By Sarah Berman
The United Nations General Assembly occurred last week, and for anyone in need of a brief reminder, this means every president, prime minister, minister of foreign affairs, and Secret Service agent equivalent from around the world flock to New York for the week to discuss, debate, schmooze, shake hands, stand on a global stage, and of course take the podium in the GA Hall to speak to the entire world.
Week seven of life as an intern at the UN was a whirlwind of bajillions of security agents, surprise lockdowns when President Obama was outside my office, and glimpses of everyone from Queen Rania of Jordan to Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe to Amal Clooney.
Last week, I temporarily worked for MALU (the UN’s Media Accreditation & Liaison Unit) to help corral the thousands of journalists who descend upon the UN each September for the GA. This entailed guiding journalists and photographers through the labyrinthine media booths overlooking the General Assembly Hall, kicking journalists out of booths when their president was finished speaking (sometimes a task that required significant stamina and pretending to wield way more authority than I actually have ), and answering questions from Emergency! Where is the official photographer for Ukraine? to How on earth did the press sneak onto the floor of the GA this time?
My particular internship is in the UN Department of Public Information NGO Relations and Advocacy Office, so dealing with sometimes feisty journalists was a bit of a change from the friendly members of civil society I usually work with on a daily basis. Nonetheless, the journalists and photographers that I interacted with from Reuters to AP to a Moroccan News Network were quite fascinating.
My experiences during the GA went far beyond the journalists I was escorting around like ducklings however. While it is certainly every UN intern’s dream to meet them in person or take a selfie, I had the opportunity to hear Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and President Obama address the GA for the last time during their respective tenures. I also heard the new Brazilian President Michel Temer, UK Prime Minister Theresa May, Canadian Prime Minster Justin Trudeau, Ghanaian President John Dramani Mahama, Norwegian Prime Minister Erna Solberg, Vice President Joe Biden, Secretary John Kerry, Ambassador Samantha Power and so many more say their piece to the world.
As a UN intern, you are not exactly a prize possession (https://www.theguardian.com/ ). However, let’s just say we interns form a remarkable network with an uncannily active WhatsApp group that allows us to keep eyes on everyone from Emma Watson to Joe Biden (more commonly referred to by interns as Uncle Joe) as they crisscross UNHQ.
The week of the GA was a combination of complete craziness and beautiful diplomacy. I felt incredibly lucky to witness the world up close. And last Tuesday, despite my utter exhaustion from leaving for work at 6:00a.m. to get through security and my discouragement at seeing my engineering and business school peers come home every day with hefty salaries, I got to come home and tell my roommates all about my day listening to President Obama and his fellow world leaders. Not too shabby for a day in the life of a UN intern.