I chose to do this program in Geneva with the sincere intent of figuring out some future career plan and really exploring work possibilities. I have spent most of my time at college enjoying the learning process but not having any serious direction. Last year I became slightly terrified by the fact that I had no idea what I was doing with my professional life. The program fit me perfectly because it sent me to Europe (my favorite continent), exposed me to all kinds of political organizations (my academic focus), and had me studying French – a language I’ve wanted to learn since the age of 13.
Throughout the program we had lectures by experts in different international fields, from economics to nuclear issues to humanitarian work. We had briefings at the WTO and Red Cross, and United Nations Environmental Programme headquarters. Every presenter had a different story of how they achieved their current position, but all of their ways were long and undoubtedly arduous. One of the most exciting field days was our first day at the UN. We received badges that gave us access to the library and let us attend lectures on the grounds and eat at the cafeteria, where you find yourself surrounded by important people from all over the world.
French class took place in a room that would have been suitable for a crime show law enforcement office. Two of its walls were made entirely of glass. I had to sit facing away from these or else I would have spent the whole class staring out the window. It was a long class – three hours nearly every day – but there were only five of us in that level so the lessons were engaging and it was my only true French immersion, so I was grateful for it. My host family tried to speak French to me, but our temptation to switch to English was often too great since they spoke perfect English and my French skills did not extend to any especially exciting conversation topics. They were an international family – the mother being from Iran – so they all spoke Persian on top of French and English, and I was their ninth exchange student. Thus they had plenty of hosting experience and were very laid back about my schedule and needs. Plus they prepared amazing Swiss, Iranian, and Italian food.
Weekends were free, luckily, because there were so many things to be done in and around Geneva. There were conferences, music festivals, museums, and just the city itself to be explored. One weekend I went with a small group of people from the program to the German-Swiss city of Bern for some sightseeing. Another time I organized a group to take a tour of the CERN facilities near Geneva, and see the Large Hadron Collider – the world’s largest and most powerful particle smasher – something most of us never thought we would see.
In the end, I did not wind up meeting a potential future employer or scoring the perfect internship in Geneva, but I met a lot of experts and was reassured by the sheer amount of time and effort they had spent building their careers. I am just beginning mine and don’t need to feel so inferior for not yet achieving all my goals. What I know now is that I have already started my path and so far it has been a truly fun and privileged one. And also I’ll be looking into the University of Geneva for grad school.
– Alana McKenzie, Geneva, Switzerland