As a third-year McGill undergraduate student studying Agricultural Economics and Finance, I was drawn to the UNHCR finance internship opportunity in Quito, Ecuador. Throughout my career at McGill university, I have had the opportunity to explore my interests in agribusiness and international development courses. The topic of international development sparked my interest in traveling and learning about the humanitarian aspect of the business world. I decided to dive deeper into my curiosity for international development and finance, which lead me to apply for the UNHCR finance internship.
My main objective for doing this internship was to fully immerse myself in the experience and understand the role and importance of finance in an organization as big as the United Nations. I also aimed to improve my Spanish speaking on a business proficiency level. Thanks to this internship, I can not only understand the language very well, but I have learned to keep up in conferences and ask thoughtful questions. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) is a unit of the United Nations that works to protect and aid refugees, forcibly displaced and stateless people globally. The UNHCR’s mission is to ensure everyone has the right to seek asylum and find safety in another state with the option to return home. During displacement, the UNHCR provides protection, shelter, advocacy, healthcare, and safety.
As an intern for the finance sector of the UNHCR my responsibilities were varied and important to the overall day-to-day activities of the agency. I was responsible for sending emails of pay cycles to the administration, approving and closing missions out of Ecuador, sending out vouchers that are pending approvals, reviewing travel authorizations of colleagues, registering receipts every Monday, recording the minutes of conference meetings with all the administration team, calculating the projection of expenses, closing petty cash statements, and requesting the invoices for tax recovery.
The highlight of the internship was being able to work alongside my coworker and boss who are both very understanding and interesting. I enjoyed the experience of working through issues together such as issues with receipts and bank approvals and having to come up with solutions as a team. I felt that I was a part of the solution, and I enjoyed our group conversations and learning firsthand about how each calculation is made and how the administration works. Working for the UNHCR was fasted paced and called for attention to detail, there were occasional challenges, but they allowed me to learn from my mistakes.
My biggest challenge was recording minutes for the first time during a 1.5-hour conference meeting with challenging topics. I was not familiar with the current company situation and the business language barrier made it difficult to keep up. This caused me to complete the assignment passed the due date and vital information was released late because of my mistakes. I explained the situation to my colleagues, and they offered advice on what to listen to in the meetings and to record the meetings for better understanding for next time.
The most impactful challenge has been doing this internship 100% online and unable to physically be around my coworkers. It was very easy to feel out of the loop and out of the action happening at the office but given the circumstances, it was a necessary precaution. Luckily, my team was very inclusive and often called me via teams to make sure I stayed up to date on tasks and what was going on at work. I was able to work from home in different office settings and take advantage of the distance. Knowing myself, I enjoy traveling and immersing myself in new places and would have loved to be in Ecuador, but this internship has only persuaded me to travel to Quito one day and experience the city.
This summer internship is not for academic credit it is purely through the ION program and for my own benefit to gain work experience. I am thankful for the supervision and support from the ION office team and for receiving the RBC Internship Award which has helped support me through an online internship experience. This internship has impacted my university experience by allowing me to fully take advantage of what McGill has to offer to their students and I appreciate all the support I have received. I look forward to continuing to take courses that interest me and not being afraid to reach out to McGill for career opportunities. I learned so much about professional life through this internship and I have a better idea of how to concentrate on the rest of my studies to better impact the people around me in my future career.