Oct. 24, 2017

Batten's United Nations Internships: "Utterly Invaluable" Experiences Abroad, and in New York

As a Delegate Intern with the United States Permanent Mission to the United Nations, Batten student Stephanie Xiao was working in Manhattan this past summer when North Korea threatened a missile strike near Guam.

Xiao’s home island is Saipan, just 120 miles from Guam.

“Saipan is very close to Guam—I was quite worried about my island,” said Xiao, a fourth-year student. “It was very interesting to see Ambassador Nikki Haley’s response to this threat.”

Stephanie Xiao

Xiao, fluent in Mandarin, is one of six Batten students who interned with the U.N. last summer, gaining direct exposure to the serious and critical work conducted by the global organization.

Throughout her internship, Xiao worked with the U.S. Mission’s Economic and Social Affairs (ECOSOC) Section, where she covered meetings, drafted memoranda for New York officials and their counterparts at the Department of State, accompanied officers to meetings with colleagues from other Missions, and helped manage the logistics of U.S. participation in ECOSOC and other bodies.

Xiao’s internship allowed her first-hand access to the high-stakes life of those who confront international tensions and seek crucial agreements. Though Xiao did not work directly for the Ambassador, she gained an immense appreciation for Haley’s leadership role at the U.N.

“Ambassador Haley had full attention on North Korea,” Xiao said. “The U.S. has a very strong voice in the international community.”

Haley’s firm response to the North Korea threat also earned the respect of Joshua Sagartz, a 2018 Batten MPP student, who worked at the U.N. Headquarters complex in New York, across the street from the U.S. Diplomatic Mission.

Sagartz attended part of the emergency session of the U.N. Security Council, where Haley warned trading partners of North Korea to enforce U.N. sanctions.

Joshua Sagartz

“I saw that all of the top-level people were there, and I got to see how Nikki Haley interacted with the Chinese and Russian ambassadors,” Sagartz said. “It was very impactful.”

Sagartz, from Grayslake, Illinois, also had a strong personal interest in Haley’s reaction to North Korea’s missile test: his mother is Japanese, and he speaks fluent Japanese. Sagartz’ father was born in the United States.

The glimpse into the Security Council meeting was a rare experience. For Sagartz, much of his daily U.N. work focused on his team’s effort to prepare a comprehensive follow-up report to the 2016 World Humanitarian Summit. The report includes detailed commitments made by more than 150 countries.

“Because I worked on a small team, my input carried more weight within the team,” said Sagartz. “We have a duty to show everyone else the importance of our work. And our goal, because the report is called the Agenda for Humanity, was to get people to pay attention to the issues that are highlighted, and incorporate those into their own work.”

Isabela Medina-Maté, a 2018 Batten Accelerated MPP student and veteran of two U.N. internships in Europe, also saw first-hand the importance of performing well among veteran staff members.

“You have to show your supervisors what you’re capable off, so they give you more work,” said Medina-Maté. “With an internship, you really get what you put into it.”

Isabela Medina-Maté (photo by Jack Looney)

Medina-Maté, born in Colombia and fluent in Spanish and French, had a wide variety of experiences with U.N. assignments in Geneva, in 2016, at the Office of the High Commission for Human Rights, and in Paris last summer with the U.N. Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).

Medina-Maté saw the work of interns as vital. “With limited staff, the U.N. relies on consultants who started off as interns, and if you do a full six-month internship, you’re likely to get a consultancy.”

Among Medina-Maté’s administrative assignments were writing reports, planning conferences, booking airline travel and ensuring visa requirements were met, preparing posters and presentations—the day-to-day work that takes place at a global organization. She also conducted significant research, especially in her Geneva assignment.

The two summers of involvement showed Medina-Maté the bigger issues facing the U.N., including humanitarian concerns amid modern crises.

“What a lot of the international community is focusing on is combining the two prospects of development aid and humanitarian aid to create long term sustainability, so that people in the countries hit with a crisis, such as civil war, can sustain themselves in the future,” Medina-Maté said.

“If they don’t have basic human rights, or if they don’t have education for their children anymore, or if they are being displaced from their homes, then they’re not going to be able to sustain their community in the long run.”

2018 Batten MPP student Rachel Davidson Raycraft saw those issues starkly from her internship in Panama City with the U.N.’s regional Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA). Her work included researching and writing on gang violence.

