2016 Summer Interns

The Schull Yang International Experience Award, supported by Joseph Schull (BA ‘82, MA ’85) and Anna Yang (BCL, LLB ’88), helps undergraduate and graduate students gain first hand international experience related to their fields of study. The award provides full or partial funding to assist students with tuition, travel, and other expenses related to their international experience. The Schull Yang International Experience Award is part of the McGill International Experience Awards. For more information, click here.

The Internship Offices Network is pleased to announce the selected McGill students for the 2016 summer internship at the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees in Ecuador, and the recipient of the Schull Yang International Experience Award, Ariane Ménard.

Ariane Ménard, BA Anthropology

Ariane is majoring in Anthropology. She is passionate about working in the non-profit sector and has a strong interest in social justice, humanitarian issues and helping others through research, community development and advocacy. She has worked as an employment counselor for at-risk youth and as a photographer for several non-profit organizations. In the future, Ariane hopes to become an academic, working with refugees and stateless individuals to help combat prejudice and xenophobic immigration laws.

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I am a third year Anthropology student hoping to pursue a Masters in Cognitive Anthropology to unravel the roots of prejudice and understand how it plays out in different culturally contexts. I have also worked as a social worker helping at-risk youth to find employment opportunities and expand their horizons. This is why I wanted to do an internship with UNHCR Ecuador: an organization committed to helping refugees, combating racism and xenophobia, promoting local integration and helping refugees to find sustainable livelihood solutions that allow them to live with dignity and security in a new country. Ecuador hosts more refugees than any other Latin American country, the majority fleeing from the long term combat between paramilitary groups and the Columbian government. Despite the generosity of the host country, many Columbian refugees face prejudice, discrimination and xenophobia in Ecuador. UNHCR combats this through the media and with various local programs. During my time with UNHCR I was in charge of monitoring and analyzing a number of these programs. I interviewed refugee students who received scholarships to continue their studies at the university level. I provided feedback and recommendations for a livelihoods program called A GANAR, which combined university classes with life lessons taught through the medium of sports and was offered to refugees and local Ecuadorians aged 15-25. I also collected primary data through surveys, structures interviews and participant observation as well as participating in community building activities within this program. In coordination with local non-government organizations, UNHCR provided entrepreneurship workshops and information about the rights of refugees in Ecuador. I wrote a report providing feedback, suggestions and an analysis of the effectiveness of these workshops. Finally I was in charge of collecting stories for publication online and took photos of the various programs for use in an exhibit as well as promotional and funding purposes.

Throughout the internship I had the opportunity to listen to many youth and families talk about their experiences as refugees and the difficulties they encountered both in their home and host country. Through active listening I aimed to uncover the roots of prejudice they experienced, expand my cultural and personal understanding and provide a receptive, non-judgmental sounding board for the people I encountered. The time spent with refugees was certainly the highlight of my internship at UNHCR and the opportunity to hear their stories was an invaluable learning experience. I also truly enjoyed taking photos for publication and writing reports independently.

The only minor challenge I encountered was related to formality in the office. Coming from a low context culture, where communication is direct and often informal, I never really knew how to address my supervisors and colleagues. The local Ecuadorian and indigenous culture is more formal than I am used to and so I used the formal Spanish 'you' (Usted) to address my supervisors. I feel the local staff appreciated this formality but it made for a strange dynamic because other interns addressed these same people with the informal 'you' (tu). This was further complicated by the fact that the office was very multicultural and therefore I was unsure if the local Ecuadorian culture or the ‘UN culture’ dominated the environment, as everyone from my office was from Ecuador. To resolve this I continued to err on the side of caution, using the formal address unless specifically told than I could use the more informal version. This meant that I was more formal with my supervisor than with his supervisor’s supervisor, but I felt that this personalized cultural sensitivity was appreciated.

My sociology background was invaluable when developing surveys and dealing with the data I collected from program participants. I was easily able to obtain the information for my analyses and was able to point out flaws and inconsistencies in the data collection methods the program directors were using. My anthropology background enabled me to navigate the cross-cultural context of the office as well as in the field. I picked up on many subtleties I may otherwise have missed in communicating with refugees and partner organizations. The sensitivity of the discipline allowed me to smoothly transition into the appropriate cultural context and communicate effectively with various stakeholders. I also used anthropological methods to add richness and nuance to my reports and to better understand and connect with my informants. I have not requested credit specifically for this internship but I plan to include what I have learned in an independent study course in the coming year.

Funding permitted, my long term goal is to become an academic, to help youth people become critical thinkers and to build more accepting, open and diverse communities both within the university environment and outside of it. Otherwise, I would also be thrilled to work with a small NGO combating racism and lobbying for more inclusive immigration laws. Having an insight into an organization that is doing precisely this has given me many tools to draw on for my future career. The self-critical element and continual monitoring and evaluation undertaken for all UN programs allowed me to use my own critical thinking skills and pinpoint effective and ineffective elements of these programs. I will be able to use what I’ve learned to make appropriate recommendations in future positions and programs I may run.

