The Office of Global Learning

Ramatu Musa

Below are entries from Ramatu Musa's experience as an intern at the U.S. Mission to the United Nations in Geneva, Swtizerland.


Week 1

"Excusez-moi? Parlez vous anglais? “No, I do not speak English,” said the disgruntled luggage-cart worker at the Geneva International Airport. Switzerland. The land of great cheese, yummy chocolate, the Swiss Alps, fresh air and beautiful flowers…and Swiss Frenchmen who say they do not speak English in near accent-less English.

Left photo: Swiss Francs,
Right photo: Palais des Nations, Geneva, Switzerland

My encounter with the luggage-cart worker was the most amusing experience during my first week in Geneva. Home to nearly every international organization in the world, Geneva is truly a cosmopolitan city. Many drive tiny cars, brightly colored flowers speckle the city, houses and buildings exude quaint architectural character, and the scenery is absolutely breathtaking.

My first week as a press and public affairs intern with the U.S. Mission to the U.N. was pretty routine. I attended a security briefing, got my Mission identification and U.N. badge, and ran across the Mission building to get signatures for my check-in form.

I had the opportunity to attend a forum called “In Pursuit of the Dream: Race and Tolerance in the United States in the 21st century” at the United Nations, or Palais de Nations, with my colleagues from the Public Affairs department. The speakers were Dr. Esther Brimmer, Assistant Secretary of State for International Organization Affairs (a beautiful and elegant woman with the most indistinguishable accent), Wade Henderson, president & CEO of the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights, and Karen Stevens, Counsel to the Assistant U.S. Attorney General for Civil Rights. The panel spoke about the nuances of race and racism in the 21st century in the Obama era. . The talk was very interesting and shed light to a very serious issue. The United States is not alone on its mission to sustain a truly equal and vibrant multiethnic society. Countries in Europe such as Germany, France, and Italy, and in the Middle East, Israel, are all dealing with the challenges of accommodating a multiethnic and poly-religious nation.

During the weekend I attended the last day of the Geneva Forum on Social Change, a two-day film festival which brought to light the most pressing issues of international concern – child labor, gender equality, human rights, and fair trade. The festival featured ten documentaries, prominent speakers such as Bishop Desmond Tutu (whom I sadly missed), roundtable discussions, and workshops. I watched Waltz with Bashir and Black Gold, two films which were very poignant and provocative. Waltz with Bashir explored the psychological struggles of veteran Israeli soldiers who had fought in the 1982 Lebananon war, and Black Gold emphasized the plight of poor Ethiopian coffee farmers and their fight for fair trade in a world of hegemonic capitalism.

It was a great start to what looks like an interesting, enriching, and cultural summer.
À Bientôt."

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Week 2

"My second week in Geneva was a lot more colorful than the first. Having attended the Art Basel, a modern art fair in the German-speaking part of Switzerland, and Fête de la Musique, a week-long celebration of free musical performances in the local park in Geneva, I began to realize that Switzerland has a wilder reputation beyond its image of conservative orderliness. I came across some very interesting encounters during the course of the week: A group of waltzing hippies in Parc des Bastions; a contemporary artwork which resembles a cosmic galaxy but is actually tiny black dots of bird poop; French-speaking Burmese selling egg rolls at about $12.00 a piece; and a group of old war veterans playing a game of giant checkers in the middle of a noisy crowd. Who said it was all about bankers, cheese, and chocolate?

My first substantive assignment at the U.S. Mission was to compile a list of American universities which may be suitable for an academic partnership with The Conference of NGOs in Consultative Relationship with the United Nations (CONGO). CONGO is an independent non-profit association which helps NGOs to participate in U.N debates and decision-making; and the goal of the academic partnership is to expose American universities to their work. I identified colleges with semester abroad programs in Geneva; and then narrowed the list to curriculums which focused on human rights and NGO management and leadership.