“My focus there was very human-rights related, mostly on the in-country situation and the needs of the people who are fleeing: either across borders, or fleeing internally, due to the threats and consequences of gang violence” in what is known as the Northern Triangle of Central America—Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador, she said.

The Northern Triangle faces unprecedented levels of violence for countries technically not at war, with homicide rates surpassing those of Yemen and Iraq. However, the world rarely focuses on the needs of this region, Raycraft explained. Much of Raycraft’s work was directed at highlighting the statistics that define immediate humanitarian need in the region. The humanitarian affairs office “does a lot of advocacy work, to try to draw the attention of the (international) aid community to areas of need,” Raycraft said. “They also coordinate all of the on-the-ground actors within the humanitarian community.”

The influence of the United States on the region’s affairs was also a focus of Raycraft’s work. Contemporary and historical U.S. immigration policies are both a root and exacerbating cause of the region’s unprecedented levels of violence. “A lot of it has do with the fact that the U.S. sent back huge numbers of gang members, right at the end of (El Salvador’s) civil war. There was a major power vacuum to be filled, and it was filled by MS 13 and Barrio 18 deportees, both of which have their roots in the U.S.” Raycraft said.

Rachel Davidson Raycraft

Her research work and other responsibilities helped her office and other organizations determine “where are the vacuums in aid delivery? Who needs to go where to really provide the most effective aid? What do we need to be doing better to save lives?”

The goal is to provide “a bigger picture, a logistical and needs-based evaluation and assessment,” she said.

Raycraft relied on her fluency in Spanish, along with flexibility, initiative, and intuitive skills learned in a variety of previous work experiences; she previously worked in micro-finance and taught a university course on human rights in Peru, among past jobs.

Back at U.N. headquarters in New York, Anthony Dunavant found himself, among other assignments, drafting speeches for Wu Hongbo, then U.N. Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs, and Frederick Musiiwa Makamure Shava, then President of the Economic and Social Council.

“It was really cool to watch the speeches that I wrote being given at the Economic and Social Council’s high-level political forum,” said Dunavant, whose hometown is Franklin, Tennessee.

Dunavant devoted much of his time to researching and writing reports focused on globalization and human resource development. His work addressed thorny questions like the future of work in light of developments in artificial intelligence, and how that might affect global labor dynamics.

Anthony Dunavant

“I really enjoyed working at the U.N., and was glad to be doing important work. The subject matter for the research was interesting, and writing political speeches and statements was really something I’ve never done before.”

Dunavant, a 2018 Accelerated MPP student, has applied to a U.N. program for young professionals and will complete testing and other requirements prior to graduating in May.

2018 Batten MPP student Shu Dai interned in the U.N. Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP) in Bangkok, in the Strategic Communications and Advocacy Section. She designed and published publicity materials, edited images and graphics, and prepared publications for meetings, among other tasks. She also participated in ESCAP’s 73rd regional session with other interns and volunteers.

“ESCAP offers a really diverse and multicultural working environment; I can hear different perspectives and values from people from all over the world. ESCAP mainly serves countries in Asia and the Pacific, and I read a lot of country reports for those island countries that I knew little about before.”

Shu Dai, second from the left (photo by Antika Preeyanon)

“I have a deeper understanding about Southeast Asia and their common policy issues,” said Dai, who is Chinese and speaks Mandarin as her native language. “ESCAP offers a really diverse and multicultural working environment.”

She enjoyed working in Thailand. “The three months I spent working and living there, learning deeply about their culture and life attitudes, is my best memory of 2017.”

For Medina-Maté, her two internships and current independent study course under Kirsten Gelsdorf, Senior Lecturer and Director of Global Humanitarian Policy, have encouraged her to consider U.N.-related field work.

“People at U.N. Headquarters, who are very experienced, have experience on the ground, as well. And in order to understand the people you’re helping, you can’t really create policy if you don’t understand the problems on the ground.

“Working in Headquarters is the long game. You’re working for long-term change, and you may not even see it in your own lifetime.”

Raycraft considered her Panama City internship to be an incredibly rewarding professional experience.

“I worked in a small office. It was just me and my supervisor sitting across from each other every day. She is a woman I have the utmost respect for as a professional and as a mentor. She has negotiated with head people in FARC (Colombian rebels who recently signed a peace agreement), she worked extensively in humanitarian issues in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and most recently she’s been in Greece dealing with the European migration crisis. I think having the opportunity to interact with, and casually talk to and think through things with someone like that, is utterly invaluable.”