The time of my life interning at UNICEF

20-year-old Zewen Mi, a student from Nanjing University in China, spent four months working as an intern in UNICEF EAP’s water, sanitation and hygiene team. On her final day, she recounts what she learned and what she will take away from the experience.

My internship at UNICEF really was the most formative experience of my life. ‘Open and diverse’, as was highlighted in a talk with UNICEF staff during the Nanjing University group visit here in 2018, are the exact words for the environment here, which really gave me an eye to see the world in a different way.

One year after my university visit, I found myself in the land of smiles and starting my four-month adventure with UNICEF. Immersed in this ‘open and diverse’ environment, everyday was a treasure for me, making visible progress each day, step by step. I really learned so much and was happy to see these personal improvements. However, there were of course personal challenges too.

The UNICEF office in Bangkok is a long way from the main United Nations building and as the only intern at UNICEF at the time it meant a lonely start of this exotic adventure. Also, living alone built some barriers with meeting new people and fitting into this new city.

But gradually I built a network and connected myself to the big UN intern family. Now I can honestly say it’s extremely hard to say goodbye and I definitely want to come back.

The work was also challenging, which I am actually very happy about.

I was given a very exciting and, I think, potentially groundbreaking project to do a financial analysis of the WASH sector in countries across the region. It was perfect for me because I love numbers – they make me feel solid and reliable and I could look at spreadsheets all day. The passion for my work, plus the enabling environment of UNICEF, made the office a place I’d love to go to every morning when I woke up, and a place where I could effortlessly focus on work and be the last one to leave.

I’m extremely excited about this work and I hope it’ll be published eventually.

I also had other interesting opportunities, such as being invited to work with the communications team to create a social media post which did very well.

The team then asked me to present that to colleagues from across the region at a Knowledge Management workshop as an example of best practice. That’s another highlight for me and it was so great sharing stories and ideas with people from different countries.

Apart from that, working for UNICEF was such a rich experience for me in every aspect of life. I was really surprised at first about how informal it was – no suits, no high heels and you could just go up to anyone and talk to them about their work near the coffee machine.

One of the best parts of being an intern in this office was that I was really looked after by the Thai staff. The programme assistant Karakate, who kind of served as my big sister here, and the HR lady Jirapa, who I called my Thai grandma, supported me a lot. Group lunch always made my day when the whole office family took me to a really local restaurant and we toasted with Cola.

I have to go back to Nanjing now to finish my Financial Management Degree, but in the future I definitely want to work for the UN. It’s actually my dream now: I’ve loved working in such an exciting international environment. It’s really the best working environment you could ask for.

I’d tell other people not to hesitate to take up an opportunity like this. I can honestly say that in my 20 years, this has been the time of my life. I hope I can come back soon.

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