Every student in Korea will have at least once dreamed about working for the UN. I, too, was one of those students. Fortunately, I had the opportunity to participate in the World Federation of United Nations Associations (WFUNA) program at Sookmyung. I applied to the program because I wanted to visit the UN headquarters in New York. I knew it would be a once in a lifetime chance to meet UN employees and to actually set foot in the UN headquarters.
New York City
For those of you who may not know about WFUNA, I’ll begin with a brief introduction. Technically, WFUNA is not actually part of the UN, but it does work to promote awareness of UN work and it only operates out of Sookmyung in Korea. It is a 5-day program, but participants arrived 2 days earlier than the start of the program to do some sightseeing around the city of New York. Honestly speaking, upon arrival I was not excited to be in NY, mostly because of the 19-hour flight I had just been on. Unlike my assumption that the city would be dirty and noisy, I found it lovely and the weather was just perfect. Thankfully, I enjoyed all the food in NY, especially I loved the bagels and lobster, which are renowned in NY. Some people would say the food in NY is too expensive, but I wanted to enjoy NY’s finest and I knew I wouldn’t get that chance back home in Korea. The great thing about NYC is that everything is nearby. All the major tourist attractions are in walking distance, so it only takes about 10 minutes to walk to a theatre to enjoy an original musical. The price of the tickets was absolutely worth it. I had a magical time touring the city, but soon play time was over and it was time for the studying to begin.
The weeklong program started off with basic introductions and brain-storming. Participants were asked to write everything we knew about Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which to be frank is something I had never heard about before. 17 SDGs are the road maps to the future that the UN wants to address. The first speaker at the training program talked about the decision making the process at the UN. The lecture detailed the founding of the UN and how its 193 member states make decisions that affect the entire world. Later that day, representative from the NGO ‘She’s the First’ gave a presentation. The UN cannot function without help, and it needs the assistance of various NGOs, which work more closely with people in need in the field. That is, NGOs are a big part of the work that the UN does.
On day 2, participants visited the Permanent Mission of the Republic of Korea to the United Nations. Participants were excited to go there because we could meet fellow Koreans. They told us about the goals of the Permanent Mission of the Republic of Korea and made it clear that the institution does not represent Korea’s wants or needs. It works on tasks that bring peace to the world. I was surprised to see so many people working hard to make the world a better place. Since Korea is a developed nation, other nations expect much from it. However, Korea has yet to meet their expectations, so the ambassador emphasized South Korea’s future in the global world. As a future global citizen, I, too, hope it comes true.
Participants went to the UN headquarters. I was able to visit the General Assembly and Security Council rooms, places I had only read about in books. I surprised myself. I actually knew all the answers to all the questions the tour guide asked our group. All my studying had paid off. After the tour of the rooms, people from different departments at the United Nations lectured about their work at the UN. I came to know there were a lot more departments than I had previously thought. The most meaningful moment was getting the chance to ask questions and share our thoughts about each presenter’s talk. It was exciting to communicate with actual people from the field. The question and answer sessions were just as important as the main presentations. I learned a lot from them.
On the fourth day, participants went on a walking tour of UN Women. We met two Korean women working for UN Women. They were very confident and proud of the work they are doing. UN Women mainly focuses on promoting women’s rights around the world. After this, we traveled to the permanent mission of Bangladesh. There the Minister gave a talk that truly broadened my perspective of the world. I had always assumed that a country like Bangladesh was poor and insignificant; however, it turns out the nation has better social welfare systems than Korea. I realized I had been stuck in stereotypes that narrowed my view.
Final day in WFUNA
On the final day of the program, participants enjoyed pizza for lunch with the UN interns. Among them were several Korean. What surprised me more was that UN departments hired Koreans to work at all levels from interns to managers. I found there were Koreans at every corner of UN departments. It was a pleasure to see. Each UN employee who spoke with us that day gave us valuable tips on how to join the UN. We learned there was more than one way to become a UN employee. Moreover, employees do not need to be an international relations expert. People from various fields can all work for the UN. I was relieved to learn that because as a student of business, I felt a bit out of place during the 5-day program. I discovered that people like me could join the UN. Before knowing this, a career at the UN seemed so far away and impossible. Meeting various people from diverse backgrounds was proof that I had the potential for a career at the UN. The program wrapped itself up with participants giving a presentation on SDGs. Throughout the 5-day program, participants were consistently educated about SDGs, so it was a great chance to show others what we had learned.
How about you?
It was a memorable experience. My summer felt meaningful. I met so many inspiring individuals, most of whom I would never have met if I had stayed at home during the vacation. I made friendships that will last a lifetime with fellow students at Sookmyung. You do not need to be a UN enthusiast to apply for the 5-day program. You will learn so much by just being there and meeting staff at the UN. Participating is a stepping stone to a better future. During the program, I learned what I wanted to do with my life. I decided to do a double major while at Sookmyung. To all The Sookmyung Times readers, I guarantee you this program is well worth joining. I strongly recommend anyone with even the smallest interest apply for the WFUNA program.