Interning at VPERM: Naomi Shi

As a student of International Relations, I was always curious about how foreign policy is carried out in practice. In summer 2022, as I became the Policy Intern at the Permanent Mission of Canada to the International Organizations in Vienna (VPERM), I had the chance to see how diplomatic practices give shape to global politics, and I was most intrigued to learn about the complexities associated with them. Interning with VPERM was truly an unparalleled experience that furthered my understanding of international relations, as I was able to observe first-hand how Canada interacts with other international actors. I am extremely grateful for the generous support of the Internship Offices Network, and to the RBC Future Launch program donors for enabling me to have such an enriching experience this summer as a recipient of the RBC Internship Award.

VPERM is responsible for the management of Canada’s participation in and relationship with the multilateral organizations that have their headquarters in Vienna, including (but not limited to) the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty Organization (CTBTO), and the UN Office on Drugs and Crime. I applied for this internship wishing to develop a more in-depth understanding of the security dimension of international relations, and I am especially grateful to have directly worked on supporting Canada’s engagement with the International Atomic Energy Agency, colloquially known as the UN’s nuclear watchdog. Not only was I able to observe multilateral diplomacy in practice, but I also gained a thorough understanding of how international security is sustained through the work of the United Nations. Assigned to work under the diplomat responsible for representing Canada on issues related to safeguards, measures to verify states do not use nuclear materials to develop weapons and that they respect their obligations under international non-proliferation treaties, I attended a multitude of meetings, briefings, and events that have broadened my insight on the geopolitics of nuclear nonproliferation.

As Policy Intern, my duties primarily involved attending IAEA meetings, drafting summary reports and analysis pieces for relevant stakeholders in Ottawa, and managing diplomatic correspondence. Report writing differed significantly from the academic writing I was familiar with at university, and I gained valuable skills in learning how to consider, extract, and relay critical information. My other responsibilities included conducting open-source research on the Australia-US-UK trilateral security partnership (AUKUS) as well as North Korea’s nuclear program to support my superiors in their negotiations at the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) Review Conference this September. As my interests lie mainly in Canada-Asia relations, the opportunity to work on two relevant files concerning the nuclear security landscape in Asia was a personal highlight.

Naomi and two colleagues sitting on chairs, immersed in discussion
With fellow ION intern, Kiran Basra, and Policy Officer Alexander van Kelegom.

There were so many other highlights that I wish to recall from my internship, the following are only a few! The biggest standout moment of my internship for me was attending the June meeting of the IAEA Board of Governors, where member states convened to discuss and pass resolutions on a number of contentious issues, such as the nuclear implications of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Iran’s noncompliance with its safeguards obligations and the status of the JCPOA, North Korea and Syria’s nuclear ambitions, and the validity of AUKUS. There, I watched the unfolding of intense exchanges between delegations in politically charged discussions and observed countries delivering their foreign policy in real-time. It was especially surreal sitting behind the Canadian Ambassador as he delivered our national statements and vocalized Canada’s position on many of these issues. Later, I sat down with my supervisor to analyze its aftermath, dissect rhetoric, and untangle all the procedural wrangling that had occurred – from that one discussion alone, I learned so much that I could not have otherwise in an academic setting. I also enjoyed participating in smaller meetings between Canada and its like-minded counterparts in advance of the BoG, as I was able to witness the manners in which diplomats cooperate, coordinate, and exchange ideas in preparation for the meeting.

A conference room, with a speaker sitting higher up, delivering a speech
Attending the 58th Preparatory Commission of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty Organization (CTBTO) with H.E. Ambassador Troy Lulashnyk and First Secretary Lynn Hartery.

Another highlight was the opportunity I had to spend my last two weeks working with colleagues down the hall at the Canadian Mission to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (VOSCE), focusing largely on the security implications of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Interning with VOSCE, despite being brief, was incredibly enriching, as I was able to further my understanding of what comprehensive security entails and work on files beyond the nuclear realm.

Finally, meeting diplomats from both within and outside of the Canadian mission and receiving invaluable career advice from many of them is a highlight I cherish. Hearing about their own trajectories has undoubtedly influenced my perception of what a career in the foreign service is like, and I am walking away with greater clarity about my future. Most of all, I am very thankful to my colleagues at VPERM and VOSCE for the opportunities, encouragement, and support they’ve extended to me so I can delve into my interests and further my professional development.

When looking back at the past three months, I am filled with gratitude for the generosity of ION and its donors for providing me with a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Without the funding from my donors at the RBC Future Launch Program, I would not have been able to take on the internship. I am extremely grateful for and appreciative of McGill University and its dedication to providing its students with career-enhancing opportunities. It inspires me to give back to ION and provide other students with experiences, like my own this summer, as a McGill alumna.

I will be receiving academic credit for the internship and writing a research paper on AUKUS under the supervision of Professor Fernando Nuñez-Mietz.

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