Beijing in snow - 4.5 months at the United Nations Development Programme
The past 4 months and a half has been the most amazing experience I have had in my life. I can’t be more thankful to the Peace Development Foundation which offered me tremendous support in terms of providing a generous allowance for me to live comfortably in Beijing without having to worry about money and introducing me to the big UNPDF family in Beijing in such a way that I needed not feel anxious about making friends in a place new to me.
The opportunity to live and work in China really did spark my imagination. I was born and raised in Hong Kong. I have travelled to China for multiple times, but none of which lasted for more than a week. I have therefore been always insatiably curious about how living in China, especially Beijing, the political centre of China, was like. This persuaded me to even defer my masters offer for a year as I hoped to be more experienced in the field of development and to try to integrate the knowledge I learnt in school into a real-life setting. As a political science major, I have an inquisitive mind undefined by rules, space, and form. The internship at UNDP on the ground served as an invaluable contribution to my evolving understanding of international development and fuelled my innate curiosity in ways not possible in a classroom. I never regret going there.
Throughout the months, I learnt more than I could possibly ask for. The people from my team were all very friendly and humorous, yet professional. The team works on real solutions to sustainable development challenges. There are portfolios on LGBTI and gender equality, poverty reduction, youth development, SDGs localisation, women empowerment’s, governance, urbanisation, etc. I am so privileged to work with almost everyone in team in their respective focus areas. I went outside to meet potential voluntary suppliers with a team member, recruited to do simultaneous translation for a foreigner with another, did some research on an inclusive finance project, and attended a large poverty alleviation forum in October with half of the team.
Haoran was the one I worked with the most. She was funny and considerate, always asking me if the workload was okay and bringing me to nice restaurants nearby for lunch. I was by her side when she was selecting candidates for the second Youth Solution Trip, an initiative by UNDP China to support youth leadership and engage younger generations in solving the social challenges facing today’s China. I learnt a lot from her, most remarkably her professionalism in liaising with partners, participants and organising events. The Youth Solution Trip was technically my first assignment. I was responsible for preparing promotion materials, coordinating between the selected candidates and UNDP, organising the post-trip sharing session and working with the Communications Team in producing content about the trip for social media. During the first few weeks, I dedicated most of my working hours on this project, which strengthened my communication skills as I had to coordinate between different parties. I also learnt more about what UNDP was doing. I like the idea of the Youth Solution Trip of bringing dedicated like-minded young people from across China to Beijing and to do field work in a remote village in an impoverished county. I believe this would really get them to know more about what rural poverty was like, and what could help alleviate poverty, and what could not.
In November, I went on a three-day business trip with another team member to Dexing in Jiangxi to do baseline field assessment on the county in the hope of advising them on how to handle the problem of diminishing working populations caused by increased pull forces from towns nearby. Representing UNDP, we had meetings with local government officials, visited several big businesses and public facilities and some potential spots they thought capable of developing tourism. Despite the limited time, the business trip (they called it “mission”) really opened my eyes to how little I had known about China. The local officials treated us to sumptuous meals. Meat of the best quality. And white wine that few people can stand.
In the last 3-4 weeks I had been working on researching and writing sections of a book to be published collectively by UNDP and some other agencies, including the Chinese Government. I felt trusted and happy that I was asked to do this job. Despite sometimes I had to work overtime for this project, I felt super rewarded as I knew “hey, this is going to be published!” Apart from writing, I also had to attend meetings at our partners’ places, such as in a university, and at the MOFCOM. I was happy that I got to see so much.
The PEG Team and the UNDP as a whole had a rather non-hierarchal structure. During weekly team meetings, interns were given opportunities to report on what they did during the past week and what they think the projects they work on can be improved. Our opinions are always taken seriously. There were also occasional “brown bag” lunch events, which offered everyone including interns a time to relax, to listen to inspiring talks and speeches, and most important of all, to enjoy free food! It was a great place to meet interns from different teams and those from UNICEF, UNFPA and UN Women as well.
I am blessed with so many talented people in my team, who had been continuously giving me support and courage, and most importantly, friendship. I truly know what “inclusiveness” means, and how hard people are trying to achieve it. This internship experience has inspired me to pursue an international career that not only permits a flexible working schedule, but also gathers a group of like-minded individuals who are equally passionate about making positive changes and contributing to human development.