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.

On my 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 in Geneva.

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 by the prominent Spanish 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.

Vannessa Louchart 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.

Vannessa Louchart 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.

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 exact room.

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.

However, 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.

I could not imagine a better place for my JYA—a place where everyone is as concerned about the world as I am.