Maria Feodorow, who graduated from the University of Sussex in June 2013, interned at the UN Women Nordic Liaison Office. Here she tells Best Delegate how MUN set her up for the internship and what the internship entailed.
How did you apply to the internship and how were you chosen?
I saw the announcement for the UN Women Nordic Liaison Office internship on the Finnish UNA’s Facebook page. I knew I would have to have a gap year and that my parents will move to Copenhagen, so the timing was just perfect. I didn’t feel like I matched all the criteria in the application, but I thought that I had nothing to lose so I sent in the application anyway. I had my mother and my sister to help out with the cover letter and CV, and then just waited. At the end of June I was asked for a Skype interview and then just a few days later I got an e-mail congratulating me! I think I’ve never been as happy in my life as I was when I got that e-mail. Later on, my bosses said that they chose me and the other intern mostly because they had a good feeling from the interview. We were both chatty, positive and most importantly, extremely motivated.
What MUN experience did you have before this?
I have been actively participating in Model United Nations for five years now – I worked as the President of the Sussex Model United Nations society in the academic year of 2012/2013. I also fulfilled the position of Conference Manager for years 2011/2012 and 2012/2013. Thanks to our committee’s hard work and ambitious goals, our MUN society won “The Most Improved Society” Award at our university’s Student Awards. I have taken part in 10 MUN conferences in different countries, of which I have chaired three.
What did the internship entail?
The work would change from week to week. Of course we kept up with political situations in each of the Nordic countries, which entailed a lot of reading and researching. We also had basic intern work – typing up executive summaries of different reports, writing country profiles and CVs for meetings, booking and e-mailing, doing presentations for visitors etc. Happily, our bosses wanted us to learn as much as possible, so we also got to be part of event organizing teams at the UN City in Copenhagen. The pinnacle on the internship was when the Executive Director of UN Women, Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka visited Copenhagen at the end of January and we had the chance to organize the visit and then meet her personally!
What were the best/worst parts?
Well, apart from the Executive Director’s visit, the best part was definitely the team I worked with. I couldn’t have asked for better bosses. They were hard-working but laid back. We were actually a team working together and each of us could voice an opinion or suggestion freely. I also got very lucky that the intern I shared my office with was so amazing. We got along very well, even though we spent 8 hours a day, 5 days a week in the same room – I felt like we were almost married!
Worst part was probably being at the office at 9 a.m. every morning. It was no secret that I’m not a morning person. I often preferred to come in a little bit later and then staying in the office too, as I am more productive in the evenings. Happily my bosses were flexible about the routine.
How did your MUN experience help you succeed during the internship?
There were several moments during the internship where I genuinely raised my eyes towards the sky and said “thank you MUN”, notably when I had to do public speaking. At the UN City, we often had visiting groups from schools wanting to know about the different UN agencies working there. Not surprisingly, UN Women is the least known about and also generated a lot of difficult questions about gender equality. As interns, we got quite quickly the role to present our agencies to the groups and it was probably the easiest task I had during the internship, because I was so used public speaking from MUN. And I loved it! MUN gave me the confidence to step up to the plate. Also thanks to MUN, I was one of the interns that knew the most about UN procedures and internal workings, even though that didn’t play such a big part during the internship.
What has the internship set you up for?
I now see the UN system much clearer and I understand the profound impact it has on the world scale. The UN is often belittled because of its failures (UNSC and veto powers, anyone?) but the real influence happens behind the scenes where thousands of people work around the world to lobby for countries to improve their human rights legislation and own up to their donation promises. That is the real work and those are the people I admire, even though they’re not usually known by the greater public. I’m not sure if my goal is to work the United Nations per se, but I definitely want to influence the negotiations one way or the other, one day.
What are your future plans?
I am now applying to University of Helsinki to do a psychology masters. I’m a volunteer for the UN Women Finnish National Committee in Helsinki and I’m also active in youth politics. I don’t have any other concrete plans than getting my degree, for now. I’d like to think that I have many possible paths and time will tell. The internship showed me that gender equality is my passion, but I still need to decide whether to make a change at an office, at a negotiating table or in the field.
Advice you would give to MUN participants who want to do something similar.
Participate in as many international conferences as possible for networking and experience, take on trust positions at your own MUN committee for the organization skills, and make speeches and debate as much as possible at any occasion. You can only learn by doing and pushing yourself out of your comfort zone – take on challenges and apply to anything that interests you. My motto is fake ‘til you make it – in the end you’ll learn how to dodge all bullets.