Right before departing for my internship, I had a sudden realization of how Bilbo Baggins felt- wanting to sip tea and have second breakfasts at home but eventually being swept off to the grandest, most unwarranted, rewarding and life-altering adventure of his life. Okay, I did exaggerate here. Truth be told, I had found so much comfort and ease in Canada in the month of August that I had asked IEDP to let me intern in a small organization in Toronto. A year ago, I had adventurously packed my bags to fly 8000 miles to USA – a country I had never been to before- for my IEDP Masters in August 2018. This time, I wasn’t feeling as daring. I was done with doing the difficult things and wanted to choose what was easy.
However, I am grateful for the nudge that my academic advisers gave in pushing me to pursue this trainee-ship opportunity at the UNESCO Headquarters in Paris which had been what I too initially wanted. So, here I am, yet again, settling (albeit for a brief time) in yet another country I have never been to. Once again on my own, but this time with the added hurdle of not speaking the native language here.
It’s been a week and the initial charms of UNESCO have not worn off. Most days, I feel suspended in some kind of dream (please gear up for more exaggerations, flowery language and grandiose descriptions…jk, I will keep it real folks!). It is especially fascinating for me to be at the UNESCO Headquarters because I spent most of my high school, undergraduate and teaching years debating at and organizing Model United Nations forums- writing working papers, talking about the Millennium Development Goals & the Sustainable Development Goals and conducting mock executive council meetings. To now be editing actual United Nations publications and working papers in preparation for an international commission on education feels unreal.
WORK-LIFE AT UNESCO
Who knew that among the first few questions my supervisor would ask me would be: “What do you know about UNESCO, Global Partnership for Education (GPE) and International Institute for Educational Planning (IIEP)?”. Who knew I would be able to say that as part of the IEDP Invited Lecture Series I actually met the Directors of GPE and IIEP and learned of the organizations first hand from them; that my academic adviser, Dr Wagner, was actually a UNESCO Chair; and that I studied at Penn as a UNESCO Fellowship Award recipient. In addition to this, I am happy to report that I had already studied, researched and read in my classes at PennGSE the education policy concepts my supervisor mentioned in this first meeting. In short, the IEDP Masters program prepares you very well to enter into the UNESCO work-space.
On my first day here, after meetings with team members (which, in retrospect, might have been interviews, because I had not had any interviews nor had I met my supervisors before I got here), I was quickly assigned to the ‘Futures of Education’ project within the Education, Research and Foresight Department which is currently their flagship project.
This week, I am working on the UNESCO University Chairs Publication which will serve as a starting point for idea generation for the International Commission on the ‘Futures of Education’. This meeting aims to initiate dialogue and serve as a global policy think tank to envision teaching and learning for a number of possible imagined futures for the world. Here, we are planning to move beyond the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. It is quite fascinating to be a small cog in this global education policy machine. Needless to say, the work has already begun to pile up and I have a feeling I will be very busy during this internship.
It has been only a week at work and I have already attended a Conference on International Literacy Day here. I felt fancy sitting with headphones for real-time translation of French to English. It was interesting to hear first-hand from Ministers of Education about recent education policy changes, learn of newly developed digital learning tools and hear the visions and aspirations of education experts. The most fascinating bits of this event were, of course, coming across:
b) founding Dr Wagner‘s paper in the Special Issue of UNESCO Institute for Lifelong Learning’s journal! (Also found Dr Wagner’s think piece in the UNESCO Chairs Publication materials…IEDP is everywhere). Now that I am on this, I saw Anahita Kumar’s work (read her blog here) in the newsletter sent by the Ethiopia office this week. IEDP is omnipresent. Seriously, I am not looking for these things, they just pop up :D.
THINGS I LOOK FORWARD TO AT WORK
UNESCO also has several calendared events from September to November that I am looking forward to attending including, especially, the Executive Board and General Conference Meetings that will take place in October and November this year- events that there is already much hype about and which everyone seems to be looking forward to and preparing for.
About once a day, I find myself in the Japanese Garden for a few moments to clear my head, although it is a great place to just sit in solitude; most times I end up there with coffee and a colleague.
Generally, I have at least one networking coffee in a day- with either my supervisor or a fellow intern. In my one week here, I have also had a few lunches with supervisors, trainees, consultants and interns who are working cross-sectionally on various exciting education projects. The view from the UNESCO’s 7th floor canteen is a definite plus:
Also, did I show you the view from my workstation?
SETTLING IN: HOUSING, TRANSPORT AND LANGUAGE
It is also quite magical to be in Paris (expensively so- all dreams come at a price!). I had two major reservations before reaching here; firstly, I was excessively wary of the housing scams in Paris and secondly, I feared my inability to speak French would disadvantage me greatly in the settling in phase.
I had spent 2 months searching online forums for housing but eventually followed Marissa’s (check out her blog for her internship at OECD, Paris) advice and booked with Chez Nestor. I paid a welcome pack fee to book my housing a week prior and then transferred a security deposit as well as rent for the first month on the day of my arrival in Paris. I must warn you that even though Chez Nestor (they have not paid me to advertise) accommodations are neatly furnished, well-managed and in nice locations, the initial checking in process can be intimidating. I had no human contact- I was sent an address to pick up the apartment key from, given a security code to access the building and another code to open a safety deposit box and retrieve my keys. I recall feeling like a detective on a mission.
That being said, I am glad I found a furnished place with a fully functioning kitchen near Porte D’Orleans in the bustling Alesia district on the 14th Arrondissement (pretty great, as far as accommodations on a student budget in Paris go). The metro line is a short 2 min walk away from my place and the area has plenty of grocery stores and restaurants ranging from Halal food to Asian cuisine. I really do recommend this area.
Since my flatmates are all French and have lived in Paris for a while, I was able to use their advice to register for a local number, figure out the closest grocery store and make my first trip to work all within 24 hours of arriving in the city. Settling in was a breeze.
Outside of UNESCO, I have found myself making full use of my broken Arabic and fluent Hindi/Urdu while trying hard to replace English with French. I spend about 30 mins a day on an app called Doulingo to learn more French words and phrases.
LIVING IN PARIS
I have asked several locals about things to do in Paris that aren’t so obvious to tourists. I almost always hear: ‘just walk around Paris’. I have learned that this is called Flânerie– associated with a person of leisure who has time to stop and observe urban life pass by. I must say, after the quick transitions my life has taken in the past 2 years, between being an international student in the US, a new immigrant in Canada and an expat in France, it is a luxury to slow down in true Parisian fashion (and by slow down of course I mean simultaneously move to a new country, learn a new language, complete your masters degree and work full time). What a dream it is indeed to walk through gorgeous architecture to beautiful gardens after work and sit idyllically by fountains on one of the iconic green chairs of Paris and to just be.
Paris is also well located for travel within Europe, and I am looking forward to re-connecting with friends around the continent and exploring more places :).
Thanks for reading: Enchanté, Au Revior, à bientôt!
In true teacher fashion, here is a test to see if you read 😛 but is also a feedback mechanism for me: What do you think I am most excited about?Paris, UNESCO or something else you have noticed?
Feel free to comment and ask me questions. If I get enough, I will respond to all in my next blog.