Friday, June 3, 2011

Life is good!

I probably never would have done this blogging thing if I'd known how stressful it was going to be. Before coming here, I had NO idea how little free time I would have. Most days, I leave around 8 AM and don't get back til 7 or 8 PM. And when I do get back, I have so much to do that I can't even think about doing something like this. And forget weekends--I'm traveling. But, Thursday the 2nd of June, is a national holiday here in Switzerland, so no work! I can't say that I know what I'm supposed to be celebrating today, is that bad? But at least I have the time to catch up on a few things.

The work I do at the UN is great. But because I've put this off for 3 weeks, there is no way I will able to update on everything I've been doing. But as a brief overview:

The World Health Assembly (WHA), sponsored by the World Health Organization (WHO) went from May 16 to May 24. I do not have a lot of background in medicine, so a lot of the proceedings of the WHA went over my head. However, I did learn a TON. I was very impressed by all of the WHO's goals, and all of the work that is being done to improve health worldwide.

Here is a picture of Andrea, me and Jeff (our Australian friend with an awesome accent) at the opening of the WHO. You can tell how far away we had to sit...but we were there, nonetheless!

At the opening ceremony, we had the opportunity hear some very important people speak. First off, the Prime Minister of Bangladesh. Here she is below (sorry I'm too lazy to rotate the picture). You can tell from the quality of the picture how far away we were. Ha ha.

And...Bill Gates!

Here he is, getting ready to go speak. He and his wife started the Bill and Melinda Gates foundation, so he addressed the WHA. He had some interesting things to say, and he really pushed for the upcoming decade to be the "Decade of Vaccines." He also said that with Microsoft, his dream was "a computer for everyone." Now, his goal is, "good health for everyone." He has devoted his full time to his foundation and promoting good health throughout the world.

Andrea and I were initially the only interns, but there more now! Currently there are 5 of us: me, Andrea, Jessica, Nicole, and Elene. For 2 weeks, there were two other interns--Tina and Haley--but sadly, they left yesterday. We will really miss them, they were awesome.

Andrea, Haley Kraaima, and Tina Kraaima
While I'm thinking about it...if you are reading this blog post, please do me (and Haley) a favor, and go like the page "Awesome Evan" on facebook. It is for Haley's son, Evan, who is in need of an organ donor. She is trying to get as many "likes" as she can. I know that Haley will really appreciate this.

The WHA is now over, and the Human Rights Council (HRC) started on Monday. I am much more familiar with these kinds of issues, and it has been very interesting to hear the proceedings of the UN on human rights and violations of these human rights. The HRC will go until June 17...but I will be gone before then! I leave June 14th for Paris, and then from there I'm going to London for six weeks!! In case you missed my last entry, I will be working for an organization in London called the Orchid Project, and their objective is to end female genital mutilation (FGM). This is a terrible practice I didn't know anything about before coming to the UN. During the WHO, the creator of the Orchid Project, Julia Lalla-Maharajh, came and spoke to my organization about the practice. I cannot wait to begin my work in London, and help Julia and the Orchid Project with their research and advocacy.

Here are some more random pictures from the past few weeks:

Andrea and me in front of the UN!

Andrea and I...with Mont Blanc (highest peak in western Europe) in the background. Mont Blanc is in France, but you can see it from Geneva

in front of all the flags at the UN

This upcoming weekend or else the next, we are hoping to go to Italia! I can't wait. 2 weekends ago, I took a little weekend trip to Grindelwald, Switzerland (with Andrea, Julie and Deon) right in the heart of Switzerland! Unreal. It was this little mountain town set in the Swiss Alps, possibly the most beautiful place I've ever been. It was like going back in time 200 years. The people still cut their grass by hand, the cows wear bells around their necks, men wear overalls and smoke pipes as they work out in the fields, what a different world! Switzerland is the most beautiful little country, and so diverse! Yet it's only the size of two New Jerseys! Each region has such a different feel to it. It's crazy--you drive and then all at once, it switches from French to German-speaking. And at the same time, the whole look of everything changes. The architecture is different, the food is different, the language is different, the people look slightly different, etc. It's amazing. We drove through Bern, and I got to see the Bern temple. That was great, too. Here are some pictures from Grindelwald:

Here is Grindelwald! With cute little Chalets and everything

View from the hike we did up to the glacier...or where it used to be. Here's Julie and Andrea

The Eiger...the beautiful mountain we stared at for 3 days
While in Grindelwald, we took a train up to the top of the Jungfraujoch...the 2nd highest peak in Europe (after Mont Blanc). It was absolutely beautiful. Here are some of the pictures...on the way up, at the top, and on the way down.

at the top, there was this cool ice cave...we were literally walking around inside of the glacier! How cool.