Later in the week, I accompanied my supervisor and the cultural assistant for a meeting with the Cultural Activities Coordinator at the Palais, short for Palais des Nations, another name for the U.N. We met to finalize plans for our cultural event for the late American artist Robert Rauschenberg. We walked through the exhibition layout, approved the design for the banners, and finalized the guest list. The Palais looked every bit as imposing and important as one would expect for it to look. I found the old pre-World War II wing to be much more beautiful, and the post-war contemporary wing to be too cold and industrial. However, artifacts and artwork such as a Chinese vase, an Egyptian statue, and a Sumerian tapestry, donations from member organizations, made the new wing looked very lovely inside. So far so good…am even more excited about what will become of this amazing summer.

À Bientôt"

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Week 3

"It is my third week in Switzerland and I have officially joined the ranks of Interns Gone Crazy in Geneva. Daily, I complain about the price of fruit, and feel worried if I do not see the Buddhist monks in their tangerine-colored robes at the bus stop. Getting used to the craziness outside of work and at the U.S. Mission has happened quickly. This week the Public Affairs (PA) office hosted 30 students from Duke University for a student briefing on U.S. Mission affairs. The group was warmly welcomed by Mark Storella, current Deputy Chief of Mission and Chargé d’Affaires. Next, Counselors from the U.S. Delegation to the Conference on Disarmament, Economic and Scientific Affairs, Political and Specialized Agencies, and Refugee and Migration Affairs gave 20 minute lectures about the work of their individual sections. The students seemed very pleased by the briefing as it ended, and many were surprised to learn that we are not an embassy and do not deal with American citizens. Code word for “Don’t call the Mission if you get into a bar scuffle.

Later in the week the PA office co-sponsored a photography exhibition for Michael Borgognon at Museé Suisse dan la Monde. Borgognon is a young Swiss photographer who traveled to mid-western America during the historic presidential campaign of President Obama. His photographs captured regular good ol’ Americans campaigning for change, or fighting for the same. Museé Suisse dan la Monde is a cultural center which documents the lives of Swiss citizens who went out into the world to achieve great things in business, medicine, art, government, and education. The museum is in a beautiful building with antique décor. It looks like something Marie Antoinette would have preferred as a summer home. While there, I discovered something very interesting: the founder of New York University, Albert Gallatin, was a Swiss who served as Secretary of Treasury under Thomas Jefferson.

Back at the office, I was told that I will be the main coordinator for a commemorative event of the 40th Anniversary of the Lunar Landing. I will be working with the PA cultural assistant, the Economic and Scientific Affairs section, and consulting with my superiors in order to make the event happen. I am in the best mood ever as I leave this weekend for the Fulbright Orientation in Washington, D.C.

À Bientôt"

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Week 4 and 5

"I am in Washington, D.C. this week for the Fulbright Orientation. The city, I’ve heard, is the boring sister of New York. It has less glitz and flash, but is much more intelligent and serious. Some of the most important institutions in America are here: The White House; the Smithsonian museums; the Lincoln Memorial; the United States Capitol; and the National Mall. However, the Fulbrighters were not summoned here to see any of these amazing places – we are here to prepare for an amazing year abroad as student scholars. The Fulbright program is the brainchild of the late William J. Fulbright, a visionary statesman from Missouri. The goal of this international educational exchange is to foster a mutual understanding between Americans and other countries. On the very first day of the orientation, we are reminded that Fulbright alumni have included heads of states, ambassadors, CEOs, university presidents, prominent artists & journalists, 39 Nobel Prize winners, and 65 Pulitzer Prizes. Cleary, we all have very tough acts to follow.

