Interning at VPERM: Ashton Mathias

I am writing this letter to express my profound sense of gratitude to Mr. Garvin Brown's establishment and continual funding of the Susan Casey Brown Fund, which is part of the McGill International Experience Awards. This year, this generous support enabled me to spend a summer in Vienna, while interning for the Permanent Mission of Canada to the International Organizations (herein referred to as VPERM).   

VPERM is responsible for the management of Canada’s participation and relationship with a host of multilateral organizations all headquartered in Vienna. These organizations include (but are certainly not limited to) the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organization (CTBTO), the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), as well as various global export control arrangement groups.  

Ashton standing in front of the VPERM building in ViennaIn terms of my personal responsibilities, the vast majority of my duties involved attending meetings of the aforementioned organizations, in addition to those of Vienna-based civil-society groups, followed by drafting reports and analysis pieces for distribution to relevant stakeholders in Ottawa. In performing such duties, I not only gained valuable analytical skills while gaining first hand-experience with Canada’s role in global non-proliferation efforts, but I also enabled my superiors to concentrate more intently on crisis issues (ex. Iran’s non-compliance with the JCPOA) at times, allowing Canada’s voice to be fully represented at the table.  

There were quite a number of highlights from my summer, but I will briefly mention four. The first was the CTBTO Science & Technology Conference in late June 2019, where over 1000 scientists, journalists, youth, and academics met to discuss the practical scientific and civil applications of the CTBTO IMS Data Centres. There, I was exposed to presentations on the usefulness of the IMS data for disaster preparedness and climate change, and was introduced to influential leaders of the CTBTO Youth Group.  

The second such highlight was the IAEA technical briefings, where we received updated and detailed information on the status of Iran’s breaches of the JCPOA, as well as on the latest nuclear safeguards technology. Such briefings greatly increased my knowledge of the nuclear fuel cycle, among other topics.  

The third such highlight was the UN Congress on Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice (CCPCJ) in late May 2019. The side events for the Congress covered a broad range of topics, including the European migrant crisis, and methods for combatting cybercrime and child pornography.  

The final such highlight was when I was tasked with drafting the first round of Canada’s Opening Statement to the IAEA General Conference (September 2019). The GC is the pinnacle of Canada’s participation in Vienna as the resolutions drafted at the GC (on personnel issues, areas of investigation) are binding upon the IAEA Secretariat. Being assigned such an important task as a policy intern is reflective of the unique opportunities I was afforded this summer, all through the Susan Casey Brown Fund.  

Given the sheer number and quality of the conferences and events I was able to attend as part of my time at VPERM, the internship clarified potential future avenues for my career. For one, over the course of my internship, I met with dozens of diplomats from the various missions, in addition to receiving personalized advice from various departments at VPERM. Each of these persons took incredibly different paths to arrive at the place that they were at today, reaffirming that a) the path ahead to entering the Foreign Service, should that end up being my future career, is not a linear one, and b) diligence, humility, integrity, and creativity are among the top traits to possess in any career. Second, the ability to attend various high-profile events, seminars, and conferences spiked my curiosity in a diverse range of fields, namely; nuclear geopolitics in the Middle East, integration programs of refugees in central Europe, defence arrangements and Russian disinformation campaigns in the Balkans, etc. The internship further underscored the importance of committing to two of my goals to the fullest: a) to learn as many languages as possible (and not just because knowing someone’s native tongue is an easy entry point to a personal connection), and b) to be as informed as possible about the world (my internship inspired me to start learning a lot more about the latest political developments in various countries across Eastern Europe, the Maghreb, and Southeast Asia).  

In conclusion, I am extremely, extremely grateful and humbled to be a recipient of the Susan Casey Brown Fund. I have already talked about the benefits of my internship on my personal development, my skills set, my academics, and my career prospects above. 

However, on a more primary level, even being afforded the opportunity in general (irrespective of its positive outcomes that I am now benefitting from) is humbling. Being able to walk on the UN grounds, being able to travel to Europe, is something I would have never imagined earlier this year, let alone a decade ago (when my concept of a “big” trip was Quebec City or Niagara Falls). Interns from other Missions were not paid nor did they receive any institutional funding, and so, this internship is generally an experience usually meant for those from a wealthier background. Accordingly, I cannot thank Mr. Garvin Brown and the founders of McGill International Experience Awards enough for enabling me to experience what I experienced this summer through their generosity – I will forever remember this summer as I advance in my career.  

Back to top