Interning at VPERM: Joy Kwak

My name is Joy and I am a fourth year Honours International Development Studies student minoring in Political Science and Hispanic Studies. This summer, thanks to the generous support of the Schull Yang International Experience Awards, I was able to pursue a remote internship with the Permanent Mission of Canada to the International Organizations in Vienna (VPERM). I was selected to contribute to the organization’s work as Policy Intern, where I learned how to apply my theoretical knowledge and skills. I gained inside knowledge on the way Canada carries out its interests internationally, and was given the chance to observe diplomacy and negotiation first-hand.


This internship was so meaningful to me because it provided me an opportunity to learn more about the inner workings of the Permanent Mission, and the way it interacts with Global Affairs Canada (GAC) and Ottawa, as well as with other international actors. Upon applying, I thought this would be a fantastic experience where I could develop my research skills and gain more information about foreign affairs, while putting some of the skills I had learned through my other internships with NGOs and volunteer commitments to good use. The internship helped me do just that, and more, it also helped me refine my interests and gave me a clearer idea of what I would like to pursue post-graduation.


VPERM is located in Vienna, Austria and helps manage and establish Canadian interests in various multilateral organizations and negotiations. VPERM mostly manages portfolios related to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and other international organizations or agreements, such as the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) and various Commissions.


As the Policy Intern for VPERM, I was tasked with attending meetings, events and high-level political forums, drafting reports summarizing meeting discussions, conducting research into requested subjects related to countries’ stances and political alignments, and assisting with the compilation of materials for VPERM staff.


A large meeting room
A screenshot of a meeting held by the IAEA in Vienna. Representatives would be present in-person or online.
Some of the highlights of the internship included the opportunity to observe the IAEA Board of Governors meetings over several days, where I heard from Representatives of diverse countries about sensitive topics such as atomic energy use and safety. I learned a lot about different diplomacy styles, the areas of focus of the international community, and discerned certain patterns that occurred within discussions. Another highlight was the opportunity to draft reports of meetings that were sent to the headquarters in Ottawa, which helped me refine my annotation skills and were read by the Global Affairs team for a better understanding of certain subjects. Additionally, I was invited to join meetings with different teams at GAC and observed how each team manages different sides of Canada’s relationships and promotes its interests.

One of the challenges I faced was conducting the internship remotely and online. Due to the time difference, meetings were sometimes difficult and it was rare that the team and I were online at the same time. However, the team at VPERM was very understanding of this and made efforts to assign me meetings according to my time zone and gave me extra time to complete assignments. I also set up weekly meetings with staff and personal coffee chats to overcome the distance that comes with being a remote intern!


As I am receiving academic credit for this internship, I am writing a research paper to incorporate what I have learnt into my research interest. I will be meeting with my supervising professor, Professor Fernando Nuñez-Mietz, to produce a research paper about how international law has been maintained through multilateral agreements and organizations such as the IAEA.


I have always wanted to do an internship while in university, and this summer provided the perfect opportunity to do so. It was great to be able to learn and have new experiences in the summer, and I believe that I will be able to apply what I learned to my classes as well as after graduation. I was also able to see theory and knowledge in action, which further sparked my interest in foreign policy and international politics.


My experience with VPERM would not have been possible without the generous support of the Schull Yang International Experience Awards, which covered costs that would otherwise have required me to work over the summer to be able to cover them. Thank you, Mr. Schull and Ms. Yang, for your commitment to provide more paid extra-curricular opportunities for McGill students!

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