This opportunity would not have been possible for me without the generous funding from Mr. Joseph Schull and Mrs. Anna Yang. The flight, rent and expenses abroad were covered entirely by the Schull-Yang International Experience Award and for this I wish to thank them from the bottom of my heart.

Ariane learning cooking techniques with Colombian refugee youth.


Michelle Montilla, BA Honors Political Science

Michelle is a Venezuelan student in the Honors Political Science program. She is also completing a minor in International Development Studies and is currently in her final year. Her passion for human rights advocacy has led her to focus her degree on international law and international affairs in general. She has been very involved in Model UN since a few years already and has participated in several conferences as both delegate and chair. She wishes to contribute to the work of international organizations as she considers herself a citizen of the world. 

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I am a final year student completing my Bachelor’s degree in Honors Political Science and a minor in International Development. I was born in Venezuela but emigrated at a young age. As my parents decided to transfer to Canada, my feelings were quite mixed since the culture shock I experienced in the new society lasted for a long period. The opportunities were different, here and there. As I was growing up, I realized the sacrifice my parents were making, leaving their well-positioned jobs and reputation to offer their children the chance to attend recognized colleges and universities. My background and reality are a reflection of my areas of interest, which include international law, particularly human rights, journalism and international organizations.

There were various reasons why I wanted to intern at the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, hereinafter UNHCR. As an immigrant, I always noticed that the opportunities that were offered to me were not the same as other children, adolescents, and adults. I always had to fight more for what I wanted in the Canadian society. For this reason, I wanted to work with those individuals who have had to fight even harder to be where they are, refugees – those who do not choose to leave but are rather force to leave their countries. Moreover, as an international relations student, I wanted to experience all that I had learned while being at McGill. My aim was to put into practice my diplomatic skills and I can now confirm that the United Nations (UN) was the perfect place for that.

UNHCR is the UN agency mandated to protect refugees all around the world. Created following the Second World War, it had as its main objective the protection of refugees who had fled Europe for reasons of persecution. After the end of its three-year mandate, the UN realized that refugees are all over the world, and not only from Europe. The extension of UNHCR’s mandate has allowed the agency to expand its protection to include the internally displaced people, the stateless and even LGBT victims of persecution because of their gender identity. UNHCR dedicates its work in the search for sustainable solutions for refugees, internally displaced and the stateless (UNHCR’s persons of interest) with the aim of improving their livelihoods. There are three core frameworks under which UNHCR works: 1) integration of UNHCR’s persons of interest into their host society; 2) finding a third-party country that will host UNHCR’s persons of interest; and 3) voluntary repatriation of UNHCR’s persons of interest—that is, facilitating their arrival into their country of origin when the persons of interest so desire.

As an intern at the Public Information Unit of UNHCR, I was asked to complete several tasks, including completing online UN mandatory courses and assisting communication/media strategies workshops and reporting back to the base and government institutions. I was also sent as a representative of the unit to several breakfast reunions and other diplomatic meetings with other UN agencies, government institutions and non-governmental organizations. My supervisor also entrusted me with the task of presenting weekly media reports, writing analytical memos on UNHCR topics of interest, and meeting refugee families with the aim of writing web-stories to be published on the UN website. I also got to put my translation skills into practice once more, translating from Spanish to English and vice-versa and sometimes to French.

I encountered certain challenges while working at the UN, but I also experienced various highlights worth mentioning. For instance, I got to meet the High Commissioner for Refugees and very important government figures. However, I was also challenged in my work environment given the differences in working cultures, such as the normal gossiping typical of offices, of which I was not used to. Such challenge was overcome by remaining silent when such events occurred. Moreover, I was also sometimes entrusted with tasks that I felt were out of my competences. Nonetheless, I was able to perform them by constantly asking questions and advice from my supervisor, which she expressed several times to appreciate.

In the coming semester, I will be receiving credit for this internship, as I will be writing an essay on the topic of refugee law, supervised by Professor Fernando Nuñez-Mietz.  The aim of the essay will be to expand on a topic I was working on with Professor Nuñez as I completed my Honors Seminar last semester. I am interesting in explaining how international organizations such as UNHCR help governments in the implementation of the refugee regime by mitigating the factors that impede compliance with such laws.

This internship will shape my future career and education path since I have confirmed my desire of working in an international organization. I was able to complete my objectives of putting into practice my diplomatic skills and I look forward to stepping once again into UN territory.

The funding I received from the Rolland family allowed me to partially fund my living costs such as rent, food, and transportation.

I wish to thank with the bottom of my heart the generous human being who made this opportunity possible. Once again, thank you Mr. Roland, you truly are making a difference in this world! 

Michelle in her UNHCR office in Ecuador.