Final WHO reflection update

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Goodbye Geneva!

I haven’t shared my thoughts for a bit of time now and I feel a need to share why this reflection is coming so late. As I am writing this from the airplane going back from Geneva, Switzerland to Toronto, Canada, the main reason I chose to leave this reflection until now was because I wanted make the most of the time I had left and spend it with the people I had met and made connections with. I found it more difficult to carve out time to deliberately write down my thoughts and ideas and elaborate on them, and my priorities shifted. I felt as though I had learned a great deal about the organizational processes, the trials and tribulations of working at an UN special agency, the people around me, and myself. However, as my internship and my time in Geneva came closer and closer to an end, I felt a shift in my priorities and my thinking from analysing the organization and the work with a critical lens, towards spending time with new and old friends and recognizing the importance and the impact that the relationships I made on myself as an individual. Not necessarily meaning I took everything at work at face-value or that I needed every minute outside of work to be with friends, rather I felt as though I recognized I had essentially learned what I wanted and knew what my next steps were and spent more time thinking about the relationships I made and how these interactions have changed me.

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A snippet of the great interns at WHO (and UN!)

As I wrapped up my time at WHO over the past week and a bit, I felt extremely grateful and thankful to have gotten the opportunity to learn and contribute to the team I worked with. I also felt very bittersweet about leaving at a time where it seems as though I have just gotten to know and build connections with the people I work with and fellow intern friends. Something truly unique about being at an international organization is that you meet and befriend so many different people from extremely varied backgrounds, all with their unique drive and motivation in their fields. Two months seemed like quite a sufficient and lengthy period of time, however one thing is for certain, time finds a way to quickly pass us by. What made this experience truly memorable and exciting is the people. Of course I will miss working at WHO and Geneva, but not nearly as much as I will miss the people there. What made the experience so very unique and special were the very unique and special people that I worked with, made friends with, and shared unforgettable memories with. The people around me managed to make me feel home in a place where I only stayed for two months, something that I am extremely grateful for. Albeit how difficult it may seem to say goodbye to others, I was told to look at this as just the beginning of many great relationships and not the end. So on that note, to all those that I have met, this is not a goodbye rather it is a see-you-again-soon.

So what have I learned or taken away from the past few weeks? I think it is surprising the amount that you can learn about yourself and others from conversations. Other people are so inspiring – to hear about others’ stories, values, and ideas is a real privilege. I often find myself asking many questions. And I think this happens sometimes because there are some questions that I should be asking myself personally and professionally, which I don’t have answers to yet and they are such questions that spark my curiosity when hearing others’ responses. Further, something that I have been told multiple times is that very few things in life are planned and a lot happens because of chance. Learn to take risks and take the opportunities that come up. I think this really resonates with myself, someone who is interested in many different things and trying to figure out what to spend my time on and what basis to define my life by. I am so very excited to be in a time and place in my life where I have many options to explore and to take the paths in which I will learn and continually learn and grow as a person and a professional is an incredible opportunity and privilege.

Globalization and its impact on public health is something that is particularly interesting. I would recommend “The Globalization of Public Health, I: Threats and Opportunities” and “The Globalization of Public Health, II: The Convergence of Self-Interest and Altruism” by Derek Yach and Douglas Bettcher. These two articles put a lot of my perspectives and questions on health inequity, international public health, and collective responsibility into words on paper. As I continue to educate myself as a dedicated student in trying to understand the problems that exist and the systems in place that perpetuate these problems, I will remember what it means to be a ‘global citizen’.

Being a student and a learner is an excellent place to be and to identify with. Being a student and young voice is a good thing. Many people will be willing to teach and share their experiences and for this, I am extremely grateful to have tremendous mentors and supervisors, past and present. They have allowed me and even encouraged me to be persistent, ask many questions, and ask for work and exposures, for the purposes of my learning as a budding professional. And being at this stage, it is more than okay to not know your definite interests or to have many different interests. The opportunities for youth also seem endless in a way for someone with undefined/diverse interests, and I believe that is a blessing. Simply work hard and do good, and just keep learning.

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I’ll just leave this here…for inspiration to keep learning and growing

When working in international public health, it can be very easy to see what is wrong with the world, but it is also very important to see what is going right and to learn from these things. To award and acknowledge the good work, so that more good work like these promising practices can continue and that others can learn from these lessons and follow suit is so crucial. It was at a meeting and presentation at the United Nations on humanitarian aid that I heard and felt the importance of this perspective. To maintain an optimistic point of view by sharing the positive stories is critical. It’s not hiding the misery or reality of the world, rather it’s to share the small victories to show that the narrative is not just about misery. With that said, I have also been reminded that the feelings of injustice that one has when acting, thinking, and working as a global citizen in international public health can be lost or dulled as you get older or get desensitized. The passion in youth is commended by others and something I hope to take with me for a long time. Passion. It’s this sense and feeling of outrage of inequity, this image of the world, this particular feeling – wherever I will go in the future, I will keep this passion with me. And don’t get desensitized to the environment and the things you deal with, keep the outrage, it’s a good thing.

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Being optimistic also means swimming before work at 6am in Lake Geneva

International public health, the World Health Organization, the United Nations, it’s all quite messy. And the work is very political at times. It can be very suiting for someone and not the next, and that is fine. Maybe I will find myself back one day working at this level, and maybe not, as I could easily find my passions and my contributions more rewarding and applicable in another healthcare setting, and that is fine too. There is certainly bureaucracy involved when working at WHO and it can be frustrating but also strangely intriguing and extraordinarily rewarding and important. As an intern I was told this but I think it applies greatly to everyone in this field: Be proud when you make even the smallest differences.

This has been an invigorating experience for myself to see first-hand the nuances of the work and to be inspired by so many people to define my own path in this field. I have probably said this too many times, but the time seemed to have went by so very quickly. I have experienced a lot, logged quite a few miles, learned a fair bit, and met some amazing people. And I am glad to say that it has also been a valuable learning experience in journaling this experience.

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…And walked quite a bit

Another small thank-you to the ThinkSwiss scholarship offered by the Government of Switzerland for U.S. and Canadian students. A great opportunity for those that are interested in funding these kinds of research/learning opportunities in Switzerland.

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ThinkSwiss summer 2016

Thanks for reading my reflections and rambles! As always, the invitation is always open to get in touch for questions, comments, or to just chat. I hope this journal has been useful and helpful in some way or another to you, the reader.

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Geneva at night

Where do I go from here? I have said my see-you-again-soon’s to the people I have crossed paths with and closed this chapter and exciting journey. For the intern friends that I have met at WHO, I am confident that as everyone embarks on various personal and professional journeys through life, that amazing things are on the horizon. And for myself, I am both excited and frightened to spend the next few years studying medicine, being conscious of the drive of what made me pick this path and what I learned at WHO.

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Last day at WHO!

Until next time,

Yipeng

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