From MUN to the UN: A Model UN delegate’s internship experience at the U.S. Mission to the UN

by Mari on December 2, 2013

Mari Manoogian is a Media Manager at Best Delegate, and is a senior/active Model UN participant at the Elliott School of International Affairs at the George Washington University.

When I received the phone message in early March 2013 that I was selected to be a Press and Public Diplomacy (PD) intern at the U.S. Mission to the United Nations (USUN), I was fairly certain someone from the Model UN circuit had prank called me.  To be honest, I didn’t even remember applying to the office, which is in New York City on First Avenue, right across from UN Secretariat.

Mari with US Ambassador to the United Nations, Samantha Power.

Mari with US Ambassador to the United Nations, Samantha Power.

I inadvertently checked the “willing to travel” box on my State Department internship app.  With a personal statement chockfull of my love of the United Nations, knowledge of the UN Security Council, and my experience as a Model UN delegate at previously at Michigan State University and now at GWU, it now makes perfect sense that I was placed in this amazing office.

An internship at USUN is truly a #MUNgirl’s dream.  Every morning, I get to walk past UN Secretariat. I thought it would get old after a while, but looking at that magnificent, mammoth, sea foam green building, I can’t help but think of the history that has been made there, and the millions of people the UN helps every day through all of the programs and funds.  All of the issues we debate as MUN delegates come to terms there, and it’s been surreal to be able to see firsthand how it all happens for real.

UNGA (pronounced: uhn-guh) is the most intense four months of the year for the UN. It’s a time when all of the topics we debate as MUN delegates are brought to the forefront, and every country sends their best and brightest to committees and the UNSC to hammer out resolutions.  This year, topics such as rights of the elderly were highlighted, and of course the ongoing crises in Syria, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and the Central African Republic remained on the UNSC’s agenda for the entirety of UNGA.

Mari with National Security Advisor Susan Rice at President Barack Obama's UNGA reception.

Mari with National Security Advisor Susan Rice at President Barack Obama’s UNGA reception.

Having an internship during the UN General Assembly at, arguably, the busiest Mission, has been nothing short of life-changing.  There are few other places in the world where a student of international affairs and a MUN geek can intern and say that within the first week of the internship they met the President of the United States, the Secretary of State, the Ambassador to the UN, the National Security Adviser, and Dule Hill.  UNGA means events, and events need staff, so typically all interns are on deck to help out with receptions and the occasional dinner.  When President Obama spoke to the GA, he hosted a dinner for Heads of State, and I was able to volunteer and attend the event.

Although the day-to-day work in the office isn’t always as glam as attending a dinner with POTUS, having the opportunity to be there even just once was really cool.  I do have to say, being able to take photos of Ambassador Power for USUN has been pretty cool, especially since I’ve been a fan of her academic work since I first started studying IR.  Another great part about interning at USUN is the access to the UN Secretariat that interns have.  My first time entering the UN Security Council was a few weeks ago, and I was allowed to sit behind the Ambassador during a briefing.  It was one of the most memorable moments of the internship, and is something I will absolutely remember for the rest of my life as I continue to learn and work in public service.

Interning in the Press and PD office has given the opportunity to explore an often underappreciated part of the Foreign Service.  When most MUNers think of working in the State Department, they think of writing policy that will be implemented around the world in our embassies.  But how does this policy translate into tangible results for people in other countries?  In Press and PD, the office does a great deal of outreach with local NGOs and student groups to teach them about the United States’ views on a variety of topics, and also works directly with reporters on the beat for a particular area.  For the USUN, this means partnering with NY schools and having Ambassadors and other members of our staff speak about their careers and passion for public service, and working with reporters from various media outlets on the United Nations beat as well as the larger media outlets for special stories (ie. This article about Ambassador Power in Vogue).

One of the coolest things I get to do at the Mission is talk with high school and college Model UN groups about how to get an internship at USUN.  During one of the briefings, a staffer told the kids about how former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was preparing to chair at the UN, but there was no gavel to be found.  Luckily, this USUN staffer was previously a Best Delegate at Harvard National MUN, and had his gavel on hand for Clinton to use!

As I previously touched on, I initially thought I had applied to Main State, which is the headquarters for the Department of State in Washington, D.C., but then found out that I was selected for USUN.  You can find the application for State Department internships here.  Finding housing was initially tough, but I reached out through my network of friends, and was able to live with a friend from high school (and her super nice sister, sister’s friend, and a puppy named Rascal!) in Bushwick, Brooklyn.

I ended my internship at USUN last week, and I already miss it dearly.  The Foreign Service Officers and Civil Servants in my office have taught me more than I could have ever expected to learn in a short 10 week internship.  Although the stakes (and stress levels) are incredibly high (the phrase “no room for error” was pretty common), I definitely encourage anyone even remotely considering a career in public service of any kind to apply for a Department of State internship, and if you’re willing to relocate, most definitely check out interning in an embassy abroad or a Mission to an international organization.

To learn more about internships with the State Department, click here: http://careers.state.gov/students/programs

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