IEE Newsletter No. 20

AlumnIEE: Life after MADM

Cristina Gregorio shares her experiences as a Carlo Schmid Programme fellow at the United Nations Joint Inspection Unit in Geneva, Switzerland.

Life after MADM was determined long before graduation. In spring 2013, some specially selected students were invited to apply for the DAAD's Carlo Schmid Programme (CSP) Fellowship. Surprisingly, by the summer of 2013, I was informed of the award and was directed to Geneva, Switzerland, for an internship at the United Nations Joint Inspection Unit (UNJIU) starting in April 2014.
The MADM course, as every graduate knows, is a blur. It felt as if we graduated almost as soon as we had started. From the summer school in Cape Town to my internship in Hamburg, various DAAD meetings and our course work in Bochum, it was a whirlwind process quickly leading up to the moment of having to defend our thesis in March 2014. And in next to no time we had become "masters". But during all those months I also prepared for the CSP – visa, housing, and various UN forms which needed completing and sending off. Although I was only in touch with them by e-mail, both the Swiss Consulate in Frankfurt and my supervisors at the UNJIU were very helpful so that by the time I left Bochum, my only problem was how to pack up my life and move to Geneva. (I think by then I had moved 11 times - the thought still exhausts me.)
This year's mild winter was fading when I took that Deutsche Bahn train from Bochum to Duisburg, then to Frankfurt, to Basel and finally to Geneva. AlumnIEE photo 2Yet even when spring was tempting to arrive, Geneva was cold. The temperatures were not even that low, but perhaps it was because of the lake, the wind and aggravated by the fact that everyone seemed to be staying indoors because the summer had not arrived yet. On my first evening, at 9 pm, the Vieille Ville (Old Town) was already deserted. Then I was informed by my landlady that I should make sure to do my grocery shopping by 6:30 pm (for by 7 pm it's lights off and doors shut) except on Thursdays, when some shops stay open until 9 pm. The Genevois value their work-life balance so much that shops close early and, believe it or not, it's quiet everywhere (except for the red light district. Yes, they have one.). Student bars stop serving food at 9 pm. And you'd better be prepared to pay at least around 40 CHF, if you want to eat more than just a plain pizza. So there it was, my first encounter with a culture shock after my time in Germany.
But with this work-life balance vibe, I thought my fellowship would be a bit of a rest - the first time since 2012 that I was able to stay put anywhere for six months. And I was used to doing research and writing anyway. But I was wrong. I was assigned to the team that conducts a UN system-wide review of mainstreaming the Decent Work Agenda, which has four pillars: 1) employment creation, 2) social protection, 3) standards at work, and 4) social dialogue. It is the biggest core team of the unit with two inspectors (a retired UN Permanent Representative of the Hungarian Government and a Gambian evaluation expert formerly employed with the UNDP and the World Bank), who both balanced the diplomatic and technical perspectives, two career evaluation and inspection officers (from Japan, the US/Bangladesh), and another co-intern (Canadian and Thai). The first few days were taken up by the typical introduction, but as the days, weeks and months progressed, there was so much to be done during the day that I felt I was completely immersed in the review.
It felt like thesis-writing all over again: discussing methodologies and data collection, assignments to read countless country-specific United Nations Development Assistance Frameworks (later I learned they were called UNDAFs), turning them into tables and charts, assisting in the creation of an online survey for UN Resident Coordinators and Country Teams, preparing presentations, joining meetings with other organisations by Skype or in person, and simply making myself useful for the benefit of our team. Seeing my drafts as excerpts in documents meant a lot to my nerdy/development-crazy self, too.
AlunIEE photo 1 neuA lot of these things I had done before, yet it was intellectually fulfilling to learn about new concepts and, this time, to really get to know how the UN goes about operationalizing them through its different agencies, their programmes and projects. The major difference was the concept of "system-wide" and the "country teams." The UN is just an entirely different machine compared to the multilateral development banks that I had been exposed to before. It was really an honour to have been able to get a glimpse of the UN system through an "inspection" perspective or as laymen would say – a police unit that checks and makes recommendations on the aspects that need improvement.
As I had told my co-interns before, how often do you get the chance to help make sure the UN does what it promised to do and also have the opportunity to take leisurely walks after lunch around the Palais des Nations with peacocks roaming around the garden facing Lake Geneva? The chance to do noble work (hey, the UN doesn't pay its interns!) in an international environment in a picturesque location does not come very often. Between April and September, I had the chance to mix with my co-interns from North America, Europe and Asia. I was convinced Geneva was full of intellectual talent coupled with that dangerous idealism to make a difference and at the same time quench the thirst for adventure. Every young professional I met was a high-calibre and inspiring person. And the personal success stories of my two officers show that there is success at the end of the struggle somehow.
AlumnIEE photo 3In Geneva, it wasn't all work and no play. Finally, I had time to have a social calendar that actually made me beg for rest. If we weren't attending talks and seminars, a few of the interns and I would partake in countless cultural activities – there was the crazy Lake Parade, countless concerts in the Parc de la Grange, and there also were our memorable house dinners. Another co-CSP fellow from Zambia was also in town; and together with another German consultant they formed my first support group (aka "why is Geneva like this and not like *insert German city here*") outside the office. Despite of being abroad, what made me finally feel at home was the company of the Filipino friends I met there – all of them lived in Geneva permanently and weren't transients like me. It was through their generosity and kindness that I slowly felt I was becoming a local (I even had more visitors there than in Bochum) – a Genevoise! From outdoor movies and Fête de la Musique to apero by the river, double gruyère ice cream by the lake and countless food trips (fondue twice in a week?), Geneva didn't seem cold and grey anymore. I'm sure it also helped to have some German family ties to fully experience and appreciate the Swiss culture. By the time I had to leave, two MADM classmates had arrived even!
Although I extended my student life for an extra six months thanks to the DAAD, the CSP fellowship was a win-win experience. On the one hand, I learned about the UN which I did not have the chance to while at university and was able to contribute to the work of a team which hopefully will make it to the post-2015 development agenda. On the other, I could catch a glimpse of a young development professional's life abroad. Certainly, a dream come true! What happened after the CSP? E-mail me at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. to find out.


by Cristina Gregorio

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