Interning with UNESCO Institute for Lifelong Learning: A reminder that a master’s degree is only the beginning.

Anyone reading this has probably experienced some travel plans cancelled or interrupted by the pandemic, so I’ll spare you the details. Long story short – I was planning to do my internship in Hamburg, Germany and instead I’m doing it remotely from my family’s home in Sarasota, Florida.

My internship is with UNESCO’s Institute for Lifelong Learning (UIL). I am on the Literacy & Basic Skills team and also help out with the Lifelong Learning Policies & Strategies team. I’ve been involved in several projects and the big ones are:

  • Editing, conducting desk research, and writing literature reviews for case studies published on UIL’s LitBase, an online open-access database of innovative education initiatives happening around the world.
  • Providing logistical support and feedback for learners in an online course UIL is hosting via IIEP (International Institute for Educational Planning) about alternative and non-formal education.

The biggest challenge of the internship is time. The time difference between Germany and Florida is 6 hours so I work from 7 am – 2 pm my time and overlap with my team in Germany between 1 pm – 5 pm their time. There are some meetings and opportunities I have missed because they happen in the middle of the night my time. As with anything, the more you put into it, the more you’ll get out of it. The time difference, plus screen fatigue and the fact that I am deep in the job hunt, sometimes keeps me from putting as much into the internship as I would if I was in Germany. But I am still getting a lot out of it.

The team has caught on quickly to my strengths and funneled me into projects that best utilize my skills. For example, I do a lot of writing, which I quite enjoy. The team sends me bullet points of main themes they want to cover in a section of the Lifelong Learning Handbook they are drafting, give me some clues about the tone and audience they are aiming for, and I write away! It allows me to be creative and break down some rather complex topics into a format that is easy for readers to digest.

Another example: I did my CIES presentation (international ed conference many IEDPers go to) about refugee access to higher education and gained a lot of insight into education challenges facing refugees around the world. This has proved especially useful in the LitBase case studies, as many of them focus on learning programs for refugees. I’ve used this as an opportunity to pull from and expand upon my previous research and it feels really good to keep nourishing this interest.

I’m very grateful to be involved in projects that match my interests. Although I haven’t had to ask to be rerouted, I fully believe that if I expressed wanting to work on something different the team would respond to that and try their best to get me involved in something that I can get excited about.

The UIL office in Hamburg, Germany.

As an intern, I get to see some pretty cool stuff. Many of the participants in the IIEP online course work in their country’s education sector; some work at the Ministry of Education. We have participants from all over – South Sudan, Afghanistan, The Philippines, The Gambia. They participate in online discussion boards and submit log frames and M&E plans for alternative education in their country. And I get to read it all! The UIL team discusses feedback for the course participants, which I have a role in synthesizing and writing up. It’s neat to see all of the things we learned about in IEDP happening in real life and professionals in the field giving one another feedback about education sector plans just like we do in class. 😊 It’s very insightful and affirming to find I have helpful opinions that can strengthen these countries’ real life education sector plans.

Another aspect I really appreciate about UIL is each week they plan a session for interns that spotlights a program happening at UIL. It gives us an opportunity to learn about initiatives happening across the organization and meet different people at the Institute. It’s like going to a private panel of experts at the Perry World House except there are only eight interns so you don’t have to fight to get a question in. Lately, the interns have also been presenting about some of their projects (with UIL and our respective graduate programs) which has been a fun way to learn more about one another.

Even outside of these weekly sessions, I work with a lot of different people from all different backgrounds. I love looking at my Zoom screen and seeing folks from India, Greece, Russia, Canada, Ghana, and Germany. Similar to IEDP, the diversity of UIL is such a strength and brings a vibrancy to the work that would not exist otherwise.

Even though my IEDP internship experience is not quite what I envisioned it is helping me carry what I’ve learned at Penn into a professional workspace — both enhancing skills I have already developed and building new ones. At its core, lifelong learning is the voluntary pursuit of knowledge for both professional and personal reasons, usually outside of formal education institutions. This definition fits pretty well with my internship experience and shows me that my learning with IEDP is only just the beginning.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s