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The McDermott Scholars Award covers all expenses of a superb four-year academic education at The University of Texas at Dallas, in concert with a diverse array of intensive extracurricular experiences, including internships, travel, and cultural enrichment.

Monday, June 11, 2007

Recounting a semester in Geneva

The Broken Chair, symbolizing the victims of anti-personnel landmines, was placed at the entrance to the United Nations in Geneva to commemorate the work that has been done with the Mine Ban Treaty.

Would it be wrong to choose to study abroad somewhere entirely because of their chocolate? Okay, okay, so maybe that wasn’t the only reason. This spring I spent a semester abroad in Geneva, Switzerland. It was an incredibly intense but incredibly fulfilling five months, where I experienced Geneva and Europe to its fullest through courses, an internship, and a lot of travel.

My main reason for choosing Geneva was because of its important role in international relations. I was able to not only study this work but to personally contribute to it through an internship with the Geneva International Center for Humanitarian Demining (GICHD). GICHD serves as the effective secretariat for the Ottawa Convention or Mine Ban Treaty, an international arms control instrument that has led 153 states to completely ban anti-personnel landmines and end the humanitarian harms that they cause. Working with GICHD was easily the coolest thing that I have gotten to do as an undergraduate. My main work was researched based, where I compiled reports on universalization of the treaty to Middle Eastern states, standards for landmine victim assistance, and the implications of newly discovered stockpiles of AP mines. I also got the opportunity to serve as the head of my own major research project. The focus of this project was to counter claims made by states not party to the treaty that landmines were needed for border security. My job was to demonstrate the ineffectiveness of landmines in the first place, how other states employ successful border security systems without landmines, and how new states could access these alternative technologies and accede to the treaty. The best part of the internship was seeing my research actually used. My boss was great about including me in all of his work, and I was able to participate in meetings with the treaty’s president, the Co-Chairs of the Standing Committees established by the treaty (diplomats from the various state parties), the Landmine Survivors Network, and the Nobel Peace Prize winning International Campaign to Ban Landmines. Another important part of my job was helping the Center prepare and host two major sets of meetings: the 10th annual meeting of the United Nations Mine Action Programme Directors and Advisors and the 2007 Standing Committee Meetings of States Parties. This was sort of the culmination of my internship experience, where I was able to actually take part in the work of more than a hundred states, NGOs, and individuals coming together from throughout the world to implement plans of disarmament, development and humanitarian assistance.

Courses were also great. They focused on Geneva’s important work in the fields of disarmament and human rights, incorporating meetings and briefings at interesting organizations such as the UN Human Rights Council, UNCTAD, the World Health Organization, and the International Committee of the Red Cross. As interesting as classes and work were, the real adventures of my semester came on the weekends. The program that I studied with included a two month Eurail Pass, so every Thursday night myself and all of the other students in my program set out to explore Europe by train and see all that we could before Monday morning. All in all, I was able to visit Bern, Amsterdam, Barcelona, Vienna, Zermatt, Milan, Athens, the Greek Isles, Rome, Luxembourg, Brussels, Nice, Monte Carlo, Paris, Prague, Torino, Berlin, Dresden, Venice, Dublin, Budapest, Florence, and Bratislava. I would start telling you about all of these adventures, but I am afraid that if I started I wouldn’t be able to stop. Suffice to say that it was absolutely amazing, and I wouldn‘t trade it for anything. I collected tons of great photos, friends, and random bits of foreign language vocabulary that I will never forget.

Really interesting classes in international relations, working with the secretariat for an international arms control instrument and doing my own small part to eliminate the humanitarian threat of anti-personnel landmines, and traveling to many of the major cities in Europe. Not bad for a semester abroad. Not bad at all. Especially when you factor in the chocolate.


  1. Zainab11:43 AM

    WOW! An experience of a life time.