My friends have always questioned my love for languages and failed to understand my fervent desire to immerse myself in different cultures. I strongly believe that as our society increasingly becomes globalized, understanding culture serves to facilitate the connection between two vastly different ways of life. There is beauty in learning a new language, dining in food you’ve never tasted before and seeing the world through the eyes of someone that is living a life completely different from yours. This is the experience I knew I wanted. However, when it was time to decide, I was stuck. The possibilities were endless until I came across ILR’s credit internship with the International Labor Organization in Geneva. Not only would this experience give me the opportunity to explore Europe, but I would have the opportunity of a lifetime to be at the global forefront of the most pressing labor issues and finding solutions to them.
My credit internship at the ILO in Geneva has been the most rewarding experience of my undergraduate career. I worked in a unique area of the ILO known as the Cooperative Branch, a part of the Job Creation and Enterprise Development Department(EMP/ENTERPRISE). Cooperatives are “autonomous associations of persons united to meet their common economic, social and cultural needs through a jointly owned and democratically controlled enterprise.” (ILO Recommendation 193)
In my three months, I’ve had the opportunity to talk to the leaders of the biggest domestic worker movements and gender specialists all over the world - in Lebanon, Nicaragua, Japan, Hong Kong and Indonesia. I reviewed abstracts for papers that would be published in the International Labor Review, worked on various project proposals – one for a program to prevent trafficking of women and girls in South Asia and another to show how cooperatives can contribute to sustainable development in the post-2015 Agenda. However, one that was personally rewarding to me was initiating the first ever-global mapping of domestic worker social and solidarity organizations. With the help of my supervisor who is a leading specialist of gender and cooperatives, I was able to survey over 50 different domestic worker organizations and communicate with leaders from the National Domestic Workers Alliance, International Domestic Workers Alliance, WIEGO (Women in Informal Employment: Globalizing and Organizing) and contacts in both ILO HQ and ILO Regional Offices. What is most exciting to me is that the findings from my mapping could potentially serve as the groundwork for a global action program that will be formed in collaboration with other ILO HQ departments.
Aside from my work at the ILO, I had the opportunity to travel to Barcelona, Budapest, Brussels, Rome, Paris, Nice, Monaco, Amsterdam and different parts of Switzerland. In Barcelona, we joined the parade and marched with the city to the Barca – Sevilla game and screamed at the top of our lungs to see Messi score a goal. In Rome, I walked in awe as I saw some of the most phenomenal masterpieces in the Vatican and tried the most amazing gelato. In Amsterdam, I visited the same house that Anne Frank hid in during the Holocaust and read actual pages of her diary that were found. But even after traveling to these countries, it was always good to come back to Geneva, the place I called home for three months. Geneva’s charm lies in the magnificent views as you stare across Lac Leman and see the Jet d'Eau, the largest fountain the world, sprinkling water on you and leaving a cool and refreshing feel on a warm day. Let’s not forget fondue and Swiss chocolate, two things I know I will miss most about this home.
Looking back now, I cannot believe how quickly this experience went. After 3 months, 8 countries, 12 cities and immense amount of learning – I am still at a loss of words to describe my abroad experience.
- Dipabali Chowdhury