UN Internships in Times of COVID-19
Posted on 9 Apr 2020
Categories: COVID-19 | Focus on
Study for a British university degree in Geneva

Two UNOG interns share their experience of working from home during these strange times of COVID-19 pandemic

Valerii is an intern at the United Nations Office at Geneva who currently lives in Geneva

Following my ideals and principles

After living in Italy for the past few years, I was quite surprised to be offered the opportunity for an internship at the United Nations Office at Geneva. The ideals and principles of the organization have always been dear to me, so it did not take long for me to decide to accept it. But I must confess, it was quite a challenge to move to a new country and start a new life, after just leaving a place which had become the epicentre of the COVID-19 outbreak in Europe.

I’d been assigned with several different tasks including taking pictures, researching, producing and developing content for a new UN Geneva website, and the Annual Report. As the coronavirus spread across Europe, my photography work focused on the social distancing and other recommendations at the workplace, conferences and meetings in the last days before access to the Palais des Nations was restricted. As the situation progressed, all events were cancelled or postponed, and we were advised to work remotely, to encourage social distancing. The last days in the office were rather comforting and the staff were very helpful and supportive of us and each other. Even after having been given the opportunity to telecommute, almost everyone tried to come in.

Stay home

Things changed dramatically after receiving a UN Broadcast about COVID-19 in Switzerland, and the deeply worrying news about the first positive case within the Palais des Nations. All non-critical personnel was required to telecommute.

It was hard to realize that we all had to actually stay home. After just two weeks since starting my internship, it was a difficult, yet necessary measure.

Learning new ways of working

Since Monday, 15 March, we’ve been making the best of telecommuting. I’ve been researching historical facts for the history section of the new website, as well as learning how to use motion graphics software to create an animation for the upcoming launch of the UN Geneva Annual Report.

This global crisis has certainly been challenging for those of us who are working away from loved ones, worrying deeply about them. Working from home can feel lonely, at a time of mass panic and anxiety. For me, as an intern without a network of friends in Geneva, it is hard to be isolated.  Along with several other interns, we have occasionally been able to hang out.

I think taking care of each other is extremely important now, especially those being directly affected by the virus. Let us hope for the best and continue working by any means possible to get through this crisis together.

Working from home in Geneva (Copyright: Valerii)
Working from home in Geneva (Copyright: Valerii)
Social Distancing during a meeting at the Palais des Nations (Copyright: Valerii)
Social Distancing during a meeting at the Palais des Nations (Copyright: Valerii)

Kiva from Shanghai (China) is an intern at the United Nations Office at Geneva who currently lives in Ferney-Voltaire (France)

Accepted with mixed feelings

2020 has been a tough year to start an internship at UN Geneva. After finishing school in the UK, I watched the increasing numbers of confirmed cases in China and felt concerned for my family. I received the offer from UN Geneva with mixed feelings, while there was panic at home, I realised that this opportunity could provide a different perspective in life.

One month before I left for Geneva, I found a lovely apartment, not far from Palais des Nations. Unexpectedly, just before my flight, my host cancelled my reservation because she was nervous about coronavirus! Though shocked, I understood her concern. The virus has already affected many people, and I felt that global panic was coming.

Settling in

Without much time to search, I was able to find a place to stay in Ferney-Voltaire, France.

I arrived in Geneva on a Sunday and started to work on Monday, in early March. Though the virus was still on my mind, I couldn’t help being excited to be in a new work environment and meeting other interns from all around the world. At that moment, I finally felt like I was finally ready to settle down, get to work, and eventually make an impact of my own.

After my fourth day at work, we received the announcement informing us that everyone would have to work from home.

Going back was a plausible choice

The announcement caused a shockwave of emotion, sparking conversations in the office and around the building. I spoke to many other interns, asking how they felt, and consulted some of them to figure out what I should do. My friend gave me the choice of going back home with her, which was a plausible option, especially with the outbreak becoming more contained in China.

I decided to stay, because even with the outbreak, my internship is a once in a lifetime opportunity. It also gives me the chance to see how French and Swiss citizens are coping with the pandemic.

Panic-buying

At first, I was concerned that people were not taking things seriously. I believe that changed after the French President held a press conference announcing tough new restrictions, limiting movement and closing borders. To me, it was a positive sign that European governments were starting to take control of the situation.  Unfortunately, it also caused mass confusion and panic-buying, leading to some shortages.

Changing by the day

Things have changed a lot since I arrived. In Ferney-Voltaire, an official permit is required to leave the house, which limits most of my activities.

With everything that’s happening, it’s very hard to keep my head straight. But I do believe that it’s important to keep myself physically and mentally healthy. My friends and I still try to follow productive daily routines with work and leisure activities to balance to our minds.

Though hard, it is important to keep working together, enjoying our lives, washing our hands frequently, and of course, working not to spread virus, but to spread love.

Figure 1. Shortages at the supermarket in Ferney-Voltaire, during the Covid-19 pandemic. (Copyright: Kiva Sun)
Figure 1. Shortages at the supermarket in Ferney-Voltaire, during the Covid-19 pandemic. (Copyright: Kiva Sun)
Shortages at the supermarket in Ferney-Voltaire, during the Covid-19 pandemic. (Copyright: Kiva Sun)
Shortages at the supermarket in Ferney-Voltaire, during the Covid-19 pandemic. (Copyright: Kiva Sun)
Kiva working from home during Covid-19 pandemic. (Copyright: Kiva Sun)
Kiva working from home during Covid-19 pandemic. (Copyright: Kiva Sun)
* This article is brought to you by UN Today.