This is the view from the top. Funny story--there were a ton of Indians up there, and we asked one of them to take the picture. Well he took it...and then one by one, about 10 of these Indian men asked to have their pictures taken with Andrea and me! Ha ha! Must be because we are both so tall, and they were all about a head shorter than us. Made my day.

On the drive down, back into the valley. So beautiful!
The next day, we went to a beautiful Swiss-German town called Lauterbrunen, and did a hike in the Swiss Alps. By the way...being in German speaking Switzerland was a whole new experience! It was my first time ever being in non-French speaking Europe. I literally could understand NOTHING. I had all of these flashbacks to my first trip to France when I spoke no French. I'd forgotten what that felt like, being in a place where you cannot understand anything! It's disarming and kind of scary, but at the same time I love it.
Lauterbrunen (who knows if I'm spelling that right. German is over my head)
From our hike in the Swiss Alps. So beautiful!

Later that day, we went to the beautiful resort town of Interlachen. From what I was told, it has been the "playground," so to speak, of European royalty for centuries. Now I understand why!

Interlachen! So, so beautiful. You can't see it here, but there are just beautiful mountains surrounding it in every direction.

On the way home, we stopped in the Swiss-French of Gruyère. Where the famous Gruyère cheese comes from! It was so beautiful. This is a picture above. 

This is Gruyère! Such a cute, charming little town. Hardly any cars, cobblestone streets, something from a dream.

Me with the cathedral of Gruyère in the background. We also toured the chateau while we were was beautiful. 
Near Gruyère was the Caillé chocolate factory...that we toured. It was awesome, I ate my weight in chocolate! They had free samples and we just kept's the best, richest chocolate you can imagine. We all felt sick afterward though. Oops.

Overall, very successful fun weekend! Switzerland is such a cool and diverse country. Unfortunately, that was two weekends ago...and I still have last weekend to catch up on! Ahh it was so cool. And then tomorrow morning I leave early to go to Zermatt--this Swiss town right on the Italian border by the Matterhorn. They don't even allow cars into the city! It's going to be like going back in time. I'm really excited.

Well, à bientôt! Grosses bisous de la Suisse,


Friday, May 27, 2011

Big news

Ok so it's pretty much official that I am TERRIBLE at blogging...I do it like once every 2 weeks! I guess this is just a testament to the fact that I am super busy and having fun doing other things! But there is one thing I just have to write on here...I AM GOING TO LONDON FOR SIX WEEKS! So slight change in plans, I was originally thinking I would be here in Geneva for 3 months.

As part of my program, interns are expected to do a grassroots project. So for mine, I will be going to London to work for an organization called the Orchid Project. This organization is devoted to putting an end to female "cutting" in Africa. "Cutting" is a euphemism for female genital mutilation (more commonly referred to as FGM)--a practice I admit I knew nothing about before coming here, but it is horrific and more widespread than I could have imagined! 3 million girls are subject to this practice every year. I am very excited about going to work with this organization and helping them to stop this practice.

ANYWAY, I will do a real post tomorrow or Sunday--you know, with pictures (the best part) and an overview of what I've been doing. Tomorrow, I am going on a tour of Lake Geneva. It's the largest lake in western Europe and there are cute towns on the French side and lovely cities on the Swiss side. We are also going to Mont Blanc (in France!), the highest peak in the Alps and the highest peak in Western Europe. Should be a good day! Like I said, I'll post pictures.

Well, à bientôt tout le monde! Grosses bisous de la Suisse!


Sunday, May 15, 2011

I'm never coming home...ever.

To all of my dear acquaintances who are kind enough to read my blog:

I can't believe I haven't posted for 2 weeks. There is absolutely no chance that I will be able to fill in everything I have done, so I will just touch on the highlights of the past 2 weeks and show a few pictures.

