Notes From Abroad:
Vannessa Louchart Bustamante
'13, an economics major now on her Junior Year Abroad in
Geneva, Switzerland, spends many of her days in high-level
discussion sessions over human rights among political leaders
from around the world. Her internship at the Permanent
Mission of Costa Rica at the United Nations is everything
she expected and nothing she imagined.
By Vannessa Louchart
first day at work, everyone was showing off their national
pride by wearing traditional clothing to work. It was the
day to wear your country’s traditional dress. However, the
place where I work is not a typical office--I am working
for the Permanent Mission of Costa Rica at the United Nations
During my first three weeks,
I attended meetings at the Palais de
Nations (the United
Nations Headquarters in Geneva) at least fours times a week
in different conference rooms. I spent a lot of time in SALLE
XX, the conference room used for the Human Rights Council.
This room was renovated in 2005, and it features a sculpture
Bustamante '13 (on right), an intern working at the
United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland during JYA,
pauses at the entrance to the UN building with her
friend Josseline Matute '13, on her own JYA in Paris.
artist Miguel Barceló. It is the most beautiful conference
room at the Palais des Nations. While working for the 19th
Session of the Human Rights Council, I realized that this
learning experience has taught me that working at the United
Nations is both everything I expected as well as nothing
I had imagined.
Diplomats and ambassadors come
and go. This environment is as serious as people think it
is going to be. During the 19th Session of the Human Rights
Council, there were extraordinary sessions for Syria, Iran
and the People’s Republic of Korea, among other countries. During
these discussions, most countries expressed their opinions
regarding possible ways to solve the conflicts on human rights
violations. Anyone in the room could feel the tension between
the different points of view being discussed. In those moments
the course of millions of lives were being decided in that
I also learned that when resolutions
and reunions are taking place, every word counts. For instance,
the words “nation” or “state” make
a difference in a document. Ambassadors can discuss these
issues for hours until they agree on a consensus. Additionally,
the language used is very important. My job was to take notes
of every country’s position and to participate actively in
the discussion on behalf of Costa Rica.
Any of the five official
languages are spoken at the United Nations, but informal
meetings are usually held in English because it is the language
that most delegates share in common. Francophone African
countries were more likely to give their speeches in French,
and Latin American countries in Spanish. Nonetheless, if
a country needs to make a specific or extremely important
statement, it is more likely to give it in another language,
depending on the receiver or the public. Most countries would
not want the message to be lost in translation.
not everything is as serious as people might think in the
United Nations. Most sessions start a little late. Delegates
talk during their breaks about topics other than politics.
There are days in which delegates have to share their culture,
and for a moment, one understands that ambassadors are also
ordinary people. I remember that as soon as I told the Cuban
delegates that I was new in town, they told me about the
best places to buy groceries in Geneva!
Working at the United
Nations in Geneva has been a fantastic experience. It has
helped me to understand how the international system works
and the uniqueness of each country in the world. I am still
getting used to the idea of living in such a beautiful city
where the most important international organizations and
world banks are surrounded by the Alps and Lake Leman.
could not imagine a better place for my JYA—a place where
everyone is as concerned about the world as I am.