2017 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 2017 summer internship at the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees in Ecuador, and the recipient of the Schull Yang International Experience Award.

Juliette Deshormes, BA Joint Honours Political Science and International Development Studies

Juliette is a Belgian-Italian student currently on exchange in Bogota, Colombia. She is passionate about working for the promotion of human rights and conflict resolution studies having completed numerous internships and participated in various associations affiliated with human rights, development, and policy work. Alongside studying in Bogota, she is also conducting research for her honours thesis on transitional justice and the consequences of the peace accord with the FARC which she will continue to collect during her work with the UNHCR in Ecuador. Upon completion of her degree she wishes to pursue a dual master’s program in international law and refugee & forced migration studies.

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High-fiving security on my way out of the United Nations building for the final time this summer, I felt a rush of nostalgia from the first time I had crossed the doors only three months earlier. In the space of three months, so much felt like it had changed. I had arrived a fresh-faced, visa-less, two-left-dancing-feet intern unaware of what exactly I would be doing for the duration of my internship at the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees in Quito, Ecuador. Now, here I was, comfortable enough to spark up conversation in the elevator, able to recite every article of the 1951 convention on Human Rights and, most importantly, a (self-titled) master of the all-important Latin American salsa dance. 

To rewind back a few steps, I am a joint honours political science and international development studies student with a minor in Hispanic studies. I have always been interested in the domain of human rights defence and promotion, having completed an internship at Canadian organization Equitas International Centre for Human Rights Education the previous summer and at French NGO Enfants et Développement the summer preceding that one. In the semester prior to my internship, I had gone on exchange to Bogota, Colombia, to study the history of the country, the effects of the conflict and the period of transitional justice the country is currently going through. Given this trajectory, applying for the UNHCR in Ecuador seemed only right.

Researching into the background of the UNHCR Ecuador, I found that 98% of all refugees they worked with came from Colombia, and were continuing to come from Colombia, despite the peace deal signed between the Government and FARC last year. For me, having already worked and studied so much on Colombian history, this statistic was one of the main reasons I wanted to work with the UNHCR Ecuador – to understand why, despite a historic peace deal, they were still seeing such an influx (and at times even increase) of Colombian refugees.

After a few visa complications, and a speedy return-trip to the Ecuadorian embassy in Bogota, I was finally ready to settle down at my new desk, armed with a cup of locally-brewed tea and enough documents to become an expert on the UNHCR Ecuador by the end of the first week. As an intern at the national level of the Livelihoods department (there’s also a livelihoods department for each in-country field office), my main ongoing-task throughout the duration of the internship was to rewrite the UNHCR’s upcoming 2018 Livelihoods strategy which would subsequently be distributed and adhered to by all offices in the country. The Livelihoods department works with all refugees who are seeking to settle into Ecuadorian society, we help them with re-integration in terms of skills training, finding a job, and settling into local community networks.

In order to do so, our main Livelihoods activity was implementing at a national level the Graduation Model – an approach which seeks to lift those at the lowest level of the economic ladder out of poverty. Alongside writing this strategy, my days were punctured with numerous other tasks with some of the highlights including meetings with the Quito municipality, attending events organized by our partner organizations, communicating with the headquarters in Geneva, and visiting families participating in the Graduation Model Programme.

The main highlight of my internship was definitely World Refugee Day, which takes place annually on the 20th of June. Every office hosts a different event in order to celebrate the day and I was lucky enough to attend both the Quito office event as well as the field office in Ibarra, near the Colombian border. Both events were a celebration of inclusion, sharing of culture, and acceptance with refugees and locals alike uniting for a day of dancing, speeches, food fair, and games. Refugees from Libya to Venezuela had little stands which sold local delicacies from their native countries and different organized games were set up by the UNHCR’s partner organizations to engage and involve everyone throughout the day.

Although the organization and the work it deals with is very challenging, I immediately felt included and supported by my work colleagues. Any questions or queries I had were promptly answered in great detail by my boss, and I was given a lot of time at the beginning of the internship to read through numerous explanatory documents to familiarise myself with the work carried out by the organization. The one struggle I do feel I faced was the lack of time I had within the organization. As a summer intern, I was the only intern who was completing an internship of less than 6 months. This meant that by the time I had become comfortable enough with all the material to carry out independent research and tasks, my internship was already nearly over! Due to this, I have kept close contact with my fantastic boss and am hoping to return once my studies at McGill are finished.

Having said all this, none of it would have been possible without the kind funding of Mr Joseph Schull and Ms Anna Yang. I am immensely grateful for their generosity, which permitted me to participate in this amazing experience and take away as much from it as I did.

It really is a phenomenal organization, with a caring body of staff all sharing the same goal to include, unite, and protect those less fortunate. I was inspired daily by the passion of my team, the resilience of those with who we worked with, and the dedication of our partner NGOs. I could not recommend the experience enough to anyone interested in the international refugee regime and international law. Furthermore, Quito itself is a dynamic and active city, with a salsa bar at every street corner! Although my goodbye was bittersweet, I can find comfort in knowing I have clarified my future career visions, have worked on some incredible topics with even more incredible people and…can salsa like a pro(ish).

Juliette Deshormes representing the UNHCR at the occasion of World Refugee Day.