I began my work at the UN Monday, May 2nd. I love that place! It is enormous, like a college campus except for way better. There are multiple buildings and there are a lot of trees and beautiful wide open areas in between. From pretty much any building, there is a spectacular view of the lake. I am convinced I live in the most beautiful place in the world. It's hard to explain exactly what I do because we do so many different things! I go to panels, I sit in on meetings, I attend big conferences, I help Afton with work she is doing, etc. What I really can't get over is what a unique experience I am having. This week, for example, I went to this fancy dinner for a Disaster Risk Reduction conference, and I was possibly the youngest person there (and there were hundreds of people).  While chatting with some of them, I realized that most of them are CEOs or in other high up positions, have degrees from prestigious colleges, speak like 5 languages, and go to conferences all over the world. We usually exchange business if I have something to offer them! Ha ha. I haven't even finished undergrad. But what an incredible opportunity, to meet all of these people with great connections. In the future, this could really help me out a lot.

Here are a few pictures from the Disaster Risk Reduction conference:

This is Ban Ki-moon speaking at the opening ceremony. Yes, THE BAN KI-MOON!

Opening ceremony of the conference...there were so many people there!

At the dinner, they had these playing! They were awesome. Does anyone even know what these things are called?

One of the many panels that I attended during the conference. This one was about including children's ideas for disaster risk reduction.

Well, some more good news: MY ROOMMATE ANDREA HAS ARRIVED!! I love her to death, we are already best friends. I'm so happy to have someone to travel around with and hang out with, and I'm super lucky it's someone as great as Andrea. We have really similar personalities and just get along so well. We spend every minute of every day together, and we just have so much fun. Sadly, I only have one picture of us together, and it was right after we went running in the rain and got soaked! It was a blast, but not the best picture:

We actually have tons of pictures together, but they are all on Andrea's camera. When I get them, I will post them. Lucky me--she is a photographer, so she is taking TONS of photos, and I have access to all of them! She has posted some on facebook and tagged me in a few. But for some reason, facebook doesn't let you download pictures anymore.

Well, I'm just loving Geneva. LOVING Geneva. It is such a beautiful and unique city. Today, Andrea and I went around and explored the vieille ville (old town). There are no cars, cobblestone streets, and buildings dating from the 16th century or earlier. It all looks like this:

 In the middle, there is an enormous gothic cathedral (Cathédrale de Saint-Pierre) that was incredible. Ahh I wish I could post pictures from it, but my camera died right before we got there! Oh well...I will have to get some from Andrea (she literally took about 200 pictures today). We explored a few other parts of the city, and there is still so much left to explore. It's amazing.

Andrea is determined to learn French while she is here, so I'm her teacher! She is doing really well--in 5 days, she has already learned, "bonjour," "ça va," "je suis desolée," "s'il vous plait," "merci," "bonsoir," "bien," "au revoir," and a few other phrases. Speaking of French, mine is really coming along and even improving! I am so pleased with how much I can understand. This has been the most rewarding thing ever! I can't explain the experience of communicating with someone in their language or why I love it so much. But it really is one of my favorite things in the entire world. I have also had a few opportunities to use my Portuguese since I have been here, so that's been awesome!

Well...I saved the best news for last. Yesterday, Saturday, was the best day here in Geneva so far. I WENT TO FRANCE! We went to this small city called Annecy. I have dreamed of going there for years, and I finally, FINALLY had the chance. I know I live right by the French border, and that it really isn't all that different from Switzerland, but for me, there is just something about France. I can't explain it,  it's just amazing. The minute I went over the border, I got really giddy and I couldn't sit still because of my excitement. Ask Andrea, I was like a little kid.

Anyway, here are a few pictures of the French countryside on the drive there. I am positive that France is the most beautiful place on earth:

My very first view of France!!! The sad thing is that pictures really just don't capture it. It is about 20 times more beautiful than it looks in these pictures...everyone needs to go spend time in the French countryside to fully appreciate this.

Ahh! Je suis amoureuse.

some cool medieval bridge just over the border. Have I mentioned that I love France?

So...Annecy. It is this city set right on a lake, with the French alps surrounding it. Sadly, it was a cloudy and very rainy day (Andrea and I were FREEZING!), so you couldn't even see the lake or the mountains. But the old town...oh my gosh. It was like going back in time 500 years. Ready for the pictures? Sadly, all of the best are on Andrea's camera but I do my best:

Deon and Julie, my parents while I am here in Switzerland! Oh, they are absolutely amazing. They are the ones who took us to Annecy. This is us eating crêpes...right on the old town of Annecy. It's like something you dream of doing, but never actually do. Except for I did it yesterday!

How's this for breads and pastries? Mmmm....

I swear this place is too good to be true. And too good to be real!

