[ropolitan Museum of Art], and Central Park (many times.) I’ve also tried a bunch of new
restaurants, which has been really fun and delicious. I’m looking forward
to our trip to D.C.  this is the first year it’s happening, but we’re visiting
the World Bank and the State Department — and to having two of my best friends
from Oxy come and visit me over fall break. Being around my job, classes and other students who are super passionate about world affairs is awesome, but
it will be great to just do tourist-y things and 100 percent relax for a few days.

4. Any advice for juniors considering applying to the program?

advice would primarily be to take a deep breath. This time last year, I
was debating about whether or not to apply, what it would be like to miss half
of senior year, and if I could handle another semester away after being abroad. However, when the time came to apply, the choice was clear for me, and
when you get to that stage, things may have changed and you might have a better
idea. The other piece is that this experience won’t be like anything
you’ve ever done 
— job-wise, class-wise, living-wise. It’s unique. Prepare by working hard, paying attention to the news, staying involved
with what you care about and enjoying your time at Oxy or abroad. The
process will work itself out.

Alexandra Wheeler

Major: Diplomacy and World Affairs

Hometown: Durango, Colo.

1. What are you specifically working on this semester? 

I am working at the Malta Mission and I’m covering the Second, Third and Fifth Committees of the General Assembly. The Second Committee is the
economic and financial committee and deals a lot with development topics. The Third Committee is the social, humanitarian and cultural committee and the Fifth Committee is the administrative and budgetary committee. I didn’t know much
about Malta prior to getting my placement but I have enjoyed working at a small
mission so far. I am excited to be working on the Second and Third Committees since
I am interested in some of the topics being discussed in each. In the Second Committee, I am excited to work on sustainable development and poverty
eradication issues. Within the Third Committee, I am excited to work on all the
issues including social development, advancement of women and the promotion
and protection of the rights of children.

2. Describe a typical day. 

So far there hasn’t really been a typical
day… Most
days consist of attending multiple meetings about a variety of issues. I
presume my schedule will become more consistent once the committees officially
start next week, since then I’ll be attending committee meetings and E.U. [European Union] oordination meetings everyday.

3. Are your enjoying your time at the U.N.? Have there been difficult aspects of your experience? 

I am enjoying my time here. It is such a
privilege to see how the U.N. actually operates and it’s incredible to be treated
just like another colleague. I think the most frustrating thing so far has been
the fact that at U.N. headquarters, everything is talk and rhetoric. It is
difficult sometimes working here and not being able to really see the efforts
the U.N. is making on the ground around the world. It gets tiresome to just sit and
listen to people talk about what needs to be done regarding specific issues, but
not be able to see how those words get translated into actual work. 

4. Is working at the U.N. like you expected it would be? Any surprises? 

I was surprised by how casual the U.N. is.
There are very formal procedures in terms of how delegates address one another
in meetings and in terms of how meetings are conducted, but otherwise everything
is pretty relaxed. For most General Assembly meetings the hall is only like one-third full and many of the delegates are surfing the internet or texting. Delegates answer
their phones and have conversations during meetings. I have definitely been
surprised by this level of informality.

5. How is living in New York? What have you done so far? 

I love New York. It is such an exciting
city where you can always find something new to do or somewhere new to explore.
The accessibility of the city is also fantastic, especially coming from Los
Angeles where you have to drive everywhere. I have walked across the Brooklyn Bridge,
gone to Wall Street, attended a Mets game, made friends with the bartenders at
a local Irish pub and attended a Dispatch concert. I live in a dorm with a roommate from Oxy.
It’s basic, but livable, and the location is great. I’m looking forward to the committee work
that will start next week. It will be really interesting to see how resolutions
are drafted and passed. I am also looking forward to exploring more of New York

6. Any advice for juniors considering applying to the program? 

My advice for those who want to apply is
1) make sure you can handle being independent, since your support system here is
much less than what you have at Oxy. 2) Be sure to appreciate this potential
opportunity, since it is truly amazing. 3) Don’t have any expectations about
what you think the program will be like because you will enjoy yourself so much
more if you can just take it for what it is. 

Utsav Patwardhan

Major: Biochemistry

Hometown: Los Altos, Calif.

1. What are you specifically working on this semester? 

I’m working at the U.K. Mission to the U.N. I’m actually a biochemistry major and am currently applying to medical school. I want to pursue a career in global public health. I requested the U.K. because it would allow me to be involved in a wide range of topics ranging from sustainable development to public health, in line with my broad interests.

2. Describe a typical day.

Typical day: Start work at 9 a.m. with a coordination meeting
with other European Union countries. Debate and committee work from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Class
(and simultaneous lunch) from 1 to 3 p.m. and then 3 to 6 p.m., more committee work! 

3. Are your enjoying your time at the U.N.? Have there been difficult aspects of your experience? 

I LOVE IT. It’s so active and busy, but I am
really enjoying the multicultural environment in which one hears so many different
languages and perspectives. The workload is definitely difficult between the
full time job and classes. At our internships, we work at a level much higher
than that of the typical intern. So that’s been a adjustment.

4. How is adjusting to New York life after spending three years in southern California?
New York City is AWESOME. The subway is so
incredibly convenient and really makes L.A. look like a joke. Don’t get me wrong,
I love SoCal, but being able to travel around freely is really liberating.
There are tons of people in Manhattan and that sometimes leads to a sense of
claustrophobia. There are so many buildings so one really misses being out in
We live at the 92Y … on the posh Upper
East Side of the city. It’s literally a typical dorm. It’s okay I guess, reminds
me a bit too much of Braun [Hall.] After living in Erdman [Hall] for two years, it’s a bit of
a struggle. Classes are really interesting. It kind of
serves as the theoretical and academic bridge to link our classes back at Oxy
to our practical experiences in the U.N. and at our internships. 

6. Any advice for juniors considering applying to the program? 

This is hands down the coolest thing I have
gotten to do in my entire life. So be excited and start your application early!
It’s due soon after winter break, so get most of it done while you’re at

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