Destination: The world“I want to establish an international network with other women across the globe,” says Lee Seon-young, a 28-year-old graduate student at Ehwa Womans University.
“It’s a great opportunity to learn about leadership,” Ms. Lee says.
Ms. Lee is talking about her hopes of working as an intern at the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization’s main office in Paris.
If she gets the internship, it won’t be her only one with an international organization. Ms. Lee, Park Se-eun, a graduate student at Yonsei University, and Lee Hyeon-ji, a senior at Seoul National University, are assigned to work at the International Labor Organization’s Asia office for two months later this year.
In recent years, young Korean women like these, fresh out of college or graduate school, have been more visible in the competition for internships at the United Nations and other international organizations.
One of their main reasons for wanting to advance to the global stage, experts believe, is to avoid the “glass ceiling” of gender discrimination in Korea’s domestic job market.
At the Junior Professional Officer internship program run since 1996 by Korea’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade, which places successful applicants in internships at international organizations, 80 percent of the applicants are women.
Last year, the Ministry of Gender Equality began selecting 15 applicants annually for an international professional women’s internship program.
And at forums on how to develop a career in international organizations, participation by women has been so high that it sometimes seems they take up almost every seat.
These applicants not only have to be fluent in foreign languages, they must also be able to adapt quickly to other cultures.
“The number of women employees is rapidly increasing at the United Nations, as the international organization pursues its plan to balance the gender ratio of its staff,” says Park Jae-young, a professor of international relations at Gyeongsang National University.
But opportunities to work at the United Nations, and other international organizations, are few.
Last year, the share of the United Nations’ expenses paid for by Korea rose from 1.3 percent to 1.9 percent, making Korea the 10th- largest contributor among the international body’s 191 member states. This means the number of UN staff positions reserved for Koreans has gone up too.
Korea’s foreign ministry says there are 29 Korean employees working at UN offices. According to a United Nations formula that determines the geographic balance of its staff, the desirable range of Korean employees is between 29 and 40.
However, officials at the foreign ministry speculated that few UN jobs will be available for Koreans over the next two years, because a relatively large number of Koreans were hired last year. Also, employees from other Asian nations and some countries in Africa could compete for the same openings, according to the ministry.
One of the first Korean women to enlist in the Junior Professional Officer program in 1996 was Lee Hae-kyeong, working as an intern at the United Nations Development Program. Ms. Lee, who now works for the Ministry of Gender Equality, advises applicants to discard illusions they may have about working for international organizations.
“The international stage may seem splendid and magnificent, but there’s a lot of work that is done in underdeveloped countries,” says Ms. Lee. “Thus, without a sense of duty and faith, it will be hard to tolerate.”
They’re not easy jobs to get, but here’s how to get them
In Korea, there are several ways to pursue careers at international organizations such as the World Trade Organization, the United Nations or Unesco.
There is the conventional way, which is to apply directly for any openings a particular organization might post on its Web site.
Another method is to take an examination administered by the Korean government that is designed to fill the quota of staff employees at international organizations assigned to Korea. The next such exam is scheduled for Feb. 2004; applications are due Sept. 5.
The Junior Professional Officer program, operated by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade since 1996, is another approach.
Successful applicants to this program get to work for two years as an intern at a sub-unit of the United Nations. Seven applicants were chosen this year.
There is no guarantee of employment after the internship; however, 40 percent of those who have completed these internships have continued to work for international organizations. For more information,go to www.unrecruit.go.kr.
Number of Korean staff on international organizations
United Nations Secretariat
UN Headquarters 17
UNOV (United Nations Office at Vienna) 1
UNHCHE (UN High Commissioner for Human Rights) 2
ESCAP (Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific) 7
ECA (Economic Commission for Africa) 1
ECE (Economic Commission for Europe) 1
UNMIK (UN Interim Administration in Kosovo) 1
UNFICYP United Nations Peacekeeping Force in Cyprus) 1
UNMISET (United Nations Mission of Support in East Timor) 1
UNHCR (Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees) 1
UNOHCI (UN Office of the Humanitarian Co-ordinator in Iraq) 1
UN (Specialized Agencies)
FAO (Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations) 3
WIPO (World Intellectual Property Organization) 3
ILO (International Labor Organization) 4
IMO (International Maritime Organization) 2
ITU (International Telecommunication Union) 4
UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) 8
UPU (Universal Postal Union) 1
UNIDO (United Nations Industrial Development Organization) 2
WHO (World Health Organization) 3
IMF (International Monetary Fund) 12
WB (World Bank) 39
IFC (International Finance Corporation) 10
WTO (World Trade Organization) 2
IAEA (International Atomic Energy Agency) 21
UN’s Programs and Funds
UNICEF (United Nations Children’s Fund) 4
UNDP (United Nations Development Programme) 1
WFP (World Food Programme) 3
UNU (United Nations University) 1
UNJSPF (United Nations Joint Staff Pension Fund) 1
ITLOS (International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea) 1
UNEP (United Nations Environment Programme) 1
UNCCD (United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification) 1
UNRISD (United Nations Research Institute for Social Development) 1
OECD (Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development) 9
OPCW (Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons) 4
CTBTO (Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organization) 3
APO (Asian Productivity Organization) 1
ITTO (International Tropical Timber Organization) 1
ICA (International Council on Archives) 1
ADB (Asian Development Bank) 43
APT (Asia-Pacific Telecommunity) 1
IRRI (International Rice Research Institute) 1
APRACA (Asia Pacific Rural and Agricultural Credit Association) 1
ASEP (Asia-Europe Foundation) 1
CPSC (Colombo Plan Staff Collage) 2
IFRC (International Federation of Red Cross) 1
IVI (International Vaccine Institute) 1
Total Korean Staff 232
Source: Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade
What it takes to succeed on a global level
Proficiency in English isn’t all it takes to work for an international organization, says Lee Su-jin, who works for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.
“To work for international organizations, you should not only be outgoing, but also discreet,” says Ms. Lee, 33. “Being open and capable of understanding the diversity of the human race is another requirement.”
Ms. Lee was a member of the first class of the Junior Professional Officer program, begun in 1996 by Korea’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Stationed in Canberra, the capital of Australia, Ms. Lee began working for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees as an intern. Then the UN office moved Ms. Lee to Bangkok as a full-time staff member. She has been an international professional officer for the commissioner since 1999. She is now in Seoul on childcare leave.
In Canberra, Ms. Lee helped establish a self-support program for Pacific island refugees. In Bangkok, she helped Burmese refugees. “The hardest time for me was when I had to look after myself with only a duty manual to go by,” she says.
Apparently, she rose to the occasion; no more than 20 percent of Junior Professional Officers become full-time staff members. “I was just lucky,” she demurs. Luck was in fact on her side, in that when she finished her internship, the United Nations was expanding its staff due to the rise in international refugees.
But it took more than luck to achieve what she has. At Yonsei University, she did volunteer work for Unicef and ran a club for those interested in interpreting. After graduation, she pursued graduate work in international studies and found a job in the then-ruling Democratic Liberal Party, where she worked for two years.
But nothing compares to her work for international organizations, she says. “There is no sexual discrimination whatsoever,” she says. “You are evaluated for what you do, not what you are.”
by Moon Kyung-ran