This time last year I entered the Many Languages, One World essay competition. This wasn’t quite like any other competition. If I was successful, I was to be awarded an all-expenses paid trip to the US that would culminate in me presenting my proposal to the United Nations General Assembly.
So I thought, “why not?” and gave it a shot.
I had to write an essay on multilingualism, global citizenship, and understanding, in one of the six languages of the United Nations that was neither my mother tongue, nor the language in which I was educated. Luckily, I had grown a liking for Spanish over the years, and chose to major in it during my BA. And unluckily (but luckily in this case!) the only words my parents knew how to say in any language other than English were “two beers please”.
But I had a problem, I hadn’t used my Spanish for a year, and I lacked confidence in my skills. Looking back I know this was pretty silly. While I had barely used my Spanish for a year, just prior to that I had spent seven months backpacking, volunteering and travelling through South America. Not only had I majored in Spanish, but I had studied in Spain over two summers. I’m still not fluent, but I can carry a conversation quite well, and on more than one occasion I have had native-Spanish speakers ask me to slow down. But, as I am sure many are aware, no matter if it is your first, second or fifth language, if you don’t use a word with regularity, you forget it. Often once you hear someone speak, it all comes flooding back. Needless to say, I was fine – just a little bit nervous. So I sucked it up and overcame my nerves, planned out what I thought was a pretty decent essay and set about writing it in Spanish.
About six weeks later my efforts were rewarded when I was offered an interview. The reason for the interview was to prove that I could actually communicate in Spanish, that I hadn’t just convinced a friend to write the essay for me. Yet, the interview served two purposes for me: one, it demonstrated that my Spanish writing skills were up to scratch; and two, after I had had the interview, I felt gratified by the fact that I could easily hold a conversation for 30 minutes that discussed the philosophical meaning of citizenship and the importance of multilingualism to me – no mean feat. So, win or lose, by this stage I was just ecstatic that I hadn’t lost my Spanish skills; that I truly could have a meaningful conversation in Spanish. That was reward enough.
But it got better. I was selected to go to New York!
So come June, ELS Educational Services Inc. arranged for me, and 59 other tertiary students from all over the world, to stay at Adelphi University on Long Island and spend a day at the United Nations Headquarters. We were comprised of 10 students per UN language group, and truly represented each corner of the globe.
In our groups we discussed our essays at length, as well as the themes of the United Nations Academic Impact. There, we reconceptualised some of the world’s most pressing problems, brainstorming innovative ways to tackle such issues and illustrating how we were going to do this when we returned home to our universities and communities.
We were also given with the opportunity to present our plans of action at United Nations General Assembly. As someone who has been interested in and studying international relations and politics from a pretty young age, the prospect, and indeed reality, of speaking at the General Assembly was positively nauseating. But more importantly, it was exhilarating. And surprisingly, it was also validating. For the first time in my life I felt like I had a genuine chance of being able to pursue my dream career. I felt that I actually had something worthwhile to contribute, and that people, from countries all over the world, could, and would, take part in a constructive dialogue with me.
This newfound confidence led me to energetically make the effort to search out other opportunities that genuinely interested and suited me. So, after soaking in as much of the Big Apple as I could, I returned home, and I got cracking. I worked hard to make sure I didn’t drop the ball in the last semester of my postgraduate degree. I organised academically and socially rich events for my IR student society, I redoubled my efforts to save as much money as possible, I interned with a political party to learn more about how policies and politics intertwine (subsequently learning that I never want to join a political party), and I applied for dozens of overseas internships. I didn’t apply for every single UN internship, I applied for ones that matched my interests: I sought out think tanks that enticed me to learn more, and I looked for NGOs that shared my values. I was rejected many times over, but eventually, my persistence was rewarded.
And now, now I am interning at the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights in Geneva, Switzerland. I am working in the Right to Development Section, which ties in nicely with my personal interests, and I have returned to French, taking classes in the evenings. While I studied French in high school, and am keen to pick it back up conversationally, my real passion lies with the Spanish-speaking world, and as such, I am planning on sitting the C2 Diploma of Spanish as a Foreign Language exam later this year. This exam, if passed, will certify that I am fluent in the Spanish language, something that I have aspired to for a very long time.
So, where to from here for me? I’m not exactly sure, but at least I have narrowed my options, and I guess I’ll just have to see where the next opportunity takes me.
And where to for you? The next opportunity for you could be the Many Languages, One World competition that I entered last year. The competition gave me the confidence I needed to take on the world, why not let it do the same for you?
Holly Taylor is a Master of International Relations graduate from the University of Melbourne. She is currently completing an internship with the Right to Development Section of the Research and Right to Development Division of the OHCHR at the United Nations Offices in Geneva. She is passionate about energy, resources and the environment and spends much of her spare time keeping up to date with the latest news on high-yield, low-carbon energy solutions, which are paramount to realising sustainable development.
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