Without a doubt, DOS warmly fêted us. We stayed in a posh hotel in downtown D.C., and a warm breakfast and a lavish dinner was served deliciously on time every day. I felt so happy to be in the same room with America’s best and brightest. To be trusted by the U.S. government as an ambassador of its culture and values to a foreign land could not have been a more prestigious honor. I met young graduates who were going to study organisms with unpronounceable names in Kenya; camel racing in India; the economic crisis in Dubai; thermodynamics in Tel Aviv; post-trauma counseling with women in Sierra Leone; South-Asian migrant workers in Jerusalem; and English-teaching in Jordan. After breakfast and before dinner, we gathered into our individual country groups to discuss host country culture and other practical issues. The most interesting conversation was “How not to get Kidnapped.” The DOS gets an award for using the most hilarious delivery to present important safety information.

My esoteric high from the Fulbright Orientation came to a hilt when I got stranded in the U.S. for an additional week. Due to a strange course of events, I missed my flight back to Geneva. Upon arriving at the Newark International Airport out of breathe and out of luck, I was told I would have to wait another week before I could re-board another flight for Switzerland. Apparently, the airline only had one flight per week to Geneva. The next chain of events which followed was completely bizarre. After paying an arm, a leg, and an elbow for the seat, I discovered that my passport had gone missing. Even better, it was the weekend of July 4th and the U.S. Passport Agency’s next available appointment was three weeks away. Quick thinking led me apply for a new passport through a third party passport agency, and buy a new ticket from an airline without medieval schedules. At this point, I’ve already paid all of my limbs away. On the day of my elusive flight, as I finally board for Geneva, I feel as if I’ve won another Fulbright.

À Bientôt"

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Week 6

"I am incredibly happy and grateful to be back in Geneva, back to my internship, after an episode of passports disappearing, missed flights, and funds vanishing into thin air. As soon as I entered the U.S. Mission building, my colleagues in public affairs shouted, “We have a sighting.” Clearly, they were just as convinced as I was that I’d never make it back.

I quickly jumped on the project I was assigned before my leave for Washington D.C. On July 20th we will celebrate the 40th anniversary of the Apollo 11th Lunar Landing. We will feature a video specially created by NASA for the anniversary, as well as host two guest speakers: An American representative from NASA and a Swiss space expert. To begin, I got in touch with the NASA officials in Washington D.C. to facilitate the production of the space video. Next, I drew up a potential list of invitees. Prospective guests include: people from the scientific community at Université de Genève and Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne; foreign missions which have cooperated with the U.S. on manned space explorations; physicists at CERN; local press; prominent Genvois; and NGOs with interests in scientific affairs.

Later in the week the office hosted a press event at the home of the Counselor for Public Affairs. This was the big reveal of the new Deputy Chief of Mission and Chargé d’Affaires Douglas M. Griffiths to the press community in Geneva. Journalists from Japan, France, Austria, Egypt, Mexico, and Spain were represented. I had an interesting conversation with two Austrian journalists who were determined to debate heated politics upon hearing that I will be Fulbright Scholar to Israel. It was a fascinating lesson in diplomacy.

À Bientôt"

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Week 7

"Geneva transformed into a sizzling oven practically overnight after several weeks of beautiful days and warm evenings. At this rate, a second Jet d’eau is desperately needed to cool off the city. On a brighter note, our schedule at the public affairs office was more sizzling than the weather! After much preparation and planning, we successfully celebrated the 40th anniversary of the Apollo 11th Lunar Landing. The event was happily attended by physicists from CERN, diplomats from countries with interests in U.S. space exploration, and scientists from Université de Genève and École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne. We hosted two speakers: Dr. Daniel Neuenschwander, director of the Swiss Space Office; and Dr. William (Bill) Barry, NASA’s representative in Europe. The speakers gave an excellent talk about the future of manned space exploration, and the importance of transnational cooperation in these efforts. The anniversary video which NASA created for us was the highlight of the evening. The room fell completely silent as we relived the day when the genius of mankind placed a man on the moon.

