Networking, new friends and 47 nationalities at the UN in Geneva

The 2019 cohort of SOAS students outside the UN Palais de Nations in Geneva

Words by CISD student Anna Rosenberg Navarro


Last month, the peacocks roaming the grounds of the United Nations (UN) headquarters in Geneva found themselves in the company of a new delegation coming from SOAS. Students from the Centre for International Studies and Diplomacy (CISD) had the opportunity to visit the Palais des Nations as part of our Masters programme to gain first-hand experience of the ins and outs of an international organisation such as the UN. Around 90 of us encompassing 47 nationalities travelled from London to the Swiss city looking forward to immersing ourselves in the everyday business of an organisation we have studied and analysed at length.

The bulk of our daily life at the Palais was dedicated to attending sessions given by representatives of different UN agencies ranging from the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) and the World Health Organization (WHO) to the UN International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF) and the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). We actively engaged in these sessions, be it by chairing the talks or by asking thoughtful, informed and pertinent questions regarding our concerns on the global issues discussed. One of our interests, shared by our speakers, was the lurking threat of climate change and the impact it will have on the many issues the different agencies focus on. We also considered the under exposure of vulnerable children in developed countries and the conflict of interests that some agency funding could entail.

A session we were much looking forward to was the panel discussion on the future disarmament agenda, organised by the Strategic Concept for Removal of Arms and Proliferation (SCRAP), a project led by our department director Dr Dan Plesch and carried out by CISD students. Under the hashtag #reframethedebate, this high-attendance panel discussed SCRAP’s draft proposal for General and Complete Disarmament (GCD).

Another much anticipated event was the Reception at the Delegates Restaurant where, against a breath-taking backdrop of the snowy mountains, we were joined by members from our permanent missions to the UN and high-level representatives of NGOs and international organisations. After welcome speeches by Dr Dan Plesch, the UK Ambassador Julian Braithwaite and a very inspiring speech by our student representative, Basel Al-Madhoun, we were given the chance to network with the attendees and discuss what issues our countries are currently facing.

The CISD Study Tour was created by our department to provide students with the chance to experience what it would be like to pursue an international affairs related career. It was also designed to help us form a future network of contacts related to our many professional interests. Something else we gained from this trip, though, was deeper rapport with our cohort. Our different academic and geographical backgrounds provide a rich patchwork of identities that question our beliefs and make us learn from each other every day. Be it by basking in the highly unusual February sunshine near the Lac Léman, sharing a 12-hour train journey or singing our hearts out at karaoke in the company of high-ranking diplomats, we became closer as a group and formed a deep connection that will be with us in the years to come. After all, as an emerging generation of future leaders, we will be the core of our future network.

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