Read about Oddur Stefansson’s experience in Beijing this summer!
Long, grotesquely warm, and, at times, overwhelmingly polluted Beijing summer days were spent neatly tucked away in the UN compound, scouring the web for sources and research material for a range of UNDP projects centered on China-Africa relations and Xi Jinping’s ‘poverty diplomacy’.
While simultaneously balancing the never-ending task of settling down in Beijing, trying to get an adequate grasp of Mandarin, as well as working full-time, my experience was, to my surprise, never one of exhaustion. Getting used to the unexpectedly easy-going rhythm of Beijing life was a sheer pleasure, while the position at the UNDP, with its highly uneven workload, yielded great opportunities for exploration and reflection.
It was intriguing to watch an established UN agency adapting to China’s changed global role. Traditional functions of the UNDP are being complemented by an increased focus on helping China become a responsible partner for development in a range of developing countries, primarily those on the African continent.
It could easily be argued that an agency like the UNDP has little role to play in a country as seemingly developed as China, but, in truth, it was an interesting time to work there as I got to experience first-hand how an institution (so usually perceived as notoriously rigid) is working to adapt its work to co-operate with Chinese authorities.
Of course, without the Sasakawa Young Leaders Fellowship Fund (SYLFF) Grant from the Weatherhead Institute, I would not have been able to take this unpaid position. Thus, it allowed me to gain unique work experience within the UN, which is of great value to me, both personally and professionally. As any UN intern will tell you, an internship provides an opportunity to gain insight into this vast organization, but the SYLFF Grant allowed me to experience it in a smaller format, through a UN agency country office.