Interning at VPERM: Elina Qureshi

I am deeply grateful for the support Mr. Garvin Brown and the founders of the McGill International Experience Awards provided me in Summer 2019 as I completed an internship at the Permanent Mission of Canada to the International Organizations in Vienna. As an Economics and International Development student, I have always been interested in multilateralism and foreign policy and this internship enabled me to see these processes from the inside.  

The Permanent Mission of Canada in Vienna deals primarily with the International Atomic Energy Agency, the UN Office for Drugs and Crime, the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, and several export control agreements. As my interests lie mainly in development, I was able to work on two extremely relevant files- the IAEA’s Technical Cooperation programme, which consists of development projects employing nuclear technology, and the UNODC file, which was concentrated on trafficking and drug control. Later in the summer, I was also able to work with colleagues across the hall at the Canadian Mission to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, focusing on key security issues such as the Russian annexation of Crimea.  

As an intern, I conducted research, drafted and delivered statements on behalf of Canada, attended meetings, and provided reports and policy recommendations to colleagues in Ottawa. In addition to taking part in shaping and communicating national foreign policy, I have been able to participate in multilateral discussions. This has allowed me to understand both the challenges and the benefits of consensus-based international cooperation. Gaining firsthand experience has been both interesting in an academic sense, and informative for me as a citizen. My academic knowledge was of practical use here. As an Economics student, budget discussions that would otherwise not have been one of the most engaging events, fascinated me. I have a particular interest in international organizations' economic functioning, and I was able to learn about how Member States’ contributions and political positions shaped the Agency’s work from a financial point of view. As a Development student, I was particularly intrigued while carrying out the task of evaluating the Agency’s Technical Cooperation programme.  

There were a few moments that stood out for me in particular. The first occurred in my second week, at the UNODC’s annual Commission on Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice. Canada had introduced and had been negotiating a resolution on cybercrime, and I had been present in the last two weeks of the preparation, observing negotiations, taking notes, editing the text, and keeping the other delegations informed of updates. When the resolution succeeded in being passed, after several months of preparation and many hours of negotiation in the previous days, it felt like a victory for our entire delegation. Another highlight was when I got the privilege of reading a statement on climate change at the UN Office for Outer Space Affairs to a full room of delegations. Advocating for something I am personally passionate about on behalf of Canada and declaring our commitment towards the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals was a remarkable experience. Finally, towards the end of my internship, I was given the responsibility of representing Canada at Treaty negotiations. Without prior guidance, I conveyed Canada’s positions and amendments to the text, responded to other delegations’ questions and concerns, and achieved the outcome that my colleagues in Ottawa had hoped for. Though this was stressful, as I was working with experienced diplomats, it turned out to be one of the most memorable experiences I have had here.  

This internship was without a doubt a unique and valuable opportunity. It has certainly had an impact on my future plans. Though diplomacy is crucial to our foreign policy, I have learnt that I am a more result-oriented person, and as such, I want to be able to see my impact. I do hope to work in the foreign service, although in Development. This also involves a certain element of negotiation, but I believe that it will allow me to make more direct change.  

Personally, I believe this award and the internship I was able to take has impacted me significantly. I am more confident in my ability to adapt quickly, to assess the needs and expectations of others, and to think about long-term impacts and strategies. I have also built upon my ability to take initiative, to ask for clarification, and to reach out to contacts and build on the network of accomplished, dedicated people I have met here. I am immensely grateful for the opportunity I have had to learn and grow.  

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