CO-OP Student of December 2019
Faculty of Social Sciences - Master - Public and International Affairs
For 3 months, from May to August 2019, I did an internship at UNFPA (United Nations Population Fund) in Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire. Previously, I had visited Abidjan but only for a few weeks and I left longing to know much more about this bright and very “lively” place, sitting on the edge of the Ebrié lagoon. Therefore, it was cheerfully and impatiently that I welcomed my acceptance as an intern at UNFPA Côte d’Ivoire.
Created in 1969, the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) is a specialized United Nations agency that works for better sexual and reproductive health for youth and women, supports reliable access to family planning services and high-quality maternal care. UNFPA provides also technical assistance in the fields of gender equality, population and development issues. They work actively in fighting harmful practices such as female genital mutilation (FGM) or forced marriage.
This internship has been a very rich and exquisite experience, both on a professional and a personal level. I had a great time of “enjaillement” (term used in Ivory Coast to express joy, cheerfulness and satisfaction).
I’m a master’s student enrolled in the Public and International Affairs program and I’m currently working on issues related to demographic transition and human development. On a professional level, the internship helped me not only to have a UN experience but also to work directly within the Population and Development Unit (DP), which deals specifically with issues of transition and demographic dividends, sustainable development, among other issues. A match made in heaven! I feel privileged to have worked in an environment that offers excellent, multicultural, inclusive and active working conditions. I was able to use my knowledge and skills in analytics, research and synthesis. I also learned a lot, whether it was in developing terms of reference or different types of documents (advocacy, report activities, high-level communication...) or even learning about UNFPA’s fields of intervention (sexual and reproductive health, gender-based violence, population development). Also, the internship allowed me to get familiar with various rules and procedures that are specific to the United Nations system, which is undoubtedly an asset for future opportunities.
On a more “socio-personal” level, I also enjoyed my time in that very hospitable country. I was pleasantly impressed by Ivorians’ generosity and kindness. If I ran into colleagues or friends at mealtime, they would quickly invite me to join: “come join us” or “let’s eat”. Besides, Abidjan is a very “lively” city filled with places enjoyable for anyone, from partygoers to more quiet folks who would prefer the peacefulness of the lagoon. I would not want to make it seem that everything about this international internship is just great. For instance, transportation has not always been accessible and smooth as in Canada. One day, I even had to wait a good 2 hours before I could get a taxi. It’s part of the challenges any individual who wants to be a “world citizen” must deal with!
Therefore, to avoid frustrations or bitterness, I believe that, among other things, one must exercise cultural sensitivity and humility and be respectful of local values and standards. That being said, these are things that must be taken into account when preparing for such internships. It’s important to try and get as much information/tips as possible before onboarding.
In a nutshell, my internship was a beautiful experience and a journey that provided me with very good memories. I encourage those who are tempted by such an experience to go for it, but before you must take the time to learn as much as possible about your host country and make the right choice!