Over the weekend I went away on a cultural excursion to Vienna, Austria. The city was an architectural gem, and I found the Viennese to be amicable. I visited Schönbrunn, the former royal residence of the Habsburg family. Schönbrunn is a baroque palace with beautiful gardens, a zoo, and the Gloriette, a lovely pavilion up the hill. From there, one could see all of Vienna and its architectural beauty. The palace housed the private apartments of Emperor Franz Josef and his beloved Queen Sisi. All of the family’s stuff was in excellent condition: journals, toys, pet bird cages, military armor, precious china, toiletries, and clothes. Walking through the palace and breathing in such splendid history was a phenomenal experience. The next day I visited Belvedere, another lovely baroque palace in Vienna. Now a museum, Belvedere was built by Prince Eugene of Savoy, and is most famous for housing Gustav Klimt’s golden paintings. The palace grounds were very spacious with manicured gardens, water fountains, and winged statues.

On my last day in the city, I took the tram to downtown Vienna without a map, a clue, or any knowledge of German. First, I went in for a tour of the Kunsthistorisches Museum, a palatial building of fine arts at Maria-Theresa-Square. The museum housed amazing art collections from the Habsburg royals in its ailing façade. Next, as I strolled past the famous Vienna State Opera house, I saw in traffic camera-clicking tourists in horse carriages alongside Mercedes Benz-taxis. Only in this part of Europe could such a sight be possible. Visiting Vienna was such an amazing and educational experience. I saw Austria’s national treasures up close and a got a peek into Viennese cultural life. I came back to Geneva even more convinced that the world is in dire need of more cross-cultural exchanges.

À Bientôt"

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Week 8

"Those people from the movie Grease were right when they sang “summer days driftin’ away…” Summer has indeed flown with astronomical speed, and my schedule has gotten very exciting as my internship near its end. This week we held important appointments with spokespeople at the World Trade Organization (WTO) and the International Labor Organization (ILO). I accompanied my supervisor to both meetings armed with a notepad and giddy intern excitement. We went to the WTO to brief a prospective participant about the International Visitor Leadership Program (IVLP). The IVLP brings foreign professionals to the U.S. to meet their American counterparts. The program is invite only, and participants spend about three weeks learning about America firsthand. The public affairs office in every consulate is responsible for inviting leaders in business, government, the arts, education, and other fields to be a part of the IVLP. To date, past participants have gone on to be prestigious leaders in all fields.

Later in the week we visited the communications & public affairs team at the ILO. Dr. Allida Black, our guest in town, and project director & editor of The Eleanor Roosevelt Papers at George Washington University, joined us for the appointment. Dr. Black will be the main coordinator of a women’s leadership conference in Geneva this December. The event will be co-sponsored by the U.S. Mission and the Vital Voices Global Partnership, and we were there to discuss ways in which the ILO can contribute.

Extracurricular activities outside of the office included a tour of CERN, the biggest particle physics laboratory in the world. CERN, the European Organization for Nuclear Research, is situated at the Swiss-Franco border on a huge complex. About 7000 scientists from more than 80 countries work together at this fascinating place to crack the hidden code of our universe. The Large Hadron Collider (LHC), a high-energy machine, is used by these geniuses to collide opposing particles which are the building blocks of life. The experiments at CERN will eventually help us understand the origins of our Universe. Touring the facility was incredibly humbling. The world’s best and brightest – the most intelligent minds are concentrated in one place, collaborating for our collective evolution. It was too overwhelming to comprehend. I came back feeling very challenged to think about what I can do with my life to contribute to the human race.

À Bientôt"

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Week 9

"The month of Août at the U.S. Mission is a complete ghost town. The halls are eerily quiet and the cafeteria is without its mumbled chatter. The offices have lost their occupants to the annual exodus –the awaited vacation. My own supervisor is out for three weeks, and the Public Affairs Counselor is enjoying a week long retreat in the French countryside. It is just me, three other colleagues, and the computers.

