I am extremely grateful to have had the opportunity to work with such an amazing, hardworking, and truly kind team at one of the most impactful organizations in the world. None of this would have been possible without the generous funding from Mr. Schull and Ms. Yang through the Schull Yang International Experience Awards, which alleviated the financial stress of aspects such as rent and food and allowed me to fully focus on making the most of my internship. The depth and breadth of the impact of these awards fund does not go unnoticed by award recipients; it makes the internship experience truly transformative for all of us.
As a recent graduate from the Honours International Development Studies (IDS) program at McGill, the balance between classroom learning and practical experience has always been crucial. I knew from the first semester of my first year that I wanted to major in IDS, and after four years, I can say that I made the right decision. The classes, the program, and the administration for this small but important department make the degree what it is. Moreover, we are fortunate enough to have many internships available through the Internship Offices Network and the Arts Internship Office, with organizations whose work strongly align with the field.
The anticipation of my internship with the UN World Food Programme (WFP) Panama was a year-long process. In February 2020, I remember reading the checklist of responsibilities and skills and thinking to myself, “this could not be more fitting for me.” It seemed perfect as it involved my Spanish language skills, my interest in working with a dynamic team in Panama, and a mixture of external and internal communications for the largest humanitarian agency in the world. So, while I was disappointed when the pandemic prevented this experience from happening in 2020, I was so happy to be offered the internship remotely for summer 2021. My objectives remained attainable in the online experience: I was excited to work in Spanish in a professional setting, especially for the Latin American/Caribbean regional bureau of WFP - focused on alleviating hunger and food insecurity through emergency response and long-term resilience programs.
Some of my short-term tasks included monitoring all press and social media relating to WFP and specific LatAm/Caribbean countries, creating the weekly internal newsletter, translating publications, and creating and analyzing video campaigns prior to launching on social media. Longer term projects included writing articles (now published on WFP’s website) on issues related to food insecurity and malnutrition, quantitative and qualitative social media analyses for country accounts as well as the regional bureau’s accounts (the findings of which I presented to over 40 people), and a comparative analysis between WFP LatAm and Caribbean’s social media accounts with those of their “competitors.”
The biggest highlight of the internship was the feeling that my work mattered and that my opinion was valued. For instance, after presenting my findings from the country account social media analysis, the communications representatives from each respective country sincerely thanked me for taking the time to go through their accounts. Additionally, my colleagues would ask for my feedback and opinions on content/videos they produced before publishing. This made me feel that, despite being younger than everyone else working on the team, my voice and opinion really mattered. Additionally, my boss emphasized many times how impressed she was with us conducting ourselves so well in Spanish and especially putting in the effort to practice before presentations and always completing assignments ahead of time.
Many challenges I encountered can be attributed to remote work, but there were ways of easing the adversity they brought. At the beginning it felt difficult to connect with other team members on a personal level as most meetings had a specific topic/purpose, but I made an extra effort to ask my colleagues what they did over the weekend, or about things that were not just related to the work at hand. Another challenge was drawing boundaries between home and work life, especially determining when to put work away. At first, I didn’t take lunch time or worked quite late (while starting early in the morning), but as the internship progressed, I made sure to give myself a break and set realistic goals of what needed to get done in a day. The biggest challenge that was left unresolved was not being able to culturally immerse myself in Panama; one day I hope to visit the country as well as the team. Again, I thank everyone involved for this incredible opportunity.