Switzerland: Weeks 1 & 2

Week 1: February 9th – 15th

 Jet Lag, Broken French, and a Beautiful City

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For someone who hasn’t flown any further than California, 13hrs of flying and a 6 hour time difference was rough. After flying from Atlanta to Paris (8hrs) I got maybe 1-1.5hrs. of sleep, tops. On the bright side, literally, I saw the sunrise of Great Britain which was incredible.Coming into Geneva, was unbelievable – seeing the first glimpses of the Alps was like a postcard. The epic, sheer, and steep, snow covered faces was unreal.

After arriving into Geneva, I grabbed my free 80 minute public transport pass (epic!) and headed into the city. I rushed to my hostel, not taking in much of the city ambiance in because I had two large suitcases and frankly, was completely whipped from traveling. Luckily, I got my room right away and fell asleep for something like 12 hours.

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City Hostel, Geneva

Once I recharged I woke up and decided it was time to hop on the tram and explore Geneva. What is really cool about Geneva is, apparently, all hotels/hostels etc. give out free transport cards for the time you are in Geneva. Insane! One of the first things I needed to do was meet with someone who was offering a room to rent. Apartment and room shares are the most “affordable” ways to live and work in Geneva, especially for unpaid interns like myself. Thankfully, the place turned out to be great, and I am able to live with a very welcoming Malaysian family. Now that I don’t have to worry about housing, I am going to spend the next couple days like a tourist!… That’s it for now, I’m going to focus on learning the city for the next couple of days.

…..A few days later

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Palais des Nations

The last couple of days have been absolutely incredible. I am very glad that I decided to stay at a hostel in the middle of the city for a few days. The extra time and central location allowed me to get familiar with Geneva by using the very punctual TPG (transit system) and I have seen some beautiful sites and met some wonderful people. My first stop while exploring Geneva was seeing the row of flags at the Palais des Nations, the United Nations. I was floored when I saw the flags and realized the gravity of the situation of where I am. It was one of the first times in my life where I was genuinely proud of myself. There were benches that faced flags and I sat there and soaked in that feeling of pride and accomplishment. I was not only getting a chance to represent the USA and USF, but also myself.

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Reformation Wall, Bastions Park
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Lake Leman

After being injected with energy from seeing where I will be working for the next 90 days, I went out and to explored Geneva  like a tourist and did some site seeing. I took a tram to the other side of the Rhone River and visited the “Old City”. It was picturesque, just like everything I had imagined old European cities to be; narrow, cobblestone streets with Gothic architecture and archaic churches. I started my tour by walking through Bastions Park , which was a nice piece of greenery in the middle of the concrete jungle that surrounds it and interestingly enough, the first botanical garden in Geneva started here. There were University of Geneva students were playiIMG_2152ng giant chess, an ice skating rink, The Reformation Wall. The wall memorializes the the world renowned reformers of centuries past.

After that, I meandered my way to Lake Leman to see the world famous Jet d’Eau. Along the way, I came across the staggering 12th century church, St. Pierre Cathedral. I wandered around the narrow alley ways surround the church before I finally made it down to the lake where I could a great view of the Jet d’Eau.

I think I can safely say, I am going to love it here.

 Week 2 : February 16-20, 2015

1st Week at the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE)

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The Human Rights and Alliance of Civilizations Room

Oh, me? I’m interning at the UN…. wait, is this really happening!?

Overwhelming; that’s a fitting word for this week. This week I was overwhelmed with pride, excitement, and intimidation by the tasks I had lying ahead of me. My anxiety levels for my first day were through the roof. I had no idea what kind of first day I would have; would it be the typical ‘watch all these HR videos, fill out paperwork, and create a password for your voicemail’ kind of day? Nope.

