2016 Summer Intern

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 student for the 2016 summer internship at the United Nations World Food Programme in Cuba, and the recipient of the Schull Yang International Experience Award.

Zachary Mason, BSc (AgEnvSc) Water Ecosystems and Environment

Zachary’s previous participation in an interdisciplinary research project on food security in rural Guatemala has strengthened his interest and knowledge of food security and alternative food systems in Latin-America. Now set to intern at the United Nations World Food Programme in Havana, Cuba this summer, Zachary looks forward to contributing to the realization of the food security initiatives outlined in Cuba Country Program for 2015-2018. Through this experience, he hopes to gain a deeper understanding of the nature of food insecurity in Cuba, the specific strategies the WFP has adopted to combat these issues, and an insight into the inner-workings of the World Food Programme and the United Nations as a whole.

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As a student in the Faculty of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences with a particular interest in food security and sustainable development in Latin America, this ION internship experience at the United Nations World Food Programme’s Cuba Country office in Havana stood out to me as a unique opportunity to learn about how the WFP works to combat food insecurity in the Cuban context. The previous summer I worked as a research assistant under a PhD student at McGill studying agro-ecological methods in rural Guatemala where I learned among other things that context is extremely important in development projects. The effectiveness of a given development project ultimately depends on how well it is tailored to the needs and capabilities of its target beneficiaries. This is a concept that is central to WFP's strategy. For example, WFP is the world’s largest humanitarian agency fighting hunger and provides assistance to an estimated 80 million people each year through the work of almost 80 autonomous country offices all over the world that specialize in providing aid and promoting food security in the country they are based, usually through the creation of a “Country Programme”. The Country Programme is a specialized document, outlining food security goals that address identified shortfalls in national food security and nutrition as well as the specific actions that will be taken to achieve these goals, their cost, and their target beneficiaries.

As an intern I was tasked with creating and managing databases on the state of food security in Cuba as well as aiding in the preparation of documents (such as donor reports, web publications, informative leaflets, country program guides, interim activity reports, etc.) for internal and external use. Editing and translating these documents using the appropriate technical language was one of my strengths and together with my Spanish coworker we made the perfect translation team. She would translate from English to Spanish and I would translated from Spanish to English. My first impression of the work was not favorable simply because I didn’t like the idea of working in front of a computer screen for six hours a day, but I came to realize that (1) that’s office work, (2) there is more diversity to the work like trips to other provinces, workshops, meetings, etc. and (3) that I was learning a lot of about food security in the Cuban context, the work process of NGO’s, and many valuable skills (language skills, productivity and organizational skills, doing technical translation, using Photoshop, etc).

Overall the biggest highlight of the internship experience for me was working in the dynamic atmosphere that felt unique to the Cuba Country office. All my coworkers were very friendly, knowledgeable and willing to go out of their way to help you. There would always be a healthy amount of joking and fun that lightened what could otherwise have been a serious and stressful office environment. I also really enjoyed traveling to other provinces and attending conferences on a variety of themes related to the Country Programme.

The biggest challenge for me in this internship experience inside and outside of the office context was understanding Cuban Spanish. With hundreds of words and expressions in common use that are endemic to Cuban Spanish and a tendency to omit entire syllables, I often struggled to understand what Cubans were saying. Classified linguistically as Lowland or Caribbean Spanish, Cuban Spanish is quite different from the Spanish I had previously been exposed to (Highland Spanish). This was frustrating at first, but I was reassured to feel that with time I was getting used to the Cuban dialect. Other than language and a few other cultural differences, transitioning to Cuban life felt natural.

The greatest take away in any internship is the experience itself. My time interning at WFP has provided me with a valuable glimpse into the inner workings of international humanitarian agencies like the UNWFP and has given me vital work experience for a future position in this field while training me in essential office skills. This opportunity has given me the experience and motivation to engage in other humanitarian and development projects both propelling my career and making a positive difference.

Finally, I would like to thank Mr. Joseph Schull and Ms. Anna Yang for making this incredible internship opportunity a possibility for me. Their generous award allowed me to apply myself fully to working with the WFP for three months this summer contributing to food security initiatives while gaining valuable knowledge and experience for a career in international development.

A typical day at the office with Zachary and colleague Alejandra Sanz.