The only exciting event on our calendar this week was the UCLA Student Briefing. Our office hosted 30 undergraduate students who are here studying at the University of Geneva for a presentation on U.S. Mission affairs. The group was warmly welcomed by our new Charge d’Affaires, and then briefed by representatives from the following sections: U.S. Mission to the WTO, U.S. Mission to the Conference on Disarmament, Economic and Science Affairs, Refugee and Migration Affairs, and Political and Specialized Agencies Affairs. Afterward, I and the other interns hosted a fun panel on what life is like as a U.S. Mission intern. The group was delighted to hear about the high costs and priceless benefits of an overseas internship. However, they were more eager to learn about the “party scene” in Geneva – which I assure you, is quite lacking.

For the weekend, I took a long day trip to Lausanne and Montreux. Lausanne is a beautiful city on the banks of Lake Geneva. The town is situated on slopping hills and neat rows of grapevines decorate its visage. After a quick stroll through the cobbled streets of Haute Ville, the old city, I headed out to Ouchy, a former fishing village on the south side. The weather was gorgeous and families were out taking advantage. As I strolled alongside the waterfront, I saw a few women in black Burkas walk past a bikini-clad lady on rollerblades. It was the most interesting testament to Switzerland’s neutrality.

In Montreux I visited Château de Chillon, a well preserved historic castle on Lake Geneva. For over 1,000 years, the castle has served as a prison, a fortress, an arsenal, and now, a cultural heritage for the world to enjoy. The Counts of Savoy were the first owners of the château. It is said that one of the princes found the air from the Alps and Lake Geneva refreshing. It is. During the 1500s, the Savoy nobles lost the castle to the Bernese, a Swiss clan. The canton of Vaud (where the castle is located), took final ownership of the property in the 1800s. Chillon has inspired intellectual personalities such as Rousseau and Victor Hugo. That afternoon, it was inspiring tourists from Asia, Latin America, Eastern Europe, and Teaneck, NJ, to whip out their cameras for a few snaps.

À Bientôt"

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Week 10

"They say time flies by fast when you’re having fun. Whoever is “they,” also forgot to add that time flies even faster when one is working with a tight deadline. This week, I am given the most substantive assignment of the summer. My supervisor asked me to compile culturally sensitive content for a new newsletter called Muslims in America. The mission of this public diplomacy endeavor is to highlight the contributions and achievements of American Muslims. As of now, we have set a launch date to coincide with the first day of Ramadan.

To start, I divided the content of the newsletter into three categories: Articles, Cultural Publications, and Art Exhibitions. The Articles section will encompass news about Muslims who have achieved success in business, education, medicine, government, and the arts. Next, Cultural Publications will feature substantive Islamic-related publications by the Bureau of International Information Programs (IIP). IIP, a branch of the Department of State, often produces investigate works into an aspect of American culture which numbers in hundreds of pages. Their current publication Being Muslim in America will be perfect for the newsletter. Art Exhibitions will list current exhibitions on Islamic art & culture at American museums.

Without a doubt, the Islamic newsletter is the most engaging and exciting thing I’ve worked on. As a Fulbright Scholar, my mission from here on is to promote a cross-cultural understanding between foreign nations and America. Putting together the content for Reflections on Muslims in America newsletter could not have been more perfect. Once completed, the publication will be sent to over 700 members in the Islamic diplomatic community in Geneva. How’s that for a cross-cultural understanding?

À Bientôt"

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Week 11

"It seems on purpose that the weather and all of Geneva has grown lovelier this week. Perhaps, it is a conspiracy to get me to stay here permanently. The town is truly magnificent. Now that my time has come to an end, I am feeling very appreciative of this internship opportunity I was given. My supervisor absolutely loved the draft I created for Reflections on Muslim Americans. After he added his needed edits, we sent the newsletter to the Deputy Chief of Mission (DCM) for approval. The DCM loved it and was very complimentary about the content and aesthetic design of the publication. Saying that am feeling proud and accomplished would be a gross understatement.

