My name is Catherine Wang, I am a fourth year Honours International Development Studies student minoring in East Asian studies, with a focus on human rights, migration, and forced displacement. This summer, thanks to the generous support of the Susan Casey Brown Fund, I completed an internship at Permanent Mission of Canada to the International Organizations in Vienna (VPERM) as a Multilateral Policy Intern. Working towards the promotion of human rights and peace has been a centerpoint of my professional and academic journey thus far. Particularly, my background in frontline refugee support and my previous internship as a Political and Public Affairs Intern at the European Union provided me with a balanced set of skills, experiences, and, most importantly, curiosity, that was integral to my role as an intern at VPERM.
VPERM is responsible for facilitating and managing Canada’s interests with the various international organizations located in Vienna—including (but not limited to) the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty Organization (CTBTO), and the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC). As a Multilateral Intern, I had the rare opportunity to learn and work under all three UN organizations, which provided me with an enriched and diverse set of experiences that I am immensely grateful for. As an International Development Studies student, I was initially interested in the work of the UNODC as its work intersects with my interests in migration, displacement, and human trafficking. However, I was pleasantly surprised to find key applications of international development in every nook and cranny of the United Nations Vienna Office—even in places I wouldn’t have thought to look. I distinctly remember, on my first day working on the IAEA file, I felt intimidated by my lack of knowledge and expertise in nuclear sciences, and, more importantly, thought it was the farthest possible thing from International Development. However, I quickly learned of the IAEA’s Peaceful Uses Initiative, which utilizes nuclear technology to contribute to capacity building in the Global South and advance the attainment of various SDGs including: enhancing food security, providing potable water to underserved communities, and interventions focused on mitigation and adaptation efforts related to climate change. It was the combination of these key IDS-related initiatives, alongside unexplored areas (such as nuclear disarmament) that made this internship truly an unforgettable learning experience for me.
Due to the breadth of the organization and Canada’s involvement in the UN, I had the pleasure of holding positions under Canada’s Mission to the IAEA, CTBTO, and UNODC, where I worked under the Deputy Ambassador and three First Secretaries. My work at the Mission touched on almost every facet of the UN Vienna Office, but focused primarily on nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation, global security, capacity building in the Global South, and human trafficking.
My day-to-day duties as an intern primarily involved taking notes and drafting reports for a wide range of UN meetings (including the IAEA Board of Governors, UNODC Financial Governance Meeting, and CTBTO Preparatory Commission), conducting analysis on various treaty-related legal documents, attending and drafting reports for seminars hosted by civil society organizations (distributed to key stakeholders in Ottawa and other Canadian Missions), and supporting the mission in conducting diplomatic correspondence. Over the course of three months, I attended various high-level meetings at the UN, multilateral consultations and negotiations with like-minded states, and even attended the CTBTO’s Science and Technology Conference which previewed the world’s leading nuclear technology from scientists around the world. Among these tasks, I was particularly interested in human trafficking mitigation, capacity building, and Canada-Asia relations—and spent a considerable amount of time developing my knowledge in these areas.
Every day at the UN and VPERM office was one to remember and listing all the highlights from this unforgettable experience would not fit on one webpage, however, a shortlist of my most memorable moments include: meeting and receiving career advice from Dr. Robert Floyd (the Head of the CTBTO), attending and reporting on the IAEA Board of Governors (which discussed many pressing geopolitical issues including: Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, North Korea’s growing nuclear ambitions, and Iran’s nuclear noncompliance), and taking over VPERM’s twitter account to cover the CTBTO’s biennium Science and Technology Conference (which was reposted by the official CTBTO account!). It was an honour to attend these once-in-a-lifetime events, especially during such a critical time in global politics, and I was able to learn from and dissect each of these meetings through the help and guidance of my supervisors, who graciously took the time to discuss and debrief the various implications on Canadian foreign policy and geopolitics. I thoroughly enjoyed the marriage between the civil society and diplomatic world that VPERM embodied. During my internship, I was able to witness first-hand diplomatic cooperation and negotiation of key geopolitical issues and, in the same day, engaged with representatives of various NGOs to discuss how Canada can support their work. This balance between my two interests, diplomacy and humanitarian work, is what stands out to me as the most enjoyable aspect of the internship.
Building on this experience, I will be receiving academic credit for this internship and will be writing my thesis for INTD 499 on transnational organized crime and its implications for sustainable development (particularly in underserved communities in the Global South) which will be supervised by Professor Kazue Takamura.
I would like to thank the donors of the Susan Casey Brown fund who made this life-changing experience entirely possible. As a financially independent student, I would not have been able to afford unpaid opportunities, especially in an entirely new continent with high living costs. The donation from the Susan Casey Brown fund allowed me to not only accept this internship, but also live and explore an entirely new continent—an experience I will be forever grateful for.
This internship has truly been an unforgettable, once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for me; I had the rare opportunity to witness diplomacy and international cooperation in action and engage directly with treaties I had studied in school. It has been a longtime dream of mine to work at the UN, nonetheless a UN Headquarter, and this experience has opened my horizons to a career path I hope to pursue further. Alongside the vast knowledge and experience this internship has imparted onto me, I leave Vienna with a network of wonderful colleagues and friends from all around the world that I had the pleasure of getting to know at the UN VIC. Thank you to the McGill International Experience Awards founders, and Mr. Brown for making this experience possible.