Chocolate PURSES? Are you kidding me? (speaking of chocolate...I have not gone one day here without eating something with chocolate in it. It's impossible to avoid, it is in everything! Granola bars, cereal, bread, is served at every single event we attend. How am I supposed to avoid it? I can't believe I'm not gaining weight).

Well like I think I already mentioned 50 times, Andrea has all of the best pictures. I will do a post later, maybe just with all of the pictures she took when I get them from her. But for now, that's the best of what I've got.

Annecy is the most beautiful place on earth, I am convinced. I absolutely loved it, I was in heaven the entire day. Even though I was freezing! And it was awesome--in Geneva, everyone speaks English so I can get by just guessing a little bit because they know what I mean. In France, they really don't. In Annecy, I got to use my French for real and that was awesome.

Sorry this blog post is a little bit all over the place and not extremely organized...and leaving out huge parts of what I've done! But there's just so much that I don't know how to include it all. Gosh, I am just having the time of my life. I don't know that I've ever been so happy...and the best part is, I get to stay for 2 1/2 more months! Who knows how many more awesome adventures I'll get to have while I'm here. We are hoping to go to Italy and Germany one of these upcoming weekends. I already know that I'm going to be extremely depressed when I have to go home at the beginning of August. I feel like I'm home here in Europe! You know, on second thought, maybe I just won't come home. I love it here far too much.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Je suis arrivée!

I've never done a blog before. But since I am in the most beautiful place in the world and having the adventure of my life, I need a way to share it with everyone who's interested. So here goes!

I left Utah the morning of Wednesday, April 27. I flew British Airways--and I am now an affinity for British accents. I always thought that people exaggerated them, but they really do talk the way you would think! My entire flight, I was called "Madam," and when I got to Heathrow in London, a woman verifying my boarding pass said "that's lovely dear, have a wonderful flight." I am in love. My flight to Geneva was very short, barely over an hour. Sadly, we flew right over Paris but it was so cloudy that I was unable to see it! My first view of Switzerland from the airplane was incredible, I even took a picture:
It is every bit as beautiful as the pictures and movies you see. In every direction I could see nothing but green!

I was forced to use my French immediately from the minute I arrived. I bought a bus pass and minutes for my cell phone at a centre commercial (like a mini mall sort of place). Also, Afton (the woman I will intern for) doesn't speak French at all, and she's thrilled to have an intern who does. Every time she needed to talk to someone, she would tell me, "hey you speak French. Tell them this." And I had to translate! Kind of nerve-wracking at first. But it is amazing being back here and realizing how much my French has improved. I distinctly remember being in Paris, trying to talk with people and only being able to understand a few words at best. Now, I understand nearly everything. The last few years of intensive French study have really paid off! Swiss French is slightly different. It is a lot more sing-song, and actually very pretty. But, I can understand it and that's what matters most!

After buying a few things, Afton took me to the United Nations, where I was given a badge. This badge gives me access to the UN anytime I want. Wow! We went in, and she gave me a tour of the buildings. I was even able to go into the room where the General Assembly meets, I could not believe it. While we were there, I had the incredible opportunity to sit in on an emergency Human Rights Council meeting about the situation in Syria. Unfortunately, I had to take this picture before the meeting actually began, so most of the diplomats hadn't arrived yet:
While there, I had the opportunity to meet some women who work for other NGOs and talk to them a bit about what they do. I also met Ricardo, the director for all of the UN NGO's (and he complimented my French! Probably the highlight of my day).

Afterward, Afton was kind enough to take me to get a pastry. Well, if you know me, you know that eating my first European pastry in five years was a really big deal. So of course, I took a picture of my chocolate eclair.

It exceeded my expectations, which were pretty dang high. I also had my first Swiss diet coke (or "Coca Light" as they say in French).
Don't ask me how, but it really is better in Switzerland. Just like everything else.

After a few more errands, Afton drove me to the Volpicelli's (my host family). This was my first opportunity to really see Geneva, and I was amazed. The city is situated on a lake (Lake Geneva) and it is breathtaking. I wish I could have taken pictures, but it was pouring rain.

