The Road Less Traveled

Why I choose to go abroad for an internship and how I came to choose Geneva and UNEP. A thrilling tale of grant writing, haggling, and “making it work!”

I believe that it is worth describing to you how I came to find myself with an international internship and the process I had to go through to translate this goal into a reality.


Saskia: “On a scale of 1-10, how badly do you want to go abroad?”

Me: “Ummm, like a 7 I guess…” (Its my favorite number so I almost always choose it in instances of uncertainty)

Saskia: “I’m not sure if that good enough. Going abroad is hard. That 7 needs to become a 9 or 10.”

Me: “Ok, ok, its a 9. For reals, I mean it.” (I really do just like the number 7)

Saskia: “Alright… so here are your options…”


And that’s how it started. From the beginning I knew it would be hard and annoying process to go abroad for my summer internship but it was a 9/10, right? Well, obviously it was because I made it, but I really think the whole experience showed me how important an international internship was to me and where I wanted to take my professional career. Here at the Nicholas School I have geared my studies to emphasize the international aspects of environmental issues and felt that the cherry on top (or even the entire sundae) would be an internship at the United Nations. This type of experience has been a goal of mine for many years and now I had the time and resources to fully pursue that dream. It was definitely a 9/10.

Through the Sanford School of Public Policy at Duke I was able to secure an internship at the UN Environmental Program (UNEP) in Geneva, Switzerland. But that first step was peanuts compared to the struggle of acquiring the necessary backing to live in one of the most expensive cities in the world for two and a half months.

Over the better part of three months, I applied to every funding source available at the Nic School and at Duke. The end result was that two week before my departure I had only half the funding I needed. I got angry at first, but then I got strategic. I asked around the school again to see if someone would take pity on me and sure enough someone did. I was truly wonderful to see that there where people at the Nic School who cared about supporting students that were doing pretty awesome internships in a developed country.

At the end of the day I made sacrifices in my budget, shortened my timeline, and promised myself to stay away from Swiss chocolate stores (the greatest challenge of all). I was dedicated to making my Geneva summer a reality and worked my tushy off to get what I needed.

It really does take a 9 or 10 to get through that process. I could have given up at anytime, told UNEP the funding just wasn’t there, and forgone the deposits I had made. But when its a 9/10, and your heart is set on it there is no turning away from that goal. The work that UNEP does is too important to me and too amazing to walk away from. And I suppose Geneva isn’t so bad either.

I’d like to refer you to my final blog post (which has yet to be written at this point) as proof that the labor it took to make this summer possible was entirely worth it, I have no doubt in my mind that I made the right decision and that this summer will prove to be an experience I will treasure forever.