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Quirien van Straelen (MA IRIO) did her internship at the UNDP in Sierra Leone

Within my degree International Relations and International Organization an internship is mandatory. I choose to do an internship in support of the Transition Support Team (TST) of the United Nations Development Programme in Sierra Leone. This was in the period March 2007-August 2007.

Quirien in Sierra Leone

My task was to support the TST in the daily management of the Transition Initiative Fund (TIF). The main objective of the Transition Initiative Fund (TIF) is to support the implementation of the Local Government Act (2004) and in particular build the capacity of the Local Councils to deliver their broad mandate of decentralized service delivery. I also assisted the UNDP management in identification and administration of donor agreements, as no policy had been set up for this.

Personally I wanted to find out if I was equipped to working and living in a developing country, which is why I ended up in Sierra Leone. The mayor lesson I learned was that you are the only person who can create the circumstances wherein your internship will be rewarding.

Diversity can be difficult; I attended a workshop with all our program officers; when asked who believed it wasn’t possible for a women to be raped within marriage, half of the participants raised their hands. And this is just one example of the cultural differences that I faced. But it was also amazing to be living in an entirely different country and culture, working in such a diverse environment and learning that I could actually be an asset to an organization. I learned so much from the people I met, both through work and personally.

Seeing the poverty in Sierra Leone, number 176 of the 177 of the UN Development Index, was trying. But at the same time this was an incredible motivator. I traveled expansively through the country and spoke to many people. And through speaking to the population you really learn what difference you can make.

Take your time looking for an internship, it can take up to a year if you’re looking for one abroad. You’ll have to write plenty of emails. Ask around in your network for email-addresses. And when applying at mayor organizations, try emailing the heads of the department personally. Often they will be able to help you more, than the person who receives all the emails at the standard info@.... Email address. Make a list of all the organizations you would like to work for and mail these. And finally, follow up on these emails. If you don’t get a reply, call or email again. I got my internship by being prompt in my replies, persistent, and flexible, and had an amazing experience because of this.

Last modified:08 October 2018 4.16 p.m.
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