After getting my official badge, and being introduced with fellow UNECE staff, I was introduced to my supervisor. I walked out of that conversation with a handshake, a 60 page report that I needed to review and reduce to about half AND the task of creating a template for determining the optimal renewable energy packages for all UNECE 56 member nations. Woa, wait, what?! These guys don’t mess around. And I still wasn’t 100% sure what and how the UNECE does what it does. I hadn’t even had the grand tour of the hallowed grounds I’d be working on. Nonetheless, I dug in and started working on what I needed to do. IMG_2303

It would probably be good if I shared where I will be interning and what (at least I think) I will be doing. As I mentioned, I will be at the UNECE, specifically, the Sustainable Energy Division. Within this section there are various divisions, mine will be the Renewable Energy Section. Hell yeah! Anyhow, back in November, an expert group was established to help increase the uptake of renewable energy in countries within the UNECE region. The group formed was titled the “Group of Experts on Renewable Energy”  (GERE) which consists of private sector aficionados, policy gurus, international organization leaders, etc. The goal of this group was to create various goals that would support the ECE region as well as the Sustainable Energy For All initiative (for more information http://www.se4all.org/).

Out of this meeting, the following objectives were created:

1. Support in the coordination and contribution to the Status Report on Renewable Energy in the ECE region;
2. Research, first draft and analysis of a menu of economic and efficient renewable energy technologies and their policies to support them;
3. Same as above 2 but focused on those communities with no access to energy;

Pretty awesome stuff, right? I was going to be working on not only getting energy to those who need it, but in the form of renewables! It most these regions, rural communities are too far for a cost effective grid connection to an existing power plant. So, this would provide an excellent opportunity to pair them with off-grid renewable energy technologies. Of course, many factors come into place such as wind and sun availability, geopolitical tensions, competing national interests, etc. but I will be helping to design the most optimum technology and policy package for IMG_2209the greatest chance of renewable uptake.

After things died down a little, I had the chance to walk around and take in the history of the Palais des Nations. My office is located in the “old building”, which is the original building constructed in the 30s for the League of Nations. Pretty cool! I got to walk through the largest forum hall for the UN, stroll through row of flags, and eat at one of the restaurants that has a panoramic view of Lake Leman and the French Alps including Mont Blanc, Europe’s tallest mountain. I am also fortunate enough to work in an office that has that view! Not too shabby for an unpaid intern.

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Not a bad view, huh?

In addition to the rich history and architecture of the UN, Geneva itself is an epicenter for professionals, experts, and interns from around the world. So far, I have met people from Russia, Ukraine, Finland, France, Portugal, Tunisia, Greece, Romania, Serbia,Malaysia, India, Italy, China, and the United Kingdom… in a single week! I’ve met physicists working at CERN, Ebola aid worker from WHO, PhD’s from various universities, interns from all across the UN system and so much more. I have never been so immersed in so much cultural diversity. I have had a blast sitting at bars and talking to people about quirky customs of their and my own country (on top of being badgered about our “ridiculous” gun laws, and our American culture). I’ve also learned a great deal about the people of Geneva. One thing is for certain, they really care about big picture stuff. For example, crosswalks; in the states, we J-walk like it is going out of style. Here in Geneva, even if there are no cars coming from either direction, people will wait until they are notified to cross. One time, I saw a guy cross the street when he was not supposed to, and the group glared at him like he had kicked a baby or something.. I know, crazy! Also, the minimum wage here is 25CHF ($26) for students and I think 30CHF ($31) for everyone else. They actually recognize the high costs associated with living in a city and adjusted living wages accordingly. You can tell it makes a difference in people’s lives. Going to McDonald’s here is like going to a sit down restaurant in terms of service.

Overall, the week was fantastic; challenging but extremely rewarding. I was able to connect and learn with so many people working on so many great causes. To be honest, I am still baffled at where I am. I look out of my office and I see the Alps? I get to walk by the row of flags and into the UN offices everyday? It has been overwhelming on so many levels. In the weeks to come, I’ll be able to explain more about the on-going work and goals of the Sustainable Energy Division of the UNECE, I certainly need to figure out where I fit into all of this. but that’s it for now.

Au Revoir!

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