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A first month review July 7, 2011

Posted by Kate Saetang in Graduate, Individual Fellowship, Master's, Switzerland.
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Kate Saetang

Kate Saetang

I am about a third of the way through my three month internship now.  I have all the signs that I’m settled in–a badge, a Swiss work permit, a cell phone with a working Swiss number, and favorite places to go for lunch.  I’ve stopped introducing myself to people and I can now manage not to get lost on the buses (or at least look like I’m not lost).

I have a fair amount of routine.  Almost every morning, I check in with my bosses to update them on what I have going on that day and for the rest of the week.  I work in the International Cooperation and Partnerships (ICP) department here at the International Organization for Migration (IOM), and a part of what we do is organize the International Dialogue for Migration, or the IDM.  (What I still haven’t gotten used to is the unending number of acronyms used adeptly by people working in international organizations.) The IDM is one of IOM’s main forums for governments and experts in academia, the private sector, and NGOs to converse around a certain topic.  It is essentially a policy tool for governments to exchange best practices and share any common obstacles they face.

I’m currently preparing for the September IDM–the topic is “Economic cycles, demographic change, and migration.” The focus is on how the 2008 global recession affected migration streams and as a consequence, altered the demographic composition of different countries.  The core of all this is the impact on labor markets and the effects on labor supply and demand.  The aim of the IDM is for government representatives to exchange their different perspectives on what policies worked and what did not with respect to the last economic crisis.

I am doing a lot of event-planning for the IDM–researching workshop topics, researching potential speakers, and writing invitation letters.  I spent much of my first two weeks here reading about demographic trends and projections, and the impact of economic crises on migration flows.

The workshop topic is always selected by IOM’s membership, its 132 member states. IOM is actually funded primarily through contributions from member states.  As a result, many of IOM’s activities and projects are government-directed.  An interesting dynamic to see being played out is how IOM balances its autonomy as a migration agency with expertise and its services on behalf of its member governments.

Another large project I have been working on is ICP’s research portfolio, which includes the effects of climate change on migration.  The relationship between climate change and migration was something I was unfamiliar with before arriving at IOM, but it is an issue that seems to be attracting a lot of attention at the moment from international organizations like the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and the International Red Cross.  It is an issue that different organizations are partnering on.  It is not an entirely new issue–IOM has been working around “environmental migrants” since the early ’90s.  However, with climate change expected to accelerate, international organizations are concerned about the effects of climate change on natural disasters and slow-onset environmental degradation and on migrants.  The causality between climate change and migration, however, is difficult to prove and makes policymaking around the issue a challenge.

French Alps

Annecy, France. One benefit of living in Geneva is easy weekend trips to the French Alps!

This not all I have been doing, of course.  Part of working for an international organization seems to be getting pulled in different directions and doing whatever needs to be done.  I’ve attended meetings with the Asian Development Bank on climate-induced migration in Asia, and I’ve stood in at the last minute as the IOM delegate to a UNHCR standing committee meeting on expanding the UNHCR role in natural disaster humanitarian relief.  I expect that different projects I haven’t anticipated yet will crop up.

As my first month here draws to a close, I can honestly say that I am really enjoying my internship.  Of course, part of the IOM experience is living in Geneva and all the perks (trying different kinds of cheeses, never being too far from the lake, and the side trips to the Alps).  I think I am learning things unique to an international organization–for example, I’m getting small lessons in diplomacy.  Even as I write this post, I try to strike a balance between being diplomatic and being interesting.  Hopefully I was able to do both.

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