4 things I learned interning at UNICEF China

4 things I learned interning at UNICEF China

Devon Hsiao
30 August 2018
  • What UNICEF Education is doing for education and development in China.

I learned a lot about the educational challenges facing children in China, and the role of UNICEF in helping the government address these issues.

When cataloguing the assets on the Education section website, I came across the video Stories Through 180 Lenses directed by Zhang Yimou, which highlights the plight of the estimated 61 million children left behind in rural China as well as the challenges faced by rural schools including lack of resources. I also learnt about UNICEF and the Ministry of Education's Teaching and Learning and Social and Emotional Learning programmes, which are working to help improve rural education and the emotional well-being of vulnerable children. It was really enlightening to see an issue highlighted, and how programmes addressing the issue are developed, implemented and monitored.

  • The importance of relationships in learning.

As an intern, you are a sponge, here to learn and soak up knowledge and skills. The people you will learn from are your supervisors and co-workers. It is imperative that you develop good relationships with your team.

Exposure to such a diverse group of people has helped me gain a better perspective of my future choices and reassured me that there is no “wrong” choice when it comes to deciding what I want to do next. I've loved hearing about the experiences of staff members, such as why they chose a particular degree or opportunity and what they learned from it. Everyone comes from such different backgrounds; some have experience in practicing law, others have 20 years of working Africa before they began working in China, or even studied for a degree entirely in French!

Don't limit yourself to your particular section either. Although my position at UNICEF was in the Education section, I've greatly enjoyed getting to know people that work in the Health section, as well as learning more about the Child Protection section. There is so much to learn, and if you make the effort to develop relationships with people, they will be happy to share their advice and knowledge.

  • How to be clear and efficient in your work.

People are busy: everyone has their own work to complete, so they do not have time to chase you down for things. Try to be efficient and get your work done in a timely manner, your supervisor and co-workers will appreciate it. If a deadline is unclear, do not be afraid to ask for clarification.

I cannot stress the importance of good email writing skills. This might seem like a very basic skill, but I was surprised just how inefficient my emails were in a professional work setting. In my efforts to be as polite as possible, as most of the time I was writing to superiors and wanted to be respectful, I had sacrificed conciseness, the exact thing busy superiors are most likely to appreciate.

My supervisor advised me, “always include your purpose, such as an action point for the person you are writing, in the first two lines of your email.” People really do appreciate the time you save them when you are concise, provide all relevant information clearly, and make it easy for them to find things.

The help I have received from my team has not been limited to career advice, but general advice about how to conduct yourself in an office setting (always carry a notebook with you!) as well as feedback on my work that has helped me improve my writing skills. If you have a good relationship with your team, they will be more willing to help you.

  • Networking, networking, networking!

I was fortunate enough to have opportunities to meet many people from other UN agencies in Beijing such as UNESCOWHO, and UN Women.  I organised a get-together for all the UN interns in Beijing, and sent out emails asking to be put into contact with interns from the various UN agencies.

A group photo taken of the current UN interns in China on June 17th, 2016, at a restaurant in Beijing's Sanlitun area.
A group photo taken of the current UN interns in China on June 17th, 2016, at a restaurant in Beijing's Sanlitun area.

My efforts resulted in a dinner gathering for 20 interns from 6 different UN agencies in Beijing. The interns are now in contact with each other, and as new interns arrive, our group on WeChat continues to grow. There has already been a spin-off group specifically for social media interns, where they have been supporting each other with their respective campaigns. This was great practice for me for the future when I begin my career, and it was interesting to talk to other interns and hear about their experiences.

After my internship, I now feel more prepared for when I leave school to face the world, and I'm very grateful to UNICEF China for the amazing experience I had this summer!

Note: Devon Hsiao interned at UNICEF China's Education section from May to June 2016.