The biggest event in town this week was a public discussion called “Strengthening the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Regime: A Blueprint for Progress” at the Geneva Centre for Security Policy. The two high profile speakers were: Ambassador Susan F. Burk, permanent representative of the president for nuclear nonproliferation; and Ambassador Jürg Streuli, permanent representative of Switzerland to the conference on disarmament. Ambassador Burk spoke at length about America’s commitment to nuclear disarmament. Her overall message centered on how this new administration in Washington is willingly to use smart diplomacy to combat global nuclear proliferation.

My second-to-last weekend in Geneva was bitter sweet. I spent the weekend exploring Paquis, the main boulevard in town. Here, you see the opposing facets which make the city a gem. On one corner you find cheap Lebanese counters selling delicious but questionable kebabs, and on the next turn, luxury shops with $10,000 watches. At the dock by the Jet d’eau, immigrant families from Albania, Ethiopia, the Philippines, and South America happily congregate against Lake Geneva and its luxury yachts. The city is magnificent.

À Bientôt"

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Week 12

"My final cultural excursion during my last week in Europe was to Spain – to Barcelona and Gerona. I smelled something putrid the moment I stepped on the streets of Catalonia. This was strange because having lived in Switzerland for three months, I cannot remember smelling anything. The heat was palpable; the noise was dizzying; and the crowded streets were difficult to navigate. Barcelona was alive. The city had an energy and vibrancy which reminded me of my beloved Sierra Leone. I loved it.

Antoni Gaudì, Barcelona’s late innovative architect was everywhere. Touristy wares of his fascinating buildings were hawked on every corner. My first visit was to his La Sagrada Famìlia, a huge Roman Catholic Church with ceilings carved into honeycombs. The building defied every classical model of style and taste. Gaudì went against the grain and drew inspiration from nature: leaves, trees, bees, birds, reptiles, and even the human body. Construction of the church started in the late 1880s, but became unfinished due to Gaudì’s untimely death. Today, private donations completely fund the on-going construction of Sagrada Famìlia. They say the church will finally be completed sometime in 2026.

I boarded the tourist bus to get an overview of all of Barcelona due to a lack of time. We passed Gaudì’s other buildings: La Pedrera and Casa Batlló. I found Casa Batlló to be the most interesting because of its skeletal accents and multicolored dragon scales. It was the strangest building I have ever seen. It was beautiful. The next day I took a train to Gerona to see the old Jewish quarters. Once upon a time during the medieval ages, Gerona was a vibrant center of Jewish life. El Call, Catalonian for ‘Jew,’ is the name of the historic neighborhood. The city had tiny well preserved streets and an eerie quietness. The Spanish Inquisition definitely left its mark. The only remaining trace of any Jewish life was a museum which housed important treasures such as: old gravestones, Torah covers, jewelry, women’s dresses, Ketubah (wedding contract) and other priceless artifacts.

On my flight back to America, it finally dawned on me that I just completed a 12 week internship with the U.S. Mission to the U.N. in Geneva, Switzerland. The experience has been unreal. The people I met, the places I saw, and the experiences I had has transformed me. I come back with a different brand of confidence about who I am and where am going. Thinking back to my aimless days as a freshman in the Lindens, I feel very fortunate to have finally found my path. As a latecomer to the game, I will forever be grateful to the special people at FDU who took an interest in my potential. They challenged me out of my self-imposed complacency. They made me curious about the world, and my role in shaping it. Thank you."

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Click here to view Rama's picture gallery

Rama is currently a press and public affairs intern at the U.S. Mission to the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland. Her Fulbright project is titled “Sheba’s Legacy: The Young Women of Beta Israel.” As part of her project, she will examine the lives of successful women in the Ethiopian Jewish community and identify the conditions that contributed to their achievements. She will be based at Hebrew University in Jerusalem, Israel.