I had already met Gina at the airport, but I met Francesco for the first time when I arrived at their house. They are the kindest, warmest, most wonderful people! I feel so lucky to be living with them. From the minute I arrived, I felt right at home. They treat me as if I am their own daughter. They are very interesting people. Francesco is Italian, and Gina is Swiss. Francesco speaks 5 languages (English, Italian, French, Spanish, and Portuguese). Gina speaks 7 (all the same as Francesco plus German and Romansch!). Gina speaks to me in English since she wants to improve, and I address her in French. It's pretty funny. Francesco and I speak only in French. They live on the edge of Geneva, only about 3 kilometers from the French border. Some time within the next week I'm going to stay on the tram and go over into France...and probably kiss the ground when I get there. Here is a picture of their house:

And above is a picture of my street from my tram stop--which is literally 15 meters from my house! C'est parfait.

Great first day! It was overwhelming, as I realized that a lot will be expected of me in this internship. However, I could not have been happier to be back in Europe. There is something about it that I can't quite explain, but I just love it here!

I got thrown right into things from the day I arrived. From second day here until today, I have been attending a conference called GIMUN (Geneva International Model United Nations). Students all over the world have flown in for this conference, and I was able to be a part of it! I feel so lucky. I was on a committee called, "Teachers and the Promotion of Gender Equality." It has been great to gain a better understanding of how the UN works before I begin my work there. After 3 days of debate, we were able to adopt a resolution and present it before the General Assembly, who confirmed it unanimously.

Although I have terrible jet lag, I am so happy I was able to do this conference! Because of it, I have already made some friends here in Geneva. We are now all connected through facebook, and we plan to stay in contact. Our committee had 14 people, and quite a variety of nationalities! Yesterday I counted: 3 Swiss, 1 Lebanese, 1 Guatemalan, 1 Kenyan, 1 Hungarian, 1 American (that would be me), 1 Philippine, 1 Italian, 1 German, 1 Mexican, 1 English, 1 Austrian, 1 Ugandan, and 1 Syrian. What an incredible opportunity! My Guatemalan friend, Sophia, invited us all to her birthday soirée in 2 weeks, so we will all see each other again. Also, I met a Swiss girl named Stéphanie who lives here in Geneva. She is working very hard to improve her English, and I am trying to do the same with my French. We decided to stay in contact and get together often in order to practice! She has also offered to travel around Switzerland with me and show me all of the best places. I am so glad to have met her, she is wonderful!

Here are some pictures from GIMUN:

Nora Wilhelm, Stéphanie Sfier, and me at our first soirée Saturday night. I think I'm the only one in this picture not heavily intoxicated :) ha ha. It's kind of blurry because the lighting was terrible! The soirée was in a church, ironically enough. Gotta love Europe.

Our Chairperson, Beatrice Mozella and Secretary, Aline Benoit (and Nicolas in the background). At the end, we all decided to chip in and buy them a gift for all of the hard work and effort that they put in. They were amazing!

Our conference was at a place called "La Ville Barton," and it was right next to the lake. Here are some pictures I took. The pictures are beautiful, but believe me when I say that they do not fully capture the beauty of this place at all. It is something you really have to see in person to fully understand!

Where all of the rich people in Geneva live, across the lake. Most of these houses remain empty for most of the year because they are second homes. 

The French Alps! Closest I've been to France since 2006. 

Can you believe how beautiful this is?

This is the building our conference was in, La Ville Barton

Me in front of Lake Geneva...with the French Alps in the distance

The park and the path along the lake

more of the park

...and I guess that on nice days here, it is normal to take off your pants and shirt and just sunbathe in the park in your bra. Or boxers. This is just one of several couples I saw doing it. Lovely.

This is my group enjoying the beautiful day on the lawn just outside La Ville Barton!

Here is my group! We took this final pictures before we all parted ways (until Sophia's party in 2 weeks!).
Back row (left to right): Mutua (Kenya), me, Stéphanie (Genève), Jascha (Germany), John (Genève but French-American), Sophia (Guatemala), Ewan (England).
Front row (left to right): Ammar (Syria), Aline (Genève), Doris (Austria), Beatrice (Italy), Katya (Genève).
This isn't everyone but we had such a great time!

I cannot believe how much chocolate I have eaten in the past few days. The Swiss eat more chocolate per capita than any other country in the world, and now I know why! It is unbelievable. Lintdz chocolate and Toblerones are good...but they don't even compare to the chocolate I am eating here. I've eaten so much good food, but no weight gain...yet! Probably because I walk around so much. But with this food, I'm going to have to be very careful! My first pain au chocolat was a big moment as well...I've already eaten 2! Ahh!

I have so much more I could write about, but I have already written too much. I will tell more later. I'm having the time of my life, and I couldn't be happier